Google’s new generative AI aims to help you get those creative juices following

It’s a big day for Google AI as the tech giant has launched a new image-generation engine aimed at fostering people’s creativity.

The tool is called ImageFX and it runs on Imagen 2,  Google's “latest text-to-image model” that Google claims can deliver the company's “highest-quality images yet.” Like so many other generative AIs before, it generates content by having users enter a command into the text box. What’s unique about the engine is it comes with “Expressive Chips” which are dropdown menus over keywords allowing you to quickly alter content with adjacent ideas. For example, ImageFX gave us a sample prompt of a dress carved out of deadwood complete with foliage. After it made a series of pictures, the AI offered the opportunity to change certain aspects; turning a beautiful forest-inspired dress into an ugly shirt made out of plastic and flowers. 

Image 1 of 2

ImageFX - generated dress

(Image credit: Future)
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ImageFX - generated shirt

(Image credit: Future)

Options in the Expressive Chips don’t change. They remain fixed to the initial prompt although you can add more to the list by selecting the tags down at the bottom. There doesn’t appear to be a way to remove tags. Users will have to click the Start Over button to begin anew. If the AI manages to create something you enjoy, it can be downloaded or shared on social media.

Be creative

This obviously isn’t the first time Google has released a text-to-image generative AI. In fact, Bard just received the same ability. The main difference with ImageFX is, again, its encouragement of creativity. The clips can help spark inspiration by giving you ideas of how to direct the engine; ideas that you may never have thought of. Bard’s feature, on the other hand, offers little to no guidance. Because it's less user-friendly, directing Bard's image generation will be trickier.

ImageFX is free to use on Google’s AI Test Kitchen. Do keep in mind it’s still a work in progress. Upon visiting the page for the first time, you’ll be met with a warning message telling you the AI “may display inaccurate info”, and in some cases, offensive content. If this happens to you, the company asks that you report it to them by clicking the flag icon. 

Also, Google wants people to keep things clean. They link to their Generative AI Prohibited Use Policy in the warning listing out what you can’t do with ImageFX.

AI updates

In addition to ImageFX, Google made several updates to past experimental AIs. 

MusicFX, the brand’s text-to-music engine, now allows users to generate songs up to 70 seconds in length as well as alter their speed. The tool even received Expressive Chips, helping people get those creative juices flowing. MusicFX even got a performance boost enabling it to pump content faster than before. TextFX, on the other hand, didn’t see a major upgrade or new features. Google mainly updated the website so it’s more navigable.

MusicFX's new layout

(Image credit: Future)

Everything you see here is available to users in the US, New Zealand, Kenya, and Australia. No word on if the AI will roll out elsewhere, although we did ask. This story will be updated at a later time.

Until then, check out TechRadar's roundup of the best AI art generators for 2024 where we compare them to each other. There's no clear winner, but they do have their specialties. 

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Following Bing AI, Google could bring AI writing tools to Chromebooks

Google is supposedly preparing to introduce an AI-aided feature that will help users write, rewrite and edit text – and it could be coming to Chromebooks.

Google is putting in major efforts in this direction, already having announced Project IDX at its I/O conference earlier this year

Project IDX is a program that is currently in a preview stage that will help developers with all kinds of actions, from code development to previewing their projects on different platforms, and is enhanced with AI. Throughout I/O 2023, Google explained how it was adding artificial intelligence capabilities into its products and services in the near future.

Google's generative AI tools

There are already a range of AI-charged writing features incorporated into Google products. 

In Gmail and Google Docs, you may have seen “Write for me” or “Help me write” which give you ideas and suggestions to help you write for professional purposes. On mobile devices, Google has also added a “Magic Compose” option in Google Messages to revise a reply you’ve written, or to draft a reply based on the context of your ongoing conversation.

Two phone screens drawn in a cartoony style, the space around the phones and screens are covered in messages, drawings of file types and emojis

(Image credit: Google)

Rumblings around Google's new works

As for this latest rumor, 9to5Google suggests that there are five codenames for it at present, including “Orca,” “Mako,” and “Manta.” Apparently, “Orca” will appear in the ChromeOS right-click menu when you are editing a piece of text. After you select the text and click on Orca (whatever it looks like in the version it’s presented in), Orca will prompt the “Mako” UI to appear in a “bubble.” 

