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lunedì 17 novembre 2014

Computer learns on how to become an art critic

Being a genius has almost meant to be misunderstood. Who observes a genius work or reads a successful book is thrilled for the necessary time to understand that yes, this artist is different, this picture or this book are telling me very interesting things. Maybe they're talking about me.

And it will take time to assimilate the true meaning of that work, because you don't yet have the knowledge and necessary experience to recognize as true what lies ahead, be this one a painting, or rather a book. At a shallow surface, the work of genius comes at human being and part of that is certainly recognized, but at a deeper level are miss those required associations to understand what the genius has seen and he wants us to tell. What is missing in people to recognize an author or an artistic movement, is currently being studied by researchers.

"So I was in this museum and I thought, it would be nice to instruct a computer to recognize the name of an artist only by one of his paintings, but not a known painting, but a new one at least unknown to the computer."

So says the Dr.Ahmed Elgammal, associate professor in the Department of Computer Science at Rutgers University in New Jersey.

"We're talking about machine learning. Our algorithm instructs computers to recognize art works. More precisely, our research's purpose was to instruct a machine to understand the artistic influences between an author and another in painting matter. "

on left Frederic Bazille - Bazille's Studio, 1870
on right Norman Rockwell - Shuffleton's Barber Shop, 1950

Prof.Elgammal's team worked on this project for three years . We are in Computer Vision, so we talk about recognizing objects algorithms, able to distinguish faces and people inside pictures, just like already do some photograph machines today or the Google and Facebook software during the uploading process of a photo.

Prof.Elgammal says that a picture can be represented generally by seven elements; space, form, shape, color, tone, line and texture. At the beginning of their research, however, they found that these parameters were not enough, so they had to introduce newer ones such as movement's recognition, unity representation, contrast and proportion. In addition they have also considered the subject of paintings, the represented objects, the type of strokes and the material. Finally, the historical context.

"Currently, there are some paintings databases all around the world, some others are shared projects and continue to grow. The classification is possible in this way, if each of us contributes to enrich the database itself. But make this work carried out by a machine makes things more interesting. It 's interesting because the machine can not only recognize the painter's style, but it can also recognize past painters who influenced him, that is an exclusive prerogative of an art critic. You see then, that the details of a picture can be so many that could also be lost by a very good critic of art history. "

I asked the professor to explain in general something about how his team has come to the algorithm.

"At the beginning of our study, we had to figure out which was the best mathematical representation of a painting in order to determine the artistic influences of the painter. Then, we keep notes of both similarities, between paintings and between artists. These three elements have been applied to our dataset of 1710 high resolution pictures. We are talking about works dating from 1412 to 1996, representing 13 different styles of 66 artists. In our dataset we have an average of 132 paintings for style and we can go from a maximum of 140 works by Paul Cézanne, up to only one work from Hans Hoffmann."

The styles examined by the team of professor Elgammal are expressionism, impressionism, renaissance (336 paintings), the period of romanticism, cubism, baroque, surrealism, post impressionism, american modernism (23 paintings), symbolism, pop art, neo-classicism and abstract art.

above Joan Miro The Farm, 1922

same scenarios, same objects, but different styles
Mirò was influenced by Van Gogh

"What we had to do - continues the professor - was first of all figure out what other scientists have produced about a similar problem. We looked at Thomas Lombardi studies for the recognition of a painter by different types of strokes. We studied the Bag of Words model used for example by Maria Khan to figure out who have made a painting looking at a possible choice of eight painters. Gustavo Carneiro studies instead, have been helpful to understand which was the best way to identify similarities between two paintings. So in short, Computer Vision have done so much in the past and is doing a lot now, but the study we have focused on in these three years has not been addressed by anyone. Finding out which artist has influenced a particular painter uploading a painting picture on a computer it was, and it is, frontier science in Artificial Intelligence field."

"And I imagine that this could become also a business."

"Yes, I've been already contacted by a couple of companies, but it was like more as a short talk on the model itself. I do not exclude however, that in the future they can get out applications using our algorithm. Let's think for example to those existing apps for smartphones able to recognize works at a museum or objects, as does, for example, the Google Goggles app. Perhaps our applications will be able to tell who were main contributors of the painter we are looking at. "

"And which results did you get since now?"

"For example Donatello was influenced by Mantegna and the flemish Van Eyck. But it is also true that Mantegna was in turn influenced by Donatello too. Caravaggio instead by RubensRaphael and Leonardo. Then it came out that Warhol had some influences of Degas and Rubens to Velazquez. Always Mantegna seems to have influenced Munch and Klimt. All these results have come out with a semantic abstraction level of our model. The method in fact which gave us the most reliable results was the so called "classeme". It's a model which encode the painting in a semantic space learned from today's everyday images found on the Internet.

