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Tag Archives: Artificial intelligence (AI)

YouTuber Vocal Synthesis says rappers label Roc Nation filed copyright notices against their AI impersonations

Jay-Zs company Roc Nation have filed takedown notices against deepfake videos that use artificial intelligence to make him rap Billy Joels We Didnt Start the Fire and Hamlets To be or not to be soliloquy.

The anonymous creator of the YouTube-hosted videos, known as Vocal Synthesis, has said that copyright notices were filed by Roc Nation, stating: This content unlawfully uses an AI to impersonate our clients voice. The two aforementioned videos have been removed, though others remain, including one of the rapper taking on the Book of Genesis.

Vocal Synthesis said via a deepfake video using the ersatz voices of Barack Obama and Donald Trump that they had no malicious purpose and were disappointed that Jay-Z and Roc Nation have decided to bully a small YouTuber in this way.

The Guardian has contacted Roc Nation for comment.

Deepfake videos have already caused great controversy in political and celebrity circles, with California outlawing them in 2018, and Facebook banning them in January. The technology has most notoriously been used to create fake pornographic videos featuring famous actors the PornHub website banned deepfakes in 2018.

Deepfakes differ from so-called cheapfakes, which dont involve AI and instead feature re-edited footage with the aim of distorting the truth. Famous examples include a video of Nancy Pelosi doctored to make her look drunk, and one of Keir Starmer created by the Tory party for social media where he appeared unable to answer a question. Posting on Twitter this week, Donald Trump shared a fake gif of Joe Biden sticking his tongue out.

There are debates over the copyright implications of AI-created videos such as the Jay-Z performances, with digital access advocates Creative Commons arguing: It is ill-advised to force the application of the copyright system an antiquated system that has yet to adapt to the digital environment on to AI.

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Program developed by Google Health was tested on mammograms of UK and US women

An artificial intelligence program has been developed that is better at spotting breast cancer in mammograms than expert radiologists.

The AI outperformed the specialists by detecting cancers that the radiologists missed in the images, while ignoring features they falsely flagged as possible tumours.

If the program proves its worth in clinical trials, the software, developed by Google Health, could make breast screening more effective and ease the burden on health services such as the NHS where radiologists are in short supply.

This is a great demonstration of how these technologies can enable and augment the human expert, said Dominic King, the UK lead at Google Health. The AI system is saying I think there may be an issue here, do you want to check?

About one in eight women are diagnosed with breast cancer in their lifetime. Screening programmes catch more than 18,000 cases each year in England alone, but tumours are still missed, giving false negative results, and some women are wrongly suspected of having cancer, in false positives that lead to unnecessary anxiety and invasive biopsies.

Googles AI program analyses mammograms in three different ways before combing the results to produce an overall risk score. The scientists trained the program on mammograms from more than 76,000 women in the UK and 15,000 women in the US. To see how well it worked, they then asked it to assess nearly 30,000 new mammograms from UK and US women who either had biopsy-confirmed cancer, or no signs of cancer during follow-up at least a year later.

In the US, women who go for breast cancer screening tend to be seen every one or two years and their mammograms are examined by a single radiologist. When compared with the US system, the AI produced 5.7% fewer false positives and 9.4% fewer false negatives.

In the UK, women are screened less often, typically once every three years, but their mammograms are reviewed by two radiologists, and sometimes a third in case of disagreement. The AI performed only marginally better than the UK system, reducing false positives by 1.2% and false negatives by 2.7%.

The results suggest the AI could boost the quality of breast cancer screening in the US and maintain the same level in the UK, with the AI assisting or replacing the second radiologist.

Breast cancer screening in the UK is under particular strain. The Royal College of Radiologists has identified a shortfall of at least 1,104 radiologists. In breast radiology specifically, 8% of hospital posts are unfilled, with much of the shortage due to older radiologists retiring from the NHS faster than new ones join.


What is AI?

Artificial Intelligence has various definitions, but in general it means a program that uses data to build a model of some aspect of the world. This model is then used to make informed decisions and predictions about future events. The technology is used widely, to provide speech and face recognition, language translation, and personal recommendations on music, film and shopping sites. In the future, it could deliver driverless cars, smart personal assistants, and intelligent energy grids. AI has the potential to make organisations more effective and efficient, but the technology raises serious issues of ethics, governance, privacy and law.

Chris Kelly, a clinician scientist at Google Health, said the next major step would be a trial to assess the AI in real-world conditions. Its performance could slip when it is fed images from different mammogram systems. In the latest study, reported in Nature, nearly all of the images came from machines provided by one manufacturer.

Like the rest of the health service, breast imaging, and UK radiology more widely, is understaffed and desperate for help, said Dr Caroline Rubin, vice-president for clinical radiology at the Royal College of Radiologists. AI programs will not solve the human staffing crisis, as radiologists and imaging teams do far more than just look at scans, but they will undoubtedly help by acting as a second pair of eyes and a safety net.

It is a competitive market for developers and these programs will need to be rigorously tested and regulated first. The next step for promising products is for them to be used in clinical trials, evaluated in practice and used on patients screened in real-time, a process that will need to be overseen by the UK public health agencies that have overall responsibility for the breast screening programmes.

Michelle Mitchell, Cancer Research UKs chief executive, said: Screening helps diagnose breast cancer at an early stage, when treatment is more likely to be successful, ensuring more people survive the disease. But it also has harms such as diagnosing cancers that would never have gone on to cause any problems and missing some cancers. This is still early stage research, but it shows how AI could improve breast cancer screening and ease pressure off the NHS.

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As we delegate more responsibility to technology to run our lives, we must regulate it, says the mathematician Hannah Fry

Robert Jones was driving home through the pretty town of Todmorden, in WestYorkshire, when he noticed the fuel light flashing on the dashboard of his car. He had just a few miles to find a petrol station, which was cuttingthings rather fine, but thankfully his GPS seemed to have found a short cut sending him on a narrow winding path up the side of the valley.

Robert followed the machines instructions, but as he drove, the road got steeper and narrower. After a couple of miles, it turned into a dirt track, but Robert wasnt fazed. After all, he thought, he had no reason not to trust the satnav.

Just a short while later, anyone who happened to be looking up from the valley below would have seen the nose of Roberts BMW appearing over the brink of the cliff above, saved from the 100ft drop only by the flimsy wooden fence at the edge he had just crashed into. Itkept insisting the path was a road, he told the Halifax Courier after the incident. So I just trusted it. You dont expect to be taken nearly over a cliff.

I can imagine Robert was left red-faced by his blunder, but in a way, I think hes in good company. When it comes to placing blind faith in a piece of software, his mistake was one were almost all capable of making. In our urge to automate, in our eagerness to adopt the latest innovations, we appear to have developed a habit of unthinkingly handing over power tomachines.

All around us, algorithms provide a kind of convenient source of authority: an easy way to delegate responsibility, a short cut we take without thinking. Who is really going to click through to the second page of Google results every time and think critically about the information that has been served up? Or go to every airline to check if a comparison site is listing the cheapest deals? Or get out a ruler and a road map to confirm that their GPS is offering the shortest route?

But already in our hospitals, our schools, our shops, our courtrooms and our police stations, artificial intelligence is silently working behind the scenes, feeding on our data and making decisions on our behalf. Sure, this technology has the capacity for enormous social good it can help us diagnose breast cancer, catch serial killers, avoid plane crashes and, as the health secretary, Matt Hancock, has proposed, potentially save lives using NHS data and genomics. Unless we know when to trust our own instincts over the output of a piece of software, however, it also brings the potential for disruption, injustice and unfairness.

