Researchers Build Neural Networks With Actual Neurons

Neural networks have become a hot topic over the last decade, put to work on jobs from recognizing image content to generating text and even playing video games. However, these artificial neural networks are essentially just piles of maths inside a computer, and while they are capable of great things, the technology hasn’t yet shown the capability to produce genuine intelligence.

Cortical Labs, based down in Melbourne, Australia, has a different approach. Rather than rely solely on silicon, their work involves growing real biological neurons on electrode arrays, allowing them to be interfaced with digital systems. Their latest work has shown promise that these real biological neural networks can be made to learn, according to a pre-print paper that is yet to go through peer review.
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OpenGL Machine Learning Runs On Low-End Hardware

If you’ve looked into GPU-accelerated machine learning projects, you’re certainly familiar with NVIDIA’s CUDA architecture. It also follows that you’ve checked the prices online, and know how expensive it can be to get a high-performance video card that supports this particular brand of parallel programming.

But what if you could run machine learning tasks on a GPU using nothing more exotic than OpenGL? That’s what [lnstadrum] has been working on for some time now, as it would allow devices as meager as the original Raspberry Pi Zero to run tasks like image classification far faster than they could using their CPU alone. The trick is to break down your computational task into something that can be performed using OpenGL shaders, which are generally meant to push video game graphics.

An example of X2’s neural net upscaling.

[lnstadrum] explains that OpenGL releases from the last decade or so actually include so-called compute shaders specifically for running arbitrary code. But unfortunately that’s not an option on boards like the Pi Zero, which only meets the OpenGL for Embedded Systems (GLES) 2.0 standard from 2007.

Constructing the neural net in such a way that it would be compatible with these more constrained platforms was much more difficult, but the end result has far more interesting applications to show for it. During tests, both the Raspberry Pi Zero and several older Android smartphones were able to run a pre-trained image classification model at a respectable rate.

This isn’t just some thought experiment, [lnstadrum] has released an image processing framework called Beatmup using these concepts that you can play around with right now. The C++ library has Java and Python bindings, and according to the documentation, should run on pretty much anything. Included in the framework is a simple tool called X2 which can perform AI image upscaling on everything from your laptop’s integrated video card to the Raspberry Pi; making it a great way to check out this fascinating application of machine learning.

Truth be told, we’re a bit behind the ball on this one, as Beatmup made its first public release back in April of this year. It might have flown under the radar until now, but we think there’s a lot of potential for this project, and hope to see more of it once word gets out about the impressive results it can wring out of even the lowliest hardware.

[Thanks to Ishan for the tip.]

Thought Control Via Handwriting

Computers haven’t done much for the quality of our already poor handwriting. However, a man paralyzed by an accident can now feed input into a computer by simply thinking about handwriting, thanks to work by Stanford University researchers. Compared to more cumbersome systems based on eye motion or breath, the handwriting technique enables entry at up to 90 characters a minute.

Currently, the feat requires a lab’s worth of equipment, but it could be made practical for everyday use with some additional work and — hopefully — less invasive sensors. In particular, the sensor used two microelectrode arrays in the precentral gyrus portion of the brain. When the subject thinks about writing, recognizable patterns appear in the collected data. The rest is just math and classification using a neural network.

If you want to try your hand at processing this kind of data and don’t have a set of electrodes to implant, you can download nearly eleven hours of data already recorded. The code is out there, too. What we’d really like to see is some easier way to grab the data to start with. That could be a real game-changer.

More traditional input methods using your mouth have been around for a long time. We’ve also looked at work that involves moving your head.

Mind-Controlled Flamethrower

Mind control might seem like something out of a sci-fi show, but like the tablet computer, universal translator, or virtual reality device, is actually a technology that has made it into the real world. While these devices often requires on advanced and expensive equipment to interpret brain waves properly, with the right machine learning system it’s possible to do things like this mind-controlled flame thrower on a much smaller budget. (Video, embedded below.)

[Nathaniel F] was already experimenting with using brain-computer interfaces and machine learning, and wanted to see if he could build something practical combining these two technologies. Instead of turning to an EEG machine to read brain patterns, he picked up a much less expensive Mindflex and paired it with a machine learning system running TensorFlow to make up for some of its shortcomings. The processing is done by a Raspberry Pi 4, which sends commands to an Arduino to fire the flamethrower when it detects the proper thought patterns. Don’t forget the flamethrower part of this build either: it was designed and built entirely by [Nathanial F] as well using gas and an arc lighter.

While the build took many hours of training to gather the proper amount of data to build the neural network and works as the proof of concept he was hoping for, [Nathaniel F] notes that it could be improved by replacing the outdated Mindflex with a better EEG. For now though, we appreciate seeing sci-fi in the real world in projects like this, or in other mind-controlled projects like this one which converts a prosthetic arm into a mind-controlled music synthesizer.

