Category Archives: Technology

An algorithm for modern quilting

Caption: Each of the blocks in this quilt were designed using an algorithm-based tool developed by Stanford researchers. Credit: Mackenzie Leake

I love the colours. This research into quilting and artificial intelligence (AI) was presented at SIGGRAPH 2021 in August. (SIGGRAPH is, also known as, ACM SIGGRAPH or ‘Association for Computing Machinery’s Special Interest Group on Computer Graphics and Interactive Techniques’.)

A June 3, 2021 news item on ScienceDaily announced the presentation,

Stanford University computer science graduate student Mackenzie Leake has been quilting since age 10, but she never imagined the craft would be the focus of her doctoral dissertation. Included in that work is new prototype software that can facilitate pattern-making for a form of quilting called foundation paper piecing, which involves using a backing made of foundation paper to lay out and sew a quilted design.

Developing a foundation paper piece quilt pattern — which looks similar to a paint-by-numbers outline — is often non-intuitive. There are few formal guidelines for patterning and those that do exist are insufficient to assure a successful result.

“Quilting has this rich tradition and people make these very personal, cherished heirlooms but paper piece quilting often requires that people work from patterns that other people designed,” said Leake, who is a member of the lab of Maneesh Agrawala, the Forest Baskett Professor of Computer Science and director of the Brown Institute for Media Innovation at Stanford. “So, we wanted to produce a digital tool that lets people design the patterns that they want to design without having to think through all of the geometry, ordering and constraints.”

A paper describing this work is published and will be presented at the computer graphics conference SIGGRAPH 2021 in August.

A June 2, 2021 Stanford University news release (also on EurekAlert), which originated the news item, provides more detail,

Respecting the craft

In describing the allure of paper piece quilts, Leake cites the modern aesthetic and high level of control and precision. The seams of the quilt are sewn through the paper pattern and, as the seaming process proceeds, the individual pieces of fabric are flipped over to form the final design. All of this “sew and flip” action means the pattern must be produced in a careful order.

Poorly executed patterns can lead to loose pieces, holes, misplaced seams and designs that are simply impossible to complete. When quilters create their own paper piecing designs, figuring out the order of the seams can take considerable time – and still lead to unsatisfactory results.

“The biggest challenge that we’re tackling is letting people focus on the creative part and offload the mental energy of figuring out whether they can use this technique or not,” said Leake, who is lead author of the SIGGRAPH paper. “It’s important to me that we’re really aware and respectful of the way that people like to create and that we aren’t over-automating that process.”

This isn’t Leake’s first foray into computer-aided quilting. She previously designed a tool for improvisational quilting, which she presented [PatchProv: Supporting Improvistiional Design Practices for Modern Quilting by Mackenzie Leake, Frances Lai, Tovi Grossman, Daniel Wigdor, and Ben Lafreniere] at the human-computer interaction conference CHI in May [2021]. [Note: Links to the May 2021 conference and paper added by me.]

Quilting theory

Developing the algorithm at the heart of this latest quilting software required a substantial theoretical foundation. With few existing guidelines to go on, the researchers had to first gain a more formal understanding of what makes a quilt paper piece-able, and then represent that mathematically.

They eventually found what they needed in a particular graph structure, called a hypergraph. While so-called “simple” graphs can only connect data points by lines, a hypergraph can accommodate overlapping relationships between many data points. (A Venn diagram is a type of hypergraph.) The researchers found that a pattern will be paper piece-able if it can be depicted by a hypergraph whose edges can be removed one at a time in a specific order – which would correspond to how the seams are sewn in the pattern.

The prototype software allows users to sketch out a design and the underlying hypergraph-based algorithm determines what paper foundation patterns could make it possible – if any. Many designs result in multiple pattern options and users can adjust their sketch until they get a pattern they like. The researchers hope to make a version of their software publicly available this summer.

“I didn’t expect to be writing my computer science dissertation on quilting when I started,” said Leake. “But I found this really rich space of problems involving design and computation and traditional crafts, so there have been lots of different pieces we’ve been able to pull off and examine in that space.”

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Researchers from University of California, Berkeley and Cornell University are co-authors of this paper. Agrawala is also an affiliate of the Institute for Human-Centered Artificial Intelligence (HAI).

An abstract for the paper “A Mathematical Foundation for Foundation Paper Pieceable Quilts” by Mackenzie Leake, Gilbert Bernstein, Abe Davis and Maneesh Agrawala can be found here along with links to a PDF of the full paper and video on YouTube.

Afterthought: I noticed that all of the co-authors for the May 2021 paper are from the University of Toronto and most of them including Mackenzie Leake are associated with that university’s Chatham Labs.

Speed up your reading with an interactive typeface

A May 12, 2021 news item on ScienceDaily brings news of a technology that makes reading easier,

AdaptiFont has recently been presented at CHI, the leading Conference on Human Factors in Computing.

Language is without doubt the most pervasive medium for exchanging knowledge between humans. However, spoken language or abstract text need to be made visible in order to be read, be it in print or on screen.

How does the way a text looks affect its readability, that is, how it is being read, processed, and understood? A team at TU Darmstadt’s Centre for Cognitive Science investigated this question at the intersection of perceptual science, cognitive science, and linguistics. Electronic text is even more complex. Texts are read on different devices under different external conditions. And although any digital text is formatted initially, users might resize it on screen, change brightness and contrast of the display, or even select a different font when reading text on the web.

A May 12, 2021 Technische Universitat Darmstadt (Technical University of Damstadt; Germany) press release (also on EurekAlert) provides more detail,

The team of researchers from TU Darmstadt now developed a system that leaves font design to the user’s visual system. First, they needed to come up with a way of synthesizing new fonts. This was achieved by using a machine learning algorithm, which learned the structure of fonts analysing 25 popular and classic typefaces. The system is capable of creating an infinite number of new fonts that are any intermediate form of others – for example, visually halfway between Helvetica and Times New Roman.

Since some fonts may make it more difficult to read the text, they may slow the reader down. Other fonts may help the user read more fluently. Measuring reading speed, a second algorithm can now generate more typefaces that increase the reading speed.

In a laboratory experiment, in which users read texts over one hour, the research team showed that their algorithm indeed generates new fonts that increase individual user’s reading speed. Interestingly all readers had their own personalized font that made reading especially easy for them. However: This individual favorite typeface does not necessarily fit in all situations. “AdaptiFont therefore can be understood as a system which creates fonts for an individual dynamically and continuously while reading, which maximizes the reading speed at the time of use. This may depend on the content of the text, whether you are tired, or perhaps are using different display devices,” explains Professor Constantin A. Rothkopf, Centre for Cognitive Science und head of the institute of Psychology of Information Processing at TU Darmstadt.

The AdaptiFont system was recently presented to the scientific community at the Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems (CHI). A patent application has been filed. Future possible applications are with all electronic devices on which text is read.

There’s a 5 minute video featuring the work and narration for a researcher who speaks very quickly,

Here’s a link to and a citation for the paper,

AdaptiFont: Increasing Individuals’ Reading Sp0eed with a Generative Font Model and Bayesian Optimization by Florian Kadner, Yannik Keller, Constantin Rothkopf. CHI ’21: Proceedings of the 2021 CHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems May 2021 Article No.: 585 Pages 1-11 DOI: https://doi.org/10.1145/3411764.3445140 Published: 06 May 2021

This paper is open access.

Artificial intelligence is not mentioned but it’s hard to believe that adaptive learning by the software is anything other than a form of AI.

