By now we've all witnessed the hype around The Beatles' latest (and unfortunately, last) track, which used AI to resuscitate an old demo written and performed by John Lennon. The touching track in itself is a masterful piece of AI-augmented art, but while it's one thing to recreate a lost voice, visually reviving late Beatles members is a completely different matter.
In the 'Now and Then' official music video, we see old clips of the Fab Four spliced together with new footage of surviving members Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr. The wholesome yet uncanny result is a great display of the advancements in technology, but I can't help but feel like we're getting into troubling territory. (For a less uncanny use of AI, check out our collection of the best AI video editing tools).
Upon first glance, you'd be safe to assume that the disturbing music video is business as usual. It begins with McCartney peacefully strumming a guitar while Ringo Starr resides behind the drums. An instrumental plays before the disembodied vocals of Lennon come in, framed by a (slightly cliche) sunset scene with a youthful video of the gang in their '60s heyday pasted over it. Touching and fairly innocuous stuff thus far.
It isn't until the building chorus that we're graced by the bizarre appearance of an AI-augmented Sgt. Pepper's era George Harrison and a waving John Lennon, who grooves to the sombre track uncomfortably out of time. Throughout the video we see the current stars singing alongside their departed friends (and bizarrely, old footage of themselves). The visual alone is a jarring and quite frankly disturbing reunion – a prime example of AI's uncanny capabilities.
While the retro footage has been optimised to resemble modern camera quality, there's still a strong uncanny feeling caused by disparities in the lighting, aesthetics and tone of the old clips. While I have no doubt that the project must have been a heartfelt labour of love for both McCartney and Starr, the choice to superimpose their late bandmates proves that just because we have access to certain technology, doesn't always mean that it's necessary (or appropriate) in every scenario.
To be alive in 2023 and be able to experience a 'new' Beatles track is a great privilege, and without AI this project wouldn't have come to fruition, however, seeing old Paul McCartney next to his younger self is making me a little existential. It feels a little morally dubious to revive Lennon and Harrison for the sake of nostalgia or dramatic effect, especially if you consider the issue of consent. It seems we're dangerously close to setting sail on an ABBA-inspired Beatles Voyage, something that I hope is a silly hypothetical, not a prediction (at least the ABBA members are alive to support the technology).
AI is evolving rapidly – for better or for worse – but sometimes it can yield exciting results, like Boston Dynamics' talking robot dog powered by Chat GPT, or this walking robot made by an AI algorithm in 26 seconds.