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Microsoft’s image-captioning AI is pretty darn good at describing pictures like a human

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Microsoft has built a new AI image-captioning system that described photos more accurately than humans in limited tests.

The model has been added to Seeing AI, a free app for people with visual impairments that uses a smartphone camera to read text, identify people, and describe objects and surroundings.

It’s also now available to app developers through the Computer Vision API in Azure Cognitive Services, and will start rolling out in Microsoft Word, Outlook, and PowerPoint later this year.

The model can generate “alt text” image descriptions for web pages and documents, an important feature for people with limited vision that’s all-too-often unavailable.

“Ideally, everyone would include alt text for all images in documents, on the web, in social media – as this enables people who are blind to access the content and participate in the conversation,” said Saqib Shaikh, a software engineering manager at Microsoft’s AI platform group. “But, alas, people don’t. So, there are several apps that use image captioning as [a] way to fill in alt text when it’s missing.”

[Read: Microsoft unveils efforts to make AI more accessible to people with disabilities]

The algorithm now tops the leaderboard of an image-captioning benchmark called nocaps. Microsoft achieved this by pre-training a large AI model on a dataset of images paired with word tags — rather than full captions, which are less efficient to create. Each of the tags was mapped to a specific object in an image.

The pre-trained model was then fine-tuned on a dataset of captioned images, which enabled it to compose sentences. It then used its “visual vocabulary” to create captions for images containing novel objects.

Microsoft said the model is twice as good as the one it’s used in products since 2015. The image below shows how these improvements work in practice:

Credit: Microsoft
The legacy AI captioned this image as “A person sitting at a table using a laptop.” The new model described it as “A person using a microscope.”

However, the benchmark performance achievement doesn’t mean the model will be better than humans at image captioning in the real world. Harsh Agrawal, one of the creators of the benchmark, told The Verge that its evaluation metrics “only roughly correlate with human preferences” and that it “only covers a small percentage of all the possible visual concepts.”

Published October 15, 2020 — 11:21 UTC

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How VR is used by psychologists to profile your personality

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Virtual reality (VR) has the power to take us out of our surroundings and transport us to far-off lands. From a quick round of golf, to fighting monsters or going for a skydive, all of this can be achieved from the comfort of your home.

But it’s not just gamers who love VR and see its potential. VR is used a lot in psychology research to investigate areas such as social anxiety, moral decision-making and emotional responses. And in our new research we used VR to explore how people respond emotionally to a potential threat.

We knew from earlier work that being high up in VR provokes strong feelings of fear and anxiety. So we asked participants to walk across a grid of ice blocks suspended 200 meters above a snowy alpine valley.

[Read: What audience intelligence data tells us about the 2020 US presidential election]

We found that as we increased the precariousness of the ice block path, participants’ behavior became more cautious and considered – as you would expect. But we also found that how people behave in virtual reality can provide clear evidence of their personality. In that we were able to pinpoint participants with a certain personality trait based on the way they behaved in the VR scenario.

While this may be an interesting finding, it obviously raises concerns in terms of people’s data. As technology companies could profile people’s personality via their VR interactions and then use this information to target advertising, for example. And this clearly raises concerns about how data collected through VR platforms can be used.

Virtual fall

As part of our study, we used head-mounted VR displays and handheld controllers, but we also attached sensors to people’s feet. These sensors allowed participants to test out a block before stepping onto it with both feet.

As participants made their way across the ice, some blocks would crack and change colour when participants stepped onto them with one foot or both feet. As the experiment progressed, the number of crack blocks increased.

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We also included a few fall blocks. These treacherous blocks were identical to crack blocks until activated with both feet, when they shattered and participants experienced a short but uncomfortable virtual fall.

We found that as we increased the number of crack and fall blocks, participants’ behavior became more cautious and considered. We saw a lot more testing with one foot to identify and avoid the cracks and more time spent considering the next move.

But this tendency towards risk-averse behavior was more pronounced for participants with a higher level of a personality trait called neuroticism. People with high neuroticism are more sensitive to negative stimuli and potential threat.

Personality and privacy

We had participants complete a personality scale before performing the study. We specifically looked at neuroticism, as this measures the extent to which each person is likely to experience negative emotions such as anxiety and fear. And we found that participants with higher levels of neuroticism could be identified in our sample based on their behavior. These people did more testing with one foot and spent longer standing on “safe” solid blocks when the threat was high.

Neuroticism is one of the five major personality traits most commonly used to profile people. These traits are normally assessed by a self-report questionnaire, but can also be assessed based on behavior – as demonstrated in our experiment.