Proximal Fields from September 8 – 12, 2021 and a peek into the international art/sci/tech scene

Toronto’s (Canada) Art/Sci Salon (also known as, Art Science Salon) sent me an August 26, 2021 announcement (received via email) of an online show with a limited viewing period (BTW, nice play on words with the title echoing the name of the institution mentioned in the first sentence),

PROXIMAL FIELDS

The Fields Institute was closed to the public for a long time. Yet, it
has not been empty. Peculiar sounds and intriguing silences, the flows
of the few individuals and the janitors occasional visiting the building
made it surprisingly alive. Microorganisms, dust specs and other
invisible guests populated undisturbed the space while the humans were
away. The building is alive. We created site specific installations
reflecting this condition: Elaine Whittaker and her poet collaborators
take us to a journey of the microbes living in our proximal spaces. Joel
Ong and his collaborators have recorded space data in the building: the
result is an emergent digital organism. Roberta Buiani and Kavi
interpret the venue as an organism which can be taken outside on a
mobile gallery.

PROXIMAL FIELDS will be visible  September 8-12 2021 at

https://ars.electronica.art/newdigitaldeal/en/proximal-fields/

it [sic] is part of Ars Electronica Garden LEONARDO LASER [Anti]disciplinary Topographies

https://ars.electronica.art/newdigitaldeal/en/antidisciplinary-topographies/

see [sic] a teaser here:

https://youtu.be/AYxlvLnYSdE

With: Elaine Whittaker, Joel Ong, Nina Czegledy, Roberta Buiani, Sachin
Karghie, Ryan Martin, Racelar Ho, Kavi.
Poetry: Maureen Hynes, Sheila Stewart

Video: Natalie Plociennik

This event is one of many such events being held for Ars Electronica 2021 festival.

For anyone who remembers back to my May 3, 2021 posting (scroll down to the relevant subhead; a number of events were mentioned), I featured a show from the ArtSci Salon community called ‘Proximal Spaces’, a combined poetry reading and bioart experience.

Many of the same artists and poets seem to have continued working together to develop more work based on the ‘proximal’ for a larger international audience.

International and local scene details (e.g., same show? what is Ars Electronica? etc.)

As you may have noticed from the announcement, there are a lot of different institutions involved.

Local: Fields Institute and ArtSci Salon

The Fields Institute is properly known as The Fields Institute for Research in Mathematical Sciences and is located at the University of Toronto. Here’s more from their About Us webpage,

Founded in 1992, the Fields Institute was initially located at the University of Waterloo. Since 1995, it has occupied a purpose-built building on the St. George Campus of the University of Toronto.

The Institute is internationally renowned for strengthening collaboration, innovation, and learning in mathematics and across a broad range of disciplines. …

The Fields Institute is named after the Canadian mathematician John Charles Fields (1863-1932). Fields was a pioneer and visionary who recognized the scientific, educational, and economic value of research in the mathematical sciences. Fields spent many of his early years in Berlin and, to a lesser extent, in Paris and Göttingen, the principal mathematical centres of Europe of that time. These experiences led him, after his return to Canada, to work for the public support of university research, which he did very successfully. He also organized and presided over the 1924 meeting of the International Congress of Mathematicians in Toronto. This quadrennial meeting was, and still is, the major meeting of the mathematics world.

There is no Nobel Prize in mathematics, and Fields felt strongly that there should be a comparable award to recognize the most outstanding current research in mathematics. With this in mind, he established the International Medal for Outstanding Discoveries in Mathematics, which, contrary to his personal directive, is now known as the Fields Medal. Information on Fields Medal winners can be found through the International Mathematical Union, which chooses the quadrennial recipients of the prize.

Fields’ name was given to the Institute in recognition of his seminal contributions to world mathematics and his work on behalf of high level mathematical scholarship in Canada. The Institute aims to carry on the work of Fields and to promote the wider use and understanding of mathematics in Canada.

The relationship between the Fields Institute and the ArtSci Salon is unclear to me. This can be found under Programs and Activities on the Fields Institute website,

2020-2021 ArtSci Salon

Description

ArtSci Salon consists of a series of semi-informal gatherings facilitating discussion and cross-pollination between science, technology, and the arts. ArtSci Salon started in 2010 as a spin-off of Subtle Technologies Festival to satisfy increasing demands by the audience attending the Festival to have a more frequent (monthly or bi-monthly) outlet for debate and information sharing across disciplines. In addition, it responds to the recent expansion in the GTA [Greater Toronto Area] area of a community of scientists and artists increasingly seeking collaborations across disciplines to successfully accomplish their research projects and questions.

For more details, visit our blog.

Sign up to our mailing list here.

For more information please contact:

Stephen Morris: smorris@physics.utoronto.ca

Roberta Buiani: rbuiani@gmail.com

We are pleased to announce our upcoming March 2021 events (more details are in the schedule below):

Ars Electronica

It started life as a Festival for Art, Technology and Society in 1979 in Linz, Austria. Here’s a little more from their About webpage,

… Since September 18, 1979, our world has changed radically, and digitization has covered almost all areas of our lives. Ars Electronica’s philosophy has remained the same over the years. Our activities are always guided by the question of what new technologies mean for our lives. Together with artists, scientists, developers, designers, entrepreneurs and activists, we shed light on current developments in our digital society and speculate about their manifestations in the future. We never ask what technology can or will be able to do, but always what it should do for us. And we don’t try to adapt to technology, but we want the development of technology to be oriented towards us. Therefore, our artistic research always focuses on ourselves, our needs, our desires, our feelings.

They have a number of initiatives in addition to the festival. The next festival, A New Digital Deal, runs from September 8 – 12, 2021 (Ars Electronica 2021). Here’s a little more from the festival webpage,

Ars Electronica 2021, the festival for art, technology and society, will take place from September 8 to 12. For the second time since 1979, it will be a hybrid event that includes exhibitions, concerts, talks, conferences, workshops and guided tours in Linz, Austria, and more than 80 other locations around the globe.

Leonardo; The International Society for Arts, Sciences and Technology

Ars Electronica and Leonardo; The International Society for Arts, Sciences and Technology (ISAST) cooperate on projects but they are two different entities. Here’s more from the About LEONARDO webpage,

Fearlessly pioneering since 1968, Leonardo serves as THE community forging a transdisciplinary network to convene, research, collaborate, and disseminate best practices at the nexus of arts, science and technology worldwide. Leonardo’ serves a network of transdisciplinary scholars, artists, scientists, technologists and thinkers, who experiment with cutting-edge, new approaches, practices, systems and solutions to tackle the most complex challenges facing humanity today.

As a not-for-profit 501(c)3 enterprising think tank, Leonardo offers a global platform for creative exploration and collaboration reaching tens of thousands of people across 135 countries. Our flagship publication, Leonardo, the world’s leading scholarly journal on transdisciplinary art, anchors a robust publishing partnership with MIT Press; our partnership with ASU [Arizona State University] infuses educational innovation with digital art and media for lifelong learning; our creative programs span thought-provoking events, exhibits, residencies and fellowships, scholarship and social enterprise ventures.

I have a description of Leonardo’s LASER (Leonardo Art Science Evening Rendezvous), from my March 22, 2021 posting (the Garden comes up next),

Here’s a description of the LASER talks from the Leonardo/ISAST LASER Talks event page,

“… a program of international gatherings that bring artists, scientists, humanists and technologists together for informal presentations, performances and conversations with the wider public. The mission of LASER is to encourage contribution to the cultural environment of a region by fostering interdisciplinary dialogue and opportunities for community building.”

To be specific it’s Ars Electronica Garden LEONARDO LASER and this is one of the series being held as part of the festival (A Digital New Deal). Here’s more from the [Anti]disciplinary Topographies ‘garden’ webpage,

Culturing transnational dialogue for creative hybridity

Leonardo LASER Garden gathers our global network of artists, scientists, humanists and technologists together in a series of hybrid formats addressing the world’s most pressing issues. Animated by the theme of a “new digital deal” and grounded in the UN Sustainability Goals, Leonardo LASER Garden cultivates our values of equity and inclusion by elevating underrepresented voices in a wide-ranging exploration of global challenges, digital communities and placemaking, space, networks and systems, the digital divide – and the impact of interdisciplinary art, science and technology discourse and collaboration.

