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#432487 Can We Make a Musical Turing Test?

As artificial intelligence advances, we’re encountering the same old questions. How much of what we consider to be fundamentally human can be reduced to an algorithm? Can we create something sufficiently advanced that people can no longer distinguish between the two? This, after all, is the idea behind the Turing Test, which has yet to be passed.

At first glance, you might think music is beyond the realm of algorithms. Birds can sing, and people can compose symphonies. Music is evocative; it makes us feel. Very often, our intense personal and emotional attachments to music are because it reminds us of our shared humanity. We are told that creative jobs are the least likely to be automated. Creativity seems fundamentally human.

But I think above all, we view it as reductionist sacrilege: to dissect beautiful things. “If you try to strangle a skylark / to cut it up, see how it works / you will stop its heart from beating / you will stop its mouth from singing.” A human musician wrote that; a machine might be able to string words together that are happy or sad; it might even be able to conjure up a decent metaphor from the depths of some neural network—but could it understand humanity enough to produce art that speaks to humans?

Then, of course, there’s the other side of the debate. Music, after all, has a deeply mathematical structure; you can train a machine to produce harmonics. “In the teachings of Pythagoras and his followers, music was inseparable from numbers, which were thought to be the key to the whole spiritual and physical universe,” according to Grout in A History of Western Music. You might argue that the process of musical composition cannot be reduced to a simple algorithm, yet musicians have often done so. Mozart, with his “Dice Music,” used the roll of a dice to decide how to order musical fragments; creativity through an 18th-century random number generator. Algorithmic music goes back a very long way, with the first papers on the subject from the 1960s.

Then there’s the techno-enthusiast side of the argument. iTunes has 26 million songs, easily more than a century of music. A human could never listen to and learn from them all, but a machine could. It could also memorize every note of Beethoven. Music can be converted into MIDI files, a nice chewable data format that allows even a character-by-character neural net you can run on your computer to generate music. (Seriously, even I could get this thing working.)

Indeed, generating music in the style of Bach has long been a test for AI, and you can see neural networks gradually learn to imitate classical composers while trying to avoid overfitting. When an algorithm overfits, it essentially starts copying the existing music, rather than being inspired by it but creating something similar: a tightrope the best human artists learn to walk. Creativity doesn’t spring from nowhere; even maverick musical geniuses have their influences.

Does a machine have to be truly ‘creative’ to produce something that someone would find valuable? To what extent would listeners’ attitudes change if they thought they were hearing a human vs. an AI composition? This all suggests a musical Turing Test. Of course, it already exists. In fact, it’s run out of Dartmouth, the school that hosted that first, seminal AI summer conference. This year, the contest is bigger than ever: alongside the PoetiX, LimeriX and LyriX competitions for poetry and lyrics, there’s a DigiKidLit competition for children’s literature (although you may have reservations about exposing your children to neural-net generated content… it can get a bit surreal).

There’s also a pair of musical competitions, including one for original compositions in different genres. Key genres and styles are represented by Charlie Parker for Jazz and the Bach chorales for classical music. There’s also a free composition, and a contest where a human and an AI try to improvise together—the AI must respond to a human spontaneously, in real time, and in a musically pleasing way. Quite a challenge! In all cases, if any of the generated work is indistinguishable from human performers, the neural net has passed the Turing Test.

Did they? Here’s part of 2017’s winning sonnet from Charese Smiley and Hiroko Bretz:

The large cabin was in total darkness.
Come marching up the eastern hill afar.
When is the clock on the stairs dangerous?
Everything seemed so near and yet so far.
Behind the wall silence alone replied.
Was, then, even the staircase occupied?
Generating the rhymes is easy enough, the sentence structure a little trickier, but what’s impressive about this sonnet is that it sticks to a single topic and appears to be a more coherent whole. I’d guess they used associated “lexical fields” of similar words to help generate something coherent. In a similar way, most of the more famous examples of AI-generated music still involve some amount of human control, even if it’s editorial; a human will build a song around an AI-generated riff, or select the most convincing Bach chorale from amidst many different samples.

