• 11.05.15

Military Research Outfit DARPA Is Building A Robot That Can… Improvise Jazz?

The idea is to create machines that can think a little more like humans. And to take yet another one of our jobs.

Military Research Outfit DARPA Is Building A Robot That Can… Improvise Jazz?
[Illustrations: Tatiana Kasyanova via Shutterstock]

DARPA is working on a robot that can play jazz. Yes, the DARPA associated with the U.S. military. Why? Communication.


DARPA is better known for terrifying humanoid robots, robot dogs, or prosthetic hands. Now, though, it is turning to improvised jazz to help it learn about human/machine interaction in a project named MUSICA.

By building a machine that can play improvised music, the MUSICA team hopes to improve on interfaces like Apple’s Siri, which lets you talk to your phone. “There is definitely a desire for more natural kinds of communications with computational systems as they grow in their ability to be intelligent,” said Ben Grosser of the MUSICA team to Live Science.

The approach to teaching the jazzbot will be anything but improvisational, though. The machine will be stuffed with a database of jazz solos, and analyses of “beat, pitch, harmony and rhythm.” This will be used to figure out how to build jazz solos on the fly, like a human player would do.

“Our goal is to […] present a ‘call and answer’ system to DARPA, where I can play a line of music, and the system will analyze that line and give an answer as close to real time as possible,” Grosser told Live Science.

It’s a tall order, as Grosser himself admits (“It’s not going to be Miles Davis,” he says). Humans manage all kinds of crazy things when they play music together. Guitarists, for instance, can meld their minds with those of other players to form a “hyperbrain” that lets them anticipate each other’s moves.

Now, show me a Siri that can do that, and I’ll show you the talking ship computer from Star Trek.

About the author

Previously found writing at, Cult of Mac and Straight No filter.