spode-works
UK City of Culture

Acava Studios: Spode Works Open Studios October 2017

18 Oct, 2017

Recently at Spode it was the Acava Studios: Spode Works Open Studios event, and a chance for us to open our doors to the public and invite people to see what we’ve been up to lately here at bitjam.

We’ve introduced you already to ANNA, but if you didn’t see our last two blogs, ANNA is a learning algorithm that analyses poetry and audibly delivers it in an old-fashioned regional Potteries dialect. The open studios event was the chance for us to play around with ANNA, test her abilities and see if we could get a computer to understand and be able to reproduce Stokie dialect – something that’s famously difficult to do for non-natives!

Well, ANNA was, as NASA would say, a successful failure! She was designed from an idea that our senior developer Liam had had, as he has a background in machine learning from the work he did for his dissertation. So our objective was only to take a playful look at neural networks and how they might be trained to learn local dialect. We didn’t exactly expect to achieve it, rather we were curious to see what the results might be. We got ANNA to recreate snippets of prose and dialect, and at times she successfully pieced together and understood some of the dialect, but she sounded a bit more like actress Joanna Lumley than local storyteller and actor Alan Barrett (he helped us with the machine text input. You can read our Q&A with Alan about Stokie dialect here).

But what was amazing about this project was the ways in which is pulled people together from around the area, and got them talking about Potteries accent and dialect, from Keele University to artists and locals. It was a great celebration of the UK City of Culture bid and an opportunity to prove that Stoke does have digital creativity.

Special thanks to actor and storyteller Alan Barrett and local author Jason Snape for their contribution to ANNA, and to Roger & Ian Bloor for providing their Father Wilfred Bloor’s Jabez Tales (the Jabez character is a countryman living in the shadows of industrial Potteries).

In other news, our weather station “Thee Weather Duck”, will be going up in the Spode Works studios, giving artists and visitors the chance to tweet the weather in Stokie dialect. Something that came up in conversation time and time again during the ANNA project, is that young people are losing their accents, and are becoming very unfamiliar with old-fashioned Stokie dialect because of moving away to other areas for their studies, and the influence of the media and the rising popularity of standardised received pronunciation (RP). According to our recent Q&A with Alan Barrett, retaining dialect is a positive reflection on the community, and helps to establish and retain links to our cultural heritage and history. So  maybe you’ve got children at university who need a reminder of home? Follow Thee Weather Duck on Twitter (@theeweatherduck) and RT the Stokie weather to them! The machine works with data collected from the weather station, and converts the results to Stokie dialect, for example “Iteside Temperature: Foetayn deegraze. If thees got chance, goo sunbeethin tidee!” (Translation: Fourteen degrees. If you’ve got chance, go sunbathing today!).

Our recent projects such as ANNA and Thee Weather Ducky are examples of “The Internet of Things”, a subject we’ve discussed in a previous blog post. The ‘Internet of Things’ is the interconnectivity of physical devices such as smartphones, WiFi modems and software, to the internet. We’ve got more projects coming up working with sensor data, redesigning systems, working with data from different types of sensors to create an interactive product, and we’re able to use our experience and knowledge of neural networks to complement these projects.