If we permit flawed machines to make life-changing decisions on our behalf by allowing them to pinpoint a murder suspect, to diagnose a condition or take over the wheel of a car we have to think carefully about what happens when things go wrong.

Back in 2012, a group of 16 Idaho residents with disabilities received some unexpected bad news. The Department of Health and Welfare had just invested in a budget tool a swish piece of software, built by a private company, that automatically calculated their entitlement to state support. It had declared that their care budgets should be slashed by several thousand dollars each, a decision that would put them at serious risk of being institutionalised.

The problem was that the budget tools logic didnt seem to make much sense. While this particular group of people had deep cuts to their allowance, others in a similar position actually had their benefits increased by the machine. As far as anyone could tell from the outside, the computer was essentially plucking numbers out of thin air.


What is AI?

Artificial Intelligence has various definitions, but in general it means a program that uses data to build a model of some aspect of the world. This model is then used to make informed decisions and predictions about future events. The technology is used widely, to provide speech and face recognition, language translation, and personal recommendations on music, film and shopping sites. In the future, it could deliver driverless cars, smart personal assistants, and intelligent energy grids. AI has the potential to make organisations more effective and efficient, but the technology raises serious issues of ethics, governance, privacy and law.

From the inside, this wasnt far from the truth. It would take four years and a class-action lawsuit to get to the bottom of what was going on, but when the budget tool was eventually handed over for scrutiny, a hint of what we all have to fear from the unrestricted power of machine decision-making was revealed.

The algorithm was junk. The data was riddled with errors. The calculations were so bad that the court would eventually rule its determinations unconstitutional. It had, effectively, been awarding benefits at random. And yet, when dressed up as a slick and glossy new computer programme, the algorithm brought with it an air of authority that was difficult to argue against.

In the days before proper regulation of medicines, you used to be able to bottle up any coloured liquid and make a small fortune selling it as a cure-all. Today, in the still largely unfettered world of AI and algorithms, were seeing people make bold, unsubstantiated and sometimes irresponsible claims about their inventions.

Theres only one way to prevent this. I think its time we started treating machines as we would any other source of power. I would like to propose a system of regulation for algorithms, and perhaps a good place to start would be with Tony Benns five simple questions, designed for powerful people, but equally applicable to modern AI:

What power have you got?
Where did you get it from?
In whose interests do you use it?
To whom are you accountable?
How do we get rid of you?
Because, ultimately, we cant just think of algorithms in isolation. We have to think of the failings of the people who design them and the danger to those they are supposedly designed to serve.

Dr Hannah Fry is a lecturer in the mathematics of cities at University College London. Her book Hello World: How to Be Human in the Age of the Machine is out now

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Googles artificial intelligence sibling DeepMind repurposes Go-playing AI to conquer chess and shogi without aid of human knowledge

AlphaZero, the game-playing AI created by Google sibling DeepMind, has beaten the worlds best chess-playing computer program, having taught itself how to play in under four hours.

The repurposed AI, which has repeatedly beaten the worlds best Go players as AlphaGo, has been generalised so that it can now learn other games. It took just four hours to learn the rules to chess before beating the world champion chess program, Stockfish 8, in a 100-game match up.


What is AI?

Artificial Intelligence has various definitions, but in general it means a program that uses data to build a model of some aspect of the world. This model is then used to make informed decisions and predictions about future events. The technology is used widely, to provide speech and face recognition, language translation, and personal recommendations on music, film and shopping sites. In the future, it could deliver driverless cars, smart personal assistants, and intelligent energy grids. AI has the potential to make organisations more effective and efficient, but the technology raises serious issues of ethics, governance, privacy and law.

AlphaZero won or drew all 100 games, according to a non-peer-reviewed research paper published with Cornell University Librarys arXiv.

Starting from random play, and given no domain knowledge except the game rules, AlphaZero achieved within 24 hours a superhuman level of play in the games of chess and shogi [a similar Japanese board game] as well as Go, and convincingly defeated a world-champion program in each case, said the papers authors that include DeepMind founder Demis Hassabis, who was a child chess prodigy reaching master standard at the age of 13.

Its a remarkable achievement, even if we should have expected it after AlphaGo, former world chess champion Garry Kasparov told We have always assumed that chess required too much empirical knowledge for a machine to play so well from scratch, with no human knowledge added at all.

Computer programs have been able to beat the best human chess players ever since IBMs Deep Blue supercomputer defeated Kasparov on 12 May 1997.

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In a major breakthrough for artificial intelligence, AlphaGo Zero took just three days to master the ancient Chinese board game of Go … with no human help

Googles artificial intelligence group, DeepMind, has unveiled the latest incarnation of its Go-playing program, AlphaGo an AI so powerful that it derived thousands of years of human knowledge of the game before inventing better moves of its own, all in the space of three days.

Named AlphaGo Zero, the AI program has been hailed as a major advance because it mastered the ancient Chinese board game from scratch, and with no human help beyond being told the rules. In games against the 2015 version, which famously beat Lee Sedol, the South Korean grandmaster, in the following year, AlphaGo Zero won 100 to 0.

The feat marks a milestone on the road to general-purpose AIs that can do more than thrash humans at board games. Because AlphaGo Zero learns on its own from a blank slate, its talents can now be turned to a host of real-world problems.

At DeepMind, which is based in London, AlphaGo Zero is working out how proteins fold, a massive scientific challenge that could give drug discovery a sorely needed shot in the arm.

Match 3 of AlphaGo vs Lee Sedol in March 2016. Photograph: Erikbenson

For us, AlphaGo wasnt just about winning the game of Go, said Demis Hassabis, CEO of DeepMind and a researcher on the team. It was also a big step for us towards building these general-purpose algorithms. Most AIs are described as narrow because they perform only a single task, such as translating languages or recognising faces, but general-purpose AIs could potentially outperform humans at many different tasks. In the next decade, Hassabis believes that AlphaGos descendants will work alongside humans as scientific and medical experts.

Previous versions of AlphaGo learned their moves by training on thousands of games played by strong human amateurs and professionals. AlphaGo Zero had no such help. Instead, it learned purely by playing itself millions of times over. It began by placing stones on the Go board at random but swiftly improved as it discovered winning strategies.

David Silver describes how the Go playing AI program, AlphaGo Zero, discovers new knowledge from scratch. Credit: DeepMind

Its more powerful than previous approaches because by not using human data, or human expertise in any fashion, weve removed the constraints of human knowledge and it is able to create knowledge itself, said David Silver, AlphaGos lead researcher.

The program amasses its skill through a procedure called reinforcement learning. It is the same method by which balance on the one hand, and scuffed knees on the other, help humans master the art of bike riding. When AlphaGo Zero plays a good move, it is more likely to be rewarded with a win. When it makes a bad move, it edges closer to a loss.

Demis Hassabis, CEO of DeepMind: For us, AlphaGo wasnt just about winning the game of Go. Photograph: DeepMind/Nature

At the heart of the program is a group of software neurons that are connected together to form an artificial neural network. For each turn of the game, the network looks at the positions of the pieces on the Go board and calculates which moves might be made next and probability of them leading to a win. After each game, it updates its neural network, making it stronger player for the next bout. Though far better than previous versions, AlphaGo Zero is a simpler program and mastered the game faster despite training on less data and running on a smaller computer. Given more time, it could have learned the rules for itself too, Silver said.


