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Why Google’s Deep Dream project is more than just a trippy tricky

A programmer discovered that even while asleep, your computers dream, and the imagery is amazingly bizarre and sometimes creepy. What are the implications of this? Is it more than just a cool trick?

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Dreaming deep, sound asleep

As machines become increasingly intelligent, they are also becoming more artistic.

Google’s Deep Dream is making a huge splash on the web. It was originally coded by Alexander Mordvintsev, a programmer working in security systems who liked to play around with artificial intelligence as a side project. In the middle of the night last May, he discovered the lines of code that would cause Google’s neural net to generate original images that look like a psychedelic combination of Salvador Dalí and Lisa Frank. He posted his images on Google’s internal Google + account, and was soon paired with young programmer Chris Olah and software engineer/sculptor Mike Tyka to develop Deep Dream.

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REM for your RAM

The Deep Dream team has created an entire gallery of surrealistic art. Animal parts of different species combine to form fantastical beasts, backgrounds fill with swirling patterns, and spiders emerge from cloudless skies.

In July, the Deep Dream team released the software on GitHub so that the general public could turn their family portraits and vacation photos into bizarre art pieces. New apps are popping up, several grotesque portraits of presidential candidates have been produced, and the band Wilco used a Deep Dream image on the cover of its latest album. Samim Winiger, who created software that makes animations from Deep Dream images, says that “in five years we won’t recognize Photoshop,” alluding to the possibility for Deep Dream technology to become a major feature in our visual world.

But is there more to it?

Winiger refers to Deep Dream as “creative AI [artificial intelligence].” But can a computer be said to have creativity? The dreamlike (or, at times, nightmarish) quality of Deep Dream images has certainly caused some observers to posit that Deep Dream is pulling images from the “subconscious” of Google’s mind. But a computer, no matter how smart, is not a brain. So is Deep Dream just the robot equivalent of a cool party trick?

Deep learning in the neural net

But Deep Dream wasn’t created just to blow our minds with freakish four-eyed kittens and giant tarantulas crawling from the sky. It’s also a useful way for programmers to study artificial intelligence. Computers can now achieve what programmers call “deep learning” by processing information through a neural net (NN). Neural nets are meshes of artificial neurons layered one over the other, like spider webs. Information is passed through several layers of the NN, and each layer analyzes it from a different angle. The topmost layer is responsible for the output of information that has been “learned” by deeper layers of the net.

Google has made great strides towards teaching its neural net to visually recognize objects by having it produce an image of whatever it’s viewing, which is then graded for accuracy and fed back into the computer, giving the NN an opportunity to learn from its mistakes and eventually come to automatically correct itself.

Layered learning, and pattern detecting

So far, it has been hard for researchers to really know for sure what is happening at each layer of the neural net. But a researcher can have a computer produce a Deep Dream image from a specific layer of its neural net, thus revealing exactly what that layer is learning. In this way, researchers are discovering more about what happens inside an artificial mind.

What researchers have found is that computers may have higher perception and better pattern-recognition than humans. It’s like having a highly imaginative child watch clouds. If a cloud looks a little bit like a ship, the neural net will run the image through a feedback loop until a highly detailed ship emerges. This is why Deep Dream is able to create images even out of random noise – it can detect patterns that a human wouldn’t even notice.

This has far-reaching implications for how artificial intelligence may eventually replace humans. For example, researchers are using neural nets to read ultrasounds, detecting tumors invisible to the human eye.

Final thoughts

So, is artificial intelligence becoming creative? Is a computer an artist? That depends on how you define creativity, and where you draw the line between the “real” and the “artificial.” But Deep Dream engineer Mike Tyka is impressed: “If you think about human creativity, some small component of that is the ability to take impressions and recombine them in interesting, unexpected ways,” – the same ability Deep Dream displays.

Regardless of whether or not this is true “creativity,” the world seems to agree with Tyka that when you let a computer come up with original art, “it’s cool.”

Steven Levy was granted the first interview with the Deep Dream team. You can read his report at Medium.com.

