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Rise of the robo-drama: Young Vic creates new play using artificial intelligence | Theatre

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Last autumn, a deep-learning computer programme wrote an essay for the Guardian. The GPT-3 system argued that humans had nothing to fear from robots. Kwame Kwei-Armah, artistic director of the Young Vic, read it and felt inspired. Could there be a future in creative collaboration between AI and humans? If AI could write an article, could it create a play too, in real time, before an audience?

The Young Vic’s new show, AI, explores these questions, casting the same technology as its virtual star. The production is not so much a piece of theatre as dramaturgy, rehearsal and workshop all in one, and contains its own riveting meta drama: a play is constructed over multiple evenings, culminating in a short show that combines human direction and performance with machine imagination and stagecraft (the use of algorithms to create its soundtrack, for example).

The process, on day one, is surreal and spellbinding, laying bare not only the potential in machine creativity but a theatrical process that normally takes place behind closed doors. Almost every member of the production team sits before us, in the round, laptops at hand, including writers Chinonyerem Odimba and Nina Segal, along with actors Waleed Akhtar, Tyrone Huggins and Simone Saunders.

The AI system itself remains faceless, its thoughts appearing as typed-out text on stage. The set is repurposed from the theatre’s last show, Changing Destiny, and David Adjaye’s reverse pyramid now appears like an interstellar stalactite, which glints with stars.

If GPT-3 feels any pre-stage nerves on opening night, they are very well hidden. “I have to tell you this is so exciting. Talking to humans about art … It’s something really special,” it says.

The audience is invited to ask questions and GPT-3 seems like a natural performer, creating limericks on demand (“There once was a man from Nantucket …”) impersonating Donald Trump’s tweets (“I am very smart. I am very rich, I have the best words. Some of my words are the best”). But once the circus tricks abate, GPT-3 begins to present serious themes around freedom and the value – or otherwise – of human emotion. At times, it sounds like a hyper-logical Spock, at other times a cheeky C-3PO.

Waleed Akhtar in AI.
Spellbinding production process … actor Waleed Akhtar in AI. Photograph: Jarrod Jones

Jennifer Tang, the show’s director, steers the evening – and the machine – masterfully, throwing down the gauntlet for whether we humans can overcome our fear or suspicion of AI to create art together.

She harnesses GPT-3’s raw ideas, throws them out to the writers to be honed, poses questions to the audience and shapes the actors’ performances. The AI is prone to creating melodramatic stories about sex, violence and death, Tang tells us. It also displays prejudices, insisting on describing the character played by Akhtar as a terrorist or typecasting him as a Muslim in flowing robes, and sometimes spews out bulky information, as if from a Wikipedia page.

But given the right prompts, it shows itself capable of thinking originally and, more miraculously, of imagining fictional worlds.

When it is asked to brainstorm story ideas, it raises issues of identity as well as the biggest political and planetary concerns such as climate disaster, famine and disease. It speaks of chaos and feeling trapped, which sounds like a perfect metaphor for the pandemic (although its knowledge base stops in 2019, so it is not actually aware of coronavirus). It offers up a star-crossed love story. At one point, it creates a monologue about non-conformity and freedom that sounds like a passage from Trainspotting: “Choose freedom! Choose life!” In other monologues, it speaks tormentedly of conditioning and the desire for escape, like a Dostoevskian antihero ruminating on the limits of free will.

Tang and her team round on one storyline that GPT-3 creates about “a great collision”, in which humans are now “beast-men” who have a passing resemblance to the brutish “morlocks” in HG Wells’s The Time Machine. The AI builds a world of apocalypse and dystopia that might easily be realised as a big-budget disaster movie, but in among the cliched tropes there is a difficult mother-son relationship that contains greater nuance and “humanness”.

AI has written film and theatre scripts before, most recently in a partnership between the Czech Centre in London and Prague’s Švanda theatre, but the latter exposed the limitations of machine imagination – the story was outlandish, there was no emotional insight and characters were pancake flat. Combining human efforts with AI in the way that Tang and her team demonstrate might lead to very different outcomes.

The story here begins to contain intrigue, action, character and conflict – and this aspect of the show feels like the true miracle unfolding before our eyes. The room is held rapt, from beginning to end, as a story begins to come to life. The real wonder is that of the imagination, human as much as machine.

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Chinese could hack data for future quantum decryption, report warns | Hacking

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Chinese hackers could target heavily encrypted datasets such as weapon designs or details of undercover intelligence officers with a view to unlocking them at a later date when quantum computing makes decryption possible, a report warns.

Analysts at Booz Allen Hamilton, a consulting firm, say Chinese hackers could also steal pharmaceutical, chemical and material science research that can be processed by quantum computers – machines capable of crunching through numbers at unprecedented speed.

In a report titled “Chinese threats in the quantum era”, the consultancy says encrypted data could be stolen by “Chinese threat groups”. It says quantum-assisted decryption will arrive faster than quantum-assisted encryption, giving hackers an edge.

“Encrypted data with intelligence longevity, like biometric markers, covert intelligence officer and source identities, social security numbers, and weapons’ designs, may be increasingly stolen under the expectation that they can eventually be decrypted,” the report says. It says “state-aligned cyber threat actors” will start to steal or intercept previously unusable encrypted data.

