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Google’s MusicLM Generates Music from Text

posted by Tim Carmody   Feb 01, 2023

A screenshot of Google's Music LM's examples of Painting Captioning Conditioning -- Dali's the Persistence of Memory, a portrait of Napoleon, and Henri Matisse's Dance are all converted to captions and then music is created from the captions

Google Research has released a new generative AI tool called MusicLM. MusicLM can generate new musical compositions from text prompts, either describing the music to be played (e.g., “The main soundtrack of an arcade game. It is fast-paced and upbeat, with a catchy electric guitar riff. The music is repetitive and easy to remember, but with unexpected sounds, like cymbal crashes or drum rolls”) or more emotional and evocative (“Made early in his career, Matisse’s Dance, 1910, shows a group of red dancers caught in a collective moment of innocent freedom and joy, holding hands as they whirl around in space. Simple and direct, the painting speaks volumes about our deep-rooted, primal human desire for connection, movement, rhythm and music”).

As the last example suggests, since music can be generated from just about any text, anything that can be translated/captioned/captured in text, from poetry to paintings, can be turned into music.

It may seem strange that so many AI tools are coming to fruition in public all at once, but at Ars Technica, investor Haomiao Huang argues that once the basic AI toolkit reached a certain level of sophistication, a confluence of new products taking advantage of those research breakthroughs was inevitable:

To sum up, the breakthrough with generative image models is a combination of two AI advances. First, there’s deep learning’s ability to learn a “language” for representing images via latent representations. Second, models can use the “translation” ability of transformers via a foundation model to shift between the world of text and the world of images (via that latent representation).

This is a powerful technique that goes far beyond images. As long as there’s a way to represent something with a structure that looks a bit like a language, together with the data sets to train on, transformers can learn the rules and then translate between languages. Github’s Copilot has learned to translate between English and various programming languages, and Google’s Alphafold can translate between the language of DNA and protein sequences. Other companies and researchers are working on things like training AIs to generate automations to do simple tasks on a computer, like creating a spreadsheet. Each of these are just ordered sequences.

The other thing that’s different about the new wave of AI advances, Huang says, is that they’re not especially dependent on huge computing power at the edge. So AI is rapidly becoming much more ubiquitous than it’s been… even if MusicLM’s sample set of tunes still crashes my web browser.

deadline.com ·
Michael Jackson’s nephew Jaafar (one of Jermaine’s sons) will play MJ in a new biopic directed by Antoine Fuqua (Emancipation) and produced by Graham King (Bohemian Rhapsody)

Were the Earliest Cave Paintings Calendars?

posted by Tim Carmody   Feb 01, 2023

A series of early cave paintings isolating proto-writing elements

Since striking ancient cave paintings in southern Europe were first discovered more than a century ago, modern humans have tried to figure out if they have a meaning beyond being staggering works of art. Are they early animations? Examples of a primeval need to tell stories? An antique backdrop for us to project contemporary mistakes?

A new theory proposes that the repeatedly occurring nonfigurative signs (the ones that don’t look like anything concrete) are a kind of protowriting. This guess has been floated before, but this time, a number of earlier proposals are synthesized, and there’s a semantics attached: the symbols in the caves, these researchers argue, were used to mark time:

We hypothesize that the number of lines/dots, or the ordinal position of symbols, in sequences associated with depictions of prey taxa in Upper Palaeolithic art, convey information about events in those animals’ annual lives important to hunter-gatherers, expressed in lunar months RBS, i.e. anchored to the start of the bonne saison. That information is likely to reflect birthing, and possibly mating and/or migration of the animals of concern in the region in which the images are found (or originated).

A relatively simple statistical analysis shows good correlation with the number of marks and the number of lunar months between cycles of mating/birthing. In this way, early hunter/gatherers might have been able to track the availability of bird eggs, or to find new prey.

