March 23, 2019

Music AI systems may take over the music creation process from musicians

music AI system computer

Music truly has a way of unlocking our senses and deeper selves. From hyping you up at a rave and gym to helping you study and focus during work, it plays a key role in the everyday lives of many. It’s also a USD 130 billion industry, depending on which sources you rely on. However, music is about to be turned upside down by, you guessed it, AI systems.

Music in the age of AI systems

Wait, music is core to the human experience: how could a machine replace us? We invented it to begin with, right? Unfortunately, we’re already past that point. Ed Newton-Rex founded Jukedex, a musical AI designed to create instrumentals for various end goals. Looking for a new movie score? Look no further. The system is incredibly prolific: it cranked out over 1 million (not a typo) songs since its inception and shows no signs of stopping. New brands have joined since then, likely hoping to get a share of the background music industry which hit USD 660 million in 2017. As systems continue to improve, it’s only a matter of time until we start bumping AI-created music. If that sounds far fetched, Warner Music Group just signed Edel which creates custom mood-boosting sounds. The future is now (old man).

A cause for concern?

It’s no secret that AI systems might take everything over. They’re already terrifying governments with mass unemployment, to the point where we are now seriously considering Universal Basic Income (UBI). AI systems can already make art, so these further developments should not come as a shock. However, all this begs a much deeper and tougher question: are seemingly “creative” fields no longer a haven for humans? Machines already outperform us at a myriad of tasks, but surely they cannot take away what makes us truly unique: our ability to think and execute broadly. In many ways, time will tell just how far these systems will evolve. We’d venture to say that it’ll be far beyond what we imagine.

Taking a step back

Perhaps we assume that our innate creative abilities are beyond where they actually are. If we stick to pop music, many of your favorite hit songs were made using just four chords. The Axis of Awesome brilliantly illustrated this a few years ago with their now-viral video. This should not be surprising: music relies on simple and subtle mathematical formulae that best please our brains. The Greek philosopher Pythagoras (the one with that pesky theorem you couldn’t remember in high school) figured this out a long time ago. Turns out it doesn’t take all that much to please our brains with a nice tune. Given how seemingly simple it all feels, it may be no surprise that we can code this into a neat algorithm altogether. Should this put into question our core creative skills? Not all craft is the same, which is probably why we don’t compare Mozart to Nickleback.

Human history: a silver lining

It pays to know how machine learning systems work. To over-simplify, these programs rely on massive datasets to draw conclusions and hone their skills. Jukedex is the next iteration and uses deep-learning instead. However, music datasets require existing musicians’ work, begging new questions around copyright and royalties. If scientists feed “Crank Dat” into an AI system, Soulja Boy should get rewarded for his contribution.  Therefore, every prior musical piece ever created may play a pivotal role in these system’s development, opening new potential avenues of monetization for artists. More importantly, these systems exist because of human contributions, not the other way around. Humans should feel deep pride in their ability to generate meaningful things over generations. Music continues to stand the test of time, often blooming in our darkest times.

The larger picture

If we’re honest, AI systems will make great music within a few short years, but musicians should not worry altogether. Often times, music relies on great personalities that drive cultures forward. No computer can replace a human being, even though we do love our digital lives and identities. Even if it’s a hologram, seeing Tupac owning a stage feels more meaningful than watching HAL 9000 do the same. Tupac’s music tells a larger narrative of Tupac’s life and his environment (which people can latch on from a storytelling standpoint). Even if a computer were to write relatable lyrics, audiences would need to somehow empathize with a cold machine’s teenage angst. This seems like a stretch at best, but not entirely out of the question. Creatives should also rejoice at the idea that computers can speed up their workflow without impeding on their style. Computers can easily create, but they cannot easily connect. Time will tell if this continues.

House music will never die

Computerized music isn’t anything new. From synth tracks to Daft Punk and Kraftwerk, man and machine have worked intimately together for years. Your favorite trap beats were made on a really crummy sounding drum machine (yes, they meant to imitate those drums). In hindsight, this new wave of machines should not scare us, but rather give us hope to create better and deeper music. Tools remain just that: tools to improve a workflow. Humans will ultimately validate what is “good” compared to what is “bad.” If man and machine already work seamlessly, then (house) music will never die.

Look forward to more great tunes in the future. You can even go buy or steam our very own Delf’s new tracks here and unwind this weekend and enjoy it with beautiful imagery here.

March 20, 2019

Fragrances are about to play a new role in your wellbeing

smell fragrance olfactory onotes

Fragrances play a big part in our lives, although we might fail to actively recognise that. In a world where high definition TVs can capture every single colour and audio systems that can make your skin shiver (even kill you!), we hardly experience smell beyond traditional frameworks. However, all this is about to change thanks to new scientific findings and initiatives.

