Exploring space using virtual reality

The full article appears in All About Space issue 66 (originally published on 26 June 2017). Free preview: 

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Sónar+D 2017: AI and machine learning will make everyone a musician

Bjork performing at Sónar 2017 (Santiago Felipe/Sónar+D)

Music has always been at the cutting edge of technology so it’s no surprise that artificial intelligence and machine learning are pushing its boundaries.

As AIs that can carry out elements of the creative process continue to evolve, should artists be worried about the machines taking over? Probably not, says Douglas Eck, research scientist at Google’s Magenta.

“Musicians and artists are going to grab what works for them and I predict that the music that will be made will be misunderstood by many people,” Eck, told WIRED at Sónar+D, a showcase of music, creativity and technology held this week in Barcelona.

At the event, which is twinned with the Sónar dance music festival, Google held an AI demonstration where Eck showed a series of basic, yet impressive musical clips produced using machine learning model that was able to predict what note should come next.

The Magenta project has been running for just over a year and aims discover whether machine learning can create “compelling” creative works. “Our research is focused on sequence generation,” Eck says, “we’re always looking to build models that can listen to what musicians are doing. From that we can extend a piece of music that a musician’s created or maybe add a voice”.

Just as the drum machine was loathed and feared by many when it first hit the mainstream in the 1970s, AI’s role in the creation of art has sparked similar fears among critics. Eck, who admits that he was initially among the drum machine haters, explains that it took an entire generation of musicians to take the technology and figure out how to take it forward without putting good drummers out of work. He envisages a similar process of misunderstanding and eventual acceptance for AI-based music tools.

You can read the full article at Wired UK (originally published 18 June 2017).

Inside Netflix: we reveal how brain scans and bots help shows go from lens to your living room

A mural in the newest building at Netflix’s Silicon Valley HQ features characters from its original series (Netflix)

WIRED went behind the scenes at the Californian HQs of Netflix and Dolby for an exclusive peek at how your favourite shows are brought to the screen

Netflix first launched in the UK in 2012 and, along with catch-up services like BBC iPlayer and streaming rivals like Amazon Prime, has completely transformed the way we watch television.

WIRED was invited along to the firm’s recent Netflix Labs Day at its Los Gatos headquarters in the heart of Silicon Valley for the global release of Marvel’s Iron Fist and to hear more about the innovations that brought it to the screen.

The firm is renowned for its ever-expanding range of original series from political drama House of Cards and 80s sci-fi throwback Stranger Things to 13 Reasons Why – one its latest offerings telling the disturbing story of why a teenaged girl took her own life. Unlike Amazon, Netflix has ditched the expensive process of producing pilot episodes, opting for a more direct approach.

A simulation of SDR vs HDR output for Marvel’s Iron Fist (Netflix)

“It really starts with a great idea, and a team wanting to bring it to life,” explained Cindy Holland, VP of Originals Series at Netflix. “We use data to work out what’s the minimum threshold audience size that we need, in order to justify the economics of a project that we’re thinking about”.

Marvel’s Iron Fist is one of the latest arrivals, with the comic book brand’s global clout helping Netflix conquer countries where it’s not so well known. It’s also the first of Netflix’s Marvel series to be shot using Dolby Vision – the audio and video firm Dolby’s enhanced version of HDR

You can read the full article at Wired UK (originally published 14 April 2017).

International Women’s Day 2017: Women leading the way in science and technology

IWD celebrates the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women around the world
(Wiki Commons/George Joch/courtesy Argonne National Laboratory)

Celebrated on 8 March every year, International Women’s Day (IWD) was first marked by the United Nations in 1975 and celebrates women’s achievements.

The day marks a call for action for boosting gender parity and includes a range activities such as political rallies, and conferences. This year’s theme is aimed at working towards a more gender inclusive working world.

Yahoo News UK asked five women leading the charge in the historically male-dominated science and tech world about how they worked their way into their current roles and what challenges they faced along the way. Here’s what they told us…

Kim Nilsson

CEO

Pivigo

Kim Nilsson, CEO, Pivigio

What does your current job involve?

“I’m the CEO and one of two founders of Pivigo, a data science marketplace and training provider. We connect freelancing data scientists with organisations and businesses looking to become more data driven on our online platform. As CEO of a start-up I tend to get involved in everything that goes on in the business.”

What route did you take to your current role?

“Oh, a very long one. I decided when I was 13 years old that I wanted to become an astronomer, and from there it was a straight path to my PhD in Astrophysics. I continued with two more science positions before I finally came to terms with the fact that I wasn’t enjoying it as much as I thought I would.

“I ended up doing an MBA at Cranfield School of Management in the UK, just to learn about business and figure out what my place in industry was going to be. I would never have thought it would be as an entrepreneur, although perhaps I should have known given that I am in fact a fourth-generation female entrepreneur in my family.”

What is the biggest challenge you’ve faced?

“Starting a tech business as a female PhD graduate was not easy. There is a lot of prejudice towards women still, unfortunately, and on top of that also towards academics. It has taken me several years of hard work to earn a certain level of respect in the industry, and to prove that I can do business as well as anyone in this industry.

“Fortunately, outright examples of discrimination are still rare, but they do happen. Most recently I tried to network with a VC at an event who clearly only had interest in the male CEO of another start-up that was standing next to me. Still, I do find that these individuals come around quickly once they do listen to me and understand that I have something of relevance to say, and that I can say it with authority.”

What advice would you give to anyone wanting to get into a similar role?

“Just do it! If you are new to starting a business, make sure you have access to advice. If you don’t have a co-founder, this could be via an accelerator programme, via your University, or via your wider network. Also set yourself a goal and a decision point. For example, decide how many clients you want to have, or how far you want to get with your product launch, by a certain date and agree with yourself to evaluate at that point whether it is worth continuing or not. That way you are taking a calculated risk, and whether it works or not you will have gathered incredibly valuable experience.”

You can read the full article at Yahoo News UK (originally published 8 March 2017).

Cool coding just for kids

Pioneering Nasa scientist Katherine Johnson celebrated in Lego

If nerds are the new rock stars, it’s time to get kids techy

Tech innovation depends on brainpower. That’s why encouraging children to study STEM subjects — science, technology, engineering and mathematics — is vital. And the good news is there’s help at hand. Lego has just launched its Boost sets, which incorporate app-based coding — allowing kids to bring their creations to life.

Aimed at children aged seven and older, the kits enable youngsters to build projects including Vernie The Robot and the Guitar 4000, while learning about how the built-in motors and sensors work. They can even add personality to their creations using voice recordings.

The Danish toymaker is also working on a Women Of Nasa set. Designed to mark the accomplishments of women and people of colour in space (and hopefully encourage their successors) it has just been given the green light to go into production…

You can read the full article in Metro (originally published 10 March 2017).