The Mako feature will then give you three choices for what it can do with your text, according to inspection of the code. The first is that you can “request rewrites” for the selected text and possibly give you some options of AI-revised versions. The second option will let you choose from a list of “preset text queries,” which 9to5Google proposes will suggest styles to rewrite your text. The final option will let Mako swap your text for a version that it suggests into whatever program, app, or page you’re working in. 

When you ask Orca to open a Mako suggestion bubble, then the Manta UI will send your original text input to Google’s servers, and then receive the generated suggestion to present to you. 

This means that the process of reworking your text doesn’t happen on your local ChromeOS machine. Presumably like the Magic Compose feature, you ‘ll have to provide clear consent to send your writing to the Google servers in this way.

9to5Google found that these mechanisms seem to be embedded into an upcoming version of ChromeOS, assuming it will show up in a future update. This will mean that it might be possible for the Orca UI to show up in nearly any app on your ChromeOS device (such as any of the best Chromebooks). It suggests this new writing assistant might be in the 118 ChromeOS update, due in mid-October. We don’t know this is the case definitely, and if you’re interested, be on the lookout for more intel from Google itself. 

Asus Chromebook

(Image credit: Future)

Possible Chromebook X exclusive?

There are also signs that Orca/Mako/Manta might only be incorporated into Chromebook X devices. Chromebook X is set to be a line of high-end laptops and tablets that was reported earlier this year. As Chromebook X will have higher spec requirements than existing Chromebooks, it could mean that when this feature is rolled out, it may not be available for all existing ChromeOS devices. 

This would be a pity and maybe a missed opportunity, in my opinion, and I hope that this won’t be the case. Microsoft has also recently debuted an AI assistant writing feature for its Bing AI chatbot in the Edge browser, and as far as we know, that won’t require any hardware beyond that which can run the latest versions of Windows 11 and Edge. 

Based on my experience of Bard, it still has a way to go to match ChatGPT (another AI tool, which Microsoft’s Bing AI is based on) in terms of writing (and rewriting) ability. We’ll see how widespread the availability of this AI-assisted tool is, but the more users that have access to it, the more it can improve.

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Smart meter installations to be increased across the UK following lockdown

The British government has set out plans to increase smart meter installation in households across the country. In doing so, the government hopes to cut both energy bills and carbon emissions.

During the first quarter of 2020, domestic installation of smart meters fell by 15 per cent. This was partially because coronavirus-related lockdown restrictions stopped engineers from visiting homes and fitting the systems. 

Some 980,000 smart meters were still installed by large energy suppliers, but this broke a run of 12 consecutive quarters where more than one million smart meters were installed in households across the country.

Now Britain has started to exit lockdown, energy suppliers are beginning to install smart meters again. As of this week, all of the ‘big six’ energy providers have restarted their smart meter operations to some extent. These companies are also joined by OVO, which is the second biggest energy supplier in the UK.

According to the government’s advice, fitting a smart meter in your home could help you save up to £250 on your energy bills. So, with installations restarting, now is a good time to run an online energy comparison and switch to a supplier that's fitting smart meters in your area.

Smart meter benefits

In Britain, 21.5 million smart and advanced meters have already been fitted in homes and small businesses. It's thought that these smart meters will be instrumental in cutting up to £16 billion from the annual cost of reaching net-zero emissions by 2050. 

Plus, the nationwide roll-out of energy meters will also cut carbon emissions by 45 million tonnes, which is the equivalent of taking 26 million cars off the road for a year.

In the shorter term, getting a smart meter fitted in your home is a great way of instantly letting your supplier know if your energy usage changes over time, and your bills can be adjusted immediately to reflect this.

If you still rely on a meter reader visiting your home, your bill may not accurately show how much energy you’ve been using, and you risk receiving a nasty shock further down the line when your bill arrives. With a new smart meter, you can conveniently track your usage and get accurate bills every month. Plus, you can see where you’re using your energy on a daily basis and adjust your habits accordingly to lower your bills.

Smart meters are changing the way many customers use electricity in other ways, too. For example, some suppliers offer cheaper off-peak charging for electric vehicles, while others boost household income by helping renewable energy generators export green energy to the grid. In fact, in some instances, customers on smart tariffs have even been paid to use electricity during windy days when there is excess clean energy in the system.

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