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Elon Musk-backed OpenAI shows off Dall-E image generator after GPT-3

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SpaceX founder Elon Musk looks on at a post-launch news conference after the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, carrying the Crew Dragon spacecraft, lifted off on an uncrewed test flight to the International Space Station from the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida, March 2, 2019.

Mike Blake | Reuters

Armchairs in the shape of avocados and baby daikon radishes wearing tutus are among the quirky images created by a new piece of software from OpenAI, an Elon Musk-backed artificial intelligence lab in San Francisco.

OpenAI trained the software, known as Dall-E, to generate images from short text captions. It specifically used a dataset of 12 billion images and their captions, which were found on the internet.

The lab said Dall-E — a portmanteau of Spanish surrealist artist Salvador Dali and Wall-E, a small animated robot from the Pixar movie of the same name — had learned how to create images for a wide range of concepts.

OpenAI showed off some of the results in a blog post published on Tuesday. “We’ve found that it [Dall-E] has a diverse set of capabilities, including creating anthropomorphized versions of animals and objects, combining unrelated concepts in plausible ways, rendering text, and applying transformations to existing images,” the company wrote.

Dall-E is built on a neural network, which is a computing system vaguely inspired by the human brain that can spot patterns and recognize relationships between vast amounts of data.

While neural networks have generated images and videos before, Dall-E is unusual because it relies on text inputs whereas the others don’t.

Synthetic videos and images have become more sophisticated in recent years to the extent that it has become hard for humans to distinguish between what is real and what is computer-generated. General adversarial networks (GANs), which employ two neural networks, have been used to create fake videos of politicians, for example.

OpenAI acknowledged that Dall-E has the “potential for significant, broad societal impacts,” adding that it plans to analyze how models like Dall-E “relate to societal issues like economic impact on certain work processes and professions, the potential for bias in the model outputs, and the longer term ethical challenges implied by this technology.”

GPT-3 successor

Dall-E comes just a few months after OpenAI announced it had built a text generator called GPT-3 (Generative Pre-training), which is also underpinned by a neural network.

The language-generation tool is capable of producing human-like text on demand and it became relatively famous for an AI program when people realized it could write its own poetry, news articles and short stories.

“Dall-E is a Text2Image system based on GPT-3 but trained on text plus images,” Mark Riedl, associate professor at the Georgia Tech School of Interactive Computing, told CNBC.

“Text2image is not new, but the Dall-E demo is remarkable for producing illustrations that are much more coherent than other Text2Image systems I’ve seen in the past few years.”

OpenAI has been competing with firms like DeepMind and the Facebook AI Research group to build general purpose algorithms that can perform a wide range of tasks at human-level and beyond.

Researchers have built AIs that can play complex games like chess and the Chinese board game of Go, translate one human language to another, and spot tumors in a mammogram. But getting an AI system to show genuine “creativity” is a big challenge in the industry.

Riedl said the Dall-E results show it has learned how to blend concepts coherently, adding that “the ability to coherently blend concepts is considered a key form of creativity in humans.”

“From the creativity standpoint, this is a big step forward,” Riedl added. “While there isn’t a lot of agreement about what it means for an AI system to ‘understand’ something, the ability to use concepts in new ways is an important part of creativity and intelligence.”

Neil Lawrence, the former director of machine learning at Amazon Cambridge, told CNBC that Dall-E looks “very impressive.”

Lawrence, who is now a professor of machine learning at the University of Cambridge, described it as “an inspirational demonstration of the capacity of these models to store information about our world and generalize in ways that humans find very natural.”

He said: “I expect there will be all sorts of applications of this type of technology, I can’t even begin to imagine. But it’s also interesting in terms of being another pretty mind-blowing technology that is solving problems we didn’t even know we actually had.”

‘Doesn’t advance the state of AI’

Not everyone is that impressed by Dall-E, however.

Gary Marcus, an entrepreneur who sold a machine-learning start-up to Uber in 2016 for an undisclosed sum, told CNBC that it’s interesting but it “doesn’t advance the state of AI.”

He also pointed out that it hasn’t been opened sourced and the company hasn’t yet published an academic paper on the research.

Marcus has previously questioned whether some of the research published by rival lab DeepMind in recent years should be classified as “breakthroughs.” 

OpenAI was set up as a non-profit with a $1 billion pledge from a group of founders that included Tesla CEO Elon Musk. In February 2018, Musk left the OpenAI board but he continues to donate and advise the organization.

OpenAI made itself for-profit in 2019 and raised another $1 billion from Microsoft to fund its research. GPT-3 is set to be OpenAI’s first commercial product and Reddit has signed up as one of the first customers.

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House opens probe into security failures in deadly U.S. Capitol attack

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House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-CA) speaks to reporters next to U.S. House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD) as House Democrats respond to a White House briefing on reports Russia paid the Taliban bounties to kill U.S. troops during a news conference following the briefing at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, U.S., June 30, 2020.

