Neural Networks: You’ve Got It So Easy

Neural networks are all the rage right now with increasing numbers of hackers, students, researchers, and businesses getting involved. The last resurgence was in the 80s and 90s, when there was little or no World Wide Web and few neural network tools. The current resurgence started around 2006. From a hacker’s perspective, what tools and other resources were available back then, what’s available now, and what should we expect for the future? For myself, a GPU on the Raspberry Pi would be nice.

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Creepy Speaking Neural Networks

Tech artist [Alexander Reben] has shared some work in progress with us. It’s a neural network trained on various famous peoples’ speech (YouTube, embedded below). [Alexander]’s artistic goal is to capture the “soul” of a person’s voice, in much the same way as death masks of centuries past. Of course, listening to [Alexander]’s Rob Boss is no substitute for actually watching an old Bob Ross tape — indeed it never even manages to say “happy little trees” — but it is certainly recognizable as the man himself, and now we can generate an infinite amount of his patter.

Behind the scenes, he’s using WaveNet to train the networks. Basically, the algorithm splits up an audio stream into chunks and tries to predict the next chunk based on the previous state. Some pre-editing of the training audio data was necessary — removing the laughter and applause from the Colbert track for instance — but it was basically just plugged right in.

The network seems to over-emphasize sibilants; we’ve never heard Barack Obama hiss quite like that in real life. Feeding noise into machines that are set up as pattern-recognizers tends to push them to the limits. But in keeping with the name of this series of projects, the “unreasonable humanity of algorithms”, it does pretty well.

He’s also done the same thing with multiple speakers (also YouTube), in this case 110 people with different genders and accents. The variation across people leads to a smoother, more human sound, but it’s also not clearly anyone in particular. It’s meant to be continuously running out of a speaker inside a sculpture’s mouth. We’re a bit creeped out, in a good way.

We’ve covered some of [Alexander]’s work before, from the wince-inducing “Robot Bites Man” to the intellectual-conceptual “All Prior Art“. Keep it coming, [Alexander]!

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Nvidia Announces Jetson TX2 High Performance Embedded Module

The last year has been great for Nvidia hardware. Nvidia released a graphics card using the Pascal architecture, 1080s are heating up server rooms the world over, and now Nvidia is making yet another move at high-performance, low-power computing. Today, Nvidia announced the Jetson TX2, a credit-card sized module that brings deep learning to the embedded world.

The Jetson TX2 is the follow up to the Jetson TX1. We took a look at it when it was released at the end of 2015, and the feelings were positive with a few caveats. The TX1 is still a very fast, very capable, very low power ARM device that runs Linux. It’s low power, too. The case Nvidia was trying to make for the TX1 wasn’t well communicated, though. This is ultimately a device you attach several cameras to and run OpenCV. This is a machine learning module. Now it appears Nvidia has the sales pitch for their embedded platform down.

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AI and the Ghost in the Machine

The concept of artificial intelligence dates back far before the advent of modern computers — even as far back as Greek mythology. Hephaestus, the Greek god of craftsmen and blacksmiths, was believed to have created automatons to work for him. Another mythological figure, Pygmalion, carved a statue of a beautiful woman from ivory, who he proceeded to fall in love with. Aphrodite then imbued the statue with life as a gift to Pygmalion, who then married the now living woman.

Pygmalion by Jean-Baptiste Regnault, 1786, Musée National du Château et des Trianons

Throughout history, myths and legends of artificial beings that were given intelligence were common. These varied from having simple supernatural origins (such as the Greek myths), to more scientifically-reasoned methods as the idea of alchemy increased in popularity. In fiction, particularly science fiction, artificial intelligence became more and more common beginning in the 19th century.

But, it wasn’t until mathematics, philosophy, and the scientific method advanced enough in the 19th and 20th centuries that artificial intelligence was taken seriously as an actual possibility. It was during this time that mathematicians such as George Boole, Bertrand Russel, and Alfred North Whitehead began presenting theories formalizing logical reasoning. With the development of digital computers in the second half of the 20th century, these concepts were put into practice, and AI research began in earnest.

Over the last 50 years, interest in AI development has waxed and waned with public interest and the successes and failures of the industry. Predictions made by researchers in the field, and by science fiction visionaries, have often fallen short of reality. Generally, this can be chalked up to computing limitations. But, a deeper problem of the understanding of what intelligence actually is has been a source a tremendous debate.

Despite these setbacks, AI research and development has continued. Currently, this research is being conducted by technology corporations who see the economic potential in such advancements, and by academics working at universities around the world. Where does that research currently stand, and what might we expect to see in the future? To answer that, we’ll first need to attempt to define what exactly constitutes artificial intelligence.

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Practical Deep Learning

Deep Learning — the use of neural networks with modern techniques to tackle problems ranging from computer vision to speech recognition and synthesis — is certainly a current buzzword. However, at the core is a set of powerful methods for organizing self-learning systems. Multi-layer neural networks aren’t new, but there is a resurgence of interest primarily due to the availability of massively parallel computation platforms disguised as video cards.

The problem is getting started in something like this. There are plenty of scholarly papers that can be hard to wade through. Or you can grab some code from GitHub and try to puzzle it out.

A better idea would be to take a free class entitled: Practical Deep Learning for Coders, Part 1. The course is free unless you count your investment in time. They warn you to expect to commit about ten hours a week for seven weeks to complete the course. You can see the first installment in the video, below. Continue reading “Practical Deep Learning”