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An image generated by OpenAI's DALL-E model, from the prompt "an illustration of a baby daikon radish in a tutu walking a dog." Credit: OpenAI

The machine learning company OpenAI is developing models that improve computer vision and can produce original images from a text prompt.

Why it matters: The new models are the latest steps in ongoing efforts to create machine learning systems that exhibit elements of general intelligence, while performing tasks that are actually useful in the real world — without breaking the bank on computing power.

What's happening: OpenAI today is announcing two new systems that attempt to do for images what its landmark GPT-3 model did last year for text generation.

  • DALL-E is a neural network that can "take any text and make an image out of it," says Ilya Sutskever, OpenAI co-founder and chief scientist. That includes concepts it would never have encountered in training, like the drawing of an anthropomorphic daikon radish walking a dog shown above.
  • Flashback: DALL-E operates somewhat similarly to GPT-3, the huge transformer model that can generate original passages of text based on a short prompt.
  • CLIP, the other new neural network, "can take any set of visual categories and instantly create very strong and reliable visually classifiable text descriptions," says Sutskever, improving on existing computer vision techniques with less training and expensive computational power.

What they're saying: "Last year, we were able to make substantial progress on text with GPT-3, but the thing is that the world isn't just built on text," says Sutskever. "This is a step towards the grander goal of building a neural network that can work in both images and text."

How it works: DALL-E — a name OpenAI picked as a portmanteau of the surrealist artist Salvador Dali and the fatally cute Pixar robot WALL-E — is the model that jumps out because it aims to fulfill the Star Trek dream of simply being able to tell a computer, using regular language, what to create.

  • For example: Enter the prompt "a can of soup that has the word 'skynet' on it" and you'll get images like the one below.
Credit: OpenAI
  • "It can take unrelated concepts that are nothing alike and put them together into a functional object," says Aditya Ramesh, the leader of the DALL-E team.
  • CLIP can identify images with comparatively little training, allowing it to caption pictures it encounters.
  • The model's real advantage is its efficiency, which is becoming a bigger issue in the field as the computational cost of training machine learning models only grows.

Yes, but: Like GPT-3, the new models are far from perfect, with DALL-E, in particular, dependent on exactly how the text prompt is phrased if it's to be able to generate a coherent image.

The bottom line: Artificial general intelligence may be getting closer, one doodle at a time.

Go deeper

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Biden will move U.S. troops to Eastern Europe "in the near term"

President Biden boards Air Force One at Joint Base Andrews on Jan. 28. Photo: SAUL LOEB/AFP via Getty Images

President Biden said on Friday he plans to move U.S. troops to Eastern European and NATO countries “in the near term.”

Driving the news: “Not too many” U.S. troops, Biden added in remarks to reporters at Joint Base Andrew upon returning from a trip to Pennsylvania. 

Updated 3 hours ago - Energy & Environment

Bomb cyclone prompts blizzard warnings from Virginia to Maine

Computer model projection showing the intense storm off of Cape Cod on Jan 29, 2022, with heavy snow and strong winds lashing the coastline. (Weatherbell.com)

Blizzard warnings are in effect for 11 million people from coastal Virginia to eastern Maine as a potentially historic winter storm is set to slam the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast beginning Friday.

Why it matters: The storm will bring hazards ranging from zero visibility amid hurricane force wind gusts and heavy snow, to coastal flooding that will erode vulnerable beaches and threaten property from the Jersey shore to coastal Massachusetts.

Updated 6 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Swastikas found outside Union Station in D.C.

People walk through Union Station on Jan. 16 in Washington, D.C. Photo: Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Drawings of swastikas appeared etched around the entrance to Union Station in Washington, D.C., on Friday morning.

Driving the news: "An investigation is underway with Amtrak Police and the Metropolitan Police Department after swastikas were reported on the exterior of Washington Union Station on Friday," Amtrak spokesperson Kimberly Woods said in a statement to Axios.