This would be a revolution in the history of recorded information:

Although a series of marks can of course be ambiguous, the Upper Palaeolithic written system was thus clear, unambiguous and permanent, and could have widespread meaning irrespective of any linguistic barriers (about which, of course, we know nothing), particularly given the fact that our database contains samples from across western—and some central—Europe. It made possible the accumulation and transmission of intelligible information over multiple generations, independent of the need to maintain parallel oral explanations (although of course we do not propose that these simply disappeared). This was clearly much more than a simple ‘tally’ of accumulated information. We believe that the numeric notational marks associated with the animals constituted a calendar, and given that it references natural behaviour in terms of seasons relative to a fixed point in time, we may refer to it as a phenological calendar, with a meteorological basis. It may be of greater significance, however, that it significantly backdates by thousands of years the permanent combination of information (in the form of numerosity/ordinality) with its subject (the animal/symbol).

But is it writing?

In our reading, the European Upper Palaeolithic system functioned to record a subject and information about the behaviour of that subject expressed in relation to natural events; it therefore expressed far more than the tablets recording numbers of commodities from Uruk-period Mesopotamia (Steinkeller 1992). In the sense of the Sumerological use of the terms, we suggest that we can accord it the function of a script. But could the information that it recorded really be intelligible without at least the underpinning nouns for the animals, the moon and its phases, and the bonne saison and its defining events, in addition to the actions of mating and birthing? We will presumably never know the specific words for these in whatever languages were spoken in Upper Palaeolithic Europe, but we can assume that our script could be communicated orally by using them. Is this, then, not the definition of writing?

We may not be convinced that the Upper Palaeolithic sequences and associated symbols can be described as written language, given that they do not represent grammatical syntax, but they certainly functioned in the same way as proto-cuneiform… We do not want to press the controversial (and in many senses, semantic) question of whether writing was a Palaeolithic invention; perhaps it is best described as a proto-writing system, an intermediary step between a simpler notation/convention and full-blown writing. Assuming we have convinced colleagues of our correct identification, there will no doubt be a lively debate about precisely what this system should be called, and we are certainly open to suggestions. For now, we restrict our terminology to proto-writing in the form of a phrenological/meteorological calendar. It implies that a form of writing existed tens of thousands of years before the earliest Sumerian writing system.

To translate this out of scholarly passive-aggressiveness: “you don’t have to call it writing if you want to be dicks about it, but we all know it’s writing, chumps.”

Apollo, As Seen by Young Girls

posted by Tim Carmody   Feb 01, 2023

Three girls quoted in a 1971 Billings Gazette article about the Apollo program -- Betsy Longo, Amy Ponich, Jennifer Dettmann

On February 7, 1971, the Billings Gazette, a local Montana newspaper, ran a story by Carol Perkins titled “Apollo — As Kids See It.” They interviewed young kids, from 5 to 11, and a range of boys and girls, to get their opinion about NASA’s then-current manned moon missions. Paleofuture’s Matt Novak zeroes in on the girls:

“I wouldn’t like to go to the moon. It’s not really a place for girls,” said 7-year-old Joan Anderson, who would be about 58 years old now.

“I think it would be fun to marry an astronaut. He would be rich and famous,” said 5-year-old Gail Standard.

“He’d be gone away a lot, so I would go with him. I’d wear a girl’s astronaut uniform and cook a lot of potatoes,” said 6-year-old Jennifer Dettmann, speaking of her potential astronaut husband.

There are a lot of myths about the Apollo space program. Chief among them is that most Americans fervently supported the space program’s enormous costs. In reality, most Americans of the 1960s thought the Apollo space program wasn’t a good use of taxpayer funds, with many people asking why that money wasn’t being spent to fight homelessness or hunger in the U.S.—the same criticisms you hear today.

In fact, one of the girls quoted in the article, 11-year-old Betsy Longo, expressed a similar sentiment.

“I don’t think they should use so much money to go to the moon,” Longo said. “They should use it to stop cancer and help people here on Earth.”

One 10-year-old, Amy Ponich, was the only girl in the article who seemed receptive to the idea that she could have a role to play in America’s exploration of space, telling the reporter that she wanted to be a scientist to “discover more frontiers.”

“We need to know what the moon is made of and how it related to the Earth,” Ponich said.