Dovetailing with the launch of LASER Linz, this asynchronous multi-platform garden will highlight the best of the Leonardo Network (spanning 47 cities worldwide) and our transdisciplinary community. In “Extraordinary Times Call for Extraordinary Vision: Humanizing Digital Culture with the New Creativity Agenda & the UNSDGs [United Nations Sustainable Development Goals],” Leonardo/ISAST CEO Diana Ayton-Shenker presents our vision for shaping our global future. This will be followed by a Leonardo Community Lounge open to the general public, with the goal of encouraging contributions to the cultural environments of different regions through transnational exchange and community building.

Getting back to the beginning you can view Proximal Fields from September 8 – 12, 2021 as part of the Ars Electonica 2021 festival, specifically, the ‘garden’ series.

ETA September 8, 2021: There’s a newly posted (on the Fields Institute webspace) and undated notice/article “ArtSci Salon’s Proximal Fields debuts at the Ars Electronica Festival,” which includes an interview with members of the Proximal Fields team.

Getting erased from the mRNA/COVID-19 story

Nathan Vardi’s August 17, 2021 article for Forbes magazine about Ian MacLachlan and the delivery system for mRNA vaccines tells a type of story I’ve more often seen in history books. It is reminiscent of the Thomas Edison and Nikola Tesla story of electricity. One gets all the glory while the other is largely forgotten.

I’m especially interested as much of this concerns players in the local (Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada) biotechnology scene. Vardi’s August 17, 2021 article sets the scene,

“The whole mRNA platform is not how to build an mRNA molecule; that’s the easy thing,” Bourla [Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla] says. “It is how to make sure the mRNA molecule will go into your cells and give the instructions.” 

Yet the story of how Moderna, BioNTech and Pfizer managed to create that vital delivery system has never been told. It’s a complicated saga involving 15 years of legal battles and accusations of betrayal and deceit. [emphases mine] What is clear is that when humanity needed a way to deliver mRNA to human cells to arrest the pandemic, there was only one reliable method available—and it wasn’t one originated in-house by Pfizer, Moderna, BioNTech or any of the other major vaccine companies. 

A months-long investigation by Forbes reveals that the scientist most responsible for this critical delivery method is a little-known 57-year-old Canadian biochemist named Ian MacLachlan. As chief scientific officer of two small companies, Protiva Biotherapeutics and Tekmira Pharmaceuticals, MacLachlan led the team that developed this crucial technology. Today, though, few people—and none of the big pharmaceutical companies—openly acknowledge his groundbreaking work, and MacLachlan earns nothing from the technology he pioneered. 

I have three stories (on this blog) mentioning Tekmira (all from 2014 or 2015) and none mentioning Protiva nor, for that matter, Ian MacLachlan.

Back to Vardi’s August 17, 2021 article,

Moderna Therapeutics vigorously disputes the idea that its mRNA vaccine uses MacLachlan’s delivery system, and BioNTech, the vaccine maker partnered with Pfizer, talks about it carefully. Legal proceedings are pending, and big money is at stake. 

Moderna, BioNTech and Pfizer are on their way to selling $45 billion worth of vaccines in 2021. They don’t pay a dime to MacLachlan. Other coronavirus vaccine makers, such as Gritstone Oncology, have recently licensed MacLachlan’s Protiva-Tekmira delivery technology for between 5% and 15% of product sales. MacLachlan no longer has a financial stake in the technology, but a similar royalty on the Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines could yield as much as $6.75 billion in 2021 alone. …

Vardi provides evidence (Note: A link has been removed from the August 17, 2021 article excerpt,

Despite their denials, scientific papers and regulatory documents filed with the FDA [US Food and Drug Administration] show that both Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech’s vaccines use a delivery system strikingly similar to what MacLachlan and his team created—a carefully formulated four-lipid component that encapsulates mRNA in a dense particle through a mixing process involving ethanol and a T-connector apparatus. 

For years, Moderna claimed it was using its own proprietary delivery system, but when it came time for the company to test its Covid-19 vaccine in mice, it used the same four kinds of lipids as MacLachlan’s technology, in identical ratios. 

According to Vardi’s LinkedIn profile: “I am a senior editor at Forbes, where I am responsible for the coverage of hedge funds, private equity, and other big investors. I lead investigative reporting efforts and have written 20 cover stories for Forbes Magazine,” he does not appear to have any medical or bioscience expertise (Bachelor of Journalism from Carleton University [Canada] and Masters of International Affairs from Columbia University [US].) Presumably someone he consulted or someone on his team provided the skills necessary for analyzing the scientific papers and documents.

You may recognize this scientist (from the August 17, 2021 article),

Not everyone ignores MacLachlan. “A lot of credit goes to Ian MacLachlan for the LNP [lipid nanoparticle],” says Katalin Karikó, [emphasis mine] the scientist who laid the groundwork for mRNA therapies before joining BioNTech in 2013. But Karikó, now a frontrunner for a Nobel Prize, is angry that MacLachlan didn’t do more to help her use his delivery system to build her own mRNA company years ago. “[MacLachlan] might be a great scientist, but he lacked vision,” she says.

I have more about Karikó and her role in the mRNA vaccine story here in a March 5, 2021 posting.

As for MacLachlan’s start (from the August 17, 2021 article),

… With a Ph.D. in biochemistry, MacLachlan joined Inex in 1996, his first job after completing a postdoctoral fellowship in a gene lab at the University of Michigan. 

Inex was cofounded by its chief scientific officer, Pieter Cullis, now 75, a long-haired physicist who taught at the University of British Columbia. From his perch there Cullis started several biotechs, cultivating an elite community of scientists that made Vancouver a hotbed of lipid chemistry. 

As companies rise and fall with intellectual property being assigned to one company or other, legal brawls ensue. This was the time that Karikó came knocking on the door, from the August 17, 2021 article,

It was in the midst of all this furious legal fighting that Hungarian biochemist Katalin Karikó first showed up at MacLachlan’s door. Karikó was early to grasp that MacLachlan’s delivery system held the key to unlocking the potential of mRNA therapies. As early as 2006, she began sending letters to MacLachlan urging him to encase her groundbreaking chemically altered mRNA in his four-lipid delivery system. Embroiled in litigation, MacLachlan passed on her offer. 

Karikó didn’t give up easily. In 2013, she flew to meet with Tekmira’s executives, offering to relocate to Vancouver and work directly under MacLachlan. Tekmira passed. “Moderna, BioNTech and CureVac all wanted me to work for them, but my number one choice, Tekmira, didn’t,” says Karikó, who took a job at BioNTech in 2013. 

By this time, Moderna CEO Stéphane Bancel [emphasis mine] was also trying to solve the delivery puzzle. Bancel held discussions with Tekmira about collaborating, but talks stalled. At one point, Tekmira indicated it wanted at least $100 million up front, plus royalties, to strike a deal.

Instead, Moderna partnered with Madden [Thomas Madden], who was still working with Cullis at their drug delivery company, Acuitas Therapeutics.  …

I have been wondering why Acuitas Therapeutics hasn’t been getting all that much attention in the hyperbolic discussions about British Columbia’s (or Vancouver’s) thriving biotechnology scene. (I’ll have more about the ‘scene’ in a later posting.) Perhaps all this legal wrangling is not considered helpful when bragging. (I do have a November 12, 2020 post, which features Acuitas, an interview with its president and chief executive office Dr. Thomas Madden, and an explanation of their technology.)

As for Moderna, I have a special interest as the company has announced plans to open a production facility here in Canada and one of Moderna’s founders is Canadian, Derek Rossi. (He too is mentioned in the March 5, 2021 posting, scroll down to the ‘Entrepreneurs rush in’ subhead; he is not an altogether happy camper.)

Rossi has opinions on how we should be doing things here as noted in a June 17, 2021 article by Barbara Shecter for the Financial Post (Moderna founder says Canada needs to build a biotech hub to avoid ‘getting caught with its pants down next time’). Thank you, Mr. Rossi. (I’m more familiar with clusters than hubs [hubs were a popular topic of conversation about 20 years ago but in Canada we seem more interested in clusters; see John Newbigin’s “Hubs, clusters and regions” on britishcouncil.org for a description of the differences].)

