Aswat Asharq Al-Awsat :

Aswat Asharq Al-Awsat : Music Platform CEO Says AI Is Not the Enemy 

This photo taken on April 29, 2024 shows BandLab CEO Kuok Meng Ru speaking to AFP during an interview at his office in Singapore. (AFP)
This photo taken on April 29, 2024 shows BandLab CEO Kuok Meng Ru speaking to AFP during an interview at his office in Singapore. (AFP)
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Music Platform CEO Says AI Is Not the Enemy 

This photo taken on April 29, 2024 shows BandLab CEO Kuok Meng Ru speaking to AFP during an interview at his office in Singapore. (AFP)
This photo taken on April 29, 2024 shows BandLab CEO Kuok Meng Ru speaking to AFP during an interview at his office in Singapore. (AFP)

Musicians around the world have described artificial intelligence as a threat to creativity, but the CEO of one popular platform told AFP he thinks critics are looking at it all wrong.

BandLab, a mostly free online music workstation and distribution platform based in Singapore, has more than 100 million registered users.

It recently incorporated an AI music creation tool dubbed SongStarter, which generates song ideas from genre, key, tempo and lyric prompts.

For BandLab founder and CEO Kuok Meng Ru, whose company bought music magazine NME in 2019, AI is no substitute for a real musician.

"It's not called SongFinisher. It's called SongStarter. It's not trying to replace people's creativity... (with) a vending machine approach of a magic button where you press and a song comes out," Kuok said in an interview with AFP.

"You still need to use your human creativity to build on that, to turn it into something."

Proponents of easy-to-use apps like BandLab say they have revolutionized the music industry by allowing artists to be their own producers, and by bringing cheap bedroom recordings into the charts.

But many musicians are concerned that AI will be used to replicate voices and sounds, and also that it will become even harder for professional artists to sustain themselves in a brutally competitive industry.

Kuok, a Radiohead fan from a billionaire family, believes there is no going back from the shift towards more self-production.

One of BandLab's biggest successes came via American lo-fi indie artist David Burke, better known as "d4vd".

Relying totally on the app to record and master the track in his sister's closet, d4vd's song "Romantic Homicide" recently surpassed one billion Spotify streams.

"He did that on his phone with just headphones. It's ultimately his talent. We're more like someone's guitar, you know? We're an instrument," Kuok said.

- 'Doomsday scenarios' -

"The definition of music creators will change. In the same way previously not everyone thought of themselves as a videographer or a photographer. Today, with a mobile phone, everybody is a hyper-casual photographer," he added.

Among the newer AI functions being rolled out is Voice Cleaner, designed to enhance the quality of vocal recordings.

Kuok wants AI critics to look at the tech not as an end to human creativity but as a tool that enhances it.

"There are a lot of doomsday scenarios for every sort of innovation in technology, right? So, if you look back historically, what's happening with AI is, in my opinion, a technological evolution and it's not as simple as a simple evolution," he says.

The Cambridge mathematics degree holder uses the invention of the phonograph -- later called the gramophone -- as an example of how new technology once instilled fear when musicians thought it would be the end of live performances.

- What would Radiohead say? -

Kuok learned to play the guitar as a teenager and was a fan of bands like Radiohead and The Strokes.

Later on, he became obsessed with the classics, from singer-songwriter Joni Mitchell to blues icon BB King.

Asked how he would pitch BandLab to Radiohead's Thom Yorke, Kuok says he would try to get the band on board with the app's social features.

The 35-year-old's father is a palm oil tycoon, and his great-uncle, Robert Kuok, is Malaysia's richest man.

Kuok also owns Swee Lee, one of Asia's top musical instrument retailers.

"My mom will always joke that my son sells guitars," he says.



Aswat Asharq Al-Awsat : Google Scraps Plan to Remove Cookies from Chrome

FILED - 09 January 2024, US, Las Vegas: The Google logo can be seen on the Internet company's pavilion at the CES technology trade fair. Photo: Andrej Sokolow/dpa
FILED - 09 January 2024, US, Las Vegas: The Google logo can be seen on the Internet company's pavilion at the CES technology trade fair. Photo: Andrej Sokolow/dpa
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Google Scraps Plan to Remove Cookies from Chrome

FILED - 09 January 2024, US, Las Vegas: The Google logo can be seen on the Internet company's pavilion at the CES technology trade fair. Photo: Andrej Sokolow/dpa
FILED - 09 January 2024, US, Las Vegas: The Google logo can be seen on the Internet company's pavilion at the CES technology trade fair. Photo: Andrej Sokolow/dpa

Google is planning to keep third-party cookies in its Chrome browser, it said on Monday, after years of pledging to phase out the tiny packets of code meant to track users on the internet.
The major reversal follows concerns from advertisers - the company's biggest source of income - saying the loss of cookies in the world's most popular browser will limit their ability to collect information for personalizing ads, making them dependent on Google's user databases, Reuters reported.
The UK's Competition and Markets Authority had also scrutinized Google's plan over concerns it would impede competition in digital advertising.
"Instead of deprecating third-party cookies, we would introduce a new experience in Chrome that lets people make an informed choice that applies across their web browsing, and they'd be able to adjust that choice at any time," Anthony Chavez, vice president of the Google-backed Privacy Sandbox initiative, said in a blog post.
Since 2019, the Alphabet unit has been working on the Privacy Sandbox initiative aimed at enhancing online privacy while supporting digital businesses, with a key goal being the phase-out of third-party cookies.
Cookies are packets of information that allow websites and advertisers to identify individual web surfers and track their browsing habits, but they can also be used for unwanted surveillance.
In the European Union, the use of cookies is governed by the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), which stipulates that publishers secure explicit consent from users to store their cookies. Major browsers also give the option to delete cookies on command.
Chavez said Google was working with regulators such as the UK's CMA and Information Commissioner's Office as well as publishers and privacy groups on the new approach, while continuing to invest in the Privacy Sandbox program.
The announcement drew mixed reactions.
"Advertising stakeholders will no longer have to prepare to quit third-party cookies cold turkey," eMarketer analyst Evelyn Mitchell-Wolf said in a statement.
Lena Cohen, staff technologist at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, said cookies can lead to consumer harm, for instance predatory ads that target vulnerable groups. "Google's decision to continue allowing third-party cookies, despite other major browsers blocking them for years, is a direct consequence of their advertising-driven business model," Cohen said in a statement.