The perfect harmony of human, machine, and music

By | 3 minute read | March 1, 2021

GRAMMY Debates with Watson

In junior high I played a mean trumpet. I was no Miles Davis, of course, but I did make All County once. And though I haven’t picked up my trumpet in decades, my love of music has only grown since those awkward days of early adolescence.

In fact, I can’t imagine my formative years without the constant drum beat of music education and band practice at school. Which is why I’ve contributed early and often to the GRAMMY Debates with Watson on whether music education should be mandatory in schools.

Let me back up. This year, IBM worked with the GRAMMYs to host a series of music debates on grammy.com called GRAMMY Debates with Watson. The topics are simple, provocative statements, like “Prince is the most groundbreaking artist of all time,” or “Billie Eilish is the biggest style icon in music.” And music fans can make a case for or against each statement.

That’s when the fun starts. We built an AI that combines the natural language processing of IBM Watson with the security, flexibility and speed of the IBM Cloud. It performs an instant analysis of each submission, classifying them as pro or con. It even assesses the quality of the argument based on things like relevance or persuasiveness, and then weaves together all the most insightful points into a single narrative.

Why debate music? Well, because we’re human. And humans have an inherent need to express our ideas, to advocate on behalf of our passions, and persuade others to validate – or even embrace — our point of view. Debate is a uniquely human activity. And like many human activities, it can sometimes get incredibly messy, emotional, and occasionally irrational.

That’s why using artificial intelligence to curate these debates is so fascinating to me. I’m someone who tries to engage in open, honest conversation on social media. I offer my opinion freely on a wide range of subjects, some trivial, some urgent and important. And at the risk of understating the obvious, l’ve found that social media is not a productive medium for public discourse or civil debate.

But the debates we moderate with Watson are different. We first did this at the US Open Tennis Championships last year with our Open Questions with Watson. Then we tried it out with some heavier material on Bloomberg’s That’s Debatable program. And now we are tapping into the passions of music lovers around the world with GRAMMY Debates.

Each of these activations are powerful demonstrations of what’s possible when you combine the two most transformative technologies of the digital age: hybrid cloud computing and AI. But the GRAMMY Debates with Watson are the most interesting to me. Because unlike sports or economics, music has very few hard and fast statistics or facts to rely on when making a case. It’s pure art. All qualitative, not quantitative.

So Watson is wading deep into the waters of unstructured information, understanding the nuances of human language, and discerning between emotion and reason. To me, this represents the true promise and purpose of hybrid cloud and AI: to help make sense of the messy, confusing world we live in. Which is why IBM is using these same capabilities to turn oceans of information into actionable insight for banking customers, airline passengers, and citizens trying to stay informed on all things COVID-19

Watson doesn’t declare the winner of the GRAMMY Debates. But it does provide an unbiased arbiter of the arguments made by each contributor. It recognizes relevance. It rewards logic. It transforms the passionate opinions of thousands into cogent insight. And in the process, who knows, we may just inspire the next Miles Davis. Or at the very least, first chair in the high school band.