Jonathan Ernst | Reuters

The Democratic-led House of Representatives on Saturday sent a letter to FBI Director Chris Wray and other agency chiefs seeking information on the intelligence and security failures that led up to the breach of the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 that forced lawmakers into hiding.

Four House committee chairs signed onto the letter, which called for documents and briefings from the FBI, the Department of Homeland Security, the National Counterterrorism Center and the Director of National Intelligence on what was known ahead of the attack.

“This still-emerging story is one of astounding bravery by some U.S. Capitol Police and other officers; of staggering treachery by violent criminals; and of apparent and high-level failures — in particular, with respect to intelligence and security preparedness,” the committees wrote.

The letter was signed by Intelligence Committee Chair Adam Schiff, D-Calif., Homeland Security Committee Chair Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., Judiciary Committee Chair Jerry Nadler, D-N.Y. and Oversight Committee Chair Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y. 

The probe comes as lawmakers — and Democrats in particular — are clamoring for more information on how a mob of President Donald Trump supporters was able to break into the so-called “People’s House,” which has its own police force, and delay the certification of President-elect Joe Biden‘s Electoral College victory by several hours.

The inspectors general of the Department of Justice, Defense, Homeland Security and Interior have launched reviews of their agency’s actions connected to the attack.

In the letter, lawmakers cited press reporting that the U.S. Capitol Police had been warned that Trump supporters would attempt to violently enter into the Capitol.

NBC News reported on Jan. 10 that the FBI and the New York Police Department passed information to the Capitol Police about threats of violence directed at the counting of the Electoral College votes.

The Washington Post reported on Jan. 12 that an FBI field office in Virginia had warned ahead of the attack that extremists headed to Washington were planning for “war.”

“Security and logistical preparations before January 6 were not consistent with the prospect of serious and widespread violence. Yet, according to media accounts that have surfaced in recent days, federal and other authorities earlier on possessed — and may have shared with some parties — intelligence and other information forecasting a dire security threat against the Congress’s meeting to certify the election results,” the committee chairs wrote.

“These latter reports, if acted upon, might have prompted more extensive planning for the event, and the infusion of far greater security and other resources,” they added.

Capitol Police officials have said they did not see FBI intelligence ahead of the attack.

The committee chairs lay out three broad lines of inquiry that they will pursue.

The first is what was known by the intelligence community and law enforcement ahead of, during and after the attack. The lawmakers also said they will be probing whether any foreign powers played a role in exploiting the crisis.

The second prong the committees are examining is whether any current or former holders of national security clearances participated in the insurrection.

The committees are also asking for information on government policy in response to the attack, including measures to prevent those implicated in crimes from traveling.

“The Committees expect and appreciate your full cooperation with this matter – while of course recognizing that resources appropriately and immediately must be allocated to efforts to counter any continuing threats to the transfer of power, including the presidential inauguration and related activities,” the committee chairs wrote.

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Armin Laschet picked as new leader of Germany’s ruling CDU party 

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Candidate for the chairmanship of Germany’s Christian Democratic Union party, Armin Laschet, gestures as he takes part in a discussion at the party’s headquarters in Berlin on Jan. 8, 2021.

CHRISTIAN MANG / POOL / AFP) (Photo by CHRISTIAN MANG/POOL/AFP via Getty Images

FRANKFURT, Germany — Germany’s ruling CDU party picked Armin Laschet to be its new chairman on Saturday, possibly paving the way for him to replace Angela Merkel as chancellor at elections later this year. 

Laschet is currently the prime minister of Germany’s North Rhine-Westphalia region, the most populous federal state in the country. He beat rival Friedrich Merz by 521 to 466 in a vote that was forced online due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Born in 1961, he was first elected to the Bundestag (German Parliament) in 1994 and his election is seen as a continuation of Merkel’s policies, as he has pledged to keep the CDU firmly in the “middle of society.” 

With him as chairman, the CDU will likely stay on message and focus on more climate change policies and environmental topics. He has a strong Catholic background which brings him support from Christian circles within the party. 

He is a trained lawyer and also worked as a journalist at the time of German reunification between 1986 and 1991. He is seen as being very liberal and is popular with the immigrant community in his home state.

If he becomes the CDU’s candidate for chancellor at September’s elections, he could be open to various coalitions — power sharing is somewhat of a recent tradition in German politics.

He has floated the idea of a government alongside the liberals, the FDP, in a bid to win over parts of the business camp inside the CDU. But he is also seen as a natural fit for a coalition with the Greens too, as he is on good speaking terms with the party and favors environmental issues.

But the CDU’s candidate for chancellor will only be determined in the spring. And it’s not certain that the newly-elected chairman will automatically move into Merkel’s role. Markus Söder, the very popular Bavarian prime minister, and also Jens Spahn, the current health minister, may also join the race to lead Europe’s largest economy.

Merkel stepped down as leader of the CDU in 2018, and her replacement Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer quit in February 2020 after a series of communication mishaps exposed her as being too weak to lead the chancellery.

This is a breaking news story, please check back later for more.

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Biden heads into inauguration with a stock market tailwind

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