OpenAI’s new multitalented AI writes, translates, and slanders

The Verge reports on efforts by OpenAI to create a language modelling program that could emulate the writing style of a real human.

This quote caught my eye:

“The writing it produces is usually easily identifiable as non-human. Although its grammar and spelling are generally correct, it tends to stray off topic, and the text it produces lacks overall coherence.”

This, to be honest, is quite frightening because anyone who has read, say, a tabloid newspaper, an academic paper, a pro-Brexit speech or most Twitter threads would say this is exactly what humans write like.

But in all seriousness this work lands firmly in the ‘careful what you wish for’ category along with some of the (arguably impressive) tech that Adobe among others are developing in the consumer sphere (i.e. you don’t need a national budget or a movie studio to get hold of it). Adobe, for example, have demonstrated software that allows you to change words in speech or even fake entire sentences. The creative potential is obvious – but so too is the ‘fake news’ potential.

What’s needed here is some sort of embedded ‘watermark’ that can be read by apps that can then add a warning symbol to alert readers/listeners that what they’re being presented with has been altered.

OpenAI, however, has seen the potential for their work to be abused and has decided simply not to publish their data. Which is all well and good but I can imagine that someone, somewhere, is figuring out a way to get hold of it.

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Ford made a conveyor belt mattress to keep bed hoggers in their own lane

According to The Verge:

the company most likely to improve couples’ relationships and save marriages is actually… Ford? The company has been known to develop conceptual prototypes that utilize its car technology in unexpected ways, like this smart crib that puts babies fast asleep by replicating car rides, or this noise-canceling dog kennel. This time, the company’s created a conveyor belt bed that takes inspiration from Ford’s lane-keeping technology to keep bed hoggers on their own side.

The bed has a pressure sensor that can tell when your partner has clearly violated your half of the bed, which is rightfully yours. Ford’s blog says the conveyor belt gently returns “selfish sleepers” to where they should be, much like how Ford’s Lane-Keeping Aid shifts vehicles back in to their correct lanes by “nudging” the steering wheel in the correct direction.

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Beauty spot or landscape blot? Computer trained to judge scenery


Wordsworth found it in a host of daffodils; Nan Shepherd in the nooks of the Cairngorms. For Monet it popped up all over the place, from the windmills and canals of Amsterdam, to the sailing boats of Argenteuil. What lends a scene beauty has long been left to the poets and painters to define, but that may be about to change. In a new study, researchers trained a computer to tell scenic views from blots on the landscape. One day it could help with decisions over what land to protect, and how better to design new towns and cities, the scientists claim.

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Rider v rider: how transit etiquette campaigns make you the scapegoat


At best, etiquette campaigns treat the symptoms of transit inefficiency, not the disease, they argue. At worst, they contribute to a ridership more concerned with each other’s behaviour than advocating for a better system.

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Madrid tackles ‘el manspreading’ on public transport with new signs


Madrid’s transport authorities are taking a stand against seated male selfishness with a campaign to tackle the social scourge that is manspreading. Fed up with men whose thighs fail to respect the boundaries of bus seats, the Spanish capital’s Municipal Transport Company (EMT) is to put up signs discouraging the practice.

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Want to lose weight? Eat in a crinkly plate


A crinkly plate, designed with ridges that cunningly reduce the amount of food it holds, may be heading for the market to help people concerned about their weight to eat less. The plate is the brainchild of a Latvian graphic designer, Nauris Cinovics, from the Art Academy of Latvia, who is working with a Latvian government agency to develop the idea and hopes to trial it soon. It may look like just another arty designer plate, but it is intended to play tricks with the mind. “My idea is to make food appear bigger than it is. If you make the plate three-dimensional [with the ridges and troughs] it actually looks like there is the same amount of food as on a normal plate – but there is less of it,” said Cinovics. “You are tricking the brain into thinking you are eating more.”

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Google’s 18-Month Quest To Redesign Its Terrible Emoji


“It’s a communication issue,” says Rachel Been, Creative Director on Google’s Material Design. “If I sent my friend the dancing woman on iOS, and I’m on an Android device and I see a blob, there’s a miscommunication.” And now, thanks be to Google, that miscommunication is being fixed. “We’re doing a full redesign of the emoji set,” says Gus Fonts, Product Manager, Android. “We took a look at many things, but mostly the thing that’s most striking is, perhaps, that yes, the candy dots or blobs, are now substituted with a set of squishy circles–for a lot of good reasons.”

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How real books have trumped ebooks


Book covers looked very different a decade ago when the appearance of e-readers seemed to flummox a publishing industry reeling from the financial crisis and Amazon’s rampant colonisation of the market. Publishers responded to the threat of digitisation by making physical books that were as grey and forgettable as ebooks. It was an era of flimsy paperbacks and Photoshop covers, the publishers’ lack of confidence manifest in the shonkiness of the objects they were producing. But after reaching a peak in 2014, sales of e-readers and ebooks have slowed and hardback sales have surged. The latest figures from the Publishing Association showed ebook sales falling 17% in 2016, with an 8% rise in their physical counterparts. At the same time, publishers’ production values have soared and bookshops have begun to fill up with books with covers of jewel-like beauty, often with gorgeously textured pages. As the great American cover designer Peter Mendelsund put it to me, books have “more cloth, more foil, more embossing, page staining, sewn bindings, deckled edges”.

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‘Turn it off’: how technology is killing the joy of national parks


Andrew Studer was admiring a massive lava fire hose at Hawaii Volcanoes national park when he spotted something unusual: a small quadcopter drone flying very close to the natural wonder pouring hot molten rock. “There were other visitors sitting out relaxing in somewhat of a meditative state, just trying to enjoy this phenomenon,” said Studer, who recently captured a viral image of a drone hovering near the lava. “I do feel like drones are extremely obnoxious, and I’m sure it was frustrating for some of the people there.”

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