The US Apollo program only included men, but the USSR’s Valentina Tereshkova was the first woman in space in 1963. Sally Ride was the first American woman in space in 1983, twelve years after this article. Since the Apollo program ended in 1972, no human beings have landed on the moon.

newyorker.com ·
Patti Smith remembers Tom Verlaine. “As I watched Tom play, I thought, Had I been a boy, I would’ve been him.” The little details in this are 1) too many to list 2) universally great.
bbc.com ·
Great apes use a proto-language of some 80+ common gestures. It turns out that humans can understand (and in some cases share) these gestures too

The Philosopher Who Was Too Popular

posted by Tim Carmody   Jan 30, 2023

Henri Bergson with his 1878 Classmates, all turn of the century French men in dark suits

In the early twentieth century, Henri Bergson had a problem. His philosophy lectures were too popular:

On average, 700 people would attempt to squeeze into a room designed for 375. It was suggested that his classes be moved to the Grand Amphithéâtre of the Sorbonne or even to the Palais Garnier. Abroad too, Bergson drew huge crowds. The talks he delivered in London in 1911 filled venues to their ‘utmost capacity’, and he was greeted to the sound of ‘loud cheers’. Two years later, a visit to New York caused the first ever traffic jam on Broadway.

Bergsonmania had another problem, too: many of its most devout adherents were women.

In France, Bergson’s female followers were given derogatory nicknames such as caillettes, which designated a type of pâté, a kind of small bird, and in this context, a frivolous babbling woman, and snobinettes, which conveyed the common assumption that these women were ignorant socialites more interested in being seen at a fashionable event than in learning about philosophy. In 1912, Bergson was preparing to leave on an eagerly anticipated tour of the United States that would take place the following year. A writer for the magazine La vie Parisienne - known for its literary critiques, erotic illustrations, satirical takes on art, culture, politics and the indiscretions of the Parisian elite - scoffed: ‘How will our snobinettes quench their thirst for metaphysics?’ Which professor, the reporter wondered, would these ‘anxious women’ choose to replace Bergson? Surely, their decision would be based on the convenience of the time slot of the lectures rather than on their content.

The female audience was depicted as a crowd of posers, too frivolous to develop any profound interest in philosophical matters, and thus undeserving of the precious seats at the Collège de France. Many commentators thus dismissed the Bergsoniennes’ enthusiasm for philosophy as nothing more than the bourgeois attempts of mondaines (socialites) to raise their social standing. Such ideas were embedded within a long tradition of French satire at the expense of learned women…

The presence of women in a traditionally exclusively masculine space was regarded at best as a source of ridicule, at worst as a nuisance (for instance, some worried that, by their mere presence, the Bergsoniennes were robbing male philosophy students of their rightfully earned seats). Others took this phenomenon to be the sign of something more serious. The fact that so many women were drawn to Bergson’s philosophy perhaps said something about Bergson as a thinker. Indeed, traits traditionally associated with femininity, such as irrationality and sentimentality, clashed with the traditionally masculine qualities deemed necessary to be a good philosopher. Some of Bergson’s most serious adversaries began arguing that Bergson’s success among women was no accident. They believed that the reason the most irrational beings of all, women, were so enthusiastic about Bergson’s ideas was that Bergson’s philosophy was a philosophy of the irrational.

Bergson himself did not enjoy his celebrity status, but it is noteworthy that he inspired a generation of French feminist thinkers, including Simone De Beauvoir, who largely differed from his metaphysical positions but adopted parts of his popular, literary style (in both writing and public lectures) as a way to connect with audiences outside of the academy’s cloisters.

Philosophy and public intellectual life changed tremendously during the years of Bergson’s activity, not least because his own style and that of his admiring fans helped push matters along.

Walking the Basketball Dog

posted by Tim Carmody   Jan 30, 2023

Ja Morant lets the basketball slowly roll in front of him while his defenders wait across half court

If you’ve watched a high-level basketball game in the last ten or so years (NBA, WNBA, NCAA), you’ve probably seen something a little strange. Instead of throwing the ball inbounds directly to a teammate, the inbounder will slowly roll the ball on the floor in their general direction… and then the ball handler will wait as long as possible before he picks it up and starts dribbling. Sometimes it’s just a few seconds, and sometimes it feels like an eternity. What is this, and why do they do it?