We are seeing strides forward in the ability of AI to generate human voices and human likenesses. As the latter example shows, in the fake news era people have focused on the dangers of this tech– but might it also be possible to create a virtual performer, trained on a dataset of their original music? Did you ever want to hear another Beatles album, or jam with Miles Davis? Of course, these things are impossible—but could we create a similar experience that people would genuinely value? Even, to the untrained eye, something indistinguishable from the real thing?

And if it did measure up to the real thing, what would this mean? Jaron Lanier is a fascinating technology writer, a critic of strong AI, and a believer in the power of virtual reality to change the world and provide truly meaningful experiences. He’s also a composer and a musical aficionado. He pointed out in a recent interview that translation algorithms, by reducing the amount of work translators are commissioned to do, have, in some sense, profited from stolen expertise. They were trained on huge datasets purloined from human linguists and translators. If you can train an AI on someone’s creative output and it produces new music, who “owns” it?

Although companies that offer AI music tools are starting to proliferate, and some groups will argue that the musical Turing test has been passed already, AI-generated music is hardly racing to the top of the pop charts just yet. Even as the line between human-composed and AI-generated music starts to blur, there’s still a gulf between the average human and musical genius. In the next few years, we’ll see how far the current techniques can take us. It may be the case that there’s something in the skylark’s song that can’t be generated by machines. But maybe not, and then this song might need an extra verse.

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Posted in Human Robots

#431873 Why the World Is Still Getting ...

If you read or watch the news, you’ll likely think the world is falling to pieces. Trends like terrorism, climate change, and a growing population straining the planet’s finite resources can easily lead you to think our world is in crisis.
But there’s another story, a story the news doesn’t often report. This story is backed by data, and it says we’re actually living in the most peaceful, abundant time in history, and things are likely to continue getting better.
The News vs. the Data
The reality that’s often clouded by a constant stream of bad news is we’re actually seeing a massive drop in poverty, fewer deaths from violent crime and preventable diseases. On top of that, we’re the most educated populace to ever walk the planet.
“Violence has been in decline for thousands of years, and today we may be living in the most peaceful era in the existence of our species.” –Steven Pinker
In the last hundred years, we’ve seen the average human life expectancy nearly double, the global GDP per capita rise exponentially, and childhood mortality drop 10-fold.

That’s pretty good progress! Maybe the world isn’t all gloom and doom.If you’re still not convinced the world is getting better, check out the charts in this article from Vox and on Peter Diamandis’ website for a lot more data.
Abundance for All Is Possible
So now that you know the world isn’t so bad after all, here’s another thing to think about: it can get much better, very soon.
In their book Abundance: The Future Is Better Than You Think, Steven Kotler and Peter Diamandis suggest it may be possible for us to meet and even exceed the basic needs of all the people living on the planet today.
“In the hands of smart and driven innovators, science and technology take things which were once scarce and make them abundant and accessible to all.”
This means making sure every single person in the world has adequate food, water and shelter, as well as a good education, access to healthcare, and personal freedom.
This might seem unimaginable, especially if you tend to think the world is only getting worse. But given how much progress we’ve already made in the last few hundred years, coupled with the recent explosion of information sharing and new, powerful technologies, abundance for all is not as out of reach as you might believe.
Throughout history, we’ve seen that in the hands of smart and driven innovators, science and technology take things which were once scarce and make them abundant and accessible to all.
Napoleon III
In Abundance, Diamandis and Kotler tell the story of how aluminum went from being one of the rarest metals on the planet to being one of the most abundant…
In the 1800s, aluminum was more valuable than silver and gold because it was rarer. So when Napoleon III entertained the King of Siam, the king and his guests were honored by being given aluminum utensils, while the rest of the dinner party ate with gold.
But aluminum is not really rare.
In fact, aluminum is the third most abundant element in the Earth’s crust, making up 8.3% of the weight of our planet. But it wasn’t until chemists Charles Martin Hall and Paul Héroult discovered how to use electrolysis to cheaply separate aluminum from surrounding materials that the element became suddenly abundant.
The problems keeping us from achieving a world where everyone’s basic needs are met may seem like resource problems — when in reality, many are accessibility problems.
The Engine Driving Us Toward Abundance: Exponential Technology
History is full of examples like the aluminum story. The most powerful one of the last few decades is information technology. Think about all the things that computers and the internet made abundant that were previously far less accessible because of cost or availability … Here are just a few examples:

