Sunday, December 6, 2009

Picture Processing: or John Q. Public kissing in Hawaii

I guess we all have realized that something is happening in the world of picture processing.
Services like photosynth and Polar Rose and even Automatic Photo Tagging illustrate this trend. Not to forget Picasa and iPhoto face recognition capabilities.

What we see is basically that the computer starts to "understand" the content of the pictures and its relation to the real world. We will not go into details about the mechanisms but it is easy to grasp the idea. Just think of large amounts of public tagged photos, add cheap server processing power and online storage to this, add photo comparison and finally some recognition algorithms for faces and buildings etc.

Lets explore, what this will mean to users and bystanders in the future. Let's think this through a bit:

We can safely assume that all faces in all public pictures will at some time be tagged with the real peoples name. Yes even your name. As typically in the Internet this tagging will not be 100% reliable, but a fair amount of the data will be correct. Even if you think, you can avoid this, it will not help in the long run. Somebody somewhere will put a picture of you online and tag your face with your name. And once this information is in the wild, it can be used as reference for all the other pictures of you.

I guess you might have known this. But extend the thought a bit. After face recognition, comes building recognition (sorry i do not have a link, yet; however it is possible and similar to photosynth). The buildings on your pictures will be recognized and automatically be geotagged. Other recognition algorithms will follow. (How difficult can it be to detect if two faces are kissing each other ?)

So lets put all this together in a single use case in the near future:

  • John Q. Public is on a holiday trip in Hawaii
  • Somebody takes a random photo with his mobile that shows John in the background giving a goodbye kiss to his traveling acquaintance.
  • This photo is uploaded a day later to a public photo page
  • Somebody will automatically detect John and tag this picture with "Hawaii" (the airport building), "John" (face recognition) and "kissing" (new algorithm)
  • As the Internet never really forgets something, the picture now captures an eternal moment of John.
So you will stop kissing on airports from now on? It might be too late, your last goodbye could already be online.....and it will resurface whenever you do not expect it.

Who will do all this tagging and analysis? That's easy, don't you remember Google's mission ? (Google's mission: to organize the world's information and make it universally accessible and useful. ) . You will be able to search and find poor John with "John Q. Public"+"kissing"+"Hawaii"

You feel a bit of pitty for John? Maybe this will result in a general tolerance increase. Everybody might have his eternal moments online! So nobody can fingerpoint to somebody else.

What do you think? Is this story too absurd or did we hit some points?
Please comment!


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