Bag of Words model in computer vision

"Once we produced our own unique vector representing each painting, we applied Euclid to find out similarities between a painting and another. At this point, the accuracy of the results was satisfactory. We produced a series of graphs by grouping artists who most influenced each other. The concentration of painters in an area is a movement, an artistic current, where teachers guided other artists."

artists map

"Prof.Elgammal, considering the current state of research, do you believe is possible that these algorithms come to tell us if a person is a genius or if a child will be a genius in a particular field who may not yet know?"

"This is a good question." Professor Elgammal thinks about it for a while. "I must say that it would be a very interesting field of research, but it is not so easy to answer. Of course, if we talk about the genius in a particular field the chances increase. At a more general level maybe, I would try to work on brain's image. "

I conclude my interview with Dr.Elgammal asking him if he paints or has any passion in arts.

"Well, if I had time to do it, I'd love painting, yes. But I comfort myself with the fact that these studies are meeting the humanities field I wanted to learn in 80's. I was born in AlexandriaEgypt, and when I was young I wanted to be an archaeologist. Then, just before beginning university, I discovered computers and I started programming. So it was born a passion and that passion is now meeting the humanistic one through painting. As you can see, the distance between two such fields as art and computer is basically inversely proportional to our own curiosity. I am one of the many examples that this union is truly possible."

italian version

sabato 8 novembre 2014

House of Cards, limit is politics

Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi has never hidden his interest for House of Cards tv series, encouraging his staff rather than take it as a model, such as a user's guide. He was suddenly replied by Michael Dobbs, novel's author. We know he sent a note to Renzi, something like "So go back to bed good boy, these are oldmen stuff" "But I'm big man now!!" "Not enough to understand what is fiction and what is not"

In short, the desire to tell the world how Matteo understands politics was duped twice. Once when the world did not want to feel like a kid who want to play as a statesman and once when a professional politician as the same author Dobbs, did not seem able to play the game with Renzi replying him in a such too adult and boring way. He, who should understand about games and fictions.

"But the main character Frank Underwood is very cynical, I'm not like him" Said Renzi. "I rather think that power is the ability to charge the responsibilities of others."

And this is where I realized how Renzi understood nothing about the screenplay, such as Obama when he said he wanted a Frank Underwood in his government team, because " would be nice to see measures passed so fast!"

So, if you say to take House of Cards as model there you go, it is politics and Renzi is a politician, or at least, he would like to be. But if you make us understand then, that you didn't catch anything about the novel, it's like saying that you don't understand anything about politics.

Yet Kevin Spacey in its fluid scenes breaks, directly addressing the audience, must have said it more than once what 'power' is. In the 12th episode of the second season also said clearly what politics is, for those who, like Prime Minister Renzi, may have been left the meaning behind.

"It's the limit." Said Spacey. The limit beyond which you are betraying and before which nothing happens at all. An invisible line that only few people know and fewer ones dare to walk in. And the purpose, Frank Underwood is always used to obtain it, just as he metaphorically remembers when Jackie Sharp involuntarily touched his Civil War model.

"Oh, be careful!" Frank said close to his omnipresent wife. "It 's very delicate."
"What is that?" Asked deputy Sharp.
"One thing I'm working on for a looooong time."

And we all know about what Frank is working on with the help of his assistant Stamper and his wife Claire.

"And it's almost over ...." In a dialogue that reaches the highest peak of metaphor.

House of Cards has some blatant twists, not so many, and others are more frequent, but matters purely political facts. Dobbs created realistic dialogues, not so obvious at all, always telling about double games, blackmails and counterattacks that made the novel more close to reality. We must say that in some episodes it goes too long with technicalities not so familiar with the audience. These could may be unnecessary and redundant to the story. The second season begins with a great twist and then doze at least for five or six episodes. Just in time to bring another journalist into the scene and to awake the viewer with a situation's history briefing.

And there's a very good journalism in the series, especially in the first season and at the end of the second. Maybe rushed and not so likely when Zoe Barnes writes his pieces in two minutes from her phone and walking. But we do grant the authors' message; Publishing has changed and is still changing. The information is other then used to be in the past, and editors as the Slugline look much more like Google offices. We see a Zoe Barnes dismissed from the old and classic american newspaper finding a job by the new editor of Slugline.

House of Cards is the fabric that Spacey is weaving, day after day, with the only purpose of achieving the maximum power. Frank Underwood has suffered the decision of not being named Secretary of State as they planned with President Walker's staff and Walker himself sent him to be noticed by his staff's chief.

Unforgivable mistake.

And after a whole night passed at the window of his luxury apartment, smoking cigarettes, Frank returns to work with a big "smile" between his teeth and with an ambitious plan to be accomplished. 

He's the boss and if the paper does not say it yet, it will say it soon.

Ultimately, appreciable are so many small details in the series, such as the wall of the opposite's house we see from Underwood's house window, just to say how much Frank and his wife had little interest in material things but rather for power.

"There are those who accumulate money and those who accumulate power"

And to get the power you need to walk on the limit, the limit of what then, is only a detail.