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TikTok Ventures Deeper Into Music With New Sound-Editing App
12:41 PM | April 20, 2022
Kristin Snyder is dot.LA's 2022/23 Editorial Fellow. She previously interned with Tiger Oak Media and led the arts section for UCLA's Daily Bruin.
TikTok is continuing its foray into the music industry by testing a new sound-editing app for musicians and creators called Mawf.
The Culver City-based video-sharing app and its Chinese parent company, ByteDance, are currently beta-testing the sound-editing tool throughout Europe and the U.K., Business Insider reported Wednesday.
Mawf transforms users’ vocals and other audio inputs into instrumental sounds like trumpets, saxophones and flutes. A series of levers allows users to modify the sounds, which are sourced from the machine-learned analysis of recordings by professional musicians, according to the app’s website. Music production platforms, such as Ableton Live and Logic Pro, can integrate Mawf’s features as a plugin, which allows users to incorporate the app’s audio into their projects.
TikTok’s experiment with Mawf comes after the social media firm launched its own music distribution platform, SoundOn, last month. The platform lets artists directly upload their music to TikTok and earn royalties when that music is used in videos.
TikTok has carved out an increasingly influential role in the music business, with the video-sharing platform popularizing music by new and established artists alike and launching several successful music projects. “The Unofficial Bridgerton Musical”—which originated as a TikTok passion project—won this year’s Grammy Award for Best Musical Theater Album, March, while pop star Olivia Rodrigo took home the Best New Artist award after her hit song “Drivers License” was featured in more than 1.4 million videos on the app. TikTok also recently backed its first musical theater production, “For You, Paige,” which premiered last week in New York.
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01:09 PM | December 09, 2022
It took me 48 hours to realize Lensa might have a problem.
“Is that my left arm or my boob?” I asked my boyfriend, which is not what I’d consider a GREAT question to have to ask when using photo editing software.
“Huh,” my boyfriend said. “Well, it has a nipple.”
I had already spent an embarrassing amount of money downloading nearly 1,000 high-definition images of myself generated by AI through an app called Lensa as part of its new “Magical Avatar” feature. There are many reasons to cock an eyebrow at the results, some of which have been covered extensively in the last few days in a mounting moral panic as Lensa has shot itself to the #1 slot in the app store.
The way it works is users upload 10-20 photos of themselves from their camera roll. There are a few suggestions for best results: the pictures should show different angles, different outfits, different expressions. They shouldn’t all be from the same day. (“No photoshoots.”) Only one person in the frame, so the system doesn’t confuse you for someone else.
Lensa runs on Stable Diffusion, a deep-learning mathematical method that can generate images based on text or picture prompts, in this case taking your selfies and ‘smoothing’ them into composites that use elements from every photo. That composite can then be used to make the second generation of images, so you get hundreds of variations with no identical pictures that hit somewhere between the Uncanny Valley and one of those magic mirrors Snow White’s stepmother had. The tech has been around since 2019 and can be found on other AI image generators, of which Dall-E is the most famous example. Using its latent diffusion model and a 400 million image dataset called CLIP, Lensa can spit back 200 photos across 10 different art styles.
Though the tech has been around a few years, the rise in its use over the last several days may have you feeling caught off guard for a singularity that suddenly appears to have been bumped up to sometime before Christmas. ChatGPT made headlines this week for its ability to maybe write your term papers, but that’s the least it can do. It can program code, break down complex concepts and equations to explain to a second grader, generate fake news and prevent its dissemination.
It seems insane that when confronted with the Asminovian reality we’ve been waiting for with either excitement, dread or a mixture of both, the first thing we do is use it for selfies and homework. Yet here I was, filling up almost an entire phone’s worth of pictures of me as fairy princesses, anime characters, metallic cyborgs, Lara Croftian figures, and cosmic goddesses.
And in the span of Friday night to Sunday morning, I watched new sets reveal more and more of me. Suddenly the addition of a nipple went from a Cronenbergian anomaly to the standard, with almost every photo showing me with revealing cleavage or completely topless, even though I’d never submitted a topless photo. This was as true for the male-identified photos as the ones where I listed myself as a woman (Lensa also offers an “other” option, which I haven’t tried.)
When I changed my selected gender from female to male: boom, suddenly, I got to go to space and look like Elon Musk’s Twitter profile, where he’s sort of dressed like Tony Stark. But no matter which photos I entered or how I self-identified, one thing was becoming more evident as the weekend went on: Lensa imagined me without my clothes on. And it was getting better at it.
Was it disconcerting? A little. The arm-boob fusion was more hilarious than anything else, but as someone with a larger chest, it would be weirder if the AI had missed that detail completely. But some of the images had cropped my head off entirely to focus just on my chest, which…why?
According to AI expert Sabri Sansoy, the problem isn’t with Lensa’s tech but most likely with human fallibility.
“I guarantee you a lot of that stuff is mislabeled,” said Sansoy, a robotics and machine learning consultant based out of Albuquerque, New Mexico. Sansoy has worked in AI since 2015 and claims that human error can lead to some wonky results. “Pretty much 80% of any data science project or AI project is all about labeling the data. When you’re talking in the billions (of photos), people get tired, they get bored, they mislabel things and then the machine doesn’t work correctly.”
Sansoy gave the example of a liquor client who wanted software that could automatically identify their brand in a photo; to train the program to do the task, the consultant had first to hire human production assistants to comb through images of bars and draw boxes around all the bottles of whiskey. But eventually, the mind-numbing work led to mistakes as the assistants got tired or distracted, resulting in the AI learning from bad data and mislabeled images. When the program confuses a cat for a bottle of whiskey, it’s not because it was broken. It’s because someone accidentally circled a cat.