As for Moderna’s response to all of the legal wrangling over mRNA delivery systems, from Vardi’s August 17, 2021 article,

Moderna pursued a different strategy. It filed lawsuits with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office seeking to nullify a series of patents related to MacLachlan’s delivery system, now controlled by Genevant. But in July 2020, as Moderna was pushing its vaccine through clinical trials, an adjudicative body largely upheld the most important patent claims. (Moderna is appealing.)

I highly recommend reading Vardi’s August 17, 2021 article as I have not done justice to all of the ‘ins and outs’ of the story.

You can see how thoroughly MacLachlan has been erased form the lipid nanoparticle delivery system/COVID-19 vaccine story in this May 24 ,2021 posting (Lipid nanoparticles: The underrated invention behind the vaccine revolution) by Nada Salem at the Science Borealis blog. It is largely a description of the technology and in the last two paragraphs a history of its development with no mention of MacLachlan or any of his companies.

One last thought, I wonder how Vardi found out about MacLachlan. Could someone have brought the story to his attention and who might that have been?

Literature and your brain (the neuroscience of it)

This guy (Angus Fletcher) is a little too much the evangelist for my taste but the ideas supporting the book he has authored and is promoting in this video are in line with a lot of thinking about vision and memory both of which can be described acts of creativity. In this case, Fletcher is applying these ideas to literature, which he describes as an act of co-creation,

A May 3, 2021 news item on phys.org announces the publication of Fletcher’s book,

If you really want to understand literature, don’t start with the words on a page—start with how it affects your brain.

That’s the message from Angus Fletcher, an English professor with degrees in both literature and neuroscience, who outlines in a new book a different way to read and think about stories, from classic literature to pulp fiction to movies and TV shows.

Literature wasn’t invented just as entertainment or a way to deliver messages to readers, said Fletcher, who is a professor at The Ohio State University.

Stories are actually a form of technology. [emphasis mine] They are tools that were designed by our ancestors to alleviate depression, reduce anxiety, kindle creativity, spark courage and meet a variety of other psychological challenges of being human,” Fletcher said.

“And even though we aren’t taught this in literature classes today, we can still find and use these emotional tools in the stories we read today.”

Here’s more about the book and ideas supporting it in a May 3, 2021 Ohio State University (OSU) news release (also on EurekAlert) by Jeff Grabmeier and Aaron Nestor, which originated the news item,

Fletcher explains these concepts in his book Wonderworks: The 25 Most Powerful Inventions in the History of Literature.

For example, in a chapter about fighting loneliness, he discusses how reading The Godfather by Mario Puzo may help. A chapter on feeding creativity talks about the virtues of Alice in Wonderland and Winnie-the-Pooh. Looking for the best way to make your dreams come true? For that, Fletcher proposes the TV show 30 Rock.

Wonderworks doesn’t ignore the classics: The book discusses how reading Shakespeare can help us heal from grief, Virginia Woolf can assist readers in finding peace of mind, and Homer can support those needing courage.

Fletcher said his neuroscience background very much influences the approach to literature he takes in Wonderworks.

“When you read a favorite poem or story, you may feel joy, you feel a sense of empathy or connection. One of the things I do in the book is provide the scientific validation for the things we’ve long felt when we’ve read favorite books or watched movies or TV shows that we loved,” he said.

“From my neuroscience background and studies that I’ve done, I can see how literature’s inventions plug into different regions of our brain, to make us less lonely or help us build up our courage or do a variety of other things to help us. Every story is different and is, in effect, a different tool.”

Fletcher said to truly understand the power of literature requires a different way of approaching stories from what is offered by most traditional literature courses.

The usual method of teaching literature focuses on the words, asking students to look for themes, to consider what the author intended to say and mean.

But that’s not the focus at Project Narrative, an Ohio State program of which Fletcher is a member.

“At Project Narrative, we reverse the process. Instead of looking at the words first, we look first at what is going on in your mind. How does this story make you feel? We look at how people are responding to the characters, the plot, the world that the author created,” Fletcher said.

After examining how the story makes you feel, the second part of the process is to trace that feeling back to some invention of the story, whether it is the plot, a character, the narrator, or the world of the story.

The themes of the story, or what the author means to say, are less important in this approach to literature.

That means when you are looking for a book to stimulate your courage, you don’t have to look for a book that has “courage” in the title or even as one of its themes according to traditional literature analysis, Fletcher said.

“Courage comes from reading a work of literature that makes us feel like we’re participating in something bigger than ourselves. It doesn’t have to mention courage or have courage be one of its themes,” he said. “That’s not relevant.”

For example, you wouldn’t think of reading The Godfather to ward off loneliness. But Fletcher said it can have this effect, partly through its use of a specific operatic technique. In Wonderworks, Fletcher explains how some operas feature a period of dissonant and turbulent music that is eventually resolved by a sweet harmony.

“The clashing and discordant music is upsetting, but then the sweet relief of harmony comes and releases dopamine in our brain, bonding us to the music,” he said.

“Puzo does the same thing in The Godfather, by creating chaos and tension in a chapter and then just partly resolving it at the end, giving us this partial dopamine rush that bonds us to the characters and to the story and makes us feel like they are friends.”

And even though it may not be good to be friends with gangsters in real life, the dopamine rush that we get from befriending the Corleone family can help ward off loneliness, he said.

If you’re reading stories like The Godfather while isolated during the COVID-19 pandemic, it may even help ease the transition back to normal life when the world opens back up.

Neuroscientists have discovered that a part of the brain, called the dorsal raphe nucleus, helps us make friends, Fletcher said. It contains a cluster of dopamine neurons that are primed for short periods of loneliness and stand ready to encourage us to be sociable when we again meet people.

But if our isolation lasts weeks or months, like during the pandemic, that priming fades and our brain hunkers down in isolation – making it harder to re-connect with people.

“So what The Godfather and other stories can do is wake up the dorsal raphe nucleus and make it easier to rejoin society when the pandemic is over,” he explained.

Fletcher said the use of operatic techniques in The Godfather is just one example of how literature can be a form of technology.

And he hopes more people will want to figure out how these technological tools in literature really work in our brains.

“The idea behind the book is to give you a different way of reading, one that unlocks the extraordinary power of literature to heal your brain, give you more joy, more courage, whatever you need in your life.”

You can order “Wonderworks: The 25 Most Powerful Inventions in the History of Literature” from this Simon & Shuster (publisher) webpage,

A brilliant examination of literary inventions through the ages, from ancient Mesopotamia to Elena Ferrante, that shows how writers have created technical breakthroughs—rivaling any scientific inventions—and engineering enhancements to the human heart and mind.

Literature is a technology like any other. And the writers we revere—from Homer, Shakespeare, Austen, and others—each made a unique technical breakthrough that can be viewed as both a narrative and neuroscientific advancement. Literature’s great invention was to address problems we could not solve: not how to start a fire or build a boat, but how to live and love; how to maintain courage in the face of death; how to account for the fact that we exist at all.

Wonderworks reviews the blueprints for twenty-five of the most powerful developments in the history of literature. These inventions can be scientifically shown to alleviate grief, trauma, loneliness, anxiety, numbness, depression, pessimism, and ennui—all while sparking creativity, courage, love, empathy, hope, joy, and positive change. They can be found all throughout literature—from ancient Chinese lyrics to Shakespeare’s plays, poetry to nursery rhymes and fairy tales, and crime novels to slave narratives.

An easy-to-understand exploration of the new literary field of story science, Wonderworks teaches you everything you wish you learned in your English class. Based on author Angus Fletcher’s own research, it is an eye-opening and thought-provoking work that offers us a new understanding of the power of literature.

Should you be interested in Project Narrative, it can be found here.

Future of Being Human: a call for proposals

The Canadian Institute for Advanced Research (CIFAR) is investigating the ‘Future of Being Human’ and has instituted a global call for proposals but there is one catch, your team has to have one person (with or without citizenship) who’s living and working in Canada. (Note: I am available.)