Easy access to the world’s information
Ability to share information freely with anyone and everyone
Free/cheap long-distance communication
Buying and selling goods/services regardless of location

Less than two decades ago, when someone reached a certain level of economic stability, they could spend somewhere around $10K on stereos, cameras, entertainment systems, etc — today, we have all that equipment in the palm of our hand.
Now, there is a new generation of technologies heavily dependant on information technology and, therefore, similarly riding the wave of exponential growth. When put to the right use, emerging technologies like artificial intelligence, robotics, digital manufacturing, nano-materials and digital biology make it possible for us to drastically raise the standard of living for every person on the planet.

These are just some of the innovations which are unlocking currently scarce resources:

IBM’s Watson Health is being trained and used in medical facilities like the Cleveland Clinic to help doctors diagnose disease. In the future, it’s likely we’ll trust AI just as much, if not more than humans to diagnose disease, allowing people all over the world to have access to great diagnostic tools regardless of whether there is a well-trained doctor near them.

Solar power is now cheaper than fossil fuels in some parts of the world, and with advances in new materials and storage, the cost may decrease further. This could eventually lead to nearly-free, clean energy for people across the world.

Google’s GMNT network can now translate languages as well as a human, unlocking the ability for people to communicate globally as we never have before.

Self-driving cars are already on the roads of several American cities and will be coming to a road near you in the next couple years. Considering the average American spends nearly two hours driving every day, not having to drive would free up an increasingly scarce resource: time.

The Change-Makers
Today’s innovators can create enormous change because they have these incredible tools—which would have once been available only to big organizations—at their fingertips. And, as a result of our hyper-connected world, there is an unprecedented ability for people across the planet to work together to create solutions to some of our most pressing problems today.
“In today’s hyperlinked world, solving problems anywhere, solves problems everywhere.” –Peter Diamandis and Steven Kotler, Abundance
According to Diamandis and Kotler, there are three groups of people accelerating positive change.

DIY InnovatorsIn the 1970s and 1980s, the Homebrew Computer Club was a meeting place of “do-it-yourself” computer enthusiasts who shared ideas and spare parts. By the 1990s and 2000s, that little club became known as an inception point for the personal computer industry — dozens of companies, including Apple Computer, can directly trace their origins back to Homebrew. Since then, we’ve seen the rise of the social entrepreneur, the Maker Movement and the DIY Bio movement, which have similar ambitions to democratize social reform, manufacturing, and biology, the way Homebrew democratized computers. These are the people who look for new opportunities and aren’t afraid to take risks to create something new that will change the status-quo.
Techno-PhilanthropistsUnlike the robber barons of the 19th and early 20th centuries, today’s “techno-philanthropists” are not just giving away some of their wealth for a new museum, they are using their wealth to solve global problems and investing in social entrepreneurs aiming to do the same. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has given away at least $28 billion, with a strong focus on ending diseases like polio, malaria, and measles for good. Jeff Skoll, after cashing out of eBay with $2 billion in 1998, went on to create the Skoll Foundation, which funds social entrepreneurs across the world. And last year, Mark Zuckerberg and Priscilla Chan pledged to give away 99% of their $46 billion in Facebook stock during their lifetimes.
The Rising BillionCisco estimates that by 2020, there will be 4.1 billion people connected to the internet, up from 3 billion in 2015. This number might even be higher, given the efforts of companies like Facebook, Google, Virgin Group, and SpaceX to bring internet access to the world. That’s a billion new people in the next several years who will be connected to the global conversation, looking to learn, create and better their own lives and communities.In his book, Fortune at the Bottom of the Pyramid, C.K. Pahalad writes that finding co-creative ways to serve this rising market can help lift people out of poverty while creating viable businesses for inventive companies.

