Musicians, robots and AI


I was recently reminded of the Music Defense League case in the late 1920s, organised by the American Federation of Musicians to combat the threat of music recordings.

Here’s the quick summary:

  • before the 1930s when you went to see a movie at the theatre, it had no sound
  • music was provided by live singers and musicians
  • but ‘technology’ was improving => music and sound was recorded and then played  from the recording while the movie ran => amazing at the time!
  • musicians and singers were ‘disrupted’ and their jobs were in danger
  • the musicians and singers had a Union (the AFM) that fought against this threat – putting ads in newspapers about these ‘maniacal robots’ and how they were a threat to society (see some examples)
  • other singers and musicians embraced recording – and saw it as a way to scale their reach. They of course were the ones who were successful and grew.

You can no doubt see the similarities with AI today – how some respond in fear, others see it as an opportunity.

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