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Jigs, reels, bits and bytes — these students are teaching a machine to play Irish music

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A group of computer science students at Memorial University are hoping to use computers and artificial intelligence to generate some jigs and reels.

Zach Northcott and Caleb Graves, two of the six students working on the project, say they’re using a type of neural network called a general adversarial network, or GAN — a project they’re calling GANs and Reels.

“Basically, you can think of it almost like a cluster of nodes that are connected in similar ways to the brain, and when one activates it triggers activations elsewhere,” Northcott said.

“So, I guess it’s a bunch of little bits and bobs strung together to try and emulate knowledge or thought or learning in some sort of way.”

It learns over time … to try and generate music that convincingly passes for traditional Irish music. – Zach Northcott

Graves said they’ve had to feed the network a huge amount of traditional Irish music for it to begin to emulate the style.

“It learns over time the characteristics of the music — it learns to recognize what Irish music is, what it thinks Irish music should sound like, and it uses that knowledge to try and generate music that convincingly passes for traditional Irish music.”

And while they haven’t settled on a name for the network, they’re calling it GAN Morrison for now.

Vast amounts of Irish traditional music are fed into the GAN in hopes that it will learn how to produce its own music. (GANs & Reels/MUN Computer Science)

But does the music it generates really sound like traditional Irish music?

“Absolutely not,” said Graves.

Have a listen for yourself in the audio clip below.

A group of computer science students at Memorial University have built a neural network and fed it Irish music, in hopes that it would one day generate a jig. Here’s what it came up with. 1:02

Northcott said they believe part of the problem is in how the music is being encoded and decoded.

“You can’t give a computer a pitch or sheet music and expect it to read it like a person would, so we’ve basically taken all the notes turned them into numbers, and then have the GAN work on that,” he said.

A further challenge comes in getting the computer to play nothing at all.

“To try and represent a rest in music in our number system is difficult, because if you have middle C, you could say that’s 60, and then C sharp is 61,” said Northcott.

“But with a rest, it doesn’t actually have a pitch, so we think that representing it as a zero is skewing what it thinks of in terms of pitches.”

Improvements in leaps and bounds

Graves and Northcott said they have been working on the GAN since May, and improvements come in leaps and bounds in each successive iteration.

“Some of the changes we make will improve it significantly and some of them will sometimes even decrease it,” said Graves.

To help track their progress, the students have also developed visual representations, representing pitches as grey scale pixels to compare with real Irish tunes put through the same visualization process.

Graves and Northcott use grey scale pixels to visually represent the music the GAN produces. (GANs & Reels/MUN Computer Science)

“We can kind of use just our intuition to say, is this working, is this not working? Is it getting better, is it not getting better?” Northcott said.

“We have some basic idea of music theory and what not, but we’re not professional musicians by any regard, so having the visual cues helps us kind of refine things in a different way.” 

A group of computer science students at Memorial University have built a neural network and fed it Irish music, in hopes that it would one day generate a jig. Here’s what it came up with. 1:02 

The hope is to push the use of neural networks to be used it ways they never have before and advance the use of computers to “learn.” 

“We just want to see if there’s, I guess, applications that haven’t been considered, because traditionally, it is used for image manipulation,” said Northcott.

“But if we can perhaps represent different data in a similar way to images, perhaps we have a way to manage data and draw conclusions from it.” 

With files from On the Go

Read more articles from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

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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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