Wednesday, March 08, 2006

(All-) Seeing Computers

It is my believe that "seeing computers" is an area where we will see great improvements in the coming years; making computers understand pictures is the next low hanging fruit in AI.

I wrote about "Smart Spy Cams" (surveillance cameras combined with image recognition software) that are a part of this trend, as usual the newest about these comes from Britain. In addition to automatically identifying the number plates of each car that passes by, they also want to detect peoples speaking on mobile phones and those not wearing seatbelts.

Drivers talking on mobile phones or failing to wear seatbelts could find themselves tracked down through a widened use of road surveillance cameras, under proposals due to be floated in parliament tomorrow.

Microsoft research is also working on image recognition software and showed some advances at their recent TechFest.

Researcher Larry Zitnick demonstrated the ability to query the Internet by snapping a digital photo and automatically uploading it to a program that recognized elements of the object pictured and pulled up a related Web site. For example, he took a photo of the Kellogg's logo on a cereal box, and the computer screen automatically displayed the cereal maker's home page.
Another imaging program on display was a virtual "mirror" that records and analyzes a video image of a person or item in front of it and responds by displaying images of other people or things, recorded previously, who were wearing similar clothes or had other similar characteristics. Researcher Andy Wilson said it's more of "an art piece" than anything else, but he pointed out that it also explores a practical challenge of the digital world.
But remember that especially the first one is a very ambitious task and is currently only working for a very small number of objects - It'll take a couple of years until you can use your mobile phones camera to query the internet.