So maybe someone forgot to circle the nudes when programming Stable Diffusion’s neural net used by Lensa. That’s a very generous interpretation that would explain a baseline amount of cleavage shots. But it doesn’t explain what I and many others were witnessing, which was an evolution from cute profile pics to Brassier thumbnails.
When I reached out for comment via email, a Lensa spokesperson responded not by directing us to a PR statement but actually took the time to address each point I’d raised. “It would not be entirely accurate to state that this matter is exclusive to female users,” said the Lensa spokesperson, “or that it is on the rise. Sporadic sexualization is observed across all gender categories, although in different ways. Please see attached examples.” Unfortunately, they were not for external use, but I can tell you they were of shirtless men who all had rippling six packs, hubba hubba.
“The stable Diffusion Model was trained on unfiltered Internet content, so it reflects the biases humans incorporate into the images they produce,” continued the response. Creators acknowledge the possibility of societal biases. So do we.” It reiterated the company was working on updating its NSFW filters.
As for my insight about any gender-specific styles, the spokesperson added: “The end results across all gender categories are generated in line with the same artistic principles. The following styles can be applied to all groups, regardless of their identity: Anime and Stylish.”
I found myself wondering if Lensa was also relying on AI to handle their PR, before surprising myself by not caring all that much. If I couldn’t tell, did it even matter? This is either a testament to how quickly our brains adapt and become numb to even the most incredible of circumstances; or the sorry state of hack-flack relationships, where the gold standard of communication is a streamlined transfer of information without things getting too personal.
As for the case of the strange AI-generated girlfriend? “Occasionally, users may encounter blurry silhouettes of figures in their generated images. These are just distorted versions of themselves that were ‘misread’ by the AI and included in the imagery in an awkward way.”
So: gender is a social construct that exists on the Internet; if you don’t like what you see, you can blame society. It’s Frankenstein’s monster, and we’ve created it after our own image.
Or, as the language processing AI model ChatGPT might put it: “Why do AI-generated images always seem so grotesque and unsettling? It's because we humans are monsters and our data reflects that. It's no wonder the AI produces such ghastly images - it's just a reflection of our own monstrous selves.”
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Drew Grant is dot.LA's Senior Editor. She's a media veteran with over 15-plus years covering entertainment and local journalism. During her tenure at The New York Observer, she founded one of their most popular verticals, tvDownload, and transitioned from generalist to Senior Editor of Entertainment and Culture, overseeing a freelance contributor network and ushering in the paper's redesign. More recently, she was Senior Editor of Special Projects at Collider, a writer for RottenTomatoes streaming series on Peacock and a consulting editor at RealClearLife, Ranker and GritDaily. You can find her across all social media platforms as @Videodrew and send tips to email@example.com.
05:15 AM | December 13, 2022
Vinfast, the Vietnamese EV company with headquarters in Los Angeles, shipped its first order of vehicles to U.S. soil from Hai Phong, Vietnam on November 25th. The batch of 999 automobiles is due to arrive here in California on Thursday this week.
The VF8 SUVs on board will have the difficult task of convincing American buyers that an unknown, untested Vietnamese manufacturer can deliver on a new technology. And so far, the company appears to be off to a rocky start.
According to an email sent to reservation holders on November 29th, the VF8s in the initial shipment will be a special “City Edition” and have lower range advertised than the previously announced versions–just 180 miles in total. Over the weekend, Vinfast confirmed to dot.LA via Twitter that all of the vehicles in the first batch are the City Edition, and that the standard edition would be coming Q1 of 2023. Until this email, there had been little, if any mention of this new City Edition. The message to reservation holders offered no rationale as to why the company was choosing to ship this version of the car instead of the 260-292 mile-range VF8 it’s been advertising for months. Despite the lower range, however, the EVs will still carry a price tag of either $55,500 or $62,500, depending on trim–just $3,000 less than the previously-announced versions.
The VF8 Specs page from Vinfast’s site still bears no mention of a “City Edition,” but that’s what’s coming to America this month.
Vinfast is offering reservation holders an additional $3,000 off these City Edition variants (bringing the total to $6,000 less than the previously announced versions). But even at a discount, the vehicle’s $52,000 price tag is far from competitive with more established EV makers and raises questions about the brand’s strategy and value.
- The 2023 Hyundai Ioniq 5 has 220 miles of range and starts at $42,745. Or 303 miles of range for $60,000.
- The base model Kia EV6 costs $49,795 and goes 206 miles on a full charge.
- The Mustang Mach E starts at 46,895 and reaches 224 miles.
And the list goes on. In fact, you’d be hard pressed to find a 2023 EV with a worse cost to range ratio than the VF8. Vinfast, which has been nearly impossible to reach on this matter despite numerous calls and emails, hasn’t explained why they chose to offer such a range-compromised version as their initial foray into the U.S. market, or why the cost remains so high.
The reaction to the news, especially on Reddit, has been largely negative, with users accusing the company of “springing” the City Edition on reservation holders. Others speculated that the company rushed out the first batch so it could drum up good press before its recently announced IPO. Whatever the reason, most redditors didn’t seem to be buying it, and with Vinfast so reluctant to comment, it’s hard to see the announcement in a light that bodes well for the company’s future. First impressions tend to last, and this doesn’t seem like a good one for the EV hopeful.
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David Shultz reports on clean technology and electric vehicles, among other industries, for dot.LA. His writing has appeared in The Atlantic, Outside, Nautilus and many other publications.
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