What is AI?

Artificial Intelligence has various definitions, but in general it means a program that uses data to build a model of some aspect of the world. This model is then used to make informed decisions and predictions about future events. The technology is used widely, to provide speech and face recognition, language translation, and personal recommendations on music, film and shopping sites. In the future, it could deliver driverless cars, smart personal assistants, and intelligent energy grids. AI has the potential to make organisations more effective and efficient, but the technology raises serious issues of ethics, governance, privacy and law.

Writing in the journal Nature, the researchers describe how AlphaGo Zero started off terribly, progressed to the level of a naive amateur, and ultimately deployed highly strategic moves used by grandmasters, all in a matter of days. It discovered one common play, called a joseki, in the first 10 hours. Other moves, with names such as small avalanche and knights move pincer soon followed. After three days, the program had discovered brand new moves that human experts are now studying. Intriguingly, the program grasped some advanced moves long before it discovered simpler ones, such as a pattern called a ladder that human Go players tend to grasp early on.

AlphaGo Zero starts with no knowledge, but progressively gets stronger and stronger as it learns the game of Go. Credit: DeepMind

It discovers some best plays, josekis, and then it goes beyond those plays and finds something even better, said Hassabis. You can see it rediscovering thousands of years of human knowledge.

Eleni Vasilaki, professor of computational neuroscience at Sheffield University, said it was an impressive feat. This may very well imply that by not involving a human expert in its training, AlphaGo discovers better moves that surpass human intelligence on this specific game, she said. But she pointed out that, while computers are beating humans at games that involve complex calculations and precision, they are far from even matching humans at other tasks. AI fails in tasks that are surprisingly easy for humans, she said. Just look at the performance of a humanoid robot in everyday tasks such as walking, running and kicking a ball.

Tom Mitchell, a computer scientist at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh called AlphaGo Zero an outstanding engineering accomplishment. He added: It closes the book on whether humans are ever going to catch up with computers at Go. I guess the answer is no. But it opens a new book, which is where computers teach humans how to play Go better than they used to.

David Silver describes how the AI program AlphaGo Zero learns to play Go. Credit: DeepMind

The idea was welcomed by Andy Okun, president of the American Go Association: I dont know if morale will suffer from computers being strong, but it actually may be kind of fun to explore the game with neural-network software, since its not winning by out-reading us, but by seeing patterns and shapes more deeply.

While AlphaGo Zero is a step towards a general-purpose AI, it can only work on problems that can be perfectly simulated in a computer, making tasks such as driving a car out of the question. AIs that match humans at a huge range of tasks are still a long way off, Hassabis said. More realistic in the next decade is the use of AI to help humans discover new drugs and materials, and crack mysteries in particle physics. I hope that these kinds of algorithms and future versions of AlphaGo-inspired things will be routinely working with us as scientific experts and medical experts on advancing the frontier of science and medicine, Hassabis said.

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For his new book, America 51, the Slipknot frontman has been examining the sicknesses at the heart of US culture and from Donald Trump to modern dating, heres his exclusive guide to navigating them

Dont fear Donald Trump

He is so ineffectual. Everyone was worried about the crazy things hed do, but theres nothing that hes done that cant be changed in another administration, like the Paris agreement. Theres no need to panic. Too many I dont want to say liberal lambasts are hitting the panic button too quickly, instead of bringing up issues and talking about them. For me its really a case of: whats going on with the senators, whats going on on a local level?

Sure, Trump is the firebrand, and everyone wants to talk about the return of Nuremburg after that Boy Scout rally, but whatever. People forget: he hasnt done shit. He really hasnt. Even with his party in control of both houses, nothing has happened. He hasnt fulfilled one promise.

So what am I scared of? I think people need to calm down, and keep fighting the illogical with logic. He won by the smallest of margins. And honestly, he only got in on a technicality. Its shit like that you have to keep reminding yourself of, because they will try and paint a completely different picture. Rhetoric is swirling around. If only there was an interconnected device to look back in time to see what the truth and the reality was! I say that with all the sarcasm in the world.

He hasnt fulfilled one promise… Donald Trump. Photograph: Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images

Toxic masculinity has been in America forever

Its only because of this presidency that we are getting a really good taste of it. In a misogynistic culture, theres this misconception that doing good things for people, and trying to take care of them, is a pussy move. The result is a bunch of people pumping their chests up, and talking shit on women, talking shit on gay people, talking shit about everyone. They feel threatened; their way of life feels threatened.

A lot of it has to do with the fact that the liberal and LGBT community is coming at them fast and loose with concepts they are not used to; theyre not part of their culture, and yet they are being forced to accept them. Theres liberal fascism in response to the conservative fascism, and its keeping good people in the middle scratching their heads and thinking: I dont know what to believe. And part of that reaction is this pumped-up masculine middle finger going: You dont tell me how to live my life. Its their mind balking at the fact that they may have to accept something when they havent had the chance to understand what it is.

For so many years they have been in control of what is culturally accepted, and the whole LGBT community is trying to override that, because theyre tired of being marginalised, theyre tired of being treated like a perversion. Its very much a war. I lived through the Reagan years and I grew up during the gas shortage, I grew up seeing some serious shit go down. But I dont think the country has been this divided since the 1960s.

Im about as qualified for senate as he is, ie not at all … Kid Rock. Photograph: Getty

Celebrities: stop running for senate

Kid Rock is for running for senate, and Im about as qualified as he is, ie not at all. Its the same as the Rock I love the idea of him saying he wants to run for president but theyre just another pair of voices saying that they can get it done, and look where thats got us.

There are still so many cabinet positions that have not been filled in this administration, because Trump is completely overwhelmed. And thats a guy who reportedly knows how to run a business. So what the hell is Kid Rock going to do? Its the biggest form of ego I have ever heard in my life. Please go ahead. Drive a car with a blindfold on and see how far it gets you.

Modern dating is gross

It brings out this crazy psychosis in all of us. At least on a blind date you have to kind of be yourself theyre going to see the sweat, and see youre struggling. But dating sites and apps put you at ease, and so all the little gnarly quirks and perversions come out. Hey, if it brings freaks together, who am I to judge? I think everyone has someone out there, and I would like to see people get together. But are you really trying to meet the love of your life on Grindr?

Romance isnt dead, though. As long as there are hopeless romantics like myself, I dont think it will die. We will just see an evolution of what romance means. There are still people who love selfless acts. And if its something as weird as a very heartfelt post on Twitter, to some people thats huge. To some people thats the ultimate act of romance.

Im the worst hypocrite… Corey Taylor in his civvies.

Were addicted to our phones

Im the worst hypocrite because I bitch about it, but Im just as bad as everyone else. I wander around with this tiny little tablet in my hand, and I look up and see that someone has asked me a question. Its so embarrassing. These devices are bringing out all the dopamine that I had wasted for years on smoking and drinking and drugs, and Im waiting for what the hangover is going to feel like. I dont know what the repercussions are going to be, but maybe were starting to see the end of face-to-face relationships, and more and more people being comfortable with long distance relationships. Why do I need to touch anyone? All I need is my phone and this contact and thats all I need.

Dont worry about the environment

My contribution to being eco-friendly is quitting smoking. I recycle. I do this and that. But all you can really worry about is your own side of things. If you start to think about it on a huge scale then you get overwhelmed. At the same time, Id like to think were trying to do the right thing and we are trying to get this planet on the right track; not because of the planet, but because of us. George Carlin nailed this 25 years ago. He said: the planet is fine, the people are fucked!

