Is the music biz ready for a world of conversational search AIs?


Nick Cave may not be a fan of conversational AI ChatGPT, but he’s certainly not scared of it, recently writing off its effort to write a song in his style with a pithy “it doesn’t have the capacity for a shared transcendent experience, as it has no limitations from which to transcend”.

Y’know who might be scared of ChatGPT, just a little bit? Google. Because the model’s most interesting applications probably aren’t writing songs that are (Cave again) “a grotesque mockery of what it is to be human”.

In fact, ChatGPT and conversational AIs like it could mightily shake up the world of search engines, finally giving Google some competition to worry about. Unless, of course, it develops its own. Enter Bard.

Bard is Google’s new “experimental conversational AI service” which was unveiled yesterday, and is being opened up to “trusted testers” before wider public availability in a few weeks’ time. Like ChatGPT, it has plenty of potential applications, but search is very much to the fore.

“Soon, you’ll see AI-powered features in Search that distill complex information and multiple perspectives into easy-to-digest formats, so you can quickly understand the big picture and learn more from the web,” as Google put it.

Later today, Microsoft will be holding an event for journalists that is expected to focus on its partnership with ChatGPT’s creator OpenAI, including integrating its system into search engine Bing. Meanwhile, Chinese search giant Baidu has unveiled its own conversational AI called ‘Wenxin Yiyan’ (‘Ernie Bot’ in English) which will launch next month.

Three announcements about search and conversational AIs in one day shows you the rapid direction of travel, even if (as Google stressed) this technology has been in development for some time, rather than whipped up in a fortnight’s panic after ChatGPT’s public launch attracted 100 million users in just a couple of months.

Here’s the Music Ally angle: what does all this mean for the way music and artists are discovered online? It’s certainly a new challenge to grapple with for music marketers who thought they’d got traditional search engine optimisation (SEO) nailed down. What will conversational search AIs be telling people about your artists, and is there any way you can optimise for this?

(We’ve been here before in the first flush of smart speakers and the voice assistants that went with them, with the industry mulling over how to work the recommendation algorithms of Alexa, Siri and Google Assistant. The sum conclusion of a flurry of industry conference panels being this: other than sorting out your metadata, nobody really knew. Or at least anybody who did wasn’t giving away their secrets publicly.)

The rapid rollout of conversational AIs might also spur some talk about how they might fit into music services specifically. At some point will you find yourself chatting to a SpotifyGPT bot as if it were a – absolute peak Gen-X reference incoming! – wise record-store clerk quizzing you on your tastes then giving you suggestions?

Or a step on from that: might conversational AIs be the key to finally bringing rich context to music streaming, providing information about the songs, the musicians, the scenes and where they fit into musical history?

How would those conversations be visually (or aurally?) presented alongside the actual music? This is what we always wondered whether Alexa, Siri and co would become: musical assistants driven by conversation rather than just commands.

The disruption of Big Tech created by ChatGPT may  be most focused on search engines for now, but we sense there is value for the music industry (DSPs included) putting in some serious thought about what conversational AIs could do in our world too.

And, as we have learned from bitter experience that we must, to also think about who will be building these systems; any built-in biases that may not be immediately obvious; and other potential unintended consequences this technology might have for musicians and for music. Happy thinking!

Photo by DeepMind on Unsplash

Written by: Stuart Dredge