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Artwork created with artificial intelligence fetches more than $400K US at major auction

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The computer-printed Portrait of Edmond Belamy earned nearly 45 times its high estimate when it went under the hammer at Christie’s in New York.

The sale marks the first time the historic auction house has sold any piece created by artificial intelligence. The sale of the print to an anonymous bidder for $432,500 US is also notable because the portrait was only expected to fetch a maximum of $10,000 US.

Pierre Fautrel, co-founder of the team of French entrepreneurs called OBVIOUS which produces art using artificial intelligence, stands next to a work of art created by an algorithm titled Portrait of Edmond Belamy. (Timothy A. Clary/AFP/Getty Images)

The work was developed by an art collective called Obvious, three 25-year-old  French students. 

The portrait is a dark and blurry image of what appears to be a historic painting of a gentleman, in a gold frame, complete with a signature that’s not a person’s name, but rather a small bit of the code used to create it.

The GAN algorithm

The algorithm is called GAN, (Generative Adversarial Network) and has two parts. The first, the generator, spits out images based on a very large bank of portraits fed to it. For Portrait of Edmond Belamy, 15,000 historical portraits were inputted into the system.

The second part, the discriminator, tries to figure out which images are human made and which are AI created. 

The Belamy was one of the portraits that fooled the computer into thinking it was human generated. The collective has created a total of eleven portraits, as part of a fictional Belamy family series, all with the help of AI.  

The selling at a major auction house of a work generated using AI raises many questions about art that AI researchers are just starting to grapple with.

A close up of the signature on the Portrait of Edmond Belamy by French collective OBVIOUS, which produces art using artificial intelligence. The work, estimated at $7,000-10,000 US, sold for $432,000 US at Christie’s in New York. (Timothy A. Clary/AFP/Getty Images)

Who should get the proceeds of the sale, if, as in this case, part of the code used was actually created by someone else?

The Obvious collective acknowledges they borrowed the algorithm of Robbie Barrat, a 19-year-old artist and programmer, however, he’d shared his work online as open source code.

However, the money is going to Obvious, not Barrat.

“The proceeds from the recent and forthcoming sales will be used to further the collective’s research into training its algorithm and to finance the computation power needed to produce this type of artwork,” a Christie’s spokesperson told CBC News.

What is art?

In addition to assessing the value of the art, there are also concerns about whether an image created by AI should truly be considered art. What about if a human audience can’t tell it was a machine that created it? Or, if humans feel inspired by machine made works – does it then qualify as art?

For artists who use AI as a tool, the big question likely is, ‘Who is the artist here, the human or the machine?”

In any case, this big, flashy sale has blasted all these discussions out of the world of AI computer labs, and out onto the world stage to consider and debate. 

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The ‘Maple Majestic’ wants to be Canada’s homegrown Tesla

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Look out Tesla, Canada has a homegrown electric sedan on the way. Well, that’s if AK International Motor Corporation can drum up enough investment to make its EV a reality. Dubbed the “Maple Majestic,” the vehicle is a battery-electric designed to “excel in extreme climate performance without adversely affecting the climate, as befits a vehicle from Canada,” according to its website.

What’s in a name? — The company says the maple leaf is a “symbol of Canada’s warmth and friendliness towards all cultures,” while “majestic” refers to the country’s “status as a Constitutional Monarchy.”

That patriotism carries over into Maple Majestic’s parent company’s lofty goals. AK Motor founder Arkadiusz Kaminski says he wants the company, which he founded in 2012, to become “Canada’s first multi-brand automotive OEM,” and that the “Maple Majestic is intended to be Canada’s flagship brand of automobiles on the world stage.”

Partnerships are key — “We acknowledge that the best chance for the Maple Majestic brand to succeed, lies in continuing to build the relationship with Canada’s parts suppliers and technological innovators, whether they be academic institutions, corporations, or individual inventors,” the company explains. “We are currently seeking partners in automotive engineering, parts manufacturing, automotive assembly, electric propulsion technology, battery technology, autonomous technology, and hybrid power generation technology.”

In other words, don’t expect to be able to buy a Maple Majestic any time soon… and don’t expect to pour over 0-60 mph times, power output, range, or other key stats, because those don’t currently exist. For now, all we have are pictures and a short video clip. But at least those are arresting.