The planet is going to be here long after we are gone. Dont try and bullshit me that we are saving the planet we are saving ourselves. We put so much emphasis on the planet and not on the people, because we feel its more selfless, but if people were more honest maybe we would get more done with climate change. Im not trying to save shit. I dont give a fuck about the planet I just want to keep my kids alive.

The music industry is like the wild west

The industry is trying to make peace with streaming, theyre finding out how to monetise it, but theyre still screwing over the artists. Its sad because Im seeing a lot of bands get out because they cant make a living. How are you supposed to make a living when its completely taken out of your hands?

Im in a unique situation because Im in the old system, but Im actually able to make a pretty decent living with the new system. I find it hard to bite the hand that feeds me. But at the same time I see all these other bands who cant get a break. I dont know what the answer is to be honest. Im stoked for people like Ed Sheeran that kid worked his ass off, so why shouldnt he get the recognition? But at the same time when his songs dominated [the charts] because of streaming, where is the fairness? What about the other artists who worked their asses off, but maybe didnt have a million streams?

DJ Khaled, Chance the Rapper and Ed Sheeran… Corey Taylor is a fan of one of these men the others, not so much. Photograph: Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic

Hip-hop has dethroned rocknroll as Americas music

I could have told you this 20 years ago. The thing that bothers me is that people differentiate pop and hip-hop but theyre the same thing. I hate most new hip-hop. Its all the same mush-mouthed bullshit, and it doesnt say anything except I want to get fucked and drink champagne. Its pathetic. The hip-hop I grew up with had a message. Theres a reason Chuck D is my hero, let me put it that way.

Artificial intelligence is taking over the world

A lot of people are upset because too many manufacturing jobs are gone, but there are so many companies coming up that need a workforce. Theres a reason the market is doing well in America even though the presidency is shit, because the prior presidency actually left behind a healthy infrastructure with growth happening. Trumps going to try and take credit for that, but theres always a two or four year hangover. The problem comes when you start to see deregulation happening on a federal level when it comes to big business thats when the machines come in, thats when the outsourcing comes in.

But all of these insurance companies are hiring, all of these tech companies are hiring. People look at those industries and go: Im not intelligent or pretentious enough. But if you want to feed your family, then a job is a job. Sometimes you have to bite the bullet and go with what you have to do. Follow where the work is. If industries want to keep outsourcing and replacing people with programs, then stop buying those products. Hit them where it hurts. Thats what it comes down to.

Corey Taylor on stage with Slipknot. Photograph: Raphael Dias/Getty Images

Everyone is appropriating metal culture

Youre seeing grandmas in Slipknot shirts. Its really weird. It makes it easier for me to blend in, which I am completely happy to do; you get tired of the stares after a while. But punk and metallers take fascist imagery like shaved heads and black clothing and divorce it from racism and nationalism, to make a statement about disaffection; youre now seeing people like Richard Spencer who are not only appropriating the imagery of nationalism, but also the rhetoric. The anger, the racism of it. It worries me. Oh, but Justin Biebers line in pseudo-metal T-shirts? He can kiss my ass.

  • Corey Taylor was speaking to Harriet Gibsone. America 51 is out now, published by Da Capo. His new album with Stone Sour, Hydrograd, is out now on Roadrunner; the bands UK tour begins at Birmingham Barclaycard Arena on 29 November. The Slipknot documentary Day of the Gusano will screen nationwide on 6 September.

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Tech firms have developed AI that can learn how to write music. So will machines soon be composing symphonies, hit singles and bespoke soundtracks?

From Elgar to Adele, and the Beatles or Pink Floyd to Kanye West, Londons Abbey Road Studios has hosted a storied list of musical stars since opening in 1931. But the man playing a melody on the piano in the complexs Gatehouse studio when the Observer visits isnt one of them.

The man sitting at the keyboard where John Lennon may have finessed A Day in the Life is Siavash Mahdavi, CEO of AI Music, a British tech startup exploring the intersection of artificial intelligence and music.

His company is one of two AI firms currently taking part in Abbey Road Red, a startup incubator run by the studios that aims to forge links between new tech companies and the music industry. Its not alone: Los Angeles-based startup accelerator Techstars Music, part-funded by major labels Sony Music and Warner Music Group, included two AI startups in its programme earlier this year: Amper Music and Popgun.

This is definitely a burgeoning sector. Other companies in the field include Jukedeck in London, Melodrive in Berlin, Humtap in San Francisco and Groov.AI in Googles home town, Mountain View. Meanwhile, Google has its own AI music research project called Magenta, while Sonys Computer Science Laboratories (CSL) in Paris has a similar project called Flow Machines.

Whether businesses or researchers, these teams are trying to answer the same question: can machines create music, using AI technologies like neural networks to be trained up on a catalogue of human-made music before producing their own? But these companies work poses another question too: if machines can create music, what does that mean for professional human musicians?

Ive always been fascinated by the concept that we could automate, or intelligently do, what humans think is only theirs to do. We always look at creativity as the last bastion of humanity, says Mahdavi. However, he quickly decided not to pursue his first idea: Could you press a button and write a symphony?

Why not? Its very difficult to do, and I dont know how useful it is. Musicians are queuing up to have their music listened to: to get signed and to get on stage. The last thing they need is for this button to exist, he says.

The button already exists, in fact. Visit Jukedecks website, and you can have a song created for you simply by telling it what genre, mood, tempo, instruments and track length you want. Amper Music offers a similar service. This isnt about trying to make a chart hit, its about providing production music to be used as the soundtrack for anything from YouTube videos to games and corporate presentations.

Once youve created your (for example) two-minute uplifting folk track using a ukulele at a tempo of 80 beats-per-minute, Jukedecks system gives it a name (Furtive Road in this case), then will sell you a royalty-free licence to use it for $0.99 if youre an individual or small business, or $21.99 if youre a larger company. You can buy the copyright to own the track outright for $199.

A couple of years ago, AI wasnt at the stage where it could write a piece of music good enough for anyone. Now its good enough for some use cases, says Ed Newton-Rex, Jukedecks CEO.

It doesnt need to be better than Adele or Ed Sheeran. Theres no desire for that, and what would that even mean? Music is so subjective. Its a bit of a false competition: there is no agreed-upon measure of how good a piece of music is. The aim [for AI music] is not will this get better than X? but will it be useful for people?. Will it help them?

The phrase good enough crops up regularly during interviews with people in this world: AI music doesnt have to be better than the best tracks made by humans to suit a particular purpose, especially for people on a tight budget.

Christopher Nolan isnt going to stop working with Hans Zimmer any time soon, says Cliff Fluet, partner at London law firm Lewis Silkin, who works with several AI music startups. But for people who are making short films or YouTubers who dont want their video taken down for copyright reasons, you can see how a purely composed bit of AI music could be very useful.

Striking a more downbeat note, music industry consultant Mark Mulligan suggests that this strand of AI music is about sonic quality rather than music quality. As long as the piece has got the right sort of balance of desired instrumentation, has enough pleasing chord progressions and has an appropriate quantity of builds and breaks then it is good enough, he says.

AI music is nowhere near being good enough to be a hit, but thats not the point. It is creating 21st-century muzak. In the same way that 95% of people will not complain about the quality of the music in a lift, so most people will find AI music perfectly palatable in the background of a video.