Here’s more about the call (from the CIFAR Global Call for Ideas: The Future of Being Human webpage),

New program proposals should explore the long term intersection of humans, science and technology, social and cultural systems, and our environment. Our understanding of the world around us, and new insights into individual and societal behaviour, have the potential to provide enormous benefits to humanity and the planet. 

We invite bold proposals from researchers at universities or research institutions that ask new questions about our complex emerging world. We are confronting challenging problems that require a diverse team incorporating multiple disciplines (potentially spanning the humanities, social sciences, arts, physical sciences, and life sciences [emphasis mine]) to engage in a sustained dialogue to develop new insights, and change the conversation on important questions facing science and humanity.

CIFAR is committed to creating a more diverse, equitable, and inclusive environment. We welcome proposals that include individuals from countries and institutions that are not yet represented in our research community.

Here’s a description, albeit, a little repetitive, of what CIFAR is asking researchers to do (from the Program Guide [PDF]),

For CIFAR’s next Global Call for Ideas, we are soliciting proposals related to The Future of Being Human, exploring in the long term the intersection of humans, science and technology, social and cultural systems, and our environment. Our understanding of the natural world around us, and new insights into individual and societal behaviour, have the potential to provide enormous benefits to humanity and the planet. We invite bold proposals that ask new questions about our complex emerging world, where the issues under study are entangled and dynamic. We are confronting challenging problems that necessitate a diverse team incorporating multiple disciplines (potentially spanning the humanities, social sciences, arts, physical sciences, and life sciences) to engage in a sustained dialogue to develop new insights, and change the conversation on important questions facing science and humanity. [p. 2 print; p. 4 PDF]

There is an upcoming information webinar (from the CIFAR Global Call for Ideas: The Future of Being Human webpage),

Monday, June 28, 2021 – 1:00pm – 1:45pm EDT

Webinar Sign-Up

Also from the CIFAR Global Call for Ideas: The Future of Being Human webpage, here are the various deadlines and additional sources of information,

August 17, 2021

Registration deadline

January 26, 2022

LOI [Letter of Intent] deadline

Spring 2022

LOIs invited to Full Proposal

Fall 2022

Full proposals due

March 2023

New program announcement and celebration

Resources

Program Guide [PDF]

Frequently Asked Questions

Good luck!

The Internet of Bodies and Ghislaine Boddington

I stumbled across this event on my Twitter feed (h/t @katepullinger; Note: Kate Pullinger is a novelist and Professor of Creative Writing and Digital Media, Director of the Centre for Cultural and Creative Industries [CCCI] at Bath Spa University in the UK).

Anyone who visits here with any frequency will have noticed I have a number of articles on technology and the body (you can find them in the ‘human enhancement’ category and/or search fro the machine/flesh tag). Boddington’s view is more expansive than the one I’ve taken and I welcome it. First, here’s the event information and, then, a link to her open access paper from February 2021.

From the CCCI’s Annual Public Lecture with Ghislaine Boddington eventbrite page,

This year’s CCCI Public Lecture will be given by Ghislaine Boddington. Ghislaine is Creative Director of body>data>space and Reader in Digital Immersion at University of Greenwich. Ghislaine has worked at the intersection of the body, the digital, and spatial research for many years. This will be her first in-person appearance since the start of the pandemic, and she will share with us the many insights she has gathered during this extraordinary pivot to online interfaces much of the world has been forced to undertake.

With a background in performing arts and body technologies, Ghislaine is recognised as a pioneer in the exploration of digital intimacy, telepresence and virtual physical blending since the early 90s. As a curator, keynote speaker and radio presenter she has shared her outlook on the future human into the cultural, academic, creative industries and corporate sectors worldwide, examining topical issues with regards to personal data usage, connected bodies and collective embodiment. Her research led practice, examining the evolution of the body as the interface, is presented under the heading ‘The Internet of Bodies’. Recent direction and curation outputs include “me and my shadow” (Royal National Theatre 2012), FutureFest 2015-18 and Collective Reality (Nesta’s FutureFest / SAT Montreal 2016/17). In 2017 Ghislaine was awarded the international IX Immersion Experience Visionary Pioneer Award. She recently co-founded University of Greenwich Strategic Research Group ‘CLEI – Co-creating Liveness in Embodied Immersion’ and is an Associate Editor for AI & Society (Springer). Ghislaine is a long term advocate for diversity and inclusion, working as a Trustee for Stemette Futures and Spokesperson for Deutsche Bank ‘We in Social Tech’ initiative. She is a team member and presenter with BBC World Service flagship radio show/podcast Digital Planet.

Date and time

Thu, 24 June 2021
08:00 – 09:00 [am] PDT

@GBoddington

@bodydataspace

@ConnectedBodies

Boddington’s paper is what ignited my interest; here’s a link to and a citation for it,

The Internet of Bodies—alive, connected and collective: the virtual physical future of our bodies and our senses by Ghislaine Boddington. AI Soc. 2021 Feb 8 : 1–17. DOI: 10.1007/s00146-020-01137-1 PMCID: PMC7868903 PMID: 33584018

Some excerpts from this open access paper,

The Weave—virtual physical presence design—blending processes for the future

Coming from a performing arts background, dance led, in 1989, I became obsessed with the idea that there must be a way for us to be able to create and collaborate in our groups, across time and space, whenever we were not able to be together physically. The focus of my work, as a director, curator and presenter across the last 30 years, has been on our physical bodies and our data selves and how they have, through the extended use of our bodies into digitally created environments, started to merge and converge, shifting our relationship and understanding of our identity and our selfhood.

One of the key methodologies that I have been using since the mid-1990s is inter-authored group creation, a process we called The Weave (Boddington 2013a, b). It uses the simple and universal metaphor of braiding, plaiting or weaving three strands of action and intent, these three strands being:

1. The live body—whether that of the performer, the participant, or the public;

2. The technologies of today—our tools of virtually physical reflection;

3. The content—the theme in exploration.

As with a braid or a plait, the three strands must be weaved simultaneously. What is key to this weave is that in any co-creation between the body and technology, the technology cannot work without the body; hence, there will always be virtual/physical blending. [emphasis mine]

Cyborgs

Cyborg culture is also moving forward at a pace with most countries having four or five cyborgs who have reached out into media status. Manel Munoz is the weather man as such, fascinated and affected by cyclones and anticyclones, his back of the head implant sent vibrations to different sides of his head linked to weather changes around him.

Neil Harbisson from Northern Ireland calls himself a trans-species rather than a cyborg, because his implant is permanently fused into the crown of his head. He is the first trans-species/cyborg to have his passport photo accepted as he exists with his fixed antenna. Neil has, from birth, an eye condition called greyscale, which means he only sees the world in grey and white. He uses his antennae camera to detect colour, and it sends a vibration with a different frequency for each colour viewed. He is learning what colours are within his viewpoint at any given time through the vibrations in his head, a synaesthetic method of transference of one sense for another. Moon Ribas, a Spanish choreographer and a dancer, had two implants placed into the top of her feet, set to sense seismic activity as it occurs worldwide. When a small earthquake occurs somewhere, she received small vibrations; a bigger eruption gives her body a more intense vibration. She dances as she receives and reacts to these transferred data. She feels a need to be closer to our earth, a part of nature (Harbisson et al. 2018).

Medical, non medical and sub-dermal implants

Medical implants, embedded into the body or subdermally (nearer the surface), have rapidly advanced in the last 30 years with extensive use of cardiac pacemakers, hip implants, implantable drug pumps and cochlear implants helping partial deaf people to hear.

Deep body and subdermal implants can be personalised to your own needs. They can be set to transmit chosen aspects of your body data outwards, but they also can receive and control data in return. There are about 200 medical implants in use today. Some are complex, like deep brain stimulation for motor neurone disease, and others we are more familiar with, for example, pacemakers. Most medical implants are not digitally linked to the outside world at present, but this is in rapid evolution.

