This Robot Can Rap

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    What if your digital assistant could battle rap? That may sound far-fetched, but Gil Weinberg, a music technologist at the Georgia Institute of Technology, has adapted a musical robot called Shimon to compose lyrics and perform in real time. From a report: That means it can engage in rap “conversations” with humans, and maybe even help them compose their own lyrics. Shimon, which was intentionally designed to sound machinelike (listen here), is meant to be a one-of-a-kind musical collaborator — or an inhuman rap-battle opponent. Computer-generated music dates back to the 1950s, when early computers used algorithms to compose melodies. Modern robots can use machine learning to ad-lib on instruments including the flute and drums. One such machine was an earlier version of Shimon, which could play the marimba and sing. The recently updated robot looks the same; it still consists of a ball-shaped “head,” with saucy movable eyebrows above visor-covered eyes, perched at the end of a mechanical arm. But now Weinberg claims Shimon is the first improvising robot to foray into rap, with its distinct stylistic features that pose unique programming challenges. The crowning glory of rap lies in the lyrics. On top of semantic content, the words need to adhere to an aesthetically pleasing beat and rhythm, all while delivering multiple layers of poetic complexity. In a recent paper, published in the proceedings of the 11th International Conference on Computational Creativity 2020, Weinberg’s research team outlines the technical advances that brought a rapping Shimon to life. When Shimon battle raps, software converts its human opponent’s spoken lyrics into text. The robot’s system identifies keywords from this, and generates new lyrics based on several custom data sets of words that Shimon has been trained on (using deep-learning models). These data sets can come from any text: the work of Lil Wayne, JAY-Z or other rappers; lyrics from other genres; or even nonmusical literary works. Imagine how Shakespeare or Jane Austen might sound if they rapped; Shimon could simulate that for you. Read more of this story at Slashdot.

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