Thought AIs could never replace human imagination? Think again

robots imagination

(Craig Sybert, Unsplash)

This article is brought to you thanks to the collaboration of The European Sting with the World Economic Forum.

Author: Julien Weissenberg, Founder, Artificial Intelligence Scientist, VisualSense

Back in the 1980s, Hans Moravec, an AI scientist, discovered a paradox: What is easy for humans, such as visual or auditory understanding, is hard for machines.

Things have changed since then. Today’s AIs are much better at understanding what they see. It is not that AI has caught up with all of our human visual capabilities, but rather that the technology is developing in different ways.

When we think AI, we think of pure automation. This is not true anymore. Did you think, for example, that AI could never replace portrait photographers? Think again; it doesn’t even need a model. Today we have AIs that can ‘imagine’ – that is, according to the Merriam-Webster definition, form an image of “something not present to the senses or never before wholly perceived in reality”.

The video above shows the results from an AI that has learned to generate photos of people who don’t exist. At a qualitative level, only a few artists are capable of inventing faces with photographic precision.

The secret behind AI imagination

The mechanism that gifts AI with imaginative powers has a name: Generative Adversarial Networks (GAN). GANs were partly inspired by neuroscience research. In essence, GANs consist of two entities which compete against – and learn from – each other: one learns to generate fakes, while another one learns to detect fakes. As the fake detector becomes more effective, so does the fake generator. Neuroscientists have discovered that we use a related mechanism, the actor-critic model, which is believed to be located pretty much in the middle of our brains.

If imagination is no longer a privilege of the human mind, how can we leverage AIs’ imagination? Here is a taste of what’s happening in labs right now.

Turning night into day: let there be GANs

Imagination has a direct application: guessing the representation of a subject in a different way, or in other words, translating an image from one representation to another. For instance, this AI imagines what the sketch of a photograph would look like, or what the colour version of a black and white photograph would look like.

An application of image translation is to help us see the world in a more readable way, or beyond what is visible.

Image: Computer Vision Lab, Department of Information Technology & Electrical Engineering, ETH Zurich, Switzerland

This AI, meanwhile, simulates day from a night picture. This is valuable, as creating self-driving cars that work and can locate themselves precisely in all conditions – day, night, fog, rain, snow and so on – requires a lot of data that covers all scenarios. Collecting large amounts of data in all conditions is practically very difficult, as certain conditions (such as snow) occur very rarely in some areas. Instead of collecting more data, scientists have come up with this night-to-day workaround. This could also lead to better night vision for the military, airplane pilots and human drivers.

 X-ray specs: BodyNet can guess your bodyshape from a photo

Image: Varol et al.

When something is not directly visible, GANs are used to make educated guesses. Take the case of the BodyNet AI (see above), which estimates the body shape of a person given a picture of them fully-clothed. The digital mannequin is useful for designing tailored clothing without either taking measurements by hand or the help of sophisticated body scanners.

And what if we could see through walls? This AI can literally help you track how people move behind walls. Similar to how bats see in the dark, a signal is emitted and what comes back is interpreted. Bats emit ultrasound that are reflected off the surface of nearby objects. Here, it is signals in the WiFi range that are emitted. As WiFi can go through walls but is partly reflected by our human bodies, this signal is interpreted by a deep learning architecture (see video below).

Discovery machines

The ability to make educated guesses is not limited to image generation or translations. Imagination is, in a broader sense, a tool for discovery, and has applications in diverse domains such as cybersecurity or drug design.

Modern cybersecurity tools feature AIs that can detect threats by looking at their characteristics. Researchers have designed a GAN which learns to generate pieces of malignant code that can bypass these cybersecurity detectors. That may sound scary, but the good news is we could also use it to perfect detectors of malignant code – or, if you think about it, sometimes deception can be a good thing, such as when we engineer drugs to fight diseases.

What does it mean for us?

The 4th Industrial Revolution is not just about automation, but about human-machine collaboration and symbiosis. GANs are a turning point in the development of AI, and will help us supercharge our mental capabilities.