Scent and human evolution

Our modern times have relegated scent to the back burner. Instead, we’ve primarily focused on the senses around hearing and seeing. Dr. Jenny Tillotson, explains how the origins of humans and scent were crucial for survival. “In prehistoric times, the sensory appreciation of our ancestors could detect danger, ripe food, diseases, when females were ovulating, but today we rely on data to inform us of all of these things. Going back to that could have benefits ranging from allergies to sleep to mental health.”

Fragrances and olfactory research are still nascent

We are still slowly learning how smell and subsequently fragrances impact the human mind. Just as light played an important role in improving productivity, so can smell according to David A. Edwards of oNotes. oNotes is known as the “iTunes of smell” and allows users to make playlists of preferred smells and override olfactory fatigue. Programs like oNotes are redefining the importance of smell in improving our wellbeing.

Technology to drive innovation

Whether its inefficient perfume bottles or smell emitting fitness trackers, technology will play a pivotal in bringing smells to the mainstream. Multiple companies including IBM are entering and looking to integrate smell into our lives. Ultimately, fragrances and smells will play a central role in our wellness as we continue to understand human biology. The future is bright as intelligent systems will help us strive to be the best versions of ourselves, no matter what the field.

March 15, 2019

Fortnite has become today's hottest social media network

fortnite is a video game that has social media like features

Fortnite is today’s hottest social media network, in spite of it not being a network to begin with. The gaming sensation attracts over 200 million users, with nearly 8 million on at any given time. Compared to other social media behemoths, these are astounding engagement metrics and others could learn a thing or two.

Fortnite as a third space

The game acts as a third space for gamers (especially younger) to discuss and interact. Compared to other social media platforms where social aspects are best enjoyed alone (scroll through a feed), users engage with each other during and between games. In addition, Fortnite gamers can easily mute trolls to focus on more positive aspects of the experience, reducing bullying in the process. This ultimately creates a safe space for people to play, interact and grow, and provides a much needed relief from everyday life.

Gaming: A Source For Good?

We’ve already know that gaming is the world’s hottest commodity, but is there more to it than eyeballs? In hindsight, games like Fortnite should be eye opening for social media platforms across the world. Rather than alienating users through the experience, humans bound together better through a shared activity. Perhaps this will spur more platforms to rethink how they work and empower users to build more together instead.

March 14, 2019

Meet Q, the first genderless voice assistant

Q Gender neutral voice assistant

Voice-driven digital interactions will be an important part of our lives going forward. Beyond performance upgrades, thinking about their experiences and relationship to culture are becoming more prevalent. Virtue (Vice’s agency) alongside Pride Copenhagen, technologists, and linguists unveiled a genderless voice assistant named Q at this year’s SXSW.

What’s the clue for gender in voices?

  • male voices are usually 175 – 225 hertz
  • female voices between 100 – 140 hertz
  • between 140 – 175 hertz is considered gender neutral
  • elongated vowels and sharper pronunciation of the letter ‘s’ are considered more female sounding

Why did the consortium decide to create Q?

Technology companies often choose to gender technology believing it will make people more comfortable adopting it. Unfortunately this reinforces a binary perception of gender, and perpetuates stereotypes that many have fought hard to progress. As society continues to break down the gender binary, recognising those who neither identify as male nor female, the technology we create should follow. Q is an example of what we hope the future holds; a future of ideas, inclusion, positions and diverse representation in technology.

You can see Q in action here.

March 14, 2019

MUJI's GACHA is a social-first autonomous shuttle bus

MUJI Gacha autonomous driving

MUJI’s GACHA (pronounced “gotcha”) is the lifestyle brand’s foray into redefining the future of travel. The project is a partnership with Finnish-based autonomous driving company, Sensible 4. MUJI’s main goals were to create a solution for an aging population, people living in suburbs, and those with undeveloped transportation systems. The result is an interesting social-first bus concept.

How does it work?

  • the self-driving system follows an existing route via a digital map
  • an app allows for instant location monitoring
  • it has the added benefit of being a point of social connection and service such as a mobile supermarket or store

Our thoughts
GACHA is a unique type of solution for those in less populated areas or those seeking convenience. It could have a significant impact on changing the community’s social fabric in areas with underdeveloped infrastructre. MUJI has been known for its simplicity in design and for paring things down through balanced minimalism, something the GACHA embodies.

March 12, 2019

The founding father of the Internet weighs in on the three cancers ruining the web

Web internet word Tim Berners Lee

The Internet celebrated its 30th birthday a few days ago. The tool has become central to everything we do, and its founder Tim Berners-Lee hopes it’ll continue to be a force for good. However, Berners-Lee also points out that in order to progress, the web must tackle three key problems.

