On the march to the robot apocalypse

0724_brainiacDesktopKevin Hartnett at The Boston Globe:

Here’s a fun game: Tap your finger against a surface, but before you do, predict the sound it will make. Did you get it right? If not, you better practice, because pretty soon a robot’s going to play this game better than you can.

On the march to the robot apocalypse, the ability to perform such a quirky task may not seem especially portentous, but new research out of MIT demonstrates why such a capacity lays the foundation for far more sophisticated actions.

Andrew Owens, a PhD student in MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, and his collaborators presented the research at a conference in Las Vegas last month. There they explained how they’d engineered a computer algorithm that can “watch” silent video of a drumstick striking different kinds of objects and create a sound that, in many cases, closely matches the one generated by the actual event.

“The computer has to know a lot about the physical world,” says Owens. “It has to know what material you’re hitting, that a cushion is different than a rock or grass. It also has to know something about the action you’re taking. If you’re [striking the surface] hard, it should be a loud sound loud, if soft, a softer sound.”

more here.