Digital Disconnect: Where Should Artistes Draw The AI Line?


Paul McCartney is no stranger to artificial intelligence (AI). In 2021, the former Beatle appeared in a deep-fake de-aged avatar, dancing away to his heart’s content in the music video for his song “Find My Way”. While the video shows McCartney from the 1960s, complete with his Beatles hairdo and black-suit-and-tie outfit, the person who was actually dancing was not McCartney himself but Beck, the American artist who remixed the aforementioned track. 

Now, McCartney appears to be on the AI circuit yet again, this time using the technology to “extricate” late bandmate John Lennon’s voice from an old demo to finish a much-hyped final Beatles recording, slated to release sometime later this year. 

McCartney’s call to use AI to produce a track comes at a time when the world seems divided over a potent conundrum — where do artistes draw the line when it comes to AI? 

McCartney, Lennon, And AI

So far, McCartney has refrained from revealing the name of the upcoming song. As per The Guardian, the track is a 1978 Lennon number called “Now and Then”, a demo of which was left by Lennon in a cassette labelled “For Paul” before his assassination in 1980. 

Director Peter Jackson in his extensive 2021 Beatles documentary “Get Back” used custom AI tools to separate the band members’ voices from background noise. 

“When we came to make what will be the last Beatles record, it was a demo that John had and we were able to take John’s voice and get it pure through this AI. Then we can mix the record, as you would normally do. So it gives you some sort of leeway,” McCartney said in an interview on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.

As the news went viral, concerns were raised regarding the effect of AI on the livelihood of professional musicians and artistes. McCartney took to X (formerly Twitter) to clarify that “nothing has been artificially or synthetically created”.

Dividing The Industry

While McCartney hopes that fans will be able to look beyond the AI aspect and appreciate the work that has gone into the actual production of the song, the disruptive technology has already started showing its teeth in the arts and entertainment industry. 

In April 2023, TikTok user ghostwriter977 produced a hip-hop number called “Heart on My Sleeve”, which used AI-stimulated voices of popstars Drake and Abel Tesfaye (popularly known as The Weeknd). The track was eventually pulled down by record label Universal Music Group (UMG). 

Some artistes are embracing the technology in a bigger way. R&B star and tech billionaire Elon Musk’s partner Grimes asked people to synthesise new songs with her voice, even agreeing to splitting royalties on any AI track, if it goes popular. 

In the ongoing Screen Actors Guild – American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (SAG-AFTRA) protests dominating Hollywood nowadays, writers and actors have taken a staunch stand against the heavy use of AI in order to replace human professionals. The Writers Guild of American did agree to allow the use of AI only as a tool for assistance but not as a replacement. The association aims to avoid classifying unprocessed, AI-generated storylines or dialogues as “literary content,” a phrase outlined in their contractual agreements pertaining to scripts and various narrative formats produced by professional screenwriters.

Handling AI With Care

Deep fakes are nothing new either. From Mark Hamill as Luke Skywalker in the Star Wars franchise to Harrison Ford in the latest Indiana Jones movie, actors de-ageing themselves is nothing new or even considered controversial — as long as the original actor gets work opportunity (and due credits).

Recently, a Volkswagen commercial used AI to recreate late Brazillian jazz star Elis Regina and had her sing a touching duet with her daughter, the Grammy-winning artist Maria Rita. Executed sensitively, the ad didn’t create an immediate uproar, but left millions in the country in tears, including the first lady Rosângela Lula da Silva, who tweeted, “It’s seven-something in the morning … and I’m bawling my eyes out.”

AI is definitely seen as a threat by many. Even ChatGPT-creator OpenAI CEO Sam Altman warned that “mitigating the risk of extinction from AI should be a global priority alongside other societal-scale risks such as pandemics and nuclear war” during a visit to the UAE in June. 

What artistes and producers — or even professionals from any other field — should do is handle AI as a tool for assistance and not as a replacement. Say what you must, synthetic can never supersede talent. 

Digital Disconnect is an ABP Live-exclusive column, where we explore the many admirable advancements the world of tech is seeing each day, and how they lead to a certain disconnect among users. Is the modern world an easier place to live in, thanks to tech? Definitely. Does that mean we don’t long for things to go back to the good-ol’ days? Well, look out for our next column to find out. 

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