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PE-backed Quorum Software to merge with Canadian energy tech firm

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Houston-based energy technology company Quorum Software will merge with a Canadian tech firm to bolster its presence in oil and gas services.

Quorum announced Feb. 15 it plans to merge with Calgary, Alberta-based Aucerna, a global provider of planning, execution and reserves software for the energy sector. The combined firm will operate under the Quorum Software brand.

Gene Austin, CEO of Quorum Software, will continue in his capacity as chief executive of the combined firm. Austin, former CEO of Austin-based marketing tech firm Bazaarvoice Inc., became CEO of Quorum in December 2018.

Aucerna co-founder and CEO Wayne Sim will be appointed to the Quorum Software board of directors. Both companies are backed by San Francisco- and Chicago-based private equity firm Thoma Bravo.

“Over the last 20 years, Quorum has become the leading innovator of software deployed by North American energy companies,” said Austin. “Today, Quorum is expanding the scope of our technology and expertise to all energy-producing regions of the globe. Customers everywhere will have access to a cloud technology ecosystem that connects decision-ready data from operations to the boardroom.”

In addition to the merger announcement, Quorum Software announced it had entered into an agreement with Finnish IT firm TietoEvry to purchase TietoEvry’s entire oil and gas business. The agreement, which includes hydrocarbon management, personnel and material logistics software and related services, is valued at 155 million euros, or $188 million, according to a statement from TietoEvry.

“Our three organizations complement each other — from the software that our great people design to the energy markets where we operate,” said Sim. “Our new company will be able to deliver value to our stakeholders, while accelerating the growth of our combined business and the energy industry’s software transformation.”

The combined company will serve over 1,800 energy companies in 55 countries, according to the announcement. With its headquarters in Houston, Quorum will continue to have a significant presence in Calgary and in Norway, the headquarters for TietoEvry’s oil and gas software business. Quorum will have other offices throughout North America, Latin America, Europe, Asia and the Middle East.

As of Sept. 30, 2020, private equity firm Thoma Bravo had more than $73 billion in assets under management. In late December 2020, Thoma Bravo agreed to acquire Richardson, Texas-based tech firm RealPage in a roughly $10 billion acquisition.

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Piece of Kitchener technology lands on Mars on Perseverance rover

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KITCHENER — A piece of Kitchener technology has landed on Mars, thanks to NASA’s Perseverance rover.

The rover settled on the planet’s surface on Thursday afternoon. It’s been travelling through space since it was launched from Cape Canaveral, Fla. in July.

“The whole idea of being on a device that we’re sending to another plant with the express mission of looking for traces of past life, it’s pretty mind boggling actually,” said Rafal Pawluczyk, chief technical officer for FiberTech Optica.

The Kitchener-based company made fibre optic cables for the rover’s SuperCam that will examine samples with a camera, laser and spectrometers.

“The cables that we built take the light from that multiplexer and deliver it to each spectrograph,” Pawluczyk said.

The cables connect a device on the rover to the SuperCam, which will be used to examine rock and soil samples, to spectrometers. They’ll relay information from one device to another.

The project started four years ago with a connection to Los Alamos National Lab, where the instruments connected to the cables were developed.

“We could actually demonstrate we can design something that will meet their really hard engineering requirements,” Pawluczyk said.

The Jezero Crater is where the Perseverance rover, with FiberTech Optica’s technology onboard, landed Thursday. Scientists believe it was once flooded with water and is the best bet for finding any evidence of life. FiberTech’s cables will help that in that search.

Ioannis Haranas, an astrophysicist and professor at Wilfrid Laurier University, said the rover isn’t looking for “green men.”

“They’re looking for microbial, single-cell life, any type of fossils and stuff like that,” Haranas said. “That’s why they chose a special landing site. This could be very fertile land for that.”

“It’s very ambitious,” said Ralf Gellert, a physics professor at the University of Guelph.

Gellert helped with previous rover missions and said it’s the first time a Mars rover has landed without a piece of Guelph technology on it. While he’s not part of Perseverance’s mission, he said the possibilities are exciting.

“Every new landing site is a new piece of the puzzle that you can put together with the new results that we have from the other landing sites,” he said.

“It’s scientifically very interesting because, even though we don’t have an instrument on that rover, we can compare what the new rover Perseverance finds at this new landing site,” he said.

Now that Perseverance has landed on Mars, FiberTech is looking ahead to its next possible mission into space.

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