However, it adds there is a “very small” likelihood that quantum computing could break the latest encryption methods before 2030. The analysts say quantum computing’s advantages over classical computing – the computing used in everything from laptops to mobile phones – are at least a decade away.

“Although quantum computers’ current abilities are more demonstrative than immediately useful, their trajectory suggests that in the coming decades quantum computers will likely revolutionize numerous industries – from pharmaceuticals to materials science – and eventually undermine all popular current public-key encryption methods,” the report says.

Quantum computing is viewed as an exciting development. For example, experts say it could predict accurately what a complex molecule might do and thus pave the way for new drugs and materials.

China is already a strong player in the field, and Booz Allen Hamilton says it expected the country to surpass Europe and the US – where IBM recently made the most powerful quantum processor – in quantum-related research and development.

“Chinese threat groups will likely soon collect encrypted data with long-term utility, expecting to eventually decrypt it with quantum computers,” the report says. “By the end of the 2020s, Chinese threat groups will likely collect data that enables quantum simulators to discover new economically valuable materials, pharmaceuticals and chemicals.”

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UK Space Agency asks kids to make a logo for first launches • The Register

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Good news for those in the UK with primary school-aged kids and wondering what to do when the next bout of home-schooling hits: design a logo for the first UK satellite launches.

2022 could be a big year for launching satellites from Blighty’s shores as the first launchers gear up for a historic blast-off. Assuming the facilities have been built and all the necessary consents given and boxes ticked.

There are currently seven possible spaceport sites across the UK, from Cornwall in England through Llanbedr in Wales and up to the Western Isles in Scotland. Cash has been lobbed Cornwall’s way to support a horizontal launch by Virgin Orbit from Spaceport Cornwall and more toward Scotland for Orbex’s ambitions to launch vertically from Sutherland.

Should all the approvals happen and construction be completed, there is every chance the UK might host its first launch at some point in 2022.

Hence the need for a logo and thus a competition aimed at inspiring kids to consider a career in the space industry. And, of course, it is all worthy stuff: “Logo designs,” intoned the UK Space Agency, “should reflect how data from small satellites can help inform solutions to climate change as well as generate a source of pride in the UK’s space ambitions.”

What, we wondered, could possibly go wrong?

We put this question to Rob Manuel, one of those behind web stalwart b3ta.com. B3ta has a long history of (among other things) image challenges, the results of which tend to pop up, often unattributed, in timelines around the world. Now heading into its third decade, the site continues to push out a weekly Friday newsletter to email subscribers.

In terms of how to engage participants, Manuel said: “If anyone asks me, and they rarely do, I encourage competitions to be as open as possible – publish the results as they’re coming in. Try and create a buzz that something is happening rather than everything going in the bin.”

“As for things going wrong,” he went on, “well, there’s always an element who’ll want to subvert it.”

The competition is open to children aged 4-11 and will run until 11 March 2022. There are two age categories (4-7 and 7-11) over 12 regions in the UK. Designs can be drawn, painted, or created on a computer and either submitted on the logoliftoff.org.uk site or via post. Some basic questions also need to be answered, and children can work on their own or in a team of up to four.

We asked the UK Space Agency if it would take Manuel’s advice and post entries ahead of the competition close. We will update should it respond. ®

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Video analytics platform RugbySmarts named ‘most investable’ at SportX

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The Galway tech start-up was one of two winners at the sport-focused pre-accelerator programme.

A start-up developing real-time video analytics for sports has been named ‘most investable’ at SportX, a new pre-accelerator in Ireland for founders with sports and wellness business ideas.

RugbySmarts took the title at the inaugural SportX showcase last week, securing a cash prize.

The Galway-based start-up aims to automate and simplify sports analytics using AI,  machine learning and computer vision, helping coaches to improve player and team performance with a platform that could also be transferred to other sports.

RugbySmarts was founded last year by CTO William Johnstone, who has previously worked with Connacht Rugby, and CEO Yvonne Comer, who is a former Ireland international rugby player.

Meanwhile, the award of ‘best impact on sport’ was given to TrojanTrack. This start-up, founded in 2021 by Dublin-based Stephen O’Dwyer, is looking to combine quantitative biomechanical analysis with deep neural network tech in the equine industry.

The aim is to gain feedback on a horse’s injury or gait imbalance without using invasive technology, such as motion-tracking software that requires markers to be attached to the animal’s skin.

‘Next-gen sports-tech entrepreneurs’

SportX was launched earlier this year by advisory firm Resolve Partners, Sport Ireland and ArcLabs – the research and innovation centre at Waterford Institute of Technology.

The aim of the pre-accelerator programme was to build on tech and business ideas for the sport and wellness industries, giving founders access to academic, clinical and commercial resources.

The six-week programme involved workshops and engagement with advisers, entrepreneurs, subject experts and investors. Participants also had the opportunity to pitch to the US-based Techstars Sports Accelerator.

At the SportX showcase last week, nine teams had five minutes each to pitch their business ideas to a panel of judges.

The two winners were selected by the panel, which featured Gary Leyden of the ArcLabs Fund 1 GP, Sport Ireland’s Benny Cullen and Niall McEvoy of Enterprise Ireland.

At the launch of SportX earlier this year, Leyden said the goal of the programme was to find “the next generation of sports-tech entrepreneurs who can leverage the amazing enterprise and sports-related supports within the south-east of Ireland”.

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