Friday Five: storytelling AI and artistic AR hackers

Each week Zone's Letty Key handpicks the five best stories on new trends and technologies...

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1. AI turns storyteller with infinite podcast

Sheldon County is a ‘generative storytelling’ podcast, created by two AI programs in collaboration. One creates environments and characters and sets them running, letting them live with free will and tracking what happens. The other sifts through this generated universe to find what stories to tell and creates scripts from them.

Often these “AI making an X” things are gimmicky and awful, but this is entrancing, gripping and well executed. It’s hard to unravel how much of a steering hand the creator has in it at this proof of concept stage and how much is pure AI. You can listen to two episodes now, with the full thing planned as an infinite series. Can't wait.


2. Facebook gives users their voice

Keen-eyed (or eared) Facebookers in India have spotted that Facebook is trialling letting users post voice clip status updates. One theory is that it's trying to reverse the trend of people just recycling content, and get them generating their own posts again. Another is that it's a move to micro podcasting (to Twitter's microblogging).

I'm curious how this will work when most people (85% at one count) interact with Facebook videos with the sound down. And would you choose to play someone's status without being able to know in advance if it's of any interest? It certainly feels like it would significantly change how you consume others' thoughts. 


3. Getting inside the mind of neural networks

Generally, when people understand something, the more likely they are to trust it, which is an increasingly prominent issue as AI moves into riskier aspects of our lives (for example Uber's new self-driving trucks – on the roads of Arizona now)

This Google tool is an attempt to help us get inside the mind of AI, letting you play with images to see how the program interprets them. With the growing success of neural networks, there is a need to be able to explain their decisions, both to build confidence about how they will behave and to detect any bias.


4. Experience a Galaxy far, far away

This is a meta one – find out what it’s like to use the new Galaxy S9 models on your more humble (Android) phone with the ‘Galaxy S9 experience app’. It's Samsung's attempt to give online buyers the chance to make confident decisions as if they had tested out the product in-store.

It sounds like the execution might have let the idea down a bit, but it shows there’s appetite in the hardware purchasing space to expand from the razzle-dazzle of show-and-tell to incorporating a virtual test-drive model. 


5. AR hackers grab MoMA by the Pollocks

The MoMA gallery in New York has been ‘hacked’ by AR...artists? Activists? It's hard to pin down, but a group calling themselves MoMAR has created an app that, when held up to the paintings in its Jackson Pollock exhibition, uses AR to wipe the canvases and replaces them with new imagery or games created by them.

Is this really ‘hacking’? The beauty of this AR art is that it doesn’t compromise the original, but offers an additional optional layer. It could be considered disrespectful, but as Pollock himself said 70 years ago: “I have no fears about making changes, destroying the image etc, because the painting has a life of its own.”

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