It’s called “walking the dog,” and it exploits a rule that’s as old as the shot clock itself. The shot clock (24 seconds long in the NBA) begins counting down as soon as a team takes possession of the ball after an inbounds pass. If you don’t shoot and make contact with the rim within 24 seconds, the other team takes possession of the ball.

The shot clock is designed to speed up play. Walking the dog is a loophole designed to slow it down. You use it for two reasons: to delay starting the shot clock (giving you longer to get down court and set up a play) and to run time off the game clock (giving your opponent less time to control the ball and score).

Walking the dog is very old — the 60s Celtics used to use it after the other team scored to give them more time for their legendary center Bill Russell to get down court and set up the offense. And generally, that’s been how it’s used in the modern NBA, to get more time back on the shot clock. But in recent years, more ball handlers have been walking the dog to run time — sometimes, lots of time — off the game clock. So it’s becoming more controversial.

One of the most notorious dogwalkers is Ja Morant, who usually makes highlight reels for his explosive dunks. But his slow roll strolls up the court are becoming just as much a signature move:

Two years ago, Morant became a regular dog walker in his sophomore season and quickly got his team to buy in. He’s utilized the move 41 times across all quarters and has been the ball handler on 23 of those 34 plays in crunch time, wasting over three minutes of game clock. In just over half this season, Morant has wasted more time walking the dog than any team had in an entire year and holds three of the longest dog walks recorded in the NBA this season (his teammate Desmond Bane has one of the others)…

The Grizzlies don’t discuss this in practice or plan these plays in advance. Morant often motions to his inbounder to roll the ball in slowly in these situations right as they materialize, especially when leading late in a game. The guy will do anything to shave a few seconds off. He’ll leap out of the way instead of catching the ball if the inbounder throws it too hard in his direction. If Morant finds himself inbounding, he’ll play dumb and misplace the ball as the game clock keeps running.

How has Morant become so good at walking the dog? He declined to speak with ESPN for this story, but his teammates think it boils down to his speed and athleticism. Opponents are hesitant to really press him 75-plus feet from their own hoop. If they make a mistake, he could have a huge runway with a numbers advantage. Others think it’s more a combination of fatigue and a never-ending game of chicken.

How do you stop a player from walking the dog? It’s so simple that it’s stupid: send a defender to make them pick up the ball. There’s some risk on either side here: an inattentive ball handler might allow an aggressive defender to steal a rolling ball. But an overaggressive defender might accidentally foul the ball handler in the back court while trying to steal the ball. That’s exactly what happened to Ben Simmons in a recent game against Morant:

As the Grizzlies’ star guard makes his way up the court, he lets the basketball roll alongside him, slowly, slowly, slowly, an inch at a time, untouched. Morant only needs to maintain a slow walk to keep up as he scans the court, uncontested by any Nets defender.

The ball rolls another inch, another inch, another inch. Morant is almost at half court. He keeps letting the ball roll alongside him, knowing the 24-second shot clock won’t start until he touches it — burning precious game clock at the same time, almost 21 seconds now.

As he crosses half court, Morant finally picks up the ball and glances over to his bench. His defender, Ben Simmons, suddenly closes on him and lunges at the ball, looking for a steal — but he’s too late. Morant sees it coming and protects the ball. Simmons hits him in the arm. Whistle. Foul. That’s Simmons’ sixth; he’s out of the game.

Thanks in part to that play, Memphis wins by 10. Afterward, Morant explains that he was baiting Simmons, knowing he’d bite based on past experience. Clips of the play soon go viral.

Personally, I like it when clever players find ways to play games-within-a-game in sports, especially basketball. So I have no problem with walking the dog. Other people think it’s boring, unfair, or it slows down the game too much. It definitely seems like if a lot of games come to a literal standstill, then the league office might step in and make a rules change. But until then, it’s worth enjoying the players who play this game — and all of its wrinkles — the best.

newyorker.com ·
“The covers that Lorraine Louie designed for the Vintage Contemporaries series were surreal, stylish, and like nothing else on the market” in the 1980s:

Note: You can find more Quick Links in the archive.