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Imaging The Past With Time-Travel Rephotography

Have you ever noticed that people in old photographs looks a bit weird? Deep wrinkles, sunken cheeks, and exaggerated blemishes are commonplace in photos taken up to the early 20th century. Surely not everybody looked like this, right? Maybe it was an odd makeup trend — was it just a fashionable look back then?

Not quite — it turns out that the culprit here is the film itself. The earliest glass-plate emulsions used in photography were only sensitive to the highest-frequency light, that which fell in the blue to ultraviolet range. Perhaps unsurprisingly, when combined with the fact that humans have red blood, this posed a real problem. While some of the historical figures we see in old photos may have benefited from an improved skincare regimen, the primary source of their haunting visage was that the photographic techniques available at the time were simply incapable of capturing skin properly. This lead to the sharp creases and dark lips we’re so used to seeing.

Of course, primitive film isn’t the only thing separating antique photos from the 42 megapixel behemoths that your camera can take nowadays. Film processing steps had the potential to introduce dust and other blemishes to the image, and over time the prints can fade and age in a variety of ways that depend upon the chemicals they were processed in. When rolled together, all of these factors make it difficult to paint an accurate portrait of some of history’s famous faces. Before you start to worry that you’ll never know just what Abraham Lincoln looked like, you might consider taking a stab at Time-Travel Rephotography.

Amazingly, Time-Travel Rephotography is a technique that actually lives up to how cool its name is. It uses a neural network (specifically, the StyleGAN2 framework) to take an old photo and project it into the space of high-res modern photos the network was trained on. This allows it to perform colorization, skin correction, upscaling, and various noise reduction and filtering operations in a single step which outputs remarkable results. Make sure you check out the project’s website to see some of the outputs at full-resolution.

We’ve seen AI upscaling before, but this project takes it to the next level by completely restoring antique photographs. We’re left wondering what techniques will be available 100 years from now to restore JPEGs stored way back in 2021, bringing them up to “modern” viewing standards.

Thanks to [Gus] for the tip!

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Death Of The Turing Test In An Age Of Successful AIs

IBM has come up with an automatic debating system called Project Debater that researches a topic, presents an argument, listens to a human rebuttal and formulates its own rebuttal. But does it pass the Turing test? Or does the Turing test matter anymore?

The Turing test was first introduced in 1950, often cited as year-one for AI research. It asks, “Can machines think?”. Today we’re more interested in machines that can intelligently make restaurant recommendations, drive our car along the tedious highway to and from work, or identify the surprising looking flower we just stumbled upon. These all fit the definition of AI as a machine that can perform a task normally requiring the intelligence of a human. Though as you’ll see below, Turing’s test wasn’t even for intelligence or even for thinking, but rather to determine a test subject’s sex.

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AI Upscaling And The Future Of Content Delivery

The rumor mill has recently been buzzing about Nintendo’s plans to introduce a new version of their extremely popular Switch console in time for the holidays. A faster CPU, more RAM, and an improved OLED display are all pretty much a given, as you’d expect for a mid-generation refresh. Those upgraded specifications will almost certainly come with an inflated price tag as well, but given the incredible demand for the current Switch, a $50 or even $100 bump is unlikely to┬ádissuade many prospective buyers.

But according to a report from Bloomberg, the new Switch might have a bit more going on under the hood than you’d expect from the technologically conservative Nintendo. Their sources claim the new system will utilize an NVIDIA chipset capable of Deep Learning Super Sampling (DLSS), a feature which is currently only available on high-end GeForce RTX 20 and GeForce RTX 30 series GPUs. The technology, which has already been employed by several notable PC games over the last few years, uses machine learning to upscale rendered images in real-time. So rather than tasking the GPU with producing a native 4K image, the engine can render the game at a lower resolution and have DLSS make up the difference.

The current model Nintendo Switch

The implications of this technology, especially on computationally limited devices, is immense. For the Switch, which doubles as a battery powered handheld when removed from its dock, the use of DLSS could allow it to produce visuals similar to the far larger and more expensive Xbox and PlayStation systems it’s in competition with. If Nintendo and NVIDIA can prove DLSS to be viable on something as small as the Switch, we’ll likely see the technology come to future smartphones and tablets to make up for their relatively limited GPUs.

But why stop there? If artificial intelligence systems like DLSS can scale up a video game, it stands to reason the same techniques could be applied to other forms of content. Rather than saturating your Internet connection with a 16K video stream, will TVs of the future simply make the best of what they have using a machine learning algorithm trained on popular shows and movies?

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