Image Search, Analysis Emerge as Powerful Tools, Privacy Threat

By Mike Elgan  |  Posted 2014-11-20 Print this article Print
Image Search

In a nutshell, these systems identify objects in a photograph—say, a boy, a dog, a ball, a tree, a park, a bird, some clouds and so on—then use sophisticated artificial intelligence to understand that the boy is throwing the ball for the dog to chase in a park and that the bird isn't involved in the main action of the photo.

Combine this technology with face recognition and anyone with access (which will be everyone) will be able to search the Web for people doing things or involved with or associated with some activity.

In addition to photographs, video is a rich source of actionable data. A company called Placemeter pays New York City users up to $50 per month to install their app in an old smartphone and point that smartphone at a city block.

The software identifies places and people (that is, it can tell people are humans, but can't tell their identities), then counts how many people walk by, enter and exit stores and other data of value to retailers, city planners and others. After Placemeter extracts the numbers they're looking for, the video is deleted.

Placemeter is just one example of a future industry where mass video and photo surveillance will be crowd sourced.

It's easy to see where all this is going. Cameras are terrible for harvesting data when humans have to pour over them to interpret every picture and every scene. But cameras are the ultimate sensor when artificial intelligence can be applied to the task of looking at photos and videos to extract data from them.

Once that data is indexed, it becomes super easy to use it and zero in on the photos and videos—or just use the related data without ever referring to the images themselves.

As with all such technology, the outcome will be a mixed bag of good and bad. Obviously, this is powerful stuff (in a dystopian science fiction sense, minus the fiction part) for the computerized surveillance state and poses a threat to the privacy of every human being on the planet.

But it's also powerful stuff that ordinary individuals will have some access to. You'll be able to set up rules for your home security system that says: "Alert me when the UPS driver throws a package." Or "send me video every time someone other than my family members enter the house." You'll be able to set up alerts that will send you a link when someone posts a very specific picture or video on the Web.

And robots will have access, too. The ability to recognize photos and videos combined with other artificial intelligence will enable robots to respond in a more human-like way.

Love it or fear it, this technology is happening—right now.


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