Kevin Warwick, a pioneer in this area, has interconnected himself and his partner with implants for joint use of their personal and home computer systems through their BrainGate (Warwick 2008) implant, an interface between the nervous system and the technology. They are connected bodies. He works onwards with his experiments to feel the shape of distant objects and heat through fingertip implants.

‘Smart’ implants into the brain for deep brain stimulation are in use and in rapid advancement. The ethics of these developments is under constant debate in 2020 and will be onwards, as is proved by the mass coverage of the Neuralink, Elon Musk’s innovation which connects to the brain via wires, with the initial aim to cure human diseases such as dementia, depression and insomnia and onwards plans for potential treatment of paraplegia (Musk 2016).

Given how many times I’ve featured art/sci (also know as, art/science and/or sciart) and cyborgs and medical implants here, my excitement was a given.

For anyone who wants to pursue Boddington’s work further, her eponymous website is here, the body>data>space is here, and her University of Greenwich profile page is here.

For anyone interested in the Centre for Creative and Cultural Industries (CCCI), their site is here.

Finally, here’s one of my earliest pieces about cyborgs titled ‘My mother is a cyborg‘ from April 20, 2012 and my September 17, 2020 posting titled, ‘Turning brain-controlled wireless electronic prostheses into reality plus some ethical points‘. If you scroll down to the ‘Brain-computer interfaces, symbiosis, and ethical issues’ subhead, you’ll find some article excerpts about a fascinating qualitative study on implants and ethics.

The Canada Council for the Arts, a digital strategy research report on blockchains and culture, and Vancouver (Canada)

Is the May 17, 2021 “Blockchains & Cultural Padlocks (BACP) Digital Strategy Research Report” discussing a hoped for future transformative experience? Given the report’s subtitle: “Towards a Digitally Cooperative Culture: Recommoning Land, Data and Objects,” and the various essays included in the 200 pp document, I say the answer is ‘yes’.

The report was launched by 221 A, a Vancouver (Canada)-based arts and culture organization and funded by the Canada Council for the Arts through their Digital Strategy Fund. Here’s more from the BACP report in the voice of its research leader, Jesse McKee,

… The blockchain is the openly readable and unalterable ledger technology, which is most broadly known for supporting such applications as bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies. This report documents the first research phase in a three-phased approach to establishing our digital strategy [emphasis mine], as we [emphasis mine] learn from the blockchain development communities. This initiative’s approach is an institutional one, not one that is interpreting the technology for individuals, artists and designers alone. The central concept of the blockchain is that exchanges of value need not rely on centralized authentication from institutions such as banks, credit cards or the state, and that this exchange of value is better programmed and tracked with metadata to support the virtues, goals and values of a particular network. This concept relies on a shared, decentralized and trustless ledger. “Trustless” in the blockchain community is an evolution of the term trust, shifting its signification as a contract usually held between individuals, managed and upheld by a centralized social institution, and redistributing it amongst the actors in a blockchain network who uphold the platform’s technical operational codes and can access ledgers of exchange. All parties involved in the system are then able to reach a consensus on what the canonical truth is regarding the holding and exchange of value within the system.

… [from page 6 of the report]

McKee manages to keep the report from floating away in a sea of utopian bliss with some cautionary notes. Still, as a writer I’m surprised he didn’t notice that ‘blockchain‘ which (in English) is supposed to ‘unlock padlocks’ poses a linguistic conundrum if nothing else.

This looks like an interesting report but it’s helpful to have some ‘critical theory’ jargon. That said, the bulk of the report is relatively accessible reading although some of the essays (at the end) from the artist-researchers are tough going.

One more thought, the report does present many exciting and transformative possibilities and I would dearly love to see much of this come to pass. I am more hesitant than McKee and his colleagues and that hesitation is beautifully described in an essay (The Vampire Problem: Illustrating the Paradox of Transformative Experience) first published September 3, 2017 by Maria Popova (originally published on Brain Pickings),

To be human is to suffer from a peculiar congenital blindness: On the precipice of any great change, we can see with terrifying clarity the familiar firm footing we stand to lose, but we fill the abyss of the unfamiliar before us with dread at the potential loss rather than jubilation over the potential gain of gladnesses and gratifications we fail to envision because we haven’t yet experienced them. …

Arts and blockchain events in Vancouver

The 221 A launch event for the report kicked off a series of related events, here’s more from a 221 A May 17, 2021 news release (Note: the first and second events have already taken place),

Events Series

Please join us for a live stream events series bringing together key contributors of the Blockchains & Cultural Padlocks Research Report alongside a host of leading figures across academic, urbanism, media and blockchain development communities.

Blockchains & Cultural Padlocks Digital Strategy Launch

May 25, 10 am PDT / 1 pm EDT / 7 CEST

With Jesse McKee, BACP Lead Investigator and 221A Head of Strategy; Rosemary Heather, BACP Editorial Director and Principal Researcher; moderated by Svitlana Matviyenko, Assistant Professor and Associate Director of Simon Fraser University’s Digital Democracies Institute.

The Valuation of Necessity: A Cosmological View of our Technologies and Culture

June 4, 10 am PDT / 1 pm EDT / 7pm CEST

With BACP researcher, artist and theorist Patricia Reed; critical geographer Maral Sotoudehnia, and Wassim Alsindi of 0x Salon, Berlin, who conducts research on the legal and ecological externalities of blockchain networks.

Recommoning Territory: Diversifying Housing Tenure Through Platform Cooperatives

June 18, 10 am PDT / 1 pm EDT / 7pm CEST

With 221A Fellows Maksym Rokmaniko and Francis Tseng (DOMA [a nonprofit organization developing a distributed housing platform]); Andy Yan (Simon Fraser University); and BACP researcher and critical geographer Maral Sotoudehnia.

Roundtable: Decentralized Autonomous Organizations (DAOs) & Social Tokens

Released June 25, Pre-recorded

Roundtable co-organized with Daniel Keller of newmodels.io, with participation from development teams and researchers from @albiverse, trust.support, Circles UBI, folia.app, SayDAO, and Blockchain@UBC

Blockchains & Cultural Padlocks is supported by the Digital Strategy Fund of the Canada Council for the Arts.

For more, contact us hello@221a.ca

Coming up: Vancouver’s Voxel Bridge

The Vancouver Biennale folks first sent me information about Voxel Bridge in 2018 but this new material is the most substantive description yet, even without an opening date. From a June 6, 2021 article by Kevin Griffin for the Vancouver Sun (Note: Links have been removed),

The underside of the Cambie Bridge is about to be transformed into the unique digital world of Voxel Bridge. Part of the Vancouver Biennale, Voxel Bridge will exist both as a physical analogue art work and an online digital one.

The public art installation is by Jessica Angel. When it’s fully operational, Voxel Bridge will have several non-fungible tokens called NFTs that exist in an interactive 3-D world that uses blockchain technology. The intention is to create a fully immersive installation. Voxel Bridge is being described as the largest digital public art installation of its kind.

“To my knowledge, nothing has been done at this scale outdoors that’s fully interactive,” said Sammi Wei, the Vancouver Biennale‘s operations director. “Once the digital world is built in your phone, you’ll be able to walk around objects. When you touch one, it kind of vibrates.”

Just as a pixel refers to a point in a two-dimensional world, voxel refers to a similar unit in a 3-D world.

Voxel Bridge will be about itself: it will tell the story of what it means to use new decentralized technology called blockchain to create Voxel Bridge.

There are a few more Voxel Bridge details in a June 7, 2021 article by Vincent Plana for the Daily Hive,

Voxel Bridge draws parallels between blockchain technology and the structural integrity of the underpass itself. The installation will be created by using adhesive vinyl and augmented reality technology.

Gfiffin’s description in his June 6, 2021 article gives you a sense of what it will be like to become immersed in Voxel Bridge,

Starting Monday [June 14, 2021], a crew will begin installing a vinyl overlay directly on the architecture on the underside of the bridge deck, around the columns, and underfoot on the sidewalk from West 2nd to the parking-lot road. Enclosing a space of about 18,000 square feet, the vinyl layer will be visible without any digital enhancement. It will look like an off-kilter circuit board.

