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The First Track of the First Album Composed and Produced by AI
The first pop album composed and produced by AI, and Taryn Southern.
At Big Think, we’ve been intrigued for a while about the intersection between artificial intelligence/machine learning and creativity. There was a crazy AI-written movie script a while back, and a couple of attempts by AI at producing music . In one case, it generated a melody and basic chords (hiding, admittedly, somewhere inside a splashy arrangement contributed by a human arranger and performers). In another case, Google AI produced some, shall we say, abstruse piano fragments. But we haven’t seen anything like this before. Singer/songwriter — and YouTube star — Taryn Southern is working on an collection of songs whose instrumental backings were created entirely by an AI program (Southern writes the melodies and lyrics).
The appropriately futuristic, palindromic title for the album is: I Am AI. The first single, “Break Free,” came out a couple of weeks ago.
One of the things that’s immediately striking about “Break Free” is that it sounds so normal. It’s not bloops and bleeps, nor is it... well... as completely insane as previous attempts have seemed.
The AI app Southern is using is called Amper. It’s a web-based tool in which you set some basic parameters for the music you want, and Amper creates, or renders, it for you. If you don’t like what Amper comes up with, you can render again. Its creators promise the app never repeats itself, presenting you with a new chunk of music with each render. Southern tells Big Think that she’s done this as many as 134 times to get what she was looking for in a particular piece of music.
The few criteria you provide Amper are pretty simple. You can choose from among four styles.
You can select your instrumentation.
You can also pick your tempo — in minutes and seconds, though unfortunately not bars — and you can select the key you want.
And that’s it. Amper is not really designed for writing songs, per se. It’s more about generating music backgrounds for videos, games and augmented reality projects. Southern says the company told her she was the first artist using it for songwriting as far as they knew, and they’ve been learning about their own program from what she’s doing with it. One obvious question that comes to mind is who exactly owns the Amper-created songs, Southern or Amper? How about Southern and the person/people who wrote the Amper algorithms? When asked about this, Southern laughs, saying, “We are working through those issues.”
Southern is a self-described “music hacker” who settled on Amper for its high quality after investigating a few other AI-music platforms. She says she loves expressing herself through words and melodies, but after dealing with the expense and logistics involved in recording her music with other humans, she became intrigued with the possibilities of AI: “I got excited that I could do this on my own.”
While the process is cumbersome — especially looking for the right music to fit around a pre-conceived melody, as with “Break Free” — it holds obvious promise. She’s enjoying working with Amper as a creative challenge, thinking of it as a “fun box to play in for an album.” An easier approach would be to let it devise instrumental backings on top of which melodies would be crafted, and that’s a method Southern’s currently exploring. “Right now, I’m writing more to the AI.” She’s also considering layering more human performances on top of the Amper material to add more “interesting textures,” making the AI more “just an inspiration point.”
Amper rendering music (AMPER MUSIC)
There’s a video at the bottom of Amper’s home page that reflects just how new all of this is, and its somewhat hyperbolic claims reveal the unclarity many of us share in trying to envision AI’s rightful place in our lives and in the creative process. Amper’s co-founder and CEO Drew Silverstein says that the creators of Amper believe “the future of music will be created by the collaboration between humans and AI.” It’s hard to know what to make of this.
On one hand, music, art, and other media may be the ultimate forms of human expression, communicating feelings and ideas, as they do, on a unique level. What would AI have to do with that — does AI have a need to express itself?
(ADVENT via SHUTTERSTOCK)
On the other hand, using it as Southern does unquestionably makes sense. You’ll have to decide for yourself, though, if AI is really her collaborator, or simply a tool her own talent and musical taste allow her to effectively employ.
It should also be said that Amper’s primarily aimed at people who express their creativity visually, and simply need original (and free) music that complements their vision, “instantly and with no experience required.” This may be why you set the length of Amper music in minutes and seconds, to match a video’s length. Statements in the video like “We are enabling millions and millions of people to express themselves, and to express their creativity…” and promoting the benefits of “lowering the bar” only really make sense if Silverstein’s addressing visually oriented people.
It would seem that AI music generation would be of the least use to a musician who specializes in composing, and wouldn’t want to shift the responsibility elsewhere. For that person, lyric-writing AI could be a heaven-send. Still, in 2017, it’s as likely to be just about as ridiculous as the movie script we mentioned earlier.
Southern points out an issue that comes from making the creative process so frictionless. “There’s a rub in using something like AI to fuel a creative project,” she says, because, “there’s no need to learn how instrumentation works. We’re seeing this across every creative field. Does it make the person less creative? Does it bring the art form down? I don’t know.” Still, she says, “I’d rather see people have tools to express themselves than not, because that’s an entry point into a different way of thinking and a different way of expressing.”
Ready for the future (TARYN SOUTHERN)
When AI is really fully capable of creating entire songs and recordings — with music, lyrics, and performances — it’s likely we’ll all be at least initially curious to hear what it sounds like. And the field is still so young. As AI becomes more and more alive and individuated — we’re thinking Data on Star Trek TNG — it may well have something very much like feelings and a soul. And it may have something of its own that it absolutely has to express.
