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There’s a lion in London’s Trafalgar Square that eats words and roars AI-generated poetry

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The four bronze lions that surround Nelson’s Column in London’s Trafalgar Square are pretty passive-looking creatures. They sit on all fours and gaze blankly ahead, more sphinx than lion. Legend has it that their sculptor originally planned for the animals to be posed in more active stances, stood up on their hind legs and roaring at the square. But Queen Victoria reportedly vetoed the decision as too shocking. Now, 151 years after they were originally unveiled, the lions have a new colleague, and he is definitely turning heads.

Lion number five is the creation of Es Devlin, a designer best known for her stage sculptures that are used in opera and theater as well as the world-spanning tours of Beyoncé and Kanye West. Devlin says she was inspired by the anecdote above to make a sculpture that could participate actively in the life of the square, which has long been a site for both celebration and protest.

“The thought lodged in my mind,” writes Devlin for Google Arts & Culture, which sponsored the work for London Design Week. “What if we could invest the lion with a diversely crowd-sourced single collective poetic voice?”

Visitors “feed” the lion a word using a tablet, and it uses AI to generate a poem in response.

The end result is Please Feed The Lions. Members of the public can approach the sculpture, and, using a tablet, enter a word of their choice for it to “eat.” The lion then roars at the crowd (a sound which is more ethereal than animal, full of swelling strings and distant screams) while a screen inside its mouth displays a snippet of AI-generated poetry based on their input. At night, these words are also projected onto the lion’s body, moving like a torrent of fireflies, and up the side of Nelson’s 169-foot column.

While Devlin is responsible for the overall concept of Please Feed The Lions, technologist Ross Goodwin is the man who created the poetry. His AI generator is built from some common machine learning components; in this case, it’s what’s known as long short-term memory recurrent neural network, or LSTM network. Like many machine learning systems, this generates its output by finding and replicating patterns in a dataset.

This dataset is a huge corpus of 19th century poetry, some 25 million words of it, that was compiled by Goodwin. The neural network scans this information, and it learns to predict what letters tend to follow one another. Then, when someone enters a word, this acts a “seed” for the network, which predicts what letters might follow and churns out some poetry in response.

At night, the AI-generated poetry is projected onto its body.
During the day, the poems can be seen in a screen in the lion’s mouth.

The resulting verse is readable, although not exactly coherent. When I visited the sculpture, I fed the lion the word “bone,” and in return, I got: “That bone to shadow of the corner smoke / Of calm and splendor and new moon and sky.” Which, you know, fine.

Leaving aside questions of poetic quality, the lion is certainly entrancing. It’s an exact replica of the original four, which were scanned using LIDAR (the laser-bouncing technology that guides self-driving cars) and then re-created in a resin cast. More noticeably, it’s painted in a shade of vermillion so bright that it warps its surroundings.

The color certainly pops in pictures, but it’s just as effective in real life. It obliterates detail, and from a distance, it looks like the sculpture has been edited out of reality, leaving behind a lion-shaped hole where a lion ought to be. This is perhaps the most effective part of the installation. Despite the wonders of AI-generated poetry, we’re still more interested in very bright objects, especially when that color clashes with the classicism of its surroundings.

The AI poetry is projected onto Nelson’s Column.
You “feed” the lion words using a tablet.

Both times I visited the sculpture, at lunch and again in the evening, there was a curious crowd waiting to enter a word and see what poetry the sculpture would generate.

Watching people come and go, it reminded me of many of our interactions with AI systems, which we sometimes treat as digital Ouija boards, asking them to retrieve gnostic wisdom for us from beyond the digital veil. Think about those auto-predict keyboard games that sometimes go viral that ask you to type a phrase like “In the future, I will be” in iOS and then hit the suggested word button until you’ve filled out a sentence.

With Ouija boards, we used to ask the spirit world for guidance, half tongue-in-cheek, half serious. Now it’s algorithms that seem like the keepers of a similar, obscure knowledge. People would feed a word to the lion, read the results (“Love like a light unbidden shone the wave / and the still sunshine of the world would glide”), and then walk away looking slightly puzzled, as if they’d hiked up a mountain to ask a guru for guidance and now had to go away and ponder the mysteries of what they’d been told.

Not everyone was impressed, though. As I was taking photos of the sculpture, I saw a smartly dressed man walk up to the lion and rap it on its flank. The surface echoed in a rather wet and disappointing fashion, like plywood, and the man shook his head.

“It’s an obscenity,” he said when he noticed me looking. I asked him to explain. “Because it’s a lion, and a lion is a carnivore, and here it is eating poetry. It’s denigrating art.” And what did he think of how it looks? The man sniffed: “Ocular stimulation.”

No arguments there.

From a distance, the sculpture looks like it’s been edited out of reality.

Photography by James Vincent / The Verge

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hansolosays
25 days ago
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How long until it starts making racist or otherwise offensive poems?
Norfolk, Virginia
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A 100-Year-Old Row Home is Dripping With Charm — House Tour

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Name: Stephen and Amy Saxton and their dog Miko
Location: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Size: 1,000 square feet
Years Lived In: 3.5 years, owned

After living in Philadelphia for over six years, Stephen and Amy bought their first home together in the city's Fishtown neighborhood in 2013. Fishtown, a classic working-class neighborhood in Philadelphia, is named for its history in the shad fishing industry. It is home to many restaurants, cafes, and breweries, including the notable Philadelphia Brewing Company and Stephen Starr's beer garden, Frankford Hall. It's the perfect neighborhood if you long for the small town feel in a big city.

