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Algorithmic Lunacy and Flattery

In which I’m regularly accused of being Martha Argerich, Sviatoslav Richter, Mitsuko Uchida, Rudolf Sirkin, Claudio Arrau, Nobuyuki Tsujii, and other incredible, famous, and historical pianists.

As an internet-enabled pianist, I often upload video recordings to YouTube. The vast majority are unlisted works-in-progress. Yet, due to what is presumably the over-eager YouTube automatic-copyright detection algorithm, Content ID, I receive copyright notices nearly everytime.

This is certainly irritating, and also bizarrely flattering. Perhaps these are excellent indicators that even my practice renditions of Beethoven’s last Sonata Op. 111, and other delicious pieces of Ravel, Chopin, Liszt, Bach… have reached a sufficiently high level. After a lifetime of study and practice, my pianism is tolerably world-class to draw the consistent false-positive ire of our robot overlords, and I should be proud.

But actually, probably not. We have much to be worried about, which I’ll articulate further below.

Since the classical music market on YouTube is much smaller than other genres, its training data for YouTube’s content fingerprinting algorithm is most likely impoverished. As a result, it’s bad at distinguishing boundaries between the same classical piece interpreted by different artists. Yet another area which humans do a better job than machines, for now. Of course, I could be mistaken — it may simply be that their algorithm is generally bad and inaccurate, and enforcing a moronic law in any case. A quick look around indicates that YouTube’s Content ID system has provided headaches for quite a wide spectrum of users. In any case, here on the YouTube of 2017, if you’re a classical musician, expect false positives everytime.

The juxtaposition of ineffective legal policies and incompetent robots can result in hilarity at times. For me, these automatic copyright claims are currently of little consequence. They are a minor nuisance, and fairly straightforward to dispute if I care enough.

However, it can get much more concerning. And this won’t be about the specific ways in which DMCA is a net negative / actively harmful for human creativity and civilization, which has certainly been covered with great depth and thoughtfulness by others. Rather, I’d like to point your attention at how we have on our hands the normalization of automation combined with misguided and harmful laws. When these systems are built within first-world bubbles of arbitrary oversight and neglect of human edge cases (which is every case), we get a far more egregious scenario.

It doesn’t take much imagination to extrapolate poorly-implemented automation plus asinine policies into Brazil-style dystopias, as reality frays and seams widen into cracks, and people start falling through. This trend is already underway with such exciting nonsense like the great Australian Centrelink debacle. Consider how the profit-maximization motive tends to correlate negatively with long-term effectiveness and morality, while scaling positively with willful incompetence and monstrosity. It is quite possible that our current levels of unnecessary human suffering will be amplified into ever broader pandemics by automated ineptitude.

As for YouTube’s Content ID, further hilarity can be observed when noting meta-squabbles such as how the automatic copyright-enforcement algorithm is itself under copyright dispute.

What a waste of time for everyone. Since I fully understand and disagree with the incentives and reasons for its development, it is painful to imagine the engineering resources and talent wasted crafting this actively harmful piece of software, along with the amount of time wasted for all the users dealing with its inaccuracies. Here we usher in the wrong future by further eroding online freedoms away and vastly squandering human hours. Many, many lifetimes – a 2nd order genocide. All for the sake of maintaining existing flows of lucre in existing hegemonies, salved by the illusion of “protecting creators” while doing the opposite.

Despite all this nonsense, in any case, I will now go back to practicing. Life is too short to not create beautiful music. And when I’m not creating beautiful music, I will continue to study broadly, and hack on things which increase our freedom on the internet, because the alternative is lunacy.

Also, I’m glad I got some writing practice in, and another blog post from these scenarios.

Thanks, robot overlords!


Last updated on April 2, 2017

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Last Update: 2017-05-22 00:00 UTC