Our findings show how users of VR could have their personality profiled in a virtual world. This approach, where private traits are predicted based on implicit monitoring of digital behavior, was demonstrated with a dataset derived from Facebook likes back in 2013. This paved the way for controversial commercial applications and the Cambridge Analytica scandal – when psychological profiles of users were allegedly harvested and sold to political campaigns. And our work demonstrates how the same approach could be applied to users of commercial VR headsets, which raises major concerns for people’s privacy.

Users should know if their data is being tracked, whether historical records are kept, whether data can be traced to individual accounts, along with what the data is used for and who it can be shared with. After all, we wouldn’t settle for anything less if such a comprehensive level of surveillance could be achieved in the real world.The Conversation


This article is republished from The Conversation by Stephen Fairclough, Professor of Psychophysiology in the School of Psychology, Liverpool John Moores University under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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Samsung chairman Lee Kun-hee dies at 78

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Samsung Electronics has announced the death of its chairman, Lee Kun-hee. The company says he died on October 25th with family including his son, vice-chairman Lee Jae-yong, at his side. He was 78.

A cause of death was not given, but Lee had been incapacitated for many years after suffering a heart attack in 2014, causing him to withdraw from public life. Jae-yong, also known as Jay Y. Lee, has been widely assumed to take over upon his father’s passing and has been viewed as the de facto leader in recent years.

Lee Kun-hee was a controversial figure who played a huge part in pushing Samsung from a cheap TV and appliances maker to one of the most powerful technology brands in the world. He became the richest man in South Korea, with the Samsung group contributing around a fifth of the country’s GDP. In its statement, Samsung says that Lee’s declaration of “new management” in 1993 was “the motivating driver of the company’s vision to deliver the best technology to help advance global society.”

Lee also often found himself in legal trouble. He was convicted of bribing President Roh Tae-woo through a slush fund in 1995, and of tax evasion and embezzlement in 2008, but was pardoned twice. The second pardon came in 2009 and was made “so that Lee could take back his place at the International Olympic Committee and form a better situation for the 2018 Olympics to take place in Pyongchang,” South Korea’s justice minister said at the time.

Lee’s passing will reignite inevitable speculation over the succession process. While Lee Jae-yong has long been groomed to become chairman, he’s had legal issues of his own since his father’s incapacitation, spending almost a year in jail for his role in the corruption scandal that brought down former South Korean president Park Geun-hye. South Korean law also means that anyone assuming Lee’s assets will face paying several billion dollars in inheritance tax, which might force them to reduce their stake in the company.

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Samsung chairman dies at age 78

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Lee Kun-hee, the long-time chairman of Samsung Group who transformed the conglomerate into one of the world’s largest business empires, died today at the age of 78, according to reports from South Korean leading news agency Yonhap.

The story of Samsung is deeply intertwined with the history of its home country, which is sometimes dubbed “The Republic of Samsung.” Lee, the son of Samsung founder Lee Byung-chul, came to power in the late 1980s just as South Korea transitioned from dictatorship to democracy with the political handover from military strongman Chun Doo-hwan to Roh Tae-woo. Under his management, Samsung spearheaded initiatives across a number of areas in electronics, including semiconductors, memory chips, displays, and other components that are the backbone of today’s digital devices.

Lee navigated the challenging economic troubles of the 1990s, including the 1998 Asian financial crisis, which saw a near collapse of the economies of South Korea and several other so-called Asian Tigers, as well as the Dot-Com bubble, which saw the collapse of internet stocks globally.

Coming out of those challenging years, Lee invested in and is probably most famous today for building up the conglomerate’s Galaxy consumer smartphone line, which evolved Samsung from an industrial powerhouse to a worldwide consumer brand. Samsung Electronics, which is just one of a spider web of Samsung companies, is today worth approximately $350 billion, making it among the most valuable companies in the world.

While his business acumen and strategic insights handling Samsung were lauded, he faced troubles in recent years. He was convicted of tax evasion in the late 2000s, but was ultimately pardoned by the country’s then president Lee Myung-bak (no relation).

Samsung has also been under fire from groups including Elliott Management over chairman Lee’s attempts to secure the financial future of Samsung for his son, Lee Jae-yong, who took over effective leadership of the conglomerate following the elder Lee’s heart attack in 2014. Lee Jae-yong has suffered his own run-ins with the law, having been found guilty of bribery and sentenced to five years in prison, which was ultimately suspended by a judge.

After his heart attack, Lee Kun-hee remained hospitalized in stable condition according to Yonhap. Rumors of his condition have percolated in the six years since.

According to Bloomberg, Lee leaves behind roughly $20 billion in wealth, and he is the wealthiest South Korean citizen. He is survived by his wife as well as four children.

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