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hansolosays
92 days ago
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Norfolk, Virginia
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Papua New Guinea looks to ban Facebook for a month and considers launching a replacement

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Papua New Guinea could ban access to Facebook for a month, time that officials say would provide an opportunity to study its effects on the population, according to a local news report.

“The time will allow information to be collected to identify users that hide behind fake accounts, users that upload pornographic images, users that post false and misleading information on Facebook to be filtered and removed,” Communications Minister Sam Basil told the Post-Courier. “This will allow genuine people with real identities to use the social network responsibly.”

The Australian Broadcasting Corporation reports that the controversial plan is only one idea under consideration for the social media platform, but it’s already raising questions about government censorship.

Basil told the Post-Courier that the government was looking to comply with legislation passed last year and was also considering the prospect of “a new social network site” built for Papua New Guinea citizens.

The country of about 8 million people would not be the first, or the most populous, to shut down Facebook. Government estimates reported by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation place Facebook users at between 600,000 and 700,000 people in the nation.

The company is already banned from operating in some countries, including China and North Korea, and there have been intermittent shutdowns in others. The service was banned in Sri Lanka for about a week earlier this year after allegations that the company’s tools were being used to spread violence.

Facebook continues to face questions about how it handles user data, following revelations from the Cambridge Analytica scandal.

Neither Facebook nor Basil’s office immediately responded to a request for comment.

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hansolosays
138 days ago
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This would be awesome!
Norfolk, Virginia
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2 public comments
MotherHydra
137 days ago
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After watching the saccharine mea culpa video ad facebook released to respond to their metric shit ton of bad press, all I have to say is: everyone should do this.
Space City, USA
sirshannon
137 days ago
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We should all be so bold.

Visualizing the Death Star's Practical Construction

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It's that time of the year when nerds start overanalyzing the latest "Star Wars" movie. But designer Isaac Botkin recently went back to the previous film, "Rogue One," and asked himself a practical question: From a structural standpoint, how would one construct a Death Star? I.e., in what sequence would which components come together in order to form the finished sphere?

Because I lack imagination, I always thought you'd build it like a house, where you get the framing lumber up first in its totality, then attach the cladding. But as we saw in "Return of the Jedi," that's not how the Empire's contractor decided to do it:

In any case, here's Botkin's take on how you'd put the thing together:

Writes Botkin:

This is a personal project that I worked on with my brother. I enjoyed watching a little bit of Death Star assembly in Rogue One, but I wanted to see more. I came up with a very simple method of revealing geometry with Lightwave's instancing tool, and then started building the underlying parts of the fully armed and operational battlestation. Since there was a lot of procedural animation, I was seeing a lot of interesting shapes appear that I hadn't planned, but the thing that really pulls it together is the new score by Ben Botkin.

See Also:

- Death Star Architect Speaks Out, Defends Design of Exhaust Port

- Energy Company Calculates Daily Operating Cost of the Death Star

- The Death Star vs. Florida and Other Photorealistic Scale Comparisons


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hansolosays
292 days ago
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:)
Norfolk, Virginia
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Watch the new trailer for Steven Spielberg’s Ready Player One

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We got our first look at Steven Spielberg’s next big science fiction movie Ready Player One at San Diego Comic-Con earlier this year, and today, Warner Bros. released a new trailer on Facebook Live, with author Ernie Cline answering questions about the origins of the story.

Based Ernie Cline’s debut novel, Ready Player One is set in a dystopian world where almost everyone spends a majority of their time in a virtual reality system known as OASIS, where players can visit any conceivable world (allowing the book to mash up an incredible number of ‘80s pop culture references). The trailer opens with Wade Watts (played by The Tree of Life / X-Men: Apocalypse star Tye Sheridan) saying that he got his name because his father thought that it sounded like a superhero name. He then talks about OASIS, which allows people to do anything, and that people stay because they can become anyone.

The trailer then shows James Halliday, the founder of OASIS, who tells gamers that he’s died, but that he left behind a massive Easter egg hunt: whoever finds the three hidden keys will get control of the entire system. Wade is one such participant, who teams up with another competitor, Art3mis (played by Bates Motel’s Olivia Cooke), to find the three clues before a major corporation does.

Along with the trailer, Warner Bros. released a retro poster for the film that harkens back to the novel’s paperback cover. As Kotaku pointed out, there’s one thing that’s a little... off about it.

 Image: Warner Bros

Ready Player One hits theaters on March 30th, 2018.

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hansolosays
308 days ago
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:)
Norfolk, Virginia
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Ron Swanson tells Ajit Pai he has no honor for killing net neutrality

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Even FCC chairman Ajit Pai’s heroes can’t stand him.

Ron Swanson, the ornery small-government hero of Parks and Recreation, despises public officials who abuse their power. So when Pai showed off his signed “Ron Swanson Pyramid of Greatness” to Vice News, Swanson put him on notice.

Here’s what Nick Offerman, the man who played Swanson’s iconic role, had to say:

Pai plans to kill net neutrality next Thursday. Too bad he’s not making friends.

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hansolosays
310 days ago
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Norfolk, Virginia
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