“It’ll be like you’re standing in the middle of a circuit board,” [emphasis mine] she said. “At the same time, the visual perception will be slightly off. It’s like an optical illusion. You feel the ground is not quite where it’s supposed to be.”

Griffin’s June 6, 2021 article offers good detail and a glossary.

So, Vancouver is offering more than one opportunity to learn about and/or experience blockchain.

Art, sound, AI, & the Metacreation Lab’s Spring 2021 newsletter

The Metacreation Lab’s Spring 2021 newsletter (received via email) features a number of events either currently taking place or about to take place.

2021 AI Song Contest

2021 marks the 2nd year for this international event, an artificial intelligence/AI Song Contest 2021. The folks at Simon Fraser University’s (SFU) Metacreation Lab have an entry for the 2021 event, A song about the weekend (and you can do whatever you want). Should you click on the song entry, you will find an audio file, a survey/vote consisting of four questions and, if you keep scrolling down, more information about the creative, team, the song and more,

Driven by collaborations involving scientists, experts in artificial intelligence, cognitive sciences, designers, and artists, the Metacreation Lab for Creative AI is at the forefront of the development of generative systems, whether these are embedded in interactive experiences or automating workflows integrated into cutting-edge creative software.

Team:

Cale Plut (Composer and musician) is a PhD Student in the Metacreation lab, researching AI music applications in video games.

Philippe Pasquier (Producer and supervisor) is an Associate Professor, and leads the Metacreation Lab. 

Jeff Ens (AI programmer) is a PhD Candidate in the Metacreation lab, researching AI models for music generation.

Renaud Tchemeube (Producer and interaction designer) is a PhD Student in the Metacreation Lab, researching interaction software design for creativity.

Tara Jadidi (Research Assistant) is an undergraduate student at FUM, Iran, working with the Metacreation lab.

Dimiter Zlatkov (Research Assistant) is an undergraduate student at UBC, working with the Metacreation lab.

ABOUT THE SONG

A song about the weekend (and you can do whatever you want) explores the relationships between AI, humans, labour, and creation in a lighthearted and fun song. It is co-created with the Multi-track Music Machine (MMM)

Through the history of automation and industrialization, the relationship between the labour magnification power of automation and the recipients of the benefits of that magnification have been in contention. While increasing levels of automation are often accompanied by promises of future leisure increases, this rarely materializes for the workers whose labour is multiplied. By primarily using automated methods to create a “fun” song about leisure, we highlight both the promise of AI-human cooperation as well as the disparities in its real-world deployment. 

As for the competition itself, here’s more from the FAQs (frequently asked questions),

What is the AI Song Contest?

AI Song Contest is an international creative AI contest. Teams from all over the world try to create a 4-minute pop song with the help of artificial intelligence.

When and where does it take place?

Between June 1, 2021 and July 1, 2021 voting is open for the international public. On July 6 there will be multiple online panel sessions, and the winner of the AI Song Contest 2021 will be announced in an online award ceremony. All sessions on July 6 are organised in collaboration with Wallifornia MusicTech.

How is the winner determined?

Each participating team will be awarded two sets of points: one a public vote by the contest’s international audience, the other the determination of an expert jury.

Anyone can evaluate as many songs as they like: from one, up to all thirty-eight. Every song can be evaluated only once. Even though it won’t count in the grand total, lyrics can be evaluated too; we do like to determine which team wrote the best accoring to the audience.

Can I vote multiple times for the same team?

No, votes are controlled by IP address. So only one of your votes will count.

Is this the first time the contest is organised?

This is the second time the AI Song Contest is organised. The contest was first initiated in 2020 by Dutch public broadcaster VPRO together with NPO Innovation and NPO 3FM. Teams from Europe and Australia tried to create a Eurovision kind of song with the help of AI. Team Uncanny Valley from Australia won the first edition with their song Beautiful the World. The 2021 edition is organised independently.

What is the definition of artificial intelligence in this contest?

Artificial intelligence is a very broad concept. For this contest it will mean that teams can use techniques such as -but not limited to- machine learning, such as deep learning, natural language processing, algorithmic composition or combining rule-based approaches with neural networks for the creation of their songs. Teams can create their own AI tools, or use existing models and algorithms.  

What are possible challenges?

Read here about the challenges teams from last year’s contest faced.

As an AI researcher, can I collaborate with musicians?

Yes – this is strongly encouraged!

For the 2020 edition, all songs had to be Eurovision-style. Is that also the intention for 2021 entries?

Last year, the first year the contest was organized, it was indeed all about Eurovision. For this year’s competition, we are trying to expand geographically, culturally, and musically. Teams from all over the world can compete, and songs in all genres can be submitted.

If you’re not familiar with Eurovision-style, you can find a compilation video with brief excerpts from the 26 finalists for Eurovision 2021 here (Bill Young’s May 23, 2021 posting on tellyspotting.kera.org; the video runs under 10 mins.). There’s also the “Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga” 2020 movie starring Rachel McAdams, Will Ferrell, and Dan Stevens. It’s intended as a gentle parody but the style is all there.

ART MACHINES 2: International Symposium on Machine Learning and Art 2021

The symposium, Art Machines 2, started yesterday (June 10, 2021 and runs to June 14, 2021) in Hong Kong and SFU’s Metacreation Lab will be represented (from the Spring 2021 newsletter received via email),

On Sunday, June 13 [2021] at 21:45 Hong Kong Standard Time (UTC +8) as part of the Sound Art Paper Session chaired by Ryo Ikeshiro, the Metacreation Lab’s Mahsoo Salimi and Philippe Pasquier will present their paper, Exploiting Swarm Aesthetics in Sound Art. We’ve included a more detailed preview of the paper in this newsletter below.

Concurrent with ART MACHINES 2 is the launch of two exhibitions – Constructing Contexts and System Dreams. Constructing Contexts, curated by Tobias Klein and Rodrigo Guzman-Serrano, will bring together 27 works with unique approaches to the question of contexts as applied by generative adversarial networks. System Dreams highlights work from the latest MFA talent from the School of Creative Media. While the exhibitions take place in Hong Kong, the participating artists and artwork are well documented online.

Liminal Tones: Swarm Aesthetics in Sound Art

Applications of swarm aesthetics in music composition are not new and have already resulted in volumes of complex soundscapes and musical compositions. Using an experimental approach, Mahsoo Salimi and Philippe Pasquier create a series of sound textures know as Liminal Tones (B/ Rain Dream) based on swarming behaviours

Findings of the Liminal Tones project will be presented in papers for the Art Machines 2: International Symposium on Machine Learning (June 10-14 [2021]) and the International Conference on Swarm Intelligence (July 17-21 [2021]).

Talk about Creative AI at the University of British Columbia

This is the last item I’m excerpting from the newsletter. (Should you be curious about what else is listed, you can go to the Metacreation Lab’s contact page and sign up for the newsletter there.) On June 22, 2021 at 2:00 PM PDT, there will be this event,

Creative AI: on the partial or complete automation of creative tasks @ CAIDA

Philippe Pasquier will be giving a talk on creative applications of AI at CAIDA: UBC ICICS Centre for Artificial Intelligence Decision-making and Action. Overviewing the state of the art of computer-assisted creativity and embedded systems and their various applications, the talk will survey the design, deployment, and evaluation of generative systems.

Free registration for the talk is available at the link below.

Register for Creative AI @ CAIDA

Remember, if you want to see the rest of the newsletter, you can sign up at the Metacreation Lab’s contact page.

Exotic magnetism: a quantum simulation from D-Wave Sytems

Vancouver (Canada) area company, D-Wave Systems is trumpeting itself (with good reason) again. This 2021 ‘milestone’ achievement builds on work from 2018 (see my August 23, 2018 posting for the earlier work). For me, the big excitement was finding the best explanation for quantum annealing and D-Wave’s quantum computers that I’ve seen yet (that explanation and a link to more is at the end of this posting).

