What The Tech?! is a blog series exploring technology news, product releases, updates, and innovation. These posts aim to cover the latest news in tech, and offer an opinion on why they are interesting in the wider context of digital.
In this edition, we look at how artificial intelligence is being trained to recognise hand drawn images, the newest features from Snapchat and Pinterest, and how Spotify harnessed the power of weather data to create playlists.
Google Quick Draw
Over the last few months, Google has released a series of A.I. experiments for members of the public to test and use, in the past we’ve written about ‘Duet’ – which uses A.I. to create melodies in response to something played on a keyboard. Another recent experiment brought to our attention is Google Quick Draw, which can identify a drawn image within 20 seconds.
Google Quick Draw utilises machine learning which over time has been trained to recognise a variety of drawn objects. This was initially done by showing the machine images and telling it what the objects were. However, since being live on the internet every time someone draws something it’s able to improve its recognition of that object.
This project shows how successful and easy it can be to crowdsource inputs to train an A.I. system, whilst also gamifying the process for anyone involved by making it into a Pictionary-style game.
The NHS is always looking for innovations that can reduce the cost attached to delivering medical care and advice, whilst also helping to give more accurate diagnoses. Partnered with Babylon Health the aim was to ‘put an accessible and affordable health service in the hands of every person on earth’.
The NHS and Babylon partnership currently extends to the NHS’s non-emergency helpline, 111. This was set up in order to help members of the public with health questions but not to diagnose issues as it’s not manned by health professionals. Each call to 111 costs the NHS up to £16 and takes approximately 10 minutes to complete.
Babylon hopes that it can improve the current system by using ‘The world's most accurate medical artificial intelligence”, to help analyse symptoms via a chat interface. Chief executive of Babylon health, Ali Parsa, said it could offer the NHS a “Substantial” cost saving on the current system.
The app will be used from the end of January for six months in locations across London and will cover more than 1.2 million residents.
Spotify - ClimaTune
Spotify has teamed up with US weather channel / data provider AccuWeather to create ClimaTune – music playlists suited to the weather in your city.
Spotify correlated a year's worth of five types of weather data (sun, clouds, rain, wind, and snow) from nearly a thousand weather stations across the globe to over 85 billion anonymised. Which then aggregated streams on Spotify on the same day and locations.
Answering the simple question “Do people make different music-listening decisions based on weather?”, led to one of the largest-scale research projects ever conducted into the connection between music and weather conditions.
The final output for each city can be seen here, the link showcases the relevant playlist for your city and current weather conditions, although the conditions can be adjusted to see how listening patterns change based on them.
“For almost all of the top cities around the world, sunny days translates to happier-sounding music,” said Spotify data researcher Ian Anderson.
At the end of January, Snapchat overhauled their app introducing a raft of U.I. changes as well as further developing its Snapcode functionality.
Essentially Snapchat-specific QR codes 'Snapcodes' had been mostly used for personal account adding with only a few brands such as Burberry testing additional uses.
Using the Snapchat app, a user simply aims their mobile phone’s camera at the Snapcode. Once analysed, the new friend is seamlessly added to the user’s list - a much simpler and intuitive process than using QR codes or separate QR reader apps.
The latest functionality allows users to create a custom code and links it to a website - meaning that once scanned a user will be redirected to a specific location.
Over the next few months, we’ll no doubt begin to see more of these Snapcodes being used for marketing purposes. Whether printed on products or used within retail environments, they provide brands with a new way of connecting the real world with the digital space.
Pinterest has recently introduced Lens - an extension of the platform’s already popular (and extremely powerful) visual search feature.
For some time, visual search has allowed Pinterest users to select an image (or, indeed, part of it) and search its inventory of pins for similar imagery.
As Pinterest images are often pinned directly from retail sites, visual search can not only identify a product but also help consumers click through to brand sites to buy the product.
Lens build on visual search by also allowing people to capture images of real world items through their mobile phone camera, allowing Pinterest to return a list of visually similar-looking items, or (in the case of food and meals) related recipes.