How AIs are rewriting photographic history


If you send your holiday photos to Google's Autoawesome processor, it will snip out the best smiles and poses and combine them to make pictures of scenes that never actually happened.

AI researcher Rob Smith was struck by this when he uploaded a burst series of holiday photos to the system and got back a picture that tweezed out the best smiles from several exposures and combined them with the best poses from others.

As I pointed out to him when we discussed this over lunch recently, the real lesson here is that photos are never a neutral record of history, and always emphasize or downplay different aspects of the scene. But as Rob counters, "But I’m reasonably sure you wouldn’t say that if this were a photo of Obama and Putin, smiling it up together, big, simultaneously happy buddies, at a Ukraine summit press conference. Then, I think algorithms automatically creating such symbolic moments would be a concern."

Note the position of my hands, the fellow in the background, and my wife’s smile. Actually, these photos were a part of a “burst” or twelve that my iPhone created when my father-in-law accidentally held down the button too long. I only uploaded two photos from this burst to see which one my wife liked better.

So Google’s algorithms took the two similar photos and created a moment in history that never existed, one where my wife and I smiled our best (or what the algorithm determined was our best) at the exact same microsecond, in a restaurant in Normandy.

So what? Good for the algorithm’s designers, some may say. Take burst photos, and they AutoAwesomely put together what you meant to capture: a perfectly coordinated smiley moment. Some may say that, but honestly, I was a bit creeped out.

It’s Official: AIs are now re-writing history [Rob Smith]