Lights, Camera, AI: Cambridge Consultants Puts Deep Learning in Director’s Chair

by Emily Bryce

AI is commonly associated with data. Less known is its artistic side — composing music scores, transforming doodles into photorealistic masterpieces, and dancing the night away.

Cambridge Consultants knows it well, having already demonstrated AI’s artistic prowess with Vincent AI, which turns your squiggles into art in one of seven styles resembling everything from moody J.M.W. Turner oil paintings to neon-hued pop art.

Last month, in collaboration with artist and animator Jo Lawrence, the U.K.-based consultancy brought a world first to the Collusion 2019 Showcase, an exhibition in Cambridge of interactive and immersive art exploring our relationship with new technologies.

Datacosm is an AI-driven animated film setting out our changing relationship with technology. What makes it special is that AI chooses the ending as the story unfolds based on the type of music played by a live pianist.

When Data Becomes Art

The Collusion 2019 Showcase celebrated the intersection of technology and art in a rare and thought-provoking manner.

Tasked with investigating the ever-intensifying and complex effects of emerging technology on culture and society, Lawrence and a select number of other artists set out to express their findings in their chosen medium.

Talking of how the film came to be, she explained, “Data can communicate, it can be grown, farmed, harvested, stored, distributed, consumed, corrupted and disseminated. Inspired, I developed ideas for a narrative animation exploring data-based themes using a combination of stop-motion animation of puppets and objects, pixilation and film.”

The result, Datacosm, tells the story of the movement of data from A to B, revealing the process of performing and making.

In the film, the top half of the screen shows the stage and animation as a combination of physical puppetry and digital production. The bottom half shows puppeteers working. Dividing the screen is a continuous block of code — bringing to the forefront the AI work being done behind the scenes.

AI developed by Cambridge Consultants — NVIDIA’s first deep learning service delivery partner in Europe — drove the final narrative of the film at the showcase, based on music supplied by a pianist.

As the music played, the AI identified the musical genre and changed the direction of the film by adding different layers of animation. Depending on what was played, one of four endings was shown.

AI Aficionado

The machine learning technology driving Datacosm, dubbed “the Aficionado,” can instantly identify a variety of music genres — from baroque and classical, to ragtime and jazz.

Trained using hundreds of hours of music on 16 NVIDIA GPUs, the Aficionado can even outperform humans and traditional coding in accurately identifying musical genres.

The project is just one of a number developed by Cambridge Consultants as part of its Digital Greenhouse initiative.

This purpose-built AI research facility is built around the NVIDIA DGX POD reference architecture with NetApp storage, known as ONTAP AI. It is designed for discovering, developing and testing machine learning approaches in a secure environment.

The cutting-edge research performed in the Digital Greenhouse is then used to solve the various challenges faced by Cambridge Consultants’ clients.

“Combining NVIDIA DGX POD with NetApp storage has enabled us to tackle the unprecedented demands on compute, storage, networking and facilities that these projects bring,” said Dominic Kelly, head of AI research at Cambridge Consultants, which employs a global team of over 850 engineers, designers and scientists. “The combination accelerates our AI research and provides the most efficient way of transferring technology from our lab to real deployments for our clients.

“The Collusion project has helped us explore innovative and highly sophisticated technologies, which hold world-changing potential and social impact. The project has been fascinating, helping us combine technical and artistic perspectives to create thought-provoking art that’s accessible to a broad audience,” Kelly added.