Cistercian Numerals

posted by Tim Carmody   Jan 30, 2023

a series of symbols showing a different kind of base 10 number system

Cistercian numerals were invented by the Cistercian order of monks in the 13th century. Giuseppe Frisella explains how the notation system works:

A vertical straight line acts as an axis dividing the plane into four quadrants, each one representing one of the four digits: the upper right quadrant for the units, the upper left quadrant for the tens, the lower right quadrant for the hundreds, and the lower left quadrant for the thousands.

What this does well, indeed better than the roman or Arabic numeral systems it’s related to, is to represent both small and large numbers (1 up to 9999) in a single glyph. What it doesn’t do well, compared to roman or Arabic systems, is allow you to reduce operations on large numbers to operations on smaller ones. There’s no long division, in other words — and even addition and multiplication aren’t very straightforward.

So you might think about this as a kind of mathematical compression system, optimizing for storage rather than operations. If you just need to record a number — say, a four-digit year — you can do it quickly and in a minimum amount of space in the Cistercian system. If you need to do bookkeeping, then the Arabic numerals are probably what you want.

But if you’ve read this far, you’re probably thinking what I usually think anytime I encounter something a little strange in the world of mathematical notation — what about aliens? One can imagine an alien species that can easily do simple arithmetic operations on what they would call small numbers (less than 10,000) in their heads (or has offloaded such tasks to machine), and which would correspondingly value the storage and computational efficiency of a system of numbers like this. Maybe Cistercian numerals, rather than the clumsy digits of our intellectual infancy, will be the best way to make ourselves understood when first contact begins.

(Via Clive Thompson)

Update: Shelby Wilson has created an easy-to-use Cistercian numeral generator. (Via Alex Miller)

quantamagazine.org ·
Spiders appear to offload cognitive tasks to their webs, a rare nonhuman example of “extended cognition” — animals using tools to think outside of the confines of their own heads.

A Table Read for The Muppet Show

posted by Tim Carmody   Jan 30, 2023

a still from the opening credits of The Muppet Show, showing all of the puppet entertainers in stage windows

In film and television, a table read is an early part of the rehearsal process where, as the name suggests, all the performers read their scripts together around a table, out of costume.

But what do you do when the performers are also operating puppets? The rehearsal process becomes more iterative; the table read is a kind of sketchboard, and the performance moves quickly from spoken dialogue to early filming in full costume. These two videos (less than six minutes long in total) follow the rehearsals of The Muppet Show (1976-1981) from a table read to filming.

One thing that might surprise you (I admit it surprised me) is how much the puppeteers use floor monitors to guide their performances. As Jim Henson says in the second of these two videos, “when we’re working, our entire reality is on the screen. You are performing, and at the same time, you’re seeing your performance the same as the audience does.” On the one hand, this makes perfect sense: on the other, it’s just another point of focus, another degree of difficulty in making an entire performance come together.

@muppetmarissa they really put so much into the muppet show #themuppets #themuppetshow #muppets #muppet #muppettok #muppetcore #muppeteer #muppeteers #ReadySetLift #behindthescenes
@muppetmarissa they really put so much into the muppet show #themuppets #themuppetshow #muppets #muppet #muppettok #muppetcore #muppeteer #muppeteers #ReadySetLift #behindthescenes

(Thanks to Ethan Marcotte)

Update: The full documentary (nearly an hour!) is on YouTube (again, thx Ethan)


rknightuk.github.io ·
Mac 30th Anniversary Icons. Icons in SVG format of Macs from the original Macintosh 128K to 2013's Mac Pro.
chess.com · via @pomeranian99 ·
Huh, chess[dot]com's traffic has doubled since the beginning of December for no obvious single reason. Why the explosion in interest in chess?
xkcd.com ·
From XKCD, a recipe for a margarita made from the icy nucleus of a planet-killing-sized comet. "The juice from 20 trillion limes."