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The Open Letter-Off of '07

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Over the past few weeks, the web has been buzzing with competing open letters about Digital Rights Management, all starting from a post on February 6 by Steve Jobs. We break down the dialog after the jump, in excruciating detail....

It started on February 6, when Steve Jobs posted his Thoughts on Music, an open letter on the Apple web site. Jobs wrote about Apple's FairPlay DRM (Digital Rights Management) system, which is used to prevent copying music sold by the iTunes Store. The point of the letter is that Jobs believes DRM limits consumer choice, and is ultimately ineffective -- he points out that the vast majority of music sold today is on CD's, which contain no DRM. A central point of the letter is that Jobs believes Apple's FairPlay DRM system cannot be opened up to other companies, as it would inevitably be cracked by someone, and music companies have contractually obligated Apple to repair any such problems within a fixed period of time -- something that would become impractical in a landscape where many companies implemented their own versions of FairPlay. Jobs appears to have written the letter in an effort to deflect European legal pressures on iTunes, trying to shift the focus onto music companies, since they're the ones who demand DRM be used to protect music sold online.

Later that day, Jon Johanson (aka "DVD Jon," a cracker who broke DVD encryption some years back) responded with a blog post disputing Jobs' statistics and an open letter to Jobs suggesting that iTunes could implement a system for selling DRM-free music within "2-3 days."

On February 7, Mitch Bainwol of the RIAA (Recording Industry Association of America) appeared to miss the point, encouraging Apple to open its FairPlay technology to competing companies. This despite the fact that Jobs had already explicitly rejected this possibility in the original open letter, along with a fairly lengthy explanation of why it wouldn't work.

Later on February 7, The Economist weighed in, with an unsigned editorial (read: open letter) on the issue. On the whole they agree with Jobs, though the editorial details how Jobs has changed his tune on DRM over the years. Norway's Consumer Council also got in on the action, suggesting that Jobs was simply trying to divert European legal attention to the music companies and away from Apple (their suggestion was that if he believes DRM is a problem, he should simply solve it, rather than calling for consumers to petition the music industry).

On February 9, Warner Music executive Edgar Bronfman suggested that Jobs' proposal was without logic and merit. Bronfman didn't post his own open letter, he just gave a brief statement to BBC News. On the same day, Michael Robertson, founder of MP3.com, posted an open letter, suggesting that Jobs put his money where his mouth is and start selling DRM-free music, as well as opening up the iPod's technology to competitors.

On February 10, MPEG Chairman Leonardo Chiariglione posted an open letter responding to Jobs, pointing out some flaws in the original open letter and suggesting methods by which DRM could be standardized and adopted worldwide.

On February 12, Yahoo Music head Dave Goldberg came out against DRM, essentially agreeing with Jobs (though it's unclear whether Goldberg's comments were originally made in response to Jobs' open letter).

On February 18, Macrovision CEO Fred Amoroso wrote his own open letter, in which he (among other things) offered to take Apple's FairPlay DRM system and incorporate it into the Macrovision stable of products. Again, this appears to miss Jobs' original statement that this was not going to happen. Are these guys even reading each others' open letters? (Read a non-marketing-ese translation of Amoroso's letter.)

The torrent of open letters (and analysis of the open letters) continues -- if anything significant happens, we'll be sure to write an open letter about it.

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technology
ABBA Is Going on Tour—As Holograms
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AFP/Stringer/Getty Images

Missed your chance to watch ABBA perform live at the peak of their popularity? You’re in luck: Fans will soon be able to see the group in concert in all their chart-topping, 1970s glory—or rather, they’ll be able to see their holograms. As Mashable reports, a virtual version of the Swedish pop band is getting ready to go on tour.

ABBA split up in 1982, and the band hasn't been on tour since. (Though they did get together for a surprise reunion performance in 2016.) All four members of ABBA are still alive, but apparently not up for reentering the concert circuit when they can earn money on a holographic tour from the comfort of their homes.

The musicians of ABBA have already had the necessary measurements taken to bring their digital selves to life. The final holograms will resemble the band in the late 1970s, with their images projected in front of physical performers. Part of the show will be played live, but the main vocals will be lifted from original ABBA records and recordings of their 1977 Australian tour.

ABBA won’t be the first musical act to perform via hologram. Tupac Shakur, Michael Jackson, and Dean Martin have all been revived using the technology, but this may be one of the first times computerized avatars are standing in for big-name performers who are still around. ABBA super-fans will find out if “SOS” still sounds as catchy from the mouths of holograms when the tour launches in 2019.