The Path to Abundance
Eager to create change, innovators armed with powerful technologies can accomplish incredible feats. Kotler and Diamandis imagine that the path to abundance occurs in three tiers:

Basic Needs (food, water, shelter)
Tools of Growth (energy, education, access to information)
Ideal Health and Freedom

Of course, progress doesn’t always happen in a straight, logical way, but having a framework to visualize the needs is helpful.
Many people don’t believe it’s possible to end the persistent global problems we’re facing. However, looking at history, we can see many examples where technological tools have unlocked resources that previously seemed scarce.
Technological solutions are not always the answer, and we need social change and policy solutions as much as we need technology solutions. But we have seen time and time again, that powerful tools in the hands of innovative, driven change-makers can make the seemingly impossible happen.

You can download the full “Path to Abundance” infographic here. It was created under a CC BY-NC-ND license. If you share, please attribute to Singularity University.
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Posted in Human Robots

#431023 Finish Him! MegaBots’ Giant Robot Duel ...

It began two years ago when MegaBots co-founders Matt Oehrlein and Gui Cavalcanti donned American flags as capes and challenged Suidobashi Heavy Industries to a giant robot duel in a YouTube video that immediately went viral.
The battle proposed: MegaBots’ 15-foot tall, 1,200-pound MK2 robot vs. Suidobashi’s 9,000-pound robot, KURATAS. Oehrlein and Cavalcanti first discovered the KURATAS robot in a listing on Amazon with a million-dollar price tag.
In an equally flamboyant response video, Suidobashi CEO and founder Kogoro Kurata accepted the challenge. (Yes, he named his robot after himself.) Both parties planned to take a year to prepare their robots for combat.
In the end, it took twice the amount of time. Nonetheless, the battle is going down this September in an undisclosed location.
Oehrlein shared more about the much-anticipated showdown during our interview at Singularity University’s Global Summit.

Two years since the initial video, MegaBots has now completed the combat-capable MK3 robot, named Eagle Prime. This new 12-ton, 16-foot-tall robot is powered by a 430-horsepower Corvette engine and requires two human pilots.
It’s also the robot they recently shipped to take on KURATAS.

Building Eagle Prime has been no small feat. With arms and legs that each weigh as much as a car, assembling the robot takes forklifts, cranes, and a lot of caution. Fortress One, MegaBots’ headquarters in Hayward, California is where the magic happens.
In terms of “weaponry,” Eagle Prime features a giant pneumatic cannon that shoots huge paint cannonballs. Oehrlein warns, “They can shatter all the windows in a car. It’s very powerful.” A logging grapple, which looks like a giant claw and exerts 3,000 pounds of steel-crushing force, has also been added to the robot.

“It’s a combination of range combat, using the paint balls to maybe blind cameras on the other robot or take out sensitive electronics, and then closing in with the claw and trying to disable their systems at close range,” Oehrlein explains.
Safety systems include a cockpit roll cage for the two pilots, five-point safety seatbelt harnesses, neck restraints, helmets, and flame retardant suits.
Co-founder, Matt Oehrlein, inside the cockpit of MegaBots’ Eagle Prime giant robot.
Oehrlein and Cavalcanti have also spent considerable time inside Eagle Prime practicing battlefield tactics and maneuvering the robot through obstacle courses.
Suidobashi’s robot is a bit shorter and lighter, but also a little faster, so the battle dynamics should be interesting.
You may be thinking, “Why giant dueling robots?”
MegaBots’ grand vision is a full-blown international sports league of giant fighting robots on the scale of Formula One racing. Picture a nostalgic evening sipping a beer (or three) and watching Pacific Rim- and Power Rangers-inspired robots battle—only in real life.
Eagle Prime is, in good humor, a proudly patriotic robot.
“Japan is known as a robotic powerhouse,” says Oehrlein, “I think there’s something interesting about the slightly overconfident American trying to get a foothold in the robotics space and doing it by building a bigger, louder, heavier robot, in true American fashion.”
For safety reasons, no fans will be admitted during the time of the fight. The battle will be posted after the fact on MegaBots’ YouTube channel and Facebook page.
We’ll soon find out whether this becomes another American underdog story.
In the meantime, I give my loyalty to MegaBots, and in the words of Mortal Kombat, say, “Finish him!”