Not every AI-music startup is targeting production music. AI Music (the company) is working on a tool that will shape-change existing songs to match the context they are being listened to in. This can range from a subtle adjustment of its tempo to match someones walking pace through to what are essentially automated remixes created on the fly.

Maybe you listen to a song and in the morning it might be a little bit more of an acoustic version. Maybe that same song, when you play it as youre about to go to the gym, its a deep house or drumnbass version. And in the evening its a bit more jazzy. The song can actually shift itself, says Mahdavi.

Watch the Alice demo on YouTube here.

Australian startup Popgun has a different approach again. Its AI called Alice is learning to play the piano like a child would, by listening to thousands of songs and watching how more experienced pianists play them. In its current form, you play a few notes to Alice, and it will guess what might come next and play it, resulting in a back-and-forth human/AI duet. The next step will be to get her to accompany a human in real-time.

Its a new, fun way to interact with music. My 10 year-old daughter is playing the piano, and its the bane of our existence to get her to practise! But with Alice she plays for hours: its a game, and youre playing with somebody else, says CEO Stephen Phillips.

Vochlea, which is the other AI startup in the Abbey Road Red incubator, is in a similar space to Popgun. Beatbox into its VM Apollo microphone, and its software will turn your vocals into drum samples. Approximate the sound of a guitar or trumpet with your mouth, and it will whip up a riff or brass section using that melody.

Its a little bit like speech recognition, but its non-verbal, says CEO George Philip Wright. Im focusing on using machine-learning and AI to reward the creative input rather than taking away from it. It came from thinking, if youve got all these ideas for music in your head, what if you had a device to help you express and capture those ideas?

Many of the current debates about AI are framed around its threat to humans, from driverless trucks and taxis putting millions of people out of work, to Tesla boss Elon Musk warning that if not properly regulated, AI could be a fundamental risk to the existence of civilisation.

AI music companies are keen to tell a more positive story. AI Music hopes its technology will help fans fall in love with songs because those songs adapt to their context, while Popgun and Vochlea think AI could become a creative foil for musicians.

Jon Eades, who runs the Abbey Road Red incubator, suggests that AI will be a double-edged sword, much like the last technology to shake up the music industry and its creative community.

I think there will be collateral damage, just like the internet. It created huge opportunity, and completely adjusted the landscape. But depending on where you sat in the pre-internet ecosystem, you either called it an opportunity or a threat, he says.

It was the same change, but depending on how much you had to gain or lose, your commentary was different. I think the same thing is occurring here. AI is going to be as much of a fundamental factor in how the businesses around music are going to evolve as the internet was.

That may include the businesses having the biggest impact on how we listen to music, and how the industry and creators make money from it: streaming services. They already use one subset of AI machine learning to provide their music recommendations: for example in personalised playlists like Spotifys Discover Weekly and Apples My New Music Mix.

The songs on those playlists are made by humans, though. Could a Spotify find a use for AI-composed music? Recently, the company poached Franois Pachet from Sony CSL, where hed been in charge of the Flow Machines project.

It was under Pachet that in September 2016 Sony released two songs created by AI, although with lyrics and production polish from humans. Daddys Car was composed in the style of the Beatles, while The Ballad of Mr Shadow took its cues from American songwriters like Irving Berlin, Duke Ellington, George Gershwin and Cole Porter. You wouldnt mistake either for their influences, but nor would you likely realise they werent 100% the work of humans.

Now Pachet is working for Spotify, amid speculation within the industry that he could build a team there to continue his previous line of work. For example, exploring whether AI can create music for Spotifys mood-based playlists for relaxing, focusing and falling asleep.

For now, Spotify is declining to say what Pachet will be doing. I have no idea, admits Jukedecks Newton-Rex. But to the question: One day, will a piece of software that knows you be able to compose music that puts you to sleep? Absolutely. Thats exactly the kind of field in which AI can be useful.

Whats also unclear is the question of authorship. Can an AI legally be the creator of a track? Can it be sued for copyright infringement? Might artists one day have intelligence rights written into their contracts to prepare for a time when AIs can be trained on their songwriting and then let loose to compose original material?

AI Musics plans for automated, personalised remixes may bring their own complications. If an app allows you to shape-change a song to the extent that you cant even hear the original, does it break away and become its own instance? says Mahdavi.

If you stretch something to a point where you cant recognise it, does that become yours, because youve added enough original content to it? And how do you then measure the point at which it no longer belongs to the original?

The answers to these questions? Mahdavi pauses to choose his words carefully. What were learning is that a lot of this is really quite grey.

Its also really quite philosophical, with all these startups and research teams grappling with fundamental issues of creativity and humanity.

The most interesting thing about all this is that it might give us an insight into how the human composition process works. We dont really know how composition works: its hard to define it, says Newton-Rex. But building these systems starts to ask questions about how [the same] system works in the human brain.

Will more of those human brains be in danger of being replaced by machines? Even as he boldly predicts that at some point soon, AI Music will be indistinguishable from human-created music, Amper Musics CEO, Drew Silverstein, claims that its the process rather than the results that will favour the humans.

Even when the artistic output of AI and human-created music is indistinguishable, we as humans will always value sitting in a room with another person and making art. Its part of what we are as humans. That will never go away, he says.

Mark Mulligan agrees. AI may never be able to make music good enough to move us in the way human music does. Why not? Because making music that moves people to jump up and dance, to cry, to smile requires triggering emotions and it takes an understanding of emotions to trigger them, he says.

If AI can learn to at least mimic human emotions then that final frontier may be breached. But that is a long, long way off.

These startups all hope AI music will inspire human musicians rather than threaten them. Maybe this wont make human music. Maybe itll make some music weve never heard before, says Phillips. That doesnt threaten human music. If anything, it shows theres new human music yet to be developed.

Cliff Fluet brings the topic back to the current home for two of these startups, Abbey Road, and the level of musician it has traditionally attracted.

Every artist Ive told about this technology sees it as a whole new box of tricks to play with. Would a young Brian Wilson or Paul McCartney be using this technology? Absolutely, he says.

Ill say it now: Bowie would be working with an AI collaborator if he was still alive. Im 100% sure of that. Itd sound better than Tin Machine, thats for sure

Try it out

You can experiment with AI music and its close cousin generative music already. Here are some examples.

As mentioned in this feature, you can visit Jukedecks website and get its AI to create tracks based on your inputs.

AI Duet
Launched by Google this year, this gets you to play some piano notes, then the AI responds to you with its own melody.

Brian Eno was involved in this app, where you combine shapes to start music that then generates itself as your soundtrack.

Humtap Music
A little like Vochlea in this feature, Humtaps AI analyses your vocals to create an instrumental to accompany you.

Weav Run
This is part running app and part music app, using adaptive technology to modify the tempo of the song to match your pace.

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Software programmed to interact with humans is hot property in Silicon Valley, with potential benefits for businesses, consumers even the bereaved

Chatbots are the new apps, said Microsofts CEO Satya Nadella earlier this year. He was not the first senior tech exec to make this claim.

Threads are the new apps, suggested Facebooks head of messaging products David Marcus in January, referring to the threads of conversation in apps such as Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp.

Nadella and Marcus see chatbots computer programs that you interact with by chatting, for example in threads in messaging apps as an important new human/machine interface. Both of their companies have launched tools to help developers create these bots, and between April and September, more than 30,000 were made for Facebook Messenger alone.

Chatbots arent a new technology. The shopping and breaking news bots in Messengers ancestors are chatbots such as AI psychotherapist Eliza from the mid-1960s and Parry, a bot mimicking a human with paranoid schizophrenia, in the early 1970s.

