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CINCINNATI, Ohio – At the heart of Black Tech Week’s recent “Rap vs. AI Battle,” two Queen City artists faced off against a machine-learning  Artificial Intelligence (AI) in one of the most unprecedented trends within Black culture. This entertaining matchup showcased how cutting-edge AI systems are challenging traditional lyricists, mimicking or even surpassing conventional human rap techniques. 

The Black Tech Week event, presented by co-founders by Hajj Flemings and Cynthia Respert of RapVS.AI, provides valuable insight into how these emerging technologies could reshape the music industry itself – giving rise to not only meaningful conversations among attendees but also potential implications for the future of creative workflow processes beyond the industry as well (i.e., Education, Business and etc.)

What happened at Black Tech Week’s Rap vs. AI Battle 
Hajj Flemings EO/Founder of RebrandX and Co-Founder of Hajj Flemings at Memorial Hall in Cincinnati, Ohio on Wednesday, July 19, 2023 | Photo courtesy of Lightship Foundation

A Brief History of Generative AI

Generative AI has been around for several decades. However, its modern form and significant advancements began to take shape in the early 2010s. The concept of generating data using algorithms dates back to the ’50s and ’60s. Moreover, early approaches were limited due to the lack of computational power and the complexity of the models.

In the 1990s, the use of generative models, such as Hidden Markov Models (HMMs) and Gaussian Mixture Models (GMMs), became more common in speech recognition and natural language processing tasks.

The breakthrough for modern generative AI came with the development of deep learning techniques, specifically Generative Adversarial Networks (GANs) and Variational Autoencoders (VAEs), in the 2010s.

What happened at Black Tech Week’s Rap vs. AI Battle 
Cincinnati, Ohio artist Ghost battles AI in Memorial Hall at Black Tech Week | Photo courtesy of Lightship Foundation

Ian Goodfellow and his colleagues introduced GANs in 2014, which revolutionized the field of generative modeling by allowing the generation of highly realistic and diverse data, including images, audio, and more. VAEs, on the other hand, were introduced by Kingma and Welling in 2013, offering a powerful approach to learn meaningful representations of data and generating new samples from the learned distributions.

Since then, generative AI has rapidly evolved, leading to various applications in image synthesis, text generation, music composition, video generation, and more. Ongoing research continues to push the boundaries of generative models, making them increasingly sophisticated and capable.

Embracing the Opportunities of Generative AI

Amidst an uncertain economic environment, generative AI emerges as a rare beacon of hope, with billions of dollars of venture capital eagerly awaiting deployment to support its growth. Hajj Flemings CEO of Rebrand Cities and says now is the time to embrace AI tech and capitalize on the new opportunities it brings before the window closes.

“One of the things we have to do in our community is not wait for every other community to leverage the tech before we do. We need to have first mover advantage,” Hajj Flemings said at Black Tech Week.

“The first mover advantage for Black people in AI and LLMs is crucial for bias mitigation, representation, innovation, equity, and economic opportunities, as diversity in AI creation ensures a balanced, representative dataset, thereby reducing bias. Given that generative AI is poised to create the next wave of millionaires and billionaires, it’s essential, in my opinion, for black people—who I believe are the most creative people on the planet—to build platforms and businesses using this technology,” Flemings shared.

Memorial Hall in Cincinnati, Ohio on Wednesday, July 19, 2023 | Photo courtesy of Lightship Foundation

Flemings says their involvement not only fosters innovation but also serves as a catalyst for generational wealth creation within our community. “If we are not present in this Industrial Revolution, we risk producing a permanent economic underclass.”

CB Insights reported that in a total of 110 transactions, startups focused on generative AI applications managed to secure a noteworthy $2.6 billion in funding. This amount marked a substantial growth compared to the $1.5 billion raised in 105 deals during the preceding year of 2021.

Generative AI in Education

Some educators disapprove of generative AI in the classroom, fearing students will lack developing critical thinking skills. However, CoFounder Cynthia Respert says this newest tech trend should be embraced by educators and used by students.

“This is an eye-opener, right? Using something they’re familiar with to draw them in, and then walking them through it, educating them on the technology, will help build that AI muscle and make them better problem solvers,” Respert said at Black Tech Week. “This could be a series of mentor talks, programming for them to build something, integrating it into the curriculum.” 

Take Aways from Black Tech Week’s Rap vs. AI Battle

Black Tech Week’s “Rap vs. AI Battle” exemplified the exciting emergence of generative AI within Black culture, pushing the boundaries of creativity and innovation in the music industry and beyond. As the field of generative AI continues to evolve, embracing this technology and capitalizing on its potential in various sectors will undoubtedly lead to groundbreaking advancements and transformative experiences. 

Nehemiah D. Frank is the founder and editor-in-chief of The Black Wall Street Times and a descendant of two families that survived the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre. Although his publication’s store and newsroom...

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