Microsoft uses sentient data servers to draft neighborhood-specific cartoons

This week’s cartoon for Flushing focuses on hazardous material issues.

When most people think artificial intelligence, Skynet and other diabolical doomsday imaginings come to mind. But at their New York City lab, Microsoft Research is using sentient data servers for a much more PG purpose: drawing cartoons.

Kati London is the senior researcher at Microsoft’s Future User Social Experience (FUSE) Lab in New York City, where 42 unique sentient data servers are whirring away, analyzing 311 call data and crafting neighborhood-specific single-pane cartoons on a weekly basis using algorithms as part of the HereHere NYC project.

“We introduced a very early prototype of this and it didn’t have the cartoons in late March. Then, we released this version of the project in early August,” London said. “We take the freshest data that tells us what kind of the complaints are of that week for any particular neighborhood.”

Iris Gottleib is the artist behind the panes, which this week focus on illegal parking, noisy neighbors and litter, among other topics.

Flushing 311 data for the week of September 15 through 22.
Flushing 311 data for the week of September 15 through 22.

At the heart of the project is the desire to translate public data into engaging, bite-sized pieces, and the servers behind the project have been fed three years of data to fuel their musings. London referred to the servers as characters, programmed to have the same emoted reaction to complaints that residents themselves might experience in the “super neighborhoods” designated by her team.

“A sentient data server allows you to create a computerized character that has a personality,” London said.

London hopes HereHere NYC will continue gaining subscribers – currently there are roughly 700 – so the FUSE lab can run a study on its effectiveness in communicating neighborhood issues. [QL]

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