via GIPHY
Image Credit: MegaBots Continue reading

Posted in Human Robots

#431015 Finish Him! MegaBots’ Giant Robot Duel ...

It began two years ago when MegaBots co-founders Matt Oehrlein and Gui Cavalcanti donned American flags as capes and challenged Suidobashi Heavy Industries to a giant robot duel in a YouTube video that immediately went viral.
The battle proposed: MegaBots’ 15-foot tall, 1,200-pound MK2 robot vs. Suidobashi’s 9,000-pound robot, KURATAS. Oehrlein and Cavalcanti first discovered the KURATAS robot in a listing on Amazon with a million-dollar price tag.
In an equally flamboyant response video, Suidobashi CEO and founder Kogoro Kurata accepted the challenge. (Yes, he named his robot after himself.) Both parties planned to take a year to prepare their robots for combat.
In the end, it took twice the amount of time. Nonetheless, the battle is going down this September in an undisclosed location in Japan.
Oehrlein shared more about the much-anticipated showdown during our interview at Singularity University’s Global Summit.

Two years since the initial video, MegaBots has now completed the combat-capable MK3 robot, named Eagle Prime. This new 12-ton, 16-foot-tall robot is powered by a 430-horsepower Corvette engine and requires two human pilots.
It’s also the robot they recently shipped to Japan to take on KURATAS.

Building Eagle Prime has been no small feat. With arms and legs that each weigh as much as a car, assembling the robot takes forklifts, cranes, and a lot of caution. Fortress One, MegaBots’ headquarters in Hayward, California is where the magic happens.
In terms of “weaponry,” Eagle Prime features a giant pneumatic cannon that shoots huge paint cannonballs. Oehrlein warns, “They can shatter all the windows in a car. It’s very powerful.” A logging grapple, which looks like a giant claw and exerts 3,000 pounds of steel-crushing force, has also been added to the robot.
“It’s a combination of range combat, using the paint balls to maybe blind cameras on the other robot or take out sensitive electronics, and then closing in with the claw and trying to disable their systems at close range,” Oehrlein explains.
Safety systems include a cockpit roll cage for the two pilots, five-point safety seatbelt harnesses, neck restraints, helmets, and flame retardant suits.
Co-founder, Matt Oehrlein, inside the cockpit of MegaBots’ Eagle Prime giant robot.
Oehrlein and Cavalcanti have also spent considerable time inside Eagle Prime practicing battlefield tactics and maneuvering the robot through obstacle courses.
Suidobashi’s robot is a bit shorter and lighter, but also a little faster, so the battle dynamics should be interesting.
You may be thinking, “Why giant dueling robots?”
MegaBots’ grand vision is a full-blown international sports league of giant fighting robots on the scale of Formula One racing. Picture a nostalgic evening sipping a beer (or three) and watching Pacific Rim- and Power Rangers-inspired robots battle—only in real life.
Eagle Prime is, in good humor, a proudly patriotic robot.
“Japan is known as a robotic powerhouse,” says Oehrlein, “I think there’s something interesting about the slightly overconfident American trying to get a foothold in the robotics space and doing it by building a bigger, louder, heavier robot, in true American fashion.”
For safety reasons, no fans will be admitted during the time of the fight. The battle will be posted after the fact on MegaBots’ YouTube channel and Facebook page.
We’ll soon find out whether this becomes another American underdog story.
In the meantime, I give my loyalty to MegaBots, and in the words of Mortal Kombat, say, “Finish him!”

via GIPHY
Image Credit: MegaBots Continue reading

Posted in Human Robots