Why is the US military funding robots that play jazz?

The US military's Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency is funding a new project to develop musical robots that can improvise a solo when playing with human jazz musicians. A collaboration between new media researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and musicians at the University of Arizona, the goal of the MUSICA (Musical Improvising Collaborative Agent) project is to explore non-traditional "languages" for people and computers to interact. From Scientific American:


"There is definitely a desire for more natural kinds of communications with computational systems as they grow in their ability to be intelligent," Ben Grosser, an assistant professor of new media at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, told Live Science. "A lot of us are familiar with various methods of interacting with computers, such as text-based and touch-based interfaces, but language-based interfaces such as Siri or Google Now are extremely limited in their capabilities...."

To develop a machine capable of playing improvisational jazz, the researchers will create a database of jazz solos from a variety of musicians and have computers analyze the recordings to figure out the various processes that come into play when a musician improvises. The researchers will then develop a performance system to analyze the components of human jazz performances, including the beat, pitch, harmony and rhythm. The system will also consider what it has learned about jazz solos to communicate and respond musically in real time....


"Let's face it—trying to develop a system that can play jazz is a crazy idea," Grosser said. "It's not going to be Miles Davis. I think if we can make this thing play like a high schooler, we'll really have done our job."


Ultimately, Grosser hoped this research could shed light on the nature of the creative process. "By finding the limits of computational creativity, we can get a different understanding of human creativity, on our own creative processes," Grosser said.