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AI recommendations fail fans who like hard rock and hip hop, say scientists • The Register

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If you don’t like the tracks automatically offered to you by the web, it might not be you – it might be the AI.

At least some recommendation algorithms just aren’t very good at suggesting music to fans of hard rock and hip hop, according to a study by machine-learning experts and data scientists. The problem appears to be this, we’re told:

  • People who prefer so-called hard music, which covers a wide set of genres from hard rock and punk to hip hop, aren’t much interested in music outside of their niche.
  • People who prefer softer music, which is a limited set of genres, are happy to listen to artists outside of their niche.
  • Algorithms are better at recommending tracks for easygoing ambient fans than for choosy hard music fans, or in other words, worse at picking tracks for hard music fans than for ambient lovers.

In short, hard music fans are picky and thus difficult to please, and algorithms can’t cope with that. That might seem an obvious conclusion but bear in mind you’d expect recommendation engines to overcome that and identify tracks people would enjoy regardless of taste. In reality, no dice, sadly.

“Some subgroups, like ambient listeners, seem to be more open to listening to music from other subgroups; plus, they are more similar to each other – all of this is great for recommendation algorithms and such users more likely accept recommendations from different groups,” Elizabeth Lex – co-author of this research, published in EPJ Data Science this month – told The Register.

“In contrast, hard rock and hip-hop low-mainstream listeners are, in our data, the least open to music of other subgroups, and within themselves, much more diverse, and thus, harder to satisfy with recommendations.”

The researchers, led by boffins at the Graz University of Technology (TUG) in Austria, analysed the performance of multiple recommendation engines on the music listening histories of about 4,000 people scraped from Last.fm users; the code involved is on GitHub, here.

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Given some of the tracks and the type of music each person listened to, could the models correctly predict what other tunes they would enjoy? A recommendation model’s accuracy was measured by seeing if the software’s suggestions overlapped with tracks a particular user had actually listened to and liked. When the team took an average of how well the recommendation systems tested, they found that their predictions were most accurate for ambient listeners, and least accurate for hard music fans.

Not only are fans of hard music less likely to listen to other genres, the songs they listen to within each genre are more likely to sound distinct from one another. Tracks that top mainstream charts do seem to sound the same. This makes it all the more difficult for recommender systems to find relevant music for hard music fans.

While the recommendation software deployed by the likes of Spotify and Pandora are secret, Lex said these algorithms will likely be based on collaborative filtering mechanism algorithms. These real-world systems will be more complex than the ones tested in this experiment, however, which is something to bear in mind.

“Our algorithms are more simplistic than what the streaming platforms use, particularly in terms of data they can exploit as naturally platform providers have complete access to users’ data,” she said.

The team hopes that their study will improve music streaming services for people who prefer their particular musical niche.

“If we think about the problem from the perspective of artists, who produce low-mainstream music, if their work is recommended more often, they get more exposure and interactions – which is crucial in this business,” Lex told us. “So, we hope that our research contributes to helping serve consumers better and to help low-mainstream artists get more exposure in music streaming platforms.” ®

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2021 iPhone photography awards – in pictures | Technology

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The 14th annual iPhone photography awards offer glimpses of beauty, hope and the endurance of the human spirit. Out of thousands of submissions, photojournalist Istvan Kerekes of Hungary was named the grand prize winner for his image Transylvanian Shepherds. In it, two rugged shepherds traverse an equally rugged industrial landscape, bearing a pair of lambs in their arms.

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With Alphabet’s legendary commitment to products, we can’t wait to see what its robotics biz Intrinsic achieves • The Register

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Alphabet today launched its latest tech startup, Intrinsic, which aims to build commercial software that will power industrial robots.

Intrinsic will focus on developing software control tools for industrial robots used in manufacturing, we’re told. Its pitch is that the days of humans having to manually program and adjust a robot’s every move are over, and that mechanical bots should be more autonomous and smart, thanks to advances in artificial intelligence and leaps in training techniques.

This could make robots easier to direct – give them a task, and they’ll figure out the specifics – and more efficient – the AI can work out the best way to achieve its goal.

“Over the last few years, our team has been exploring how to give industrial robots the ability to sense, learn, and automatically make adjustments as they’re completing tasks, so they work in a wider range of settings and applications,” said CEO Wendy Tan White.

“Working in collaboration with teams across Alphabet, and with our partners in real-world manufacturing settings, we’ve been testing software that uses techniques like automated perception, deep learning, reinforcement learning, motion planning, simulation, and force control.”

Tan White – a British entrepreneur and investor who was made an MBE by the Queen in 2016 for her services to the tech industry – will leave her role as vice president of X, Alphabet’s moonshot R&D lab, to concentrate on Intrinsic.

She earlier co-founded and was CEO of website-building biz Moonfruit, and helped multiple early-stage companies get up and running as a general partner at Entrepreneur First, a tech accelerator. She is also a board trustee of the UK’s Alan Turing Institute, and member of Blighty’s Digital Economic Council.

“I loved the role I played in creating platforms that inspired the imagination and entrepreneurship of people all over the world, and I’ve recently stepped into a similar opportunity: I’m delighted to share that I’m now leading Intrinsic, a new Alphabet company,” she said.

The new outfit is another venture to emerge from Google-parent Alphabet’s X labs, along with Waymo, the self-driving car startup; and Verily, a biotech biz. ®

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Charles River to create 90 new jobs at Ballina biologics site

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Charles River is expanding its testing capabilities in Ballina as part of its partnership with Covid-19 vaccine manufacturer AstraZeneca.

Contract research organisation Charles River Laboratories is planning an €8m site expansion in Ballina to facilitate batch release testing for Covid-19 vaccines from AstraZeneca.

The expansion at the Mayo site will create an additional 1,500 sq m of lab space and 90 highly skilled jobs in the area over the next three years.

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The company provides longstanding partners AstraZeneca with outsourced regulated safety and development support on a range of treatments and vaccines, including testing and facilitating the deployment of Vaxzevria for Covid-19 and Fluenz for seasonal infleunza.

The latest investment follows earlier expansions at the Ballina site and Charles River recently announced plans to establish a dedicated laboratory space to handle testing of SARS-CoV-2 and other similar pathogens that cause human disease.

“We are incredibly proud of the transformational changes we have implemented on site and the role that Charles River has played in supporting the safe and timely roll-out of AstraZeneca’s Covid-19 vaccine,” said Liam McHale, site director for Charles River Ballina.

“Throughout the pandemic, our site remained fully operational while keeping our employees safe and having a positive impact on human health. Our expanded facility will provide us with the increased capacity needed to continue the essential services we provide to our clients.”

Charles River acquired the Ballina facility, which focuses on biologics testing, in 2002. The company employs 230 people at its two facilities in Ireland, including the Mayo site and a site in Dublin, established in 2017, which serves as the EMEA and APAC headquarters for the company’s microbial solutions division.

IDA Ireland is supporting the expansion. Mary Buckley, executive director of the agency, said Charles River is an “employer of long standing” in Co Mayo.

“The enhancement of its product lines and the development of additional capability at the Ballina facility is most welcome,” she added. “Today’s announcement is strongly aligned to IDA Ireland’s regional pillar and its continued commitment to winning jobs and investment in regional locations.”

Dan Wygal, country president for AstraZeneca Ireland, added: “Our Covid-19 vaccine, Vaxzevria, undergoes extremely robust safety and quality testing prior to becoming available for patients. We are committed to bringing safe, effective vaccines to Ireland and other markets as quickly as possible, and Charles River will continue to be an important partner in this regard.”

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