(In 1972, they were thrown together for a bot-to-bot conversation, which Parry quickly steered down a rabbit hole of corrupt horse racing gambling.)

Since 1991, the chatbot equivalent of the Olympics has been the annual Loebner prize, which challenges bots to converse with responses indistinguishable from a humans. Questions in 2016 included: What does Brexit mean?; Would you like a cup of tea?; What do you know about the Turing test?; and a neat touch Do you dream of electric sheep?

But the chatbots on Facebook Messenger and other apps such as Kik, Telegram, Slack and WeChat arent dreaming of electric sheep. Rather than trying to pass for human, theyre unashamedly artificial, and focused entirely on providing information and/or completing tasks for the humans they interact with. If they have views on Brexit, theyre not letting on.

Talking to these chatbots works just like messaging a friend, once youve added them as a contact. Kik has its own bot shop to browse bots in categories including entertainment, lifestyle and games, while business messaging app Slack has a brilliant bots list for its corporate users.

Expectations of these bots are high, and immediate. As veteran developer and Twitter hashtag inventor Chris Messina wrote in his blog in January: 2016 will be the year of conversational commerce you and I will be talking to brands and companies over Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, Telegram, Slack, and elsewhere before years end, and will find it normal.

He added: Im less interested in whether a conversational service is provided by a human, bot, or some combination thereof Over an increasing period of time, computer-driven bots will become more human-feeling, to the point where the user cant detect the difference, and will interact with either human agent or computer bot in roughly the same interaction paradigm.

This vision text chatting to brands and companies as well as to friends and family is whats driving the chatbot excitement in 2016.

Im excited about conversation as an interface, because for certain applications it feels like the most natural way to engage with a product or service, says Danny Freed, founder of a startup called Joy whose chatbot helps people to track their moods.

Chatbot Jarvis, developed by Lawrence Wu, which acts as a reminder service for its users.

It may also be accessible to a wider range of people. Pete Trainor is director of human-centred design at Nexus, a digital agency that created an AI assistant called Luvo for the bank RBS. He is enthusiastic about chatbots reaching people who may struggle with other digital products.

Just in terms of engaging audiences who cant handle complex user experiences, theyre absolutely brilliant, he says. My mum wont use apps or websites, but she does text message and use WhatsApp to keep in touch because its conversational and thus very human by design.

A similar argument is made by NitinBabel, co-founder of Indian startup Niki, whose chatbot can book taxis, pay bills and order takeaway food among other tasks. He points out that in India, less than 2% of its billion-plus mobile users are transacting online, yet there are more than 10 times more users of messaging appsthere.

A similar trend exists globally. Chatbots have the potential to bridge this gap and enable users who are currently on the mobile internet just to converse with their friends and family to start utilising the platform for a much wider range of services, saysBabel.

One of the key services will be customer service. Tony Wright, strategist at marketing and technology agency DigitasLBi, points out that even if chatbots can handle simple interactions between businesses and their customers, they will have an impact. Waiting hours on the end of a line to give your energy supplier a meter reading could one day be as simple as tapping a few numbers into a tab within Facebook Messenger, hesays.

Jo Allison, consumer behavioural analyst at research firm Canvas8, which has published several reports on chatbots, agrees.

The potential chatbots have to improve customer service is exciting because its very real, says Allison, who sees the technology as an alternative to the almost universally unpopular interactive voice response (IVR) technology used by many companies customer service operations now.

Chatbots may be a logical next step, meanwhile, for companies that already have humans talking to customers on social networks such as Twitter from rail companies to travel firms and consumer goods makers but who may struggle to deal with an influx of questions andcomplaints.

Allison cites a recent study suggesting that almost 90% of messages for brands on social networks are ignored, while replies to the other 10% come after an average wait of 10 hours. Consumers expect a reply within four, she says.

Joy, which helps people to track their moods.

Chatbots, backed by machine-learning technology, will be able to remember past conversations and learn from new ones, building up a stash of data over time to respond to a greater range of incoming queries.

Technology firm IPsoft has built an AI worker called Amelia that is designed to automate customer services. Enfield council in London has already struck a deal to use her to help residents find information and complete the initial steps in standard applications such as planningpermission.

She determines how to resolve a problem based on knowledge of the topic and process involved, says IPsofts European CEO Frank Lansink. If Amelia cannot answer a question, she will alert a human colleague, observe the following interaction and learn how to respond to comparable questions in the future.

While people involved in developing chatbots stress the positive aspects of this, it does raise two concerns. First: the privacy aspects of collecting, analysing and using all this data. Chatbots will need clear privacy policies just like apps do, but will the chatty mode of interaction distract us fromthat?

A number of existing bots and bot platforms are not designed with user privacy and security in mind, says Alan Duric, CTO of Skype rival Wire. Rather than users having to check to make sure that adequate precautions are inbuilt, security is a requirement that should be considered a mandatory part ofdesign.

Second, theres the impact on the humans currently working in customer service. In the shorter term, as Lansinks comments indicate, those human colleagues will still be essential. Further out, chatbots are part of the wider discussion about how software may displace humans in the 21st-century workplace.

Some companies see chatbots as helping us get more done in our own jobs. Business messaging service Slack, for example, has its built-in Slackbot and a range of bots being developed by third parties.

Bots are becoming part of our everyday working lives. We see bots scheduling meetings, helping salespeople access CRM information, managing to-dos, reporting on key business metrics and more, says Slacks head of developer relations, Amir Shevat.

Theres a lot of focus on consumer bots right now, but bots that solve for work will be where the real success will happen, because theres a clear set of problems to address.

This is a time of experimentation for the technology: many of those 30,000-plus Facebook Messenger chatbots are awkward to interact with, spammy and/or not useful at all. Its hardly surprising at this stage, but it should be a warning against grand claims of a chatbot revolution.

It got really overhyped really quickly, admitted David Marcus last week. This is a long journey, and you have to start somewhere.

Experts agree that an awareness of chatbots weaknesses as well as their strengths is important. Rachel Barton of consulting firm Accenture Strategy, says: Receiving scripted conversations, being directed to self-service channels or automated help can feel frustrating in particular instances when customers need help and support.

Dylan Bourguignon, CEO and founder of insurance startup So-Sure, says: My take on chatbots is always: what do customers want? My answer to that is: a quick, correct and complete answer to their question. Until AI is able to do that, humans are the best respondents.

Pete Trainor says that Nexus spent nearly six months working on the personality of RBSs Luvo assistant before coding any tech, to minimise the risks of frustration on the part of the humans it chats to. I think the developers need to spend a lot more time focusing on the personality and psychology of their bots, he says. We wanted to ensure the profile was right and the language was approachable. Implementation is relatively straightforward: its the words in the chats and the sentiment analysis of the conversations theres where the real magic lives.

Lawrence Wu, developer of a chatbot called Jarvis, which acts as a reminder service for its users, also uses the magic word, but suggests that it comes from the combination of bots and humans behind the scenes. The most exciting thing about chatbots, as a medium, is allowing humans to step in when needed, he says. Chatbots in themselves arent revolutionary weve had phone trees and robotic dialogues for a while but when paired with human intelligence for tasks AI hasnt quite gotten to yet, these bots seem like magic.

