Archives for June 2017

Art for the AI generation

Art and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, Rutgers University
By Chris Baraniuk

Now and then, a painter like Claude Monet or Pablo Picasso comes along and turns the art world on its head. They invent new aesthetic styles, forging movements such as impressionism or abstract expressionism. But could the next big shake-up be the work of a machine?

An artificial intelligence has been developed that produces images in unconventional styles – and much of its output has already been given the thumbs up by members of the public.

The idea is to make art that is “novel, but not too novel”, says Marian Mazzone, an art historian at the College of Charleston in South Carolina who worked on the system.

Learn about the future of AI: See DeepMind founder Demis Hassabis speak at New Scientist Live in London
The team – which also included researchers at Rutgers University in New Jersey and Facebook’s AI lab in California – modified a type of algorithm known as a generative adversarial network (GAN), in which two neural nets play off against each other to get better and better results. One creates a solution, the other judges it – and the algorithm loops back and forth until the desired result is reached.

In the art AI, one of these roles is played by a generator network, which creates images. The other is played by a discriminator network, which was trained on 81,500 paintings to tell the difference between images we would class as artworks and those we wouldn’t – such as a photo or diagram, say.

The discriminator was also trained to distinguish different styles of art, such as rococo or cubism.

Art with a twist
The clever twist is that the generator is primed to produce an image that the discriminator recognises as art, but which does not fall into any of the existing styles.

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“You want to have something really creative and striking – but at the same time not go too far and make something that isn’t aesthetically pleasing,” says team member Ahmed Elgammal at Rutgers University.

Once the AI had produced a series of images, members of the public were asked to judge them alongside paintings by people in an online survey, without knowing which were the AI’s work. Participants answered questions about how complex or novel they felt each image was, and whether it inspired them or elevated their mood. To the researchers’ surprise, images produced by their AI scored slightly higher in many cases than those by humans.

AIs that can tweak photos to mimic the style of famous painters such as Monet are already widely available. There are even apps that do this, such as DeepArt. But the new system is designed to produce original works from scratch.

Outside the comfort zone
“I like the idea that people are starting to push GANs out of their comfort zone – this is the first paper I’ve seen that does that,” says Mark Riedl at the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta.

The results of the survey are interesting, says Kevin Walker at the Royal College of Art in London. “The top-ranked images contain an aesthetic combination of colours and patterns in composition, whereas the lowest-ranked ones are maybe more uniform,” he says (see image above).

Walker also notes that creative machines are already producing work for galleries. For example, two of his students are experimenting with AI that can learn from their drawing style to produce its own images. One, Anna Ridler, has used this technique to develop frames for a 12-minute animated film.

Art such as Ridler’s still relies heavily on human guidance, however. So will we ever value paintings generated spontaneously by a computer?

Riedl points out that the human story behind an artwork is often an important part of what endears us to it.

But Walker thinks the lines will soon get blurry. “Imagine having people over for a dinner party and they ask, ‘Who is that by?’ And you say, ‘Well, it’s a machine actually’. That would be an interesting conversation starter.”

Reference: arxiv.org/abs/1706.07068 Reposted from W.A.

“Man is born free, and everywhere he is in chains”

It’s the birthday of the man who wrote, “Man is born free, and everywhere he is in chains”: philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau (books by this author), born in Geneva in 1712. He left home at 16 and wandered around Europe for the next 14 years. He moved to Paris when he was 30, and took up with a group of philosophers. He also took up with Thérèse Le Vasseur, a semi-literate laundry maid at his hostel; the two began a lifelong relationship that produced five children, according to Rousseau. He placed all of them into orphanages.

Rousseau was well versed in music, and wrote ballets and operas; he could easily have been successful as a composer, but the stage made his Swiss Calvinist sensibilities uneasy. One day he was walking to visit his friend and fellow philosopher Denis Diderot, who was in jail, and he had an epiphany: modern progress had corrupted rather than improved mankind. He became famous overnight upon publication of his essay A Discourse on the Sciences and the Arts (1750). The essay informed nearly everything else he wrote, and eventually he would turn away completely from music and the theater to focus on literature.

