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How Microsoft is partnering with Tate Britain to prove AI has a place in a world of ‘warm emotion’

Microsoft hopes to show that artificial intelligence can extend beyond “the cold world of computers” by working alongside Tate Britain to sponsor the artistic IK Prize 2016 – the winner of which devised an AI algorithm that pairs the Tate’s historic art collection with modern photojournalism from Reuters’ archive.

The IK Prize is presented annually by Tate to a team, company or individual that uses digital technology to explore art on display at Tate Britain and on its website. Microsoft is partnering to support the award process and work creation for the first time.

This year’s winner – dubbed Recognition – is the work of Italian-based communication research centre Fabrica, which has partnered with Microsoft’s Cognitive Services to bring their concept to life and will, over the next three months, search through the Tate’s archive of 30,000 images to match the work with similar looking news photos from Reuters.

Object recognition, facial recognition, composition analysis and natural language processing are all built into the algorithm to connect two contextually different, but aesthetically comparable pictures. For instance Lowry’s 1955 work Industrial Landscape has been paired by Recognition with a shot of Singapore’s Changi Airport in construction.

Visitors to the Tate Britain will be able to create their own matches in a dedicated interactive exhibition and see how they compare with those made by Recognition, in a bid to see if human input can help retrain the algorithm. An exclusive website allows further reaching visitors to do the same.

Humans plus machines

For Microsoft, which previously worked on a similarly artistic AI project with ING and JWT Amsterdam, the sponsorship of the prize is about showcasing its artificially intelligence prowess, as well as proving to a still sceptical public that the technology can be used for good.

“From a Microsoft perspective AI is the future - we’re betting the company on this technology that extends the reach of humanity,” said Dave Coplin, chief envisaging officer at the tech brand. “There is this narrative that it’s all about the cold world of computers, while we live in a world of warm emotion.

“Well we think those two things can come to together in unison and for us, this was an opportunity to showcase what technology can do to extend the human experience of art.”

He added that this sort of project is “absolutely” something that Microsoft wants to do more of. “We want to be driving the conversation of ‘humans plus machines’ rather than ‘humans versus machines’.

“We’ve got 40 years’ heritage in helping humans achieve more with technology than they could do on their own, and nowhere is this more important than in a world of AI.”

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