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Evolving Mona Lisa

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Last month I pointed to a stunt (er, experiment?) in which the Mythbusters painted Leonardo's Mona Lisa using a computer-controlled paint gun. Now, programmer Roger Alsing has written an evolving program to "paint" Mona Lisa using just 50 polygons. "Huh?" you may say. Well, let's let Alsing explain the steps his program runs:

0) Setup a random DNA string (application start)

1) Copy the current DNA sequence and mutate it slightly
2) Use the new DNA to render polygons onto a canvas
3) Compare the canvas to the source image
4) If the new painting looks more like the source image than the previous painting did, then overwrite the current DNA with the new DNA
5) repeat from 1

The "DNA" is just the instructions to draw the polygons -- what their shape, size, position, and color are. By stepping through the instructions above, Alsing's program draws a random picture, compares its picture to the real Mona Lisa, and slowly the program converges on a solution that looks surprisingly like the real thing. Here's a comparison the first frame (all black) to the final frame (after 904,314 "generations" of running the rules above):

This is called "genetic programming" because it evolves its way to a solution, using a selection process (in this case, comparison to the real Mona Lisa) to select new generations' DNA. Alsing's program took about three hours to generate its Mona Lisa, running on a laptop. Read the FAQ or view selected generations for more nerdy goodness.

(Via Waxy.org.)

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A Voice Recognition App Adds Sound Effects While You Read to Your Kids
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iStock

Technology is coming for kids’ story time, but maybe not in the way that you think. The future of bedtime stories, as MIT Technology Review describes it, won’t involve tablets or reading off screens, but it will have sound effects.

Novel Effect is an app that uses voice recognition to track the bedtime stories you’re reading to your kids and insert sound effects and music in response to certain cue words. It’s similar to a home assistant, such as the Amazon Echo or Google Home, except instead of playing music and setting kitchen timers for you, it’s on the ear-out for keywords contained in certain kids’ books.

Four mobile app screenshots side-by-side of the Novel Effect app.
Novel Effect

The app doesn’t work for all titles, but it offers effects for popular books you probably already own, like Where the Wild Things Are, The Hungry Caterpillar, and The Cat in the Hat. When you open the app on your phone, you select which book you plan to read. As you read the physical book out loud, the app listens for where you are in the text and adds sound effects, from dramatic music to monstrous roars.

It’s not going to trigger odd sound effects every time you say the word “caterpillar,” though. (Unlike the Amazon Echos that heard the words “Alexa, buy me a dollhouse” on a TV news report and rushed to fulfill the order.) The words have to correspond to the book you’ve selected in the app, though you don’t have to read the text from the beginning or keep any specific time. The app can recognize where you are in the book no matter where you start or whether you dive off into a tangent about how cool caterpillars are before resuming the story.

Novel Effect is part of Amazon’s Alexa Accelerator for voice recognition technology, and it seems feasible that one day this kind of functionality would be a skill you could enable on your Echo or other voice-controlled assistant. According to MIT Technology Review, the company hopes to allow users to create their own sound effects sometime in the near future.

[h/t MIT Technology Review]

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Volkswagen
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Volkswagen Introduces Electric Version of Classic Microbus
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Volkswagen

Following the success of the compact Volkswagen Beetle, German automaker Volkswagen expanded its line in 1950 with the release of the Type 2. Customers preferred a less clinical name, opting to call it the camper, the bus, or the transporter. Able to tote mass quantities of counter-culture protesters, the Volkswagen bus became a symbol in antiwar movements of the 1960s before disappearing to the scrap heap of expired popular culture.

Recently, the company has doubled down on claims it would be revisiting it as a smaller vehicle. At a recent presentation at a Pebble Beach charity car expo, Volkswagen announced the bus—previously identified as the I.D. Buzz—would be returning in 2022 as a fully electric and consolidated version of the classic.

A look at the interior of the Volkswagen Microbus
Volkswagen

CEO Herbert Diess said that prototype versions of the vehicle on display at recent trade shows led to encouraging feedback that convinced the company to move forward. The I.D. Buzz is expected to have 369 horsepower, a considerable boost from the 25 of the original, and might implement self-driving elements. The concept car—which may or may not make it to roads with all of the same features—has a retractable wheel and movable seats when autonomy is engaged. The future of cars is looking more and more like a portable living room.

[h/t Inhabitat]

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