What would an artificial intelligence dream about?
We may have just found out.
An AI development company called Nested Minds is working on creating increasingly sophisticated deep learning networks modeled on the connectivity of the human brain, and especially the brain's ability to form links between disparate ideas and images -- something that is a significant part of the creative process, and also seems to account for a lot of dream content. Their project, called "Huxley," has generated some pretty amazing and provocative pieces. On their home page, they describe their project this way:
Nested Minds unites an interdisciplinary team of neuroscientists, mathematicians, developers, social scientists, and entrepreneurs with over 100 years of combined experience building predictive analytics and machine learning models across multiple industries... We designed Huxley, an AI artist who takes concepts rooted in human language and translates them into provocative and daring imagery redefining the boundaries of imagination.
What Huxley excels at is what we would describe in humans as free association. For example, the word "keyboard" prompted Huxley to come up with an image of a zebra; the link, presumably, was keyboard > black and white > zebra. A bass guitar generated a fish; bass has both meanings (although pronounced differently). While this may seem to be a rudimentary sort of punning, it's not so different from what happens during a long, rambling conversation. I can remember my younger son and I talking and at some point trying to figure out how we got where we ended up, backtracking every link and reconstructing the whole causal chain -- Doctor Who > time travel > wormholes > astronomy > Galileo > the Inquisition > Monty Python > King Arthur > Camelot > Cornwall etc.
What I find absolutely fascinating is that Nested Minds turned Huxley loose on a song -- a new release from Duran Duran called "Invisible."
The result is weird, surreal, beautiful, and a little disturbing. (The song is pretty awesome, too.) Watch it and see what you think:
"When you look at Huxley, this is the sort of first new generation of this type of intelligence, but that will grow and be useful in many, many other fields," singer/keyboardist Nick Rhodes said, in an interview in ITV. "It's incredible new technology because before AI has been more mathematical, this one's actually more arts based. It does actually dream and think in different ways... I think we've always viewed technology as something that we can use that can really help us. We're not intimidated by it... And if you can use it to enhance your toolkit for what you're doing, I think that's fantastic."
Huxley was given two things -- the lyrics, and video clips of the band singing, and with those two inputs it created the entire video. And while some of the associations you can fathom (such as the keyboard and the bass guitar), others are obscure and/or complex enough to resist parsing.
"They just took those images of us all singing and put them into the program," said band member Roger Taylor. "And it came out with these incredible kind of ghostly images which kind of blew me away."