Evolution proves to be just about as ingenious as Nikola Tesla
- For the first time, scientists developed 3D scans of shark intestines to learn how they digest what they eat.
- The scans reveal an intestinal structure that looks awfully familiar — it looks like a Tesla valve.
- The structure may allow sharks to better survive long breaks between feasts.
Considering how much sharks are feared by humans, it is a bit of a surprise that scientists don't know much about the predators. For example, until recently, sharks were thought to be solitary creatures searching the seas for food on their own. Now it appears that some sharks are quite social.
Another mystery is how these prehistoric swimming and eating machines digest food. Although scientists have made 2D sketches of captured sharks' digestive systems based on dissections, there is a limit to what can be learned in this way. Professor Adam Summers at University of Washington's Friday Harbor Labs says:
"Intestines are so complex, with so many overlapping layers, that dissection destroys the context and connectivity of the tissue. It would be like trying to understand what was reported in a newspaper by taking scissors to a rolled-up copy. The story just won't hang together."
Summers is co-author of a new study that has produced the first 3D scans of a shark's intestines, which turns out to have a strange, corkscrew structure. What's even more bizarre is that it resembles the amazing one-way valve designed by inventor Nikola Tesla in 1920. The research is published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B.
What a 3D model reveals
Video: Pacific spiny dogfish intestine youtu.be
According to the study's lead author Samantha Leigh, "It's high time that some modern technology was used to look at these really amazing spiral intestines of sharks. We developed a new method to digitally scan these tissues and now can look at the soft tissues in such great detail without having to slice into them."
"CT scanning is one of the only ways to understand the shape of shark intestines in three dimensions," adds Summers. The researchers scanned the intestines of nearly three dozen different shark species.
It is believed that sharks go for extended periods — days or even weeks — between big meals. The scans reveal that food passes slowly through the intestine, affording sharks' digestive system the time to fully extract its nutrient value. The researchers hypothesize that such a slow digestive process may also require less energy.
It could be that this slow digestion is more susceptible to back flow given that the momentum of digested food through the tract must be minimal. Perhaps that is why sharks evolved something so similar to a Tesla valve.
What is Tesla's valve doing there?
Above, a Tesla valve. Below, a shark intestine.Credit: Samantha Leigh / California State University, Domi
Tesla's "valvular conduit," or what the world now calls a "Tesla valve," is a one-way valve with no moving parts. Its brilliance is based in fluid dynamics and only now coming to be fully appreciated. Essentially, a series of teardrop-shaped loops arranged along the length of the valve allow water to flow easily in one direction but not in the other. Modern tests reveal that at low flow rates, water can travel through the valve either way, but at high flow rates, the design kicks in. According to mathematician Leif Ristroph:
"Crucially, this turn-on comes with the generation of turbulent flows in the reverse direction, which 'plug' the pipe with vortices and disrupting currents. Moreover, the turbulence appears at far lower flow rates than have ever previously been observed for pipes of more standard shapes — up to 20 times lower speed than conventional turbulence in a cylindrical pipe or tube. This shows the power it has to control flows, which could be used in many applications."
A deeper dive
Summers suggests the scans are just the beginning. "The vast majority of shark species, and the majority of their physiology, are completely unknown," says Summers, adding that "every single natural history observation, internal visualization, and anatomical investigation shows us things we could not have guessed at."
To this end, the researchers plan to use 3D printing to produce models through which they can observe the behavior of different substances passing through them — after all, sharks typically eat fish, invertebrates, mammals, and seagrass. They also plan to explore with engineers ways in which the shark intestine design could be used industrially, perhaps for the treatment of wastewater or for filtering microplastics.
It could fairly be said, though, that Nikola Tesla was 100 years ahead of them.
The non-contact technique could someday be used to lift much heavier objects — maybe even humans.
- Since the 1980s, researchers have been using sound waves to move matter through a technique called acoustic trapping.
- Acoustic trapping devices move bits of matter by emitting strategically designed sound waves, which interact in such a way that the matter becomes "trapped" in areas of particular velocity and pressure.
- Acoustic and optical trapping devices are already used in various fields, including medicine, nanotechnology, and biological research.
Sound can have powerful effects on matter. After all, sound strikes our world in waves — vibrations of air molecules that bounce off of, get absorbed by, or pass through matter around us. Sound waves from a trained opera singer can shatter a wine glass. From a jet, they can collapse a stone wall. But sound can also be harnessed for delicate interactions with matter.
Since the 1980s, researchers have been using sound to move matter through a phenomenon called acoustic trapping. The method is based on the fact that sound waves produce an acoustic radiation force.
"When an acoustic wave interacts with a particle, it exerts both an oscillatory force and a much smaller steady-state 'radiation' force," wrote the American Physical Society. "This latter force is the one used for trapping and manipulation. Radiation forces are generated by the scattering of a traveling sound wave, or by energy gradients within the sound field."
