May Un Mar ANNA

29 Sep, 2017

Yesterday we introduced you to the latest project at Bitjam: ANNA. A learning algorithm that analyses poetry and audibly delivers it in an old-fashioned regional Potteries dialect, the project has been inspired by the bid for Stoke-on-Trent as the next UK City of Culture. We interviewed Liam Mountford, Senior Developer at Bitjam, about the technical elements of creating artificial intelligence that is able to independently learn.

Why did you have the idea to create a computerised system that creates poetry and delivers it in a potteries dialect?

The initial idea came about from a discussion between me and Carl. Carl knew I had an interest in machine learning from the work I did for my dissertation, I created a neuroevolutionary algorithm that was to predict the results of the 2015 general election. I have had a number of discussions about neural networks and similar machine learning algorithms with Carl, where I tended to ramble on about some of the more interesting aspects such as trying to create a Neural Network (NN) that could produce pieces of art. Carl liked the sound of a creative learning machine and formed the idea of using it to create potteries poetry.

From a more technical point of view, how does ANNA actually work?

Once we had our idea we sat down and had a discussion about the possible complexity of the project. A fully fledged bespoke neural network is quite a lot of work so we decided to try to find some existing neural networks to base our work off of. With the help of Jacob we found a Recursive Neural Network (RNN) designed to take text input and after a large number of training cycles we then tried to get ANNA to output some meaningful ‘learned’ poetry.

So, tell us more about neural networks.

In it’s simplest form a NN consists of 3 layers. The input layer accepts various inputs. In theory, as many or as few as you need. Next the hidden layer, this is the heart and soul of a NN and helps to create the correlating links between the various inputs supplied at the input layer. Finally the output layer, is the part of the NN that spits out – hopefully! – some sort of meaningful information. Where a RNN differs is that there is a recursive link between the output and hidden layer, this part is important as it helps the RNN to learn the structure of the language supplied. In turn this means that the particularly interesting part with the RNN is that it is able to learn dialects such as potteries.

How does ANNA learn poetry?

ANNA is a python script based on a simple RNN, we feed in around 200 pages worth of potteries dialect poetry aiming to produce some sort of meaningful poetry. Anna runs through about 500 recursive cycles of the input text per “epoch” of learning for a total of around 30 epochs. An epoch is essentially a single full training cycle.

What were the challenges of this project?

One problem that always rears it’s head is a shortage of data to feed into the RNN. So the next step for us was to source plenty of potteries dialect based poetry from poets past and present. First we tried to source as much poetry as possible from an online source, the main works we used were by Arnold Bennett. We then tried sourcing further poetry from Wilfred Bloor‘s sons Roger & Ian. Wilfred Bloor wrote over 400 Jabez tales in Potteries dialect (the Jabez character is a countryman living in the shadows of industrial Potteries). We also spoke to Alan Barrett, Stoke-born writer, storyteller, poet, and actor. Thanks to the kind contributions of these people we managed to collect plenty of poetry that has been fed into ANNA.

Come and see ANNA in action at the ACAVA Studios: Spode Works open studios event on Saturday 7th / Sunday 8th October from 12pm at Bitjam, studio number 22.


ACAVA Studios: Spode Works Open Studios With Bitjam

28 Sep, 2017

Next weekend at Bitjam we will be opening our doors to the public for the next ACAVA Studios: Spode Works open studios event. Each year a selection of studios welcome members of the public to come and see their work, holding demonstrations and workshops for people to take part in. Bitjam are hosting code workshops to demonstrate coding on a beginner level, so anybody, including children, can join in and learn on the day.

The 43 studios at ACAVA Studios: Spode Works are making a valuable contribution to the development of the Spode site, as a cultural centre for creative industries and the revitalisation of Stoke town. The studios are home to artists of traditional art forms such as painters and ceramicists, but with added contribution from more modern and technological expressions of art such as web developers and graphic designers.

As well as our code workshops, Bitjam are using the open day opportunity to showcase the Spode Works weather station which we’ve developed. The weather station is a digital machine which will tell you the weather conditions and can be found in the Bitjam studio, number 22. We’ve added an audio twist to make it relevant to the area, and the upcoming Stoke for UK City of Culture 2021 bid, by programming the weather station to deliver weather updates in “Stokie” dialect.

Further to our contribution to the city of culture bid, we’ve also been working on a computerised system that uses Stoke regional dialect to create poetry. The system is called ANNA and as part of the open day we’ll be putting our neighbour Fred Phillips to the challenge of creating equally as compelling poetry. We’ll have more details about “Fred Against the Machine”, information about workshop times and how you can help us to develop ANNA in our next blog post, out tomorrow.

ACAVA Studios: Spode Works open studios are next Saturday 7 / Sunday 8 October.


Why Web Accessibility is Important to the NHS

14 Sep, 2017

“The power of the Web is in its universality. Access by everyone regardless of disability is an essential aspect” 

Tim Berners-Lee, W3C Director and inventor of the World Wide Web

The Fight for Web Accessibility as a Human Right

It’s the mission of the web accessibility initiative (WAI) to provide access to digital information and communication technologies as a basic human right, therefore it’s important that it’s accessible to all.

The web breaks down communication barriers for those living with a disability in the physical world.

However when websites and digital services are poorly designed they exclude people from using the internet, which is the issue we’re going to be addressing in this blog post.

The UK healthcare sector has been adopting digital technology to improve patient services in the last few years. However there are over 6.9 million disabled people registered in the UK, which represents 19% of the working population, and they need to be able to use the same facilities and receive the same experiences as non-disabled. Therefore the NHS has a duty to provide them with continuing appropriate access in order to comply with accessibility policies.

Better Web Accessibility would Improve Unemployment

In the world today, over a billion people are registered as having a disability according to the World Health Organization.

Focusing on delivering such technology to a high quality standard could potentially benefit the UK economy also, as it could help an additional million more disabled people into work. According to disability charity Scope the UK economy would grow 1.7%, or £45bn.

It’s the responsibility of all web providers, especially those with high volumes of traffic or service providers, to contribute towards reducing discrimination that can occur if a web platform isn’t accessible.

The NHS offer varying text size, colour, PDF accessibility, keyboard navigation and video accessibility across their entire website to ensure patients and users have full use. Their website complies with the World Wide Web Consortium’s (W3C’s) Level AA guidelines for accessibility and they “remain committed to maintaining and improving the accessibility of their site”. No matter any political decisions or budget cuts etc NHS web accessibility needs to remain a top priority to prevent discrimination.

Similarly, British public service broadcaster institution, the BBC, have “My Web, My Way”, as part of their web service. Their site provides accessibility help, enabling computer users to make the most of the internet whatever their ability or disability. The BBC ensure best practices are followed throughout all of their web pages to reduce discrimination and make their site available to everybody.

Technology is enjoying increasing success in the UK healthcare sector, and the introduction of digital tech that’s tailored to assist those with disabilities is revolutionary for those with physical world conditions. Focusing on continually innovating digital tech and improvements to human interaction services could see huge results and be the driving force behind the development of the NHS.