Sometimes the combination of humans and bots can be toxic, as Microsoft found out earlier this year when it launched a chatbot called Tay on Twitter. Designed to mimic the linguistic tics of a late teenage girl and learn from the humans it interacted with, Tay was manipulated by mischievous internet users, and managed to praise Hitler, deny the Holocaust and accuse George W Bush of the 9/11 attacks before being taken offline by Microsoft within a day oflaunching.

Your energy companys Facebook Messenger bot is unlikely to be as outrageous, but experts think Tay is a valuable reminder that there is more work to do around AI and chatbots.

AI-driven programs have huge potential so long as they can get better at understanding language contextually, says Jo Allison of Canvas8. And learn to avoid being tricked into promoting genocide.

Other experts warn of the risks of getting carried away with the chatbot hype. Not all services can be shoehorned into a chat-based dialogue, says Tim Rea, CEO of messaging app Palringo, which has a number of bots.

Sometimes a conversation is just not the best interface suited for the task, says Lawrence Wu of Jarvis.

Dont build a chatbot just to follow a trend; build a chatbot if it helps you solve a problem better, or get to market faster, adds Joys Danny Freed.

Developers are enthusiastic about how the current generation of text-based chatbots will evolve. Voice-based technologies such as Apples Siri and Amazons Alexa soon to make its UK debut in the Echo speaker show one path forward.

Right now, the interface for chatbots is text and buttons. Eventually it will be voice, like with Amazon Alexa or Siri, says Syd Lawrence of We Make Awesome Sh, the studio that recently created a Facebook Messenger chatbot for musician Hardwell. It will be like having a virtual PA helping them with all parts of their life.

That said, its important to remember that consumers want less, not more, interaction, says Daniel Hegarty, CEO of Habito, which has just launched a chatbot mortgage adviser in the UK. If Alexa can order my shopping while I shout it out across the kitchen, thats great, but the second it takes longer to say than to type, the utility is destroyed.

Tony Wright thinks that chatbots will also appear in digital services beyond messaging apps. It could be interesting to see how chatbots might be built into the likes of Netflix and Spotify, he says, suggesting that bots could build on the current recommendation features these services have.

You might want to quickly establish who directed something or what else a particular actors been in, he says, before delivering a warning that chatbots must not be gimmicks.

The likelihood of a chatbot becoming popular depends on how entertaining or useful it is. Does it really serve a purpose or enhance someones experience? says Wright, before making a comparison that may give Microsofts Satya Nadella pause for thought.

Theres a reason why the personified paperclip in the corner of Microsoft Office isnt around anymore.

Our pick of the chatbots


Tay may have been led astray by humans (see main article), but Microsoft has another chatbot that has been less problematic. XiaoIce has been living on Chinese messaging app WeChat since 2015, and has had more than 10bn conversations with people since.


Millions of people are already tracking their calorie intake using smartphone apps. Fitmeal is a chatbot that turns this into a conversation, prompting you to tell it what youve eaten and drunk, calculating the calories, and reminding you to check in.


The self-described worlds first robot lawyer was created by a 19-year-old student to automate the process of appealing against parking tickets, winning more than 160,000 cases since its launch last year. He has since expanded toflight-delay compensation.

Eternime: live on in chatbot form


This startup wants you to live for ever. Or, at least, live on after your death in chatbot form. It collects your thoughts, stories and memories, curates them and creates an intelligent avatar that looks like you to interact with your descendants.


Dance-music star Hardwells chatbot is a cut above the marketing-focused herd. Its as much about fans chatting to him, and voting on their favourite tracks for his podcast as promotion for his music. Two-way interaction.


Indian startup Niki launched in 2015, before the current wave of chatbot hype. Its an all-purpose helper, booking cabs, paying bills, recharging phone credit and even ordering takeaway from Burger King for its growing number of users.


Messaging apps and their notifications could be seen as a source of stress in our daily lives. Joy wants to have a more positive effect, tracking mental health by asking you once a day how you are and analysing the results, as well as offering stress tips.


Chatbots could be very useful at making up for the flaws in human memory. With Jarvis, for example: you can tell him to remind you to go to the gym, take the bins out or book tickets through Facebook Messenger, and get pinged at the appropriate time with a reminder.


Launched earlier this month, Habito is described as an artificially intelligent digital mortgage adviser. It uses multiple-choice questions to gauge your needs, and then scans hundreds of mortgage products to suggest the ones that might suit you without a hard sell to choose one.

Tina the T-Rex: helps children with all things dinosaur.

Tina the T-Rex

Tina is the work of National Geographic: a Facebook Messenger bot pretending to be a Tyrannosaurus rex that children can ask questions about all things dinosaur. Its an early example of a chatbot interface used for primary-level education.


Acebot is one of a growing number of chatbots on the Slack messaging service, for workplaces. It will manage your expenses, keep track of your to-do list, quickly poll your colleagues and handle a range of other digital office tasks.


Massively is one of the most interesting attempts to turn chatbots into interactive fiction. Its tech delivers stories through text conversations with their characters, both in its own app and in messaging apps such as Kik.

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As artificial intelligence increases its influence on our lives, the talk is of job losses, self-driving car crashes, algorithms running amok. But there is an upside

Brewing you the perfect pint

AI might be shaking up life as we know it, but like any good party guest, its about bringing the beers. Thats according to the work of London-based company IntelligentX, which is using artificial intelligence to brew the perfect pint. What makes IntelligentXs beers smart is the speed at which the firm is able to respond to the changing tastes of customers on a batch-by-batch basis. The company currently brews four beers: golden, pale, amber and black.

On each bottle of AI beer theres a code, directing customers towards its website, where they can offer their feedback by answering questions. Based on this feedback, a type of goal-driven AI called reinforcement learning works out what it needs to do to get better outcomes in the future, meaning changing the recipe to earn better scores from customers. It even has a bank of wild-card ingredients to draw on so the whole thing doesnt become too predictable.

In the 12 months since IntelligentXs four beers began to be trialled, the recipes involved have evolved 11 times. Right now, the beers are mainly being sampled at startup events in east London, but could soon be coming to a pub near you.

A scene from Sunspring, a film written by AI.

Writing the next blockbuster movie

From Stanley Kubricks 2001: A Space Odyssey to last years Ex Machina (with Steven Spielbergs AI somewhere in between) there have been plenty of films about artificial intelligence. But what about AI actually writing the films themselves? A growing number of researchers and companies seem to think this is the way to go. A UK startup called Epagogix has advised some of the biggest studios in Hollywood, helping them predict how much money movies are likely to make at the box office. While thats not exactly creative, the company goes further than that, having its neural network make creative suggestions about ways the movies potential yield could be increased.

Epagogix isnt alone. Sunspring, a film made for this years Sci-Fi London film festival, used a neural network trained on screenplays such as Ghostbusters, Interstellar and The Fifth Element to generate a new script. It included the notable direction: He is standing in the stars and sitting on the floor. A similar project, carried out by a Scottish comic book artist Andy Herd, fed a neural net with every episode of the 1990s sitcom Friends and asked it to create new scripts. Herd later admitted said it would need further modification, after a disproportionate number of episodes ended with the cast in bed together.

An image created by Deep Dream.

Painting a masterpiece

In June last year, Google unveiled its Deep Dream project. Having at their digital fingertips the largest archive of photographs in human history, Google researchers decided to see what would happen if they let computers create rather than simply classify images. The idea is that, having seen enough examples of a chair to recognise and label one appropriately when shown it in a photo, Googles computers should be able to create new chair pictures based on their sum total knowledge of chair-ness.

