Monday 15 May 2023

it won’t be a stylish marriage—i can’t afford a carriage (10. 744)

Via Nag on the Lake, we are directed to demonstration arranged by Bell Labs researchers Carol Lackbaum, Lou Gerstman and John L Kelly Jr that taught a mainframe computer from IBM’s 7000 series to sing in 1961 and the resonance that that experiment has had, still echoed not only in pop culture but also in the legal and creative entanglements of today. Selecting “Daisy Bell” as a trial tune fairly anodyne (penned by Harry Dacre nearly eighty years earlier and safely in the public domain, inspired by an import tariff imposed on his bicycle) but catchy and technically challenging attempt to induce a synthetic song with vocals (here is Alan Turing’s first instrumental demonstration). The following year, Arthur C Clarke was treated to a private audience with the computer at Bell Labs and incorporated the milestone into 2001: A Space Odyssey, when the astronaut needs to deactivate HAL 9000 and as things are going dark for the artificial intelligence, it regresses to its earliest programming (performed by Douglas Rain in the cinematic adaptation) of singing “Daisy Bell.” More at the links above.