#DeepDream

Ellen Vessels, a Staff Writer at The American Genius, is respected for their wide range of work, with a focus on generational marketing and business trends. Ellen is also a performance artist when not writing, and has a passion for sustainability, social justice, and the arts.

Tech Gadgets

Samsung nudged out of the top smartphone seller spot by Huawei

(TECH GADGETS) Huawei beats Samsung as the top seller of smartphones for the first time ever — but can they keep it up? How will COVID change the smartphone market?

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When you think of a best-selling smartphone, pretty much anything from Samsung or Apple tends to come to mind. During the second quarter of 2020, though, Huawei–a Chinese company–takes that title.

This is a surprising disruption of what we’ve come to expect from smartphone sales, no less so because of the United States’ ban on technology products from China. Indeed, Engadget points out that 70 percent of Huawei smartphone sales occurred within China, something that plenty of manufacturers thought would spell a significant hit for the company.

Huawei themselves actually predicted a 20 percent drop in smartphone sales during 2020–a figure that both failed to come to fruition (the company’s sales only dipped by five percent during the second quarter of 2020) and was heavily influenced by the ban. Nevertheless, their sales topped even Samsung’s during this quarter.

The smartphone company’s success can be attributed, at least in part, to China’s swift response to the Coronavirus pandemic, thus capping the sharp decrease in smartphone sales seen worldwide during 2020. By selling largely internally, Huawei was able to best their own predictions of doom and propel their brand forward.

These sales don’t come without some drawbacks. One major aspect of the tech ban on China is that Huawei phones cannot ship with the Google Play Store app or proprietary apps installed–something that virtually every other Android phone can do with free reign. This is a situation that is unlikely to change under the current administration.

Additionally, Samsung is set to release new products in the third quarter of 2020, so they expect to top Huawei once again. Surely, Huawei’s success may very well be a fluke insofar as they were able to maintain sales in a market in which every other company saw dramatic changes to their numbers.

Perhaps the most notable takeaway from this situation is Huawei’s circumstantial timing. In a world where smartphone sales took a backseat to hand sanitizer panics and mask shortages, Huawei was in the right place at the right time by marketing to home-based buyers. As this pandemic progresses and the tech ban on China tightens, it will be interesting to see how–or if–China continues to innovate in this way.

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Tech Gadgets

Recording your smartphone’s screen is easier than you think

(TECH GADGETS) Screen recording your mobile device is a valuable trick, but not many people realize how easy it is. Here is how it’s done.

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Recording your smartphone’s screen may seem like a gimmick at best, but there are some pretty valid applications for a screen recording, be they demonstrations of technology, walkthroughs for your mom to watch at Christmas, or documentation of a particularly hilarious thread on Twitter. Here’s how you can record your phone’s screen if you have an iPhone or Android.

Firstly, keep in mind that not all phones have a screen-recording option. If you’re running an iPhone 4 from 2010, you’re out of luck. More pressingly, most Androids don’t allow you to record the screen without downloading a third-party app–something that, thankfully, will be fixed later this year when Android 11 drops. We’ll cover both an Android 11 and a prior versions method so you Android folks don’t get left out.

If you have an iPhone that’s running iOS 11 or later, though–that’d be anything from the iPhone 5 up–the process of recording your screen is exceptionally simple, if a little tricky to set up the first time.

From the Settings app, you’ll need to open the Control Center option, tap Customize Controls, and tap the plus icon next to Screen Recording. This adds the Screen Recording option to your Control Center.

Once you’ve done that, you can open the Control Center–by swiping down from the top-right corner of the screen (iPhone X and up) or swiping up from the bottom of the screen (iPhone 8 and prior) and tap the circle-within-a-circle icon to begin recording your screen’s contents after a three-second countdown.

You can stop the screen recording by tapping the red icon at the top of your screen and then confirming the choice, after which point the recording gets saved to your Photos app.