Three Areas of Improvement For The Internet

Broadly speaking, policymakers, corporations and citizens must tackle three issues for the Internet to improve:

  • Targeted malicious intent, which includes cyber bullying and harassment, state-backed hacking and other criminal endeavours
  • Poor system design intended for negative outcomes, such as clickbait
  • Negative repercussions of benevolent design, as is the case when online discourses collapse (check out Godwin’s Law)

Work To Be Done

Ultimately, we can fix the situation by holding more of the parties accountable. For example, firms like Facebook will need to think deeper about the long-term ramifications of their services. Governments will also need to move new legislature along faster to keep up with the ever changing tech landscape (which also applies to work in an AI world).

March 9, 2019

When AI meets fashion. How can the two co-exist?

AI Artificial Intelligence Fashion Design

Artificial Intelligence vs. creativity is billed as the fight of the 21st century, and for good reason. In today’s rapidly moving world, companies across industries are looking for a leg up to fend off competitors. Fashion is no exception, but to what extent can it leverage technology and still create the emotional bond that draws crowds to begin with? In his Business of Fashion piece, Charles Beckwith argues that AI will always lack a profound human trait: intuition.

Fashion-Based Artificial Intelligence Won’t Replace Human Traits

In his piece, Beckwith touches on AI, machine learning and blockchain and explains how fashion firms are very much up to speed. From an operational standpoint, these systems are useful and powerful. For example, these systems do a better job of ordering and maintaining inventory. As the technology and systems improve, in part thanks to the hoards of data firms get every month, machines will likely fully replace humans. However, some facets, those closest to our emotions, are simply too hard for machines to comprehend. Ultimately, the author underlines the importance of the Human in an Artificial Intelligence-optimised world, and how our creativity will underpin our future work.

Intuition Matters

We’ve talked about the limitations of Artificial Intelligence before at MAEKAN and its relation to content creation. Just as this applies to journalism, the same can be said for design. For Beckwith, “What is the human quality that A.I. lacks? Intuition, the ability to leap beyond logic. As a computer scientist might put it: IF a traditional computer can leap beyond logic, THEN it is broken. Anything else at this point is science fiction at best.” As many scientists and experts might tell you, these systems are often predictable in their work. Conversely, fashion is (should not, but sometimes is) be unpredictable and continue to push boundaries forward.

A Word of Warning

Although Beckwith raises good points, we still know very little about how AI will evolve over time. AlphaGo, Google’s Deep Learning Go player, stunned the world’s best player by using new and unusual tactics in its conquest. Whilst Machine Learning and Deep Learning are very different, AlphaGo demonstrates how a seemingly human train (creativity in this case) can apply to machines as well. We’ve seen this in art already; perhaps we aren’t so far off from seeing our first ever Artificial Intelligence-driven fashion line either.

March 4, 2019

Nike creates special jerseys for China's League of Legends teams

Nike sportswear esports league of legends gaming in China

Nike is at it again. The sportswear giant is now China’s League of Legends (“LoL”) Pro League official apparel provider, making it the latest and arguably most prominent brand to enter e-sports. Whilst e-sports have attracted sponsorship for years, the Nike deal ushers in new credibility and scale for the competition genre. This will likely be a welcome change from the company’s more controversial recent publicity.

Nike Goes Beyond Normal Sponsorships

Compared to standard sponsorship deals, Nike will be sponsoring the league as a whole. This means it’ll include sneakers, apparel, and team jerseys which will be revealed during the League of Legends Championship in Paris later this year. E-sports leagues are increasingly emulating traditional sports leagues, taking their knowledge and building upon it to create scalable and valuable franchises. For reference, traditional sports teams have expanded into e-sports, along with nationwide leagues. For example, the NBA has a joint venture with Take-Two Interactive, which includes some of the leagues biggest teams.

More Than A Game

Nike is taking the partnership one step further by introducing new physical training programs. As a result, this becomes significant for a few reasons as it:

  • Legitimizes e-sports and gaming as an actual physical activity which requires physical training
  • Puts League of Legends on the map as the first truly cross-functional league, where top athletes need optimal fitness to be at their best
  • Enables Nike to push its more standard merchandise to a greater audience

In many ways, the training programs are the most consequential piece of the puzzle as they bridge Nike’s core business with its new ventures. For instance, just as many people use to clamor at how golf was not a real sport (Tiger Woods might have something to say about that), e-sports will very much be on the same trajectory to credibility.

The Big Picture

Whether you are into e-sports or not, the Nike deal will have a ripple effect for fans across the world. More importantly, it shows that large brands see the bigger picture. In addition, it will position themselves as willing to engage with up-and-coming segments to expand their empires. As the gaming world continues to expand, we’ll be on the lookout for the next megatrend to get large corporates excited about new possibilities.

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