[h/t Mashable]

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Art
6 Great (and Not-So-Great) Works of Art Made by Robots
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Robin Van Lonkhuijsen/AFP/Getty Images

Cold, calculating, unfeeling—none of the stereotypes associated with robots seem to describe makers of great art. But that hasn’t stopped roboticists from trying to engineer the next Picasso in a lab. Some machines and algorithms are capable of crafting works impressive enough to fool even the toughest critics. As for the rest of the robot artists and writers out there, let’s just say they won’t have creative types fearing for their jobs anytime soon. 

1. A BEATLES-ESQUE POP SONG

If you heard the song above at a party or in a crowded store, you might assume it’s just a generic pop tune. But if you listened closer, you’d hear the dissonant vocals and nonsense lyrics that place this number in the sonic equivalent of the uncanny valley. “Daddy’s Car” was composed by an artificial intelligence system from the Sony CSL Research Laboratory. After analyzing sheet music from a variety of artists and genres, the AI generated the words, harmony, and melody for the song. A human composer chose the style (1960s Beatles-style pop) and did the producing and mixing, but other than that the music is all machine. It may not have topped the pop charts, but the song did give us the genius lyric: “Down on the ground, the rainbow led me to the sun.”

2. A NOVEL THAT MADE IT PAST THE FIRST ROUND OF A FICTION CONTEST

Will the next War and Peace be written by a complex computer algorithm? Probably not, but that isn’t to say that AI can’t compose some serviceable fiction with help from human minds. In 2016, a team of Japanese researchers invented a program and fed it the plot, characters, and general structure of an original story. They also wrote sentences for the system to choose from, so the content of the novel relied heavily on humans. But the final product and the work required to string the components together was made possible by AI. The researchers submitted the story to Japan's Nikkei Hoshi Shinichi Literary Contest where it made it past the first round of judging. Though one notable Japanese author praised the novel for its structure, he also said there were some character description issues holding it back.

3. A 'NEW' REMBRANDT PAINTING

Robin Van Lonkhuijsen/AFP/Getty Images

In 2016, a 3D printer did something extraordinary: It produced a brand new painting in the spirit of a long-dead artist. The piece, titled “The Next Rembrandt,” would fit right in at an exhibition of art from the 17th-century Dutch painter. But this work is entirely modern. Bas Korsten, creative director at the Amsterdam-based advertising firm J. Walter Thompson, had a computer program analyze 346 Rembrandt paintings over 18 months. Every element of the final image, from the age of the subject and the color of his clothes to the physical brushstrokes, is reminiscent of the artist’s distinct style. But while it’s good enough to fool the amateur art fan, it failed to hold up under scruntiny from Rembrandt experts.

4. DREARY LOVE POETRY

What do you get when you dump thousands of unpublished romance novels into an AI system? Some incredibly bleak poetry, as Google discovered in 2016. The purpose of the neural network was to connect two separate sentences from a book into one whole thought. The result gave us such existential gems as this excerpt:

"there is no one else in the world.
there is no one else in sight.
they were the only ones who mattered.
they were the only ones left.
he had to be with me.
she had to be with him.
i had to do this.
i wanted to kill him.
i started to cry."

To be fair, the algorithm was designed to construct natural-sounding sentences rather than write great verse. But that doesn’t stop the passages from sounding oddly poetic.

5. A CREEPY CHRISTMAS SONG

Christmas songs rely heavily on formulas and cliches, aka ideal neural network fodder. So you’d think that an AI program would be capable of whipping up a fairly decent holiday tune, but a project from the University of Toronto proved this isn’t as easy as it sounds. Their algorithm was prompted to compose the song above based on a digital image of a Christmas tree. From there it somehow came up with trippy lyrics like, “I’ve always been there for the rest of our lives.”

6. A CROWDSOURCED ABSTRACT PAINTING

Art made by a robot.
Instapainter

The image above was painted by the mechanical arm of a robot, but naming the true artist of the piece gets complicated. That’s because the robotic painter was controlled by multiple users on the internet. In 2015, the commissioned art service Instapainting invited the online community at Twitch to crowdsource a painting. The robot, following script commands over a 36-hour period, produced what looks like graffiti-inspired abstract art. More impressive than the painting itself was the fact that the machine was able to paint it at all. Instapainting founder Chris Chen told artnet, “It was a $250 machine slapped together with quickly written software, so running it for that long was an endurance test.”

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