In Discourse on the Origin of Inequality (1755) he continued to explore the theme that civilization had led to most of what was wrong with people: living in a society led to envy and covetousness; owning property led to social inequality; possessions led to poverty. Society exists to provide peace and protect those who owned property, and therefore government is unfairly weighted in favor of the rich. In it, he wrote: “The first man who, having enclosed a piece of ground, bethought himself of saying This is mine, and found people simple enough to believe him, was the real founder of civil society. From how many crimes, wars, and murders, from how many horrors and misfortunes might not any one have saved mankind, by pulling up the stakes, or filling up the ditch, and crying to his fellows: Beware of listening to this imposter; you are undone if you once forget that the fruits of the earth belong to us all, and the earth itself to nobody.” His next two books, a criticism of the educational system (Émile) and a treatise of political philosophy (The Social Contract), both published in 1762, caused such an uproar that he fled France altogether. His work would prove inspirational to the leaders of the French Revolution, and they adopted the slogan from The Social Contract: Liberty, Equality, Fraternity.

He grew increasingly paranoid in his later years, convinced that his friends were plotting against him. He spent some time in England with David Hume, but his persecution complex eventually alienated him from most of his associates, and he found comfort only with Thérèse, whom he finally married in 1768.

Turkish novelist Orhan Pamuk deserves praise for his bravery!

Born in Istanbul in 1952, where he grew up in a fairly wealthy and Westernized district. He studied architecture and then journalism, but at 23 years old, he decided to become a novelist. He lived with his mother and wrote full time, and seven years later, he published his first novel, Cevdet Bey and His Sons (1982). He’s worked as a novelist for more than 30 years and has never held any other kind of job. And apart from three years he spent in New York, he’s lived his entire life in the Istanbul district of his birth.

In 2005, Pamuk gave an interview in which he made remarks about the Armenian Genocide and the mass killing of tens of thousands of Kurds. He said: “Thirty thousand Kurds have been killed here, and a million Armenians. And almost nobody dares to mention that. So I do.” Criminal charges were filed against Pamuk in Turkey, and his statements resulted in a new law making it illegal to make anti-Turkish remarks. There was an international outcry, and several noted authors – including Gabriel García Márquez, Umberto Eco, John Updike, and Günter Grass – spoke out in Pamuk’s defense. The charges were dropped early in 2006.

His recent books include The Naïve and Sentimental Novelist (2010), Pieces from the View: Life, Streets, Literature (2010) and The Silent House (2012).

Reposted from Writer’s Almanac.

The Salem Witch Trials

Salem Town, Massachusetts, beginning what would become known as the Salem Witch Trials. The hysteria had begun in Salem Village (now Danvers, Massachusetts) in January of that year; a few preteen and teenage girls, including the daughter of Samuel Parris, the village’s minister, began acting strangely and having fits, insisting that they were being poked and pinched. The local doctor was at a loss to explain the behavior, and concluded that they must be bewitched. When the girls were pressured to name their tormentors, they blamed Tituba, the Parrises’ Caribbean slave, and two eccentric social outcasts, Sarah Good and Sarah Osborne. Paranoia mounted, with more teenage girls suddenly joining the ranks of the afflicted; they were no longer expected to be “seen and not heard,” but were now the center of attention, even crying out and disrupting church meetings without being punished. They began accusing reputable churchgoers, often people their parents had feuded with for years. Alibis were useless because the afflicted girls would say that the accused had sent her specter to torment them, and anyone who spoke out against the proceedings soon found the accusing fingers pointing at them.

Within a matter of weeks, warrants were issued for dozens of accused witches, and the jails were full to bursting. Governor William Phipps ordered the formation of the Special Court of Oyer and Terminer – which meant “to hear and determine” – to try the backlog of cases. The first case brought before the grand jury was that of Bridget Bishop, a tavern owner, who had attracted the negative attention by virtue of the fact that she played shuffleboard and dressed in unsuitable clothing. She was found guilty and sentenced to hang on June 10, the first of 19 executions that took place over the next four months. A 20th victim, Giles Cory, was tortured to death when he refused to enter a plea. The hysteria spread to nearby towns, and feuding neighbors began to see it as a handy way to get revenge. Many of the accused people confessed to witchcraft to escape execution, because confession meant you were repentant, and it was up to God to handle your punishment. Those who refused to confess – either on moral grounds or because confession meant they would forfeit their property – were executed.

In October, Governor Phipps abruptly dissolved the Court of Oyer and Terminer and prohibited further arrests, maybe because Puritan ministers were calling for an end to the trials, or maybe because the afflicted girls had accused Phipps’s wife of witchcraft. Over an eight-month period, more than 200 people had been accused and imprisoned, and several had died in jail. Some of the judges and examiners later expressed remorse. Examiner John Hale wrote in 1695, “Such was the darkness of the day, and so great the lamentations of the afflicted, that we walked in the clouds and could not see our way.”