Artificial intelligence

The tech everyone at VOICES was talking about (and it wasn’t the Metaverse)

Last week, while attending this year’s VOICES – BoF’s big annual gathering for thinkers and industry leaders – I had the opportunity to speak to people in different roles in fashion . Since I’m a technology journalist, many of these conversations naturally turned to innovation.

As I chatted with people from brands, intelligence companies, and fashion education, one technology kept coming up, and it wasn’t VR or the Metaverse or NFTs. It was the AI.

Artificial intelligence is a decades-old concept, but in recent years, advancements in areas such as machine learning and computer vision have allowed it to start having a real impact on business. Today, the most technologically advanced fashion brands use it for practical tasks such as demand forecasting and pricing. But as its progress accelerates, the range of possible applications continues to expand. Fashion people are thinking about what’s next and what capabilities it may soon enable.

At VOICES, part of that interest may be due to timing. Right now, there’s a lot of excitement in the tech world around text-based AI image generators like DALL-E, Midjourney, and Stable Diffusion. A use case that seemed to get a lot of interest from VOICES attendees, which I also written here, is how generative AI could be used in design. A few people said they thought it seemed inevitable that AI would eventually play a part in the creative side of fashion. (No one went so far as to guess that it would replace humans entirely.)

And that wasn’t the only new AI application that popped up. While guests were still interested in topics like the Metaverse and NFTs, it seemed like AI more than any other technology was the one they thought would have the biggest impact in the immediate future.

Another person I spoke to, for example, suggested that computer vision could soon allow robots to sew clothes – a feat that has been tempted by a few companies now without much success because robots have difficulty controlling and manipulating soft and stretchy fabrics. When I pointed it out, the person noted that computer vision is improving so rapidly that feats are possible today with the technology that wasn’t a year ago, and two years from now more will be possible. (Of course, people have been saying this for years, too.)

The rapid progress of AI was also the subject of one of the presentations at VOICES this year. Mo Gawdat, author and former chief commercial officer of Google X, who describes himself as a ‘moon factory’ using technology to solve some of the world’s toughest problems, spoke of various ‘inevitables’, including that by the end of this decade the smartest being on Earth will not be a human. It will be an AI.

There is still a debate about the degree of artificial intelligence of artificial intelligence. Is it capable of true learning and not just performing narrow tasks assigned by humans? According to Gawdat, yes. He pointed to the “cat paper,” where in 2012 Google explained how a network of computers trained on YouTube videos finally identified what a cat is. without any human intervention. Similarly, Gawdat said that in 2016, Google had a collection of robotic grabbers that it directed to pick up different objects without instruction on how to do so. One Friday afternoon, a gripper managed to pick up a yellow ball. On Monday, all the pinchers picked up the yellow balls. Two weeks later, they could pick up all available items.

Whether or not you believe Gawdat’s vision of the future, which foresees a not-too-distant time when the world will be completely reshaped by artificial intelligence, you can believe that AI will continue to improve and we will be able to. use for a while. more tasks. A robot that uses AI to learn how to manipulate and sew fabric doesn’t sound so far-fetched.

Online, there’s currently a lot of buzz around ChatGPT, an AI tool created by DALL-E developer OpenAI that can compose elaborate text responses to user prompts. “ChatGPT is, quite simply, the best artificial intelligence chatbot ever released to the general public,” said one New York Times technical columnist recently said. He has his faults. This doesn’t seem to understand the meaning behind their answers and may include information that is simply wrong. But it’s also not hard to see how such a tool could be used to write, say, marketing copy (to be reviewed by a human, for now at least).

As AI becomes more prevalent, it probably won’t eliminate every job it touches, but it will change them, changing the tasks of the humans involved as well as the skills required. But technology is always changing the way people work.

The feeling I felt most among the VOICES guests I spoke to about AI was not fear or panic. It was something like curiosity. Nobody knows exactly how this will evolve or how it will change the day-to-day workings of fashion in the next two, five or ten years. But that it continues to move forward seems inevitable, to use a word from Gawdat, and fashion will follow.

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