But Google found that, since pictures of barbells were frequently in the same photos as muscular weightlifters arms, Deep Dream assumed the limbs were part of them when it came to creating its own. Still, it would be hard to argue that the effects created by Deep Dream, which also looks for patterns within existing photos and uses this to kickstart its flights of AI fancy, arent memorable.

You can have a go yourself at seeing how AI will transform pictures of yourself, by using an app such as Dreamscope, which allows users to upload images and then apply different AI filters to them.

The robotic equivalent of Ronaldo lines up a free kick at a RoboCup football competition. Photograph: Rex

Being tomorrows sport stars

Despite the fact that many AI researchers veer closer to the geek than the jock end of the spectrum, that doesnt mean that the important factors in what makes someone proficient at sport arent of interest to those in artificial intelligence. Topics such as co-ordination, agility and evaluation of the available legal moves in a constantly shifting game are at the core of AI and robotics research. This year, the so-called RoboCup tournament held its 20th competition in Leipzig, with teams of humanoid robots playing against one another in AI football matches. The eventual goal? By 2050, to have a team of such robots capable of beating a world-champion football team according to Fifa rules. It may sound crazy, but so did the idea of building a computer capable of beating chess champion Garry Kasparov once upon a time.

In the near future, if you want to get involved in AI-based sport, you could look up Cambridge-based company PiBorg, which is gearing up to host Formula Pi, the worlds first autonomous toy car race series. Open to anyone who wants to enter, the Formula 1-inspired contest gives participants a Raspberry Pi-powered vehicle and asks them to write the code to make it zoom around the track. There are also notes, seminars and basic code to get novices started. In short, AI and sport goes a lot further than just the new series of Robot Wars.

An evolutionary antenna made by AI for Nasa. Photograph: Nasa

Designing the perfect satellite component

An evolutionary algorithm is a way of imitating the power of natural selection inside a computer, with AI attempting to solve problems by coming up with solutions and then pitting these solutions against others in a sort of knockout tournament. Increasingly, these tools are now used for design, such as the creation of components for Nasa satellites. With a [satellite] antenna, for instance, you might tell the algorithm that you want a solution that will fit in a 10cm by 10cm box, be capable of radiating a spherical or hemispherical pattern and be able to operate at a certain Wi-Fi band, says former Nasa and Google engineer Jason Lohn. You provide all the constraints and, based on them, the algorithm then optimises a solution.

Such solutions can even appear baffling to the smartest human engineers, such as when Lohns AI-designed satellite antenna came out looking like a bent paperclip. However, when he tried it, he found that it worked better than any solution hed ever seen. It works and, as engineers, what we ultimately care about is getting things to work.

Other designers, such as the Italian Celestino Soddu, have used evolutionary algorithms for taking a stab at what a baroque cathedral would look like if it was a living thing allowed to evolve over many generations.

A food truck serving recipes dreamed up by IBMs Watson supercomputer.

Cooking you a weird meal

Do you fancy substituting your regular Sunday lunch for an Indian turmeric paella, TurkishKorean caesar salad or Cuban lobster bouillabaisse? If these sound like recipes no human chef would ever come up with, youd be right. Theyre created by IBMs supercomputer Watson, the bot perhaps best remembered for beating top-ranked human participants at the US TV gameshow Jeopardy! a few years ago.

We started by getting Watson to analyse around 9,000 recipes, says Rob High of IBM. From that, the system was able to learn the different types and styles of recipe. It learned the difference between a salad and a sandwich or a quiche and a pasta dish. It also learned the difference between Vietnamese cooking and south-western [American] styles or French and Chinese cooking. It figured out which flavours come out most prominently within all those types of dishes.

Watson can also analyse the chemical compounds that control taste and use these to generate novel pairings of food. Like any celebrity chef worth their salt, Watson even has its own recipe book: Cognitive Cooking with Chef Watson.

Juliette Pochin, who performed a duet with a quantum computer earlier this year. Photograph: Tristan Fewings/Getty Images

Writing a symphony

There is a scene in the 2004 movie I, Robot in which Will Smiths character talks about computational creativity. Can a robot write a symphony? he asks, using it as an example of why machines and humans will always have fundamental differences. Had Smiths character waited until July 2012, he would have got an answer, since that was when the London Symphony Orchestra took to the stage to perform an AI-generated composition entitled Transits Into an Abyss, which was hailed as artistic and delightful by one reviewer.

In July this year, researchers at Plymouth University presented a 15-minute piece in which Welsh mezzo-soprano Juliette Pochin sang with a quantum computer. The singers pitch and loudness and various notes by the composer are sent to two algorithms on the quantum computer every three seconds, says creator Alexis Kirke. Items returned include suggested harmonies. What this shows is that quantum AI isnt just about super-speed algorithms for image recognition and molecular development, but also to provide creative opportunities for composers and artists.

Thinking Machines by Luke Dormehl is published in paperback by WH Allen (14.99). Click here to order a copy for 12.29

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Noise-canceling headphones can make it hard to hear when a person actually needs your attention, and Amazon wants to fix that

Noise-canceling headphones provide a peaceful haven for those trying to work or sleep in loud environments, but make it difficult to hear when someone really needs your attention.

To address this problem, Amazon has outlined plans for headphones that selectively listen out for certain sound patterns such as someone saying a specific keyword, such as your name.

Noise-canceling headphones have microphones that listen to the sound coming from the outside world the chatter, traffic or building work and actively mute those frequencies. Amazon is proposing a design, for which the company has just been awarded a patent, that would analyze the incoming noise and listen for specific trigger words, phrases or sounds for example, Hey, Judy.

Upon recognizing the keyword or phrase, the device would temporarily stop canceling noise so that the headphone wearer could hear outside sounds. The patent documents suggest that the same temporary suspension of the noise-canceling capabilities could also be triggered by an electronic, non-audio signal sent from a second device, such as a doorbell.

The company has already developed sophisticated listening technology for Amazon Echo, the voice-controlled speaker that allows users to interact with a virtual assistant called Alexa. Echo listens for the command Hey, Alexa before firing up. It works well even when Echo is playing loud music or there is other background conversation and noise.

The patent filing lists Benjamin Scott and Mark Rafn, both software engineers for Amazon, as inventors. Scotts LinkedIn profile lists his job title as Alexa Information, suggesting that the patent could be related to improving the user experience with the companys voice-activated virtual assistant.

Perhaps the company is thinking about the safety of people walking around with hazard-muffling headsets. Or it might be considering putting a virtual assistant into earbuds, as we saw in Spike Jonzes film Her. Or perhaps its simply looking at ways that people could customize Alexa to allow her to selectively listen for keywords of their choosing? Or it could just be another patent left to gather dust in Amazons intellectual property cupboard.

Amazon isnt the only company interested in technology with selective hearing. The New York-based startup Doppler Labs has been working on active listening earbuds that allow you to enhance or eliminate certain frequencies depending on your preferences so you can reduce the sound of a baby crying or boost the bass in a club.

Doppler Labs CEO, Noah Kraft, believes that audio is the next great frontier for computing. He didnt know whether Amazon was planning to put Alexa into headphones, but said it was the logical next step.

Amazons Alexa works well because its built into a large tabletop device with good quality microphones that sits in your home and connects to the internet. Bringing the same technology into headphones is much more difficult, Kraft explains, as latency the delay between picking up sounds and responding to them is much more noticeable.

Having a giant thing sitting on a desk is very different from processing on the bud, he said. It has to happen in real time. Its not helpful if a siren hits your ear and then a second later gets reduced.

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