A February 18, 2021 news item on phys.org announces the latest achievement,

D-Wave Systems Inc. today [February 18, 2021] published a milestone study in collaboration with scientists at Google, demonstrating a computational performance advantage, increasing with both simulation size and problem hardness, to over 3 million times that of corresponding classical methods. Notably, this work was achieved on a practical application with real-world implications, simulating the topological phenomena behind the 2016 Nobel Prize in Physics. This performance advantage, exhibited in a complex quantum simulation of materials, is a meaningful step in the journey toward applications advantage in quantum computing.

A February 18, 2021 D-Wave Systems press release (also on EurekAlert), which originated the news item, describes the work in more detail,

The work by scientists at D-Wave and Google also demonstrates that quantum effects can be harnessed to provide a computational advantage in D-Wave processors, at problem scale that requires thousands of qubits. Recent experiments performed on multiple D-Wave processors represent by far the largest quantum simulations carried out by existing quantum computers to date.

The paper, entitled “Scaling advantage over path-integral Monte Carlo in quantum simulation of geometrically frustrated magnets”, was published in the journal Nature Communications (DOI 10.1038/s41467-021-20901-5, February 18, 2021). D-Wave researchers programmed the D-Wave 2000Q™ system to model a two-dimensional frustrated quantum magnet using artificial spins. The behavior of the magnet was described by the Nobel-prize winning work of theoretical physicists Vadim Berezinskii, J. Michael Kosterlitz and David Thouless. They predicted a new state of matter in the 1970s characterized by nontrivial topological properties. This new research is a continuation of previous breakthrough work published by D-Wave’s team in a 2018 Nature paper entitled “Observation of topological phenomena in a programmable lattice of 1,800 qubits” (Vol. 560, Issue 7719, August 22, 2018). In this latest paper, researchers from D-Wave, alongside contributors from Google, utilize D-Wave’s lower noise processor to achieve superior performance and glean insights into the dynamics of the processor never observed before.

“This work is the clearest evidence yet that quantum effects provide a computational advantage in D-Wave processors,” said Dr. Andrew King, principal investigator for this work at D-Wave. “Tying the magnet up into a topological knot and watching it escape has given us the first detailed look at dynamics that are normally too fast to observe. What we see is a huge benefit in absolute terms, with the scaling advantage in temperature and size that we would hope for. This simulation is a real problem that scientists have already attacked using the algorithms we compared against, marking a significant milestone and an important foundation for future development. This wouldn’t have been possible today without D-Wave’s lower noise processor.”

“The search for quantum advantage in computations is becoming increasingly lively because there are special problems where genuine progress is being made. These problems may appear somewhat contrived even to physicists, but in this paper from a collaboration between D-Wave Systems, Google, and Simon Fraser University [SFU], it appears that there is an advantage for quantum annealing using a special purpose processor over classical simulations for the more ‘practical’ problem of finding the equilibrium state of a particular quantum magnet,” said Prof. Dr. Gabriel Aeppli, professor of physics at ETH Zürich and EPF Lausanne, and head of the Photon Science Division of the Paul Scherrer Institute. “This comes as a surprise given the belief of many that quantum annealing has no intrinsic advantage over path integral Monte Carlo programs implemented on classical processors.”

“Nascent quantum technologies mature into practical tools only when they leave classical counterparts in the dust in solving real-world problems,” said Hidetoshi Nishimori, Professor, Institute of Innovative Research, Tokyo Institute of Technology. “A key step in this direction has been achieved in this paper by providing clear evidence of a scaling advantage of the quantum annealer over an impregnable classical computing competitor in simulating dynamical properties of a complex material. I send sincere applause to the team.”

“Successfully demonstrating such complex phenomena is, on its own, further proof of the programmability and flexibility of D-Wave’s quantum computer,” said D-Wave CEO Alan Baratz. “But perhaps even more important is the fact that this was not demonstrated on a synthetic or ‘trick’ problem. This was achieved on a real problem in physics against an industry-standard tool for simulation–a demonstration of the practical value of the D-Wave processor. We must always be doing two things: furthering the science and increasing the performance of our systems and technologies to help customers develop applications with real-world business value. This kind of scientific breakthrough from our team is in line with that mission and speaks to the emerging value that it’s possible to derive from quantum computing today.”

The scientific achievements presented in Nature Communications further underpin D-Wave’s ongoing work with world-class customers to develop over 250 early quantum computing applications, with a number piloting in production applications, in diverse industries such as manufacturing, logistics, pharmaceutical, life sciences, retail and financial services. In September 2020, D-Wave brought its next-generation Advantage™ quantum system to market via the Leap™ quantum cloud service. The system includes more than 5,000 qubits and 15-way qubit connectivity, as well as an expanded hybrid solver service capable of running business problems with up to one million variables. The combination of Advantage’s computing power and scale with the hybrid solver service gives businesses the ability to run performant, real-world quantum applications for the first time.

That last paragraph seems more sales pitch than research oriented. It’s not unexpected in a company’s press release but I was surprised that the editors at EurekAlert didn’t remove it.

Here’s a link to and a citation for the latest paper,

Scaling advantage over path-integral Monte Carlo in quantum simulation of geometrically frustrated magnets by Andrew D. King, Jack Raymond, Trevor Lanting, Sergei V. Isakov, Masoud Mohseni, Gabriel Poulin-Lamarre, Sara Ejtemaee, William Bernoudy, Isil Ozfidan, Anatoly Yu. Smirnov, Mauricio Reis, Fabio Altomare, Michael Babcock, Catia Baron, Andrew J. Berkley, Kelly Boothby, Paul I. Bunyk, Holly Christiani, Colin Enderud, Bram Evert, Richard Harris, Emile Hoskinson, Shuiyuan Huang, Kais Jooya, Ali Khodabandelou, Nicolas Ladizinsky, Ryan Li, P. Aaron Lott, Allison J. R. MacDonald, Danica Marsden, Gaelen Marsden, Teresa Medina, Reza Molavi, Richard Neufeld, Mana Norouzpour, Travis Oh, Igor Pavlov, Ilya Perminov, Thomas Prescott, Chris Rich, Yuki Sato, Benjamin Sheldan, George Sterling, Loren J. Swenson, Nicholas Tsai, Mark H. Volkmann, Jed D. Whittaker, Warren Wilkinson, Jason Yao, Hartmut Neven, Jeremy P. Hilton, Eric Ladizinsky, Mark W. Johnson, Mohammad H. Amin. Nature Communications volume 12, Article number: 1113 (2021) DOI: https://doi.org/10.1038/s41467-021-20901-5 Published: 18 February 2021

This paper is open access.

Quantum annealing and more

Dr. Andrew King, one of the D-Wave researchers, has written a February 18, 2021 article on Medium explaining some of the work. I’ve excerpted one of King’s points,

Insight #1: We observed what actually goes on under the hood in the processor for the first time

Quantum annealing — the approach adopted by D-Wave from the beginning — involves setting up a simple but purely quantum initial state, and gradually reducing the “quantumness” until the system is purely classical. This takes on the order of a microsecond. If you do it right, the classical system represents a hard (NP-complete) computational problem, and the state has evolved to an optimal, or at least near-optimal, solution to that problem.

What happens at the beginning and end of the computation are about as simple as quantum computing gets. But the action in the middle is hard to get a handle on, both theoretically and experimentally. That’s one reason these experiments are so important: they provide high-fidelity measurements of the physical processes at the core of quantum annealing. Our 2018 Nature article introduced the same simulation, but without measuring computation time. To benchmark the experiment this time around, we needed lower-noise hardware (in this case, we used the D-Wave 2000Q lower noise quantum computer), and we needed, strangely, to slow the simulation down. Since the quantum simulation happens so fast, we actually had to make things harder. And we had to find a way to slow down both quantum and classical simulation in an equitable way. The solution? Topological obstruction.

If you have time and the inclination, I encourage you to read King’s piece.