Once upon a time and not so long ago, photography — even of the most casual sort — required serious effort. You created a checklist long before going to a national park or a friend’s wedding, starting with the camera itself. Next, you added film, batteries, and maybe some different lenses or flashbulbs.

Modern photography looks markedly different now thanks to the advent of smartphones.The latest smartphones boast high resolution and image quality, making it possible for anyone of any age to capture everyday moments and special occasions. In fact, one report claims “nearly 70 percent of teens have at least one photo” on social media. Teens and adults alike post dozens of pictures online in any given week, and the ease with which photos are taken and posted can produce problems ranging from organization and safety to mindfulness and visual overload.

It’s easier than ever to take and share photos, but this convenience comes at a price. As David Benaim, cofounder and chief technology officer of Photo Butler says, “The unfortunate part is that while it takes only a second to take a photo, it can take up to forty seconds to share it. During those forty seconds, we’re missing the moment. The transformation of photography has massive implications for our ability to be present.”

We’re missing out on moments in our lives when we stop to review and share the photos we take. Although it’s great to have quality photos to look back on from cool events, is it worth sacrificing our presence in the actual moment?

AI’s role in photography and photo sharing

Fortunately, technology may provide its own solution to the problem. New organizing algorithms — that is, applied artificial intelligence — could not only get you back in the moment, but could also save you time and energy cataloging photos. In addition, the technology could create memories to look back on without raising questions of who, what, why, or when.

Several companies aim to accomplish those exact goals, including Photo Butler. The photo-sharing application allows event hosts to create a single photo stream that guests can contribute to and view images on. As those photos are shared, the app uses artificial intelligence to detect the best ones and image recognition technology to identify and tag people so they have those candid shots without actually missing the moments they’re in.

“That way,” explains Benaim, “we create a more organized, automatic experience for users so they don’t miss the moment. [The AI] also produces a greater pool of authentic user-generated content for event organizers, while the image recognition helps users organize and search for the photos they want.”

AI and higher photo engagement

Richard Lee, chief executive officer at Netra, an image recognition startup, also believes AI could solve the challenges of being present and organized. However, he posits another solution: using AI and technology to alleviate visual overload and enhance engagement on social media.

Lee says, “Today’s technology has made us semi-professional photographers, with cameras always at the ready. Combine this with ultra-cheap storage, and we have an overabundance of photos and videos that’s only getting worse.”

“Today, AI is just starting to accurately identify what’s present or happening in photos, which helps solve the organization problem. Soon, though, AI models will marry knowledge of ‘what’s present’ in photos with engagement data (likes, shares, comments, opens) and recommend which photos to share — or not to share. It’s inevitable as social platforms become increasingly visual.”

Other applications of AI in photography

Benaim’s and Lee’s examples demonstrate only a few opportunities arising from the intersection of photography and artificial intelligence. Some possibilities, to be frank, are more than a little creepy. Research from Nvidia, for example, demonstrates how easy it is to create fake photos through AI.

Other applications prove more useful. Scientists at the Max Planck Institute for Intelligent Systems in Germany have created an algorithm called EnhanceNet-PAT. It applies artificial intelligence to low-resolution photos, transforming them into high-resolution photos that can be printed and hung on living room walls, for example.

Adobe has an artificial intelligence application in the works, too. Stan Horaczek, a reporter for Popular Science, sums up the technology by saying, “Adobe is training AI to be a better photo and video editor than you.” Adobe calls its machine learning technology Sensei, and it could soon become an integral part of the Adobe Creative Suite.

Google, of course, also has an AI stake in the visual world. Its Google Clips camera could change family gatherings, including Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Christmas, and other holiday celebrations, permanently. The camera uses AI to decide when to take photos so that you don’t have to — basically, you can enjoy watching a family member carve the turkey while the camera records the moment.

Yet another photo technology hopes to help people shop for clothing online more easily by producing a picture of the shopper in the outfit they’re thinking of buying.

The uses of AI are seemingly limitless, but that may be the point. Artificial intelligence is here, and it will forever change how we take, produce, share, and use photos.

Monique Serbu is a freelance writer who writes for Media Post and Stanford’s College Puzzle.


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