Android 11 users have a similarly easy way to record their screens. To activate your screen recording widget, swipe down from the top of the screen to open notifications, then swipe down again to expand the menu into settings. Swipe right until you find the Screen record option, then tap it and follow the on-screen prompts. You can then tap Start to begin recording the screen; when you’re ready to stop, swipe down again and tap Tap to stop.

For Android users who aren’t using Android 11, there are a few free apps you can download from Google Play to record your screen. AZ Screen Recorder and Super Screen Recorder are both free to use for recordings with no watermarks and no time limits, and while both are ad-supported, you can avoid these ads by paying for the professional versions if you like.

Keep in mind that using any third-party app to record your screen can result in that app sharing your data. While it isn’t likely that your data will include the recording itself, it’s probably best to avoid recording any sensitive information if you aren’t using the Android 11 screen recording feature.

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Tech Gadgets

Get rid of mosquitos this summer with this non-toxic, killer light

(TECH GADGETS) Brace yourself, folks. There’s a new mosquito killer in town, and guess what? It doesn’t use toxic chemicals or citronella.

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They’re so ubiquitous that many states claim them as their official state bird. They’re recognized as being arguably the most deadly animal in the world. They spread disease, incite ire and wrath, and ruin summer picnics. Scientists call them “Culicidae,” but we know them by their street names. They’re the common mosquito, and suffice to say, we all hate them with every fiber of our being.

But here’s the problem. As much as we hate the little suckers, getting rid of them is an almost impossible feat. Sure, you can spray yourself from head to toe with toxic chemicals to ward them off. So what if you wind up growing an extra limb in the process? You can use that spare hand to slap the surviving bugs. Or here’s another idea: did you know that mosquitoes are attracted to carbon dioxide? And you know what makes you give off extra carbon dioxide? That’s right. Running. So skip the afternoon jog and you should be right as rain. What’s a little extra paunch when trying to stop the spread of malaria?

Then there’s citronella. Don’t even freakin’ get me started on citronella. Is it all natural and safe? Sure, of course it is…but you know what else is all natural? Cyanide. But nobody is over here advocating for using cyanide to end all of your mosquito woes. I mean, yeah, it’ll make you not care about them anymore. But it doesn’t exactly mean it’s good for you. (Author note: seriously, please don’t take cyanide. I really don’t have to elaborate on this, do I?) While citronella is a known mosquito repellant, its scent is nothing short of vile. If you have citronella candles burning at your next cookout, you can say goodbye to both the flying pests and myself. It’ll keep both of us away. Guaranteed.

Then there’s this new product, which is apparently a novel way of attacking the mosquito problem head-on. Combining a special type of ultraviolet LED light, which is evidently downright irresistible to mosquitoes, with something called “bionic temperatures” (which means literally nothing to me, and my mad Googling left me empty handed on the definition of this term), this device is evidently the miracle tool that we’ve all been waiting for. Evidently these bionic temperatures boost the range of this light, sending off a beacon that summons skeeters both far and wide.

At the risk of sounding like an infomercial — but wait, there’s more! Then this nifty little device literally sucks the nasty bugs into its body with a peripheral vortex (a fancypants way of saying it’s a spinny air trap) and get this: it desiccates the everliving heck out of them. Oh yeah. That would be the “physical air-drying” storage box at the base of the machine. So, in summary, this device hails mosquitoes like a dinner bell, goes all twisty sucky vortex, then mummifies the little suckers. Nice.

And yes, friends. It’s safe and all natural, but totally not in the cyanide-which-kills-you-dead kind of way. It’s also quiet, non-toxic, non-polluting (also very valid considerations!) and the best part? It doesn’t reek of citronella. Apparently this magical little mosquito killer can be had for a ridiculously low price on the vendor’s website (another author note: totally not a shill, just really hate both mosquitos and citronella) of just about $30. So if you were thinking about having a barbeque this summer and you wanted to socially distance yourself from the mosquitoes, why not give this product a try? After all, nothing says you’re living the plague-free life quite like a coronavirus-ridden summer full of dehydrated mosquitos, right? Right.

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