This year’s Beyond Conference took place in the Assembly Rooms in the heart of Edinburgh. Attracting leading academics and researchers, journalists and creative industry professionals, the conference presented a series of panels, talks, and 5-minute presentations from artists and business developers, focusing on AI, machine-learning and creative-led data.
The first day of the conference kicked off with introductory talks by Prof Chris Speed (University of Edinburgh), keynote Carly Kind (The Ada Lovelace Institute) and science and tech writer and conference host Gemma Milne. These were followed by four sessions where presenters explored the ways AI can enhance human capabilities.
The first of these four shorts was an exciting performance by ARS PRIX Electronica nominated artist and musician Harry Yeff/Reeps One/Reeps 100, who showcased his vocal artistry and discussed the role of AI and machine-learning in the field of experimental vocalism. In his talk, Parry Malm (Phrasee) explained AI-aided copywriting and highlighted the importance of language for brands’ success. CTO of ScriptBook, Michiel Ruelens discussed AI script analysis systems and the creation of DeepStory. This first part of the core conference programme concluded with Chanuki Seresinhe’s presentation of her work at the Alan Turing Institute and the intentions behind the founding of Popsa, a company that applies AI to curate visual content and produce exquisite keepsakes.
Ruelens and Seresinhe also joined Prof Dave Bull (University of Bristol) the first panel of the conference. Chaired by Prof Darren Cosker (University of Bath), this panel discussed whether contemporary AI tools are sophisticated enough to create content of any substance.
‘Imagine Me, Gentle Spectators’ was the second panel of the day and the conference. Chaired by Adam Ganz (StoryFutures), the panel included Prof Abigail Williams (University of Oxford), Guy Gadney (Charisma.AI) and Ian Hambleton (Maze Theory). Their panel explored the ways in which AI could potentially change the rules and experience of storytelling, both for narrators and audience. Drawing on their diverse backgrounds, the speakers suggests that these new tools and means of storytelling might have a place not only in entertainment but also education.
Other highlights of the first day were the talks given by artists and storytellers during the Creative Interludes. The first panel’s discussions on AI and its relationship to human creativity and the meaning of words carried through to Pip Thornton’s presentation. An artist and researcher, Thornton questioned the difference between the value and the price of words in an increasingly digital world. Artist Jake Elwes talked about the agency of the artist as opposed to AI’s ability to mimic visual tropes, and reflected on what would it mean to actually collaborate with AI in visual art production. Elwes discussed his work ‘Cusp’, which showcases the ways a photographic dataset learns from images of marsh birds and then generates images of creatures that fluctuates between the original images, and his latest work Zizi, a drag persona generated by AI datasets. The final speaker, Åste Amundsen (Computer Aided Theatre) continued the conference’s discussion of the uses of AI tools in performative modes of storytelling.
Beyond’s second day featured two main panels. The first panel, chaired by Chanuki Seresinhe, featured Sarah Coward (The Forever Project) and Brendan Miles (The List), who discussed the role of AI in the preservation and dissemination of knowledge and culture, as well as the most significant problems that platforms of recommendation and discovery posed. Other conversation topics included curatorial practices, fed by user data, data collection, and data-driven experiences. The second panel brought together keynote Karen Palmer (Storyteller from the Future and Artist), Angus Bancroft (University of Edinburgh) and Prof Michael Rovatsos (University of Edinburgh). Chaired by Nicola Osbourne (University of Edinburgh), the panel reflected on the ethical and political challenges of data-driven economy, possibilities of AI implementation in daily life, and the realities of algorithmic bias.
Day two of Beyond was punctuated by a series of short 5-minute talks. First of these was Lukas Dirzys (co-founder and CTO at Creative AI) whose talk introduced the audience to ways to revolutionise the systems that enable users to discover content and develop creative ideas. Vishal Kumar (Photogram.ai) introduced the company’s AI-accelerated software and hardware tools for modern photography. Ed Stack (Delic.Network) talked about the role of AI tools in the music industry and profit-for-artists platforms. Rony Seamons (AMPLYFI) discussed the future of business intelligence and the ways the company’s AI-powered tools can help business development by exposing and harvesting the information sources available on the Internet. Laura Smith (CEO and co-founder of Slanted Theory) introduced new ways of data visualisation through the incorporation of VR/AR/MR tools, disrupting traditional data representation.
The conference also included a number of fringe events that captured visitors’ attention in-between the conference proceedings. These included an Early-Career Researchers’ poster exhibition, showcasing the latest discoveries by young academics in UK Universities and a, Innovation Showcase, featuring projects creative research-led initiatives from across the country.
Photos from the conference are available to view here with session videos coming very soon. Feel free to sign up to the Beyond newsletter to be notified when videos are available and for the latest on Beyond 2020.