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Will.i.am on the Weird Future of Entertainment and His Problems with Modern Hip-Hop

“What the fuck is a mirror in 2038?” says Will.i.am. “That’s old-school technology, bro.”

Brian Hiatt Dec 03, 2018

Will.i.am. Photo: Eric Michael Roy

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Anyone still thinking of Will.i.am as just a hitmaking producer-rapper is decidedly 2000-and-late, at least as far as Silicon Valley is concerned. Though his Puls smartwatch was far from a success back in 2015, he’s still taken seriously by venture capitalists, who have reportedly provided more than $100 million in funding to his company, I.am+ — which is working on a personalized artificial-intelligence assistant. Here, he shares his vision for the future of entertainment and more.

How will home entertainment be different in 20 years?
In 2038, it’ll be, “What’s a TV? My wall is a freaking display in itself!” The only reason you have to buy a TV is because the builder of the house didn’t make the walls screens! The only reason I have to buy a scale is because the contractor didn’t make the floor weigh me! The only reason I have to buy mirrors . . . like what the fuck is a mirror in 2038? That’s old-school technology, bro. Everything should be screens! Then you have privacy issues, but that’ll be solved.

Do songwriters need to fear AI programs writing music?
A song is a song, regardless if it’s made by a person, a machine . . . whatever. There’s a lot of wack human music! [Laughs] But what do you mean by “writing”? If I’m making music and I talk to an AI [device], and I was like, “Yo, give me a shuffle pattern, and pull up a bass line, and give me a Bootsy Collins feel. . . . ”

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Well, AI’s are writing from scratch — they fed one the Beatles’ catalog and it wrote a “new” Beatles song.
That’s not writing yet. That’s an algorithm. It’s a player piano. Somebody had to write the freaking sheet for the player piano to play it.

Many people are scared about AI’s potential in general. Are you?
AI investment is surpassing HI – human intelligence – investment. That’s something we should be concerned about: AI as a system that you live on. Regulations have to come in before we get there.

Hip-hop is the dominant form of popular music on the planet. How long will that dominance last?
What’s the number-one sport on the planet? Soccer, because anyone can play it. The problem with hip-hop is everybody could do it. It doesn’t take much fucking skill right now to make hip-hop. It’s become the lowest-hanging fruit. It’s no longer about Rakim-level, Nas-level, not the deep, metaphorical simile shit. Out of respect for the Nases of the world, let’s not call it hip-hop. Let’s say that’s rap. But instrumental music is going to be the next biggest shit.

Really?
The John Coltranes, the Stan Getzes, the Jimi Hendrixes, the musicianship. That’s the only way to prove intelligence or taste: demonstrating your artistry. Right now we’re competing human on human, and eventually we’ll be competing human on machine – the moment there’s a fucking AI mumble rapper [laughs] . . . it’s inevitable, bro! Like, the reason why Star Wars is Star Wars is because the Jedis kept the machines in check.

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So you’re saying we’re going to need Jedi-level musicians to beat the machines?
Yeah, yeah. And Terminator was like the absence of Jedis. That’s where humans lost.

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