When tiny particles encounter this radiation, they tend to be drawn toward regions of certain pressure and velocity within the sound field. Researchers can exploit this tendency by engineering sound waves that "trap" — or suspend — tiny particles in the air. Devices that do this are often called "acoustic tweezers."
Building a better tweezer
A study recently published in the Japanese Journal of Applied Physics describes how researchers created a new type of acoustic tweezer that was able to lift a small polystyrene ball into the air.
Tweezers of Sound: Acoustic Manipulation off a Reflective Surface youtu.be
It is not the first example of a successful "acoustic tweezer" device, but the new method is likely the first to overcome a common problem in acoustic trapping: sound waves bouncing off reflective surfaces, which disrupts acoustic traps.
To minimize the problems of reflectivity, the team behind the recent study configured ultrasonic transducers such that the sound waves that they produce overlap in a strategic way that is able to lift a small bit of polystyrene from a reflective surface. By changing how the transducers emit sound waves, the team can move the acoustic trap through space, which moves the bit of matter.
Move, but don't touch
So far, the device is only able to move millimeter-sized pieces of matter with varying degrees of success. "When we move a particle, it sometimes scatters away," the team noted. Still, improved acoustic trapping and other no-contact lifting technologies — like optical tweezers, commonly used in medicine — could prove useful in many future applications, including cell separation, nanotechnologies, and biological research.
Could future acoustic-trapping devices lift large and heavy objects, maybe even humans? It seems possible. In 2018, researchers from the University of Bristol managed to acoustically trap particles whose diameters were larger than the sound wavelength, which was a breakthrough because it surpassed "the classical Rayleigh scattering limit that has previously restricted stable acoustic particle trapping," the researchers wrote in their study.
In other words, the technique — which involved suspending matter in tornado-like acoustic traps — showed that it is possible to scale up acoustic trapping.
"Acoustic tractor beams have huge potential in many applications," Bruce Drinkwater, co-author of the 2018 study, said in a statement. "I'm particularly excited by the idea of contactless production lines where delicate objects are assembled without touching them."
Australian parrots have worked out how to open trash bins, and the trick is spreading across Sydney.
Dumpster-diving trash parrots
In a study about these smart birds just published in Science, researchers define animal culture as "population-specific behaviors acquired via social learning from knowledgeable individuals."
Co-lead author of the study Barbara Klump of the Max Planck Institute of Animal Behavior in Konstanz, Germany says, "[C]ompared to humans, there are few known examples of animals learning from each other. Demonstrating that food scavenging behavior is not due to genetics is a challenge."
An opportunity presented itself in a video that co-author Richard Major of the Australian Museum shared with Klump and the other co-authors. In the video, a sulphur-crested cockatoo used its beak to pull up the handle of a closed garbage bin — using its foot as a wedge — and then walked back the lid sufficiently to flip it open, exposing the bin's edible contents.
Major has been studying Cacatua galerita for 20 years and says, "Like many Australian birds, sulphur-crested cockatoos are loud and aggressive." The study describes them as a "large-brained, long-lived, and highly social parrot." Says Major, "They are also incredibly smart, persistent, and have adapted brilliantly to living with humans."(Research regarding some of the ways in which wild animals adapt to the presence of humans has already produced some fascinating results and is ongoing.)
Clever cockie opens bin - 01 youtu.be
The researchers became curious about how widespread this behavior might be and saw a research opportunity. After all, says John Martin, a researcher at Taronga Conservation Society, "Australian garbage bins have a uniform design across the country, and sulphur-crested cockatoos are common across the entire east coast."
Martin continues, "In 2018, we launched an online survey in various areas across Sydney and Australia with questions such as, 'What area are you from, have you seen this behavior before, and if so, when?'"
Word Gets Around
Credit: magspace/Adobe Stock
Although the cockatoos' maneuver was reported in only three suburbs before 2018, by the end of 2019, people in 44 areas reported observing the behavior. Clearly, more and more cockatoos were learning how to successfully dumpster dive.
As further proof, says Klump, "We observed that the birds do not open the garbage bins in the same way, but rather used different opening techniques in different suburbs, suggesting that the behavior is learned by observing others." One individual bird in north Sydney invented its own method, and the scientists saw it grow in popularity throughout the local population.
To track individual birds, the researchers marked 500 cockatoos with small red dots. Subsequent observations revealed that not all cockatoos are bin-openers. Only about 10 percent of them are, and they are mostly males. The other cockatoos apparently restrict their education to a different lesson: hang around with a bin-opener, and you will get supper.
Thanks to the surveys, the researchers consider the entire project to be a valuable citizen-science experiment. "By studying this behavior with the help of local residents, we are uncovering the unique and complex cultures of their neighborhood birds."
The few seconds of nuclear explosion opening shots in Godzilla alone required more than 6.5 times the entire budget of the monster movie they ended up in.