They are also a tool with which we can study the mechanisms of imagination and help us to better understand the role of imagination in domains such as translation or discovery. Even though imagination does not equal creativity, it is one of the tools we use to invent new things. What are the missing pieces, yet to be discovered, that will enable us to build machines that can outsmart us in the creative realm as well?







the sting Milestone

Featured Stings

Can we feed everyone without unleashing disaster? Read on

These campaigners want to give a quarter of the UK back to nature

How to build a more resilient and inclusive global system

Stopping antimicrobial resistance would cost just USD 2 per person a year

Will Brexit shatter the EU or is it still too early to predict?

Calculators didn’t replace mathematicians, and AI won’t replace humans

A Sting Exclusive: why the environment is important to your health, by UNEP’s Head for Europe

Government internet ban leaves parts of Myanmar ‘in a blackout’, UN expert calls for immediate lifting

EU Commission indifferent on Court of Auditors’ recommendations

Why we need a Paris Agreement for nature

It’s time to gang up: a personal conflict on discrepancies in the medical community

What we take for granted: The EU is not perfect

The fat from your next takeaway meal could help clean up global shipping

UN chief highlights action across borders for ‘stable and prosperous Eurasia’

Electronic Cigarettes: Are they really as safe as we think?

A Sting Exclusive: “Stronger Cybersecurity for a safer EU against cybercrime and cyber threats”, by MEP Dalli

EU: Centralised economic governance and bank supervision may lead to new crisis

Mozambique pledging conference hopes to soften devastating blow of back-to-back cyclones

European Union: More taxes out of less income

This man is installing 100 trash barriers in Bali’s rivers to stop plastic pollution

EU Facility for Refugees in Turkey: EUR 400 million Special Measure on education adopted

Shanghai has tough new recycling rules – and it will stop collecting trash from communities that don’t comply

COP21 Paris: The Final Agreement Adopted-full text

Humanitarian visas to avoid refugees’ deaths

The 10 most common types of plastic choking Europe’s rivers

At UN, France’s Macron says more ‘political courage’ is needed to face global challenges

Mining the deep seabed will harm biodiversity. We need to talk about it

Urgently address ‘defining challenges of our time’, to empower youth worldwide, top UN official tells forum

How global tech companies can champion ethical AI

The creative technology and its advancements

Vaccination: European Commission and World Health Organization join forces to promote the benefits of vaccines

Why cities hold the key to safe, orderly migration

NASA has released new photos of the Apollo 11 moon landing

Innovation is the key to the pay-TV industry’s long-term growth

China’s lead in the global solar race – at a glance

The challenge of maintaining interest in Primary Health Care in medical students

National parks give a $6 trillion boost to mental health worldwide

Τhe EU Refugee Crisis: a day in the life of a Refugee in Greece

The EU threatens to impose extra import duties on Chinese products

LED lights could stop turtles and birds from drowning in fishing nets

How cities can become more resilient to climate change

Why climate change matters for future health professionals

Inspiring young doctors: the beginning of the change

Ukraine pays the price for lying between Russia and the EU

Gender minority and health sector: promoting mental health with better medical education

First EU collective redress mechanism to protect consumers

What brands get wrong about China – and how to put it right

War of words in Davos over Eurozone’s inflation/deflation

A new roadmap for corporate climate governance

‘Wind blowing in the direction of peace’ in Africa: UN Secretary-General

Venezuela: ‘A worrying destabilizing factor in the region’, Bachelet tells Human Rights Council

This is our chance to completely redefine the meaning of work

Why feeding the planet doesn’t have to mean sacrificing our forests

End racist discrimination against Afro-European people in the EU

Mitigating climate change in Asia-Pacific could give region an economic boost

First seat projections for the next European Parliament

Canada has high levels of well-being and solid growth but trade tensions and housing market pose risks while inclusiveness could be improved

A geared turbofan at Pratt & Whitney's production hub in West Palm Beach (copyright: Pratt & Whitney - a UTC Company- 2018; Source: Pratt & Whitney's website, media center)

The EU Commission approves UTC’s acquisition of Rockwell Collins under conditions

Is history a new NATO weapons against Russia?

Natural gas: Parliament extends EU rules to pipelines from non-EU countries

Want more climate action? Let’s show how good a planet-friendly life can be

Who is to pay the dearest price in a global slowdown?

Electronic cigarette – is it really a safer alternative to smoking?

Online radio and news broadcasts: Parliament and Council reach deal

More Stings?

Speak your Mind Here

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s