Computer Vision aids endangered species conservation efforts

Photo by Dr. Paddy Ryan/The National Heritage Collection
Photo by Dr. Paddy Ryan/The National Heritage Collection

In an effort to help protect and conserve endangered species, scientists have been tracking and tagging them for years. However, there are some species that are either too large in population or too sensitive to tagging, and researchers have been working on another way to track them.

Now, thanks to SLOOP, a new computer vision software program from MIT, identifying animals has never been easier. A human sorting through 10,000 images would likely take years to properly identify animals, but this computer program cuts down the manpower and does things much quicker. Through the use of pattern-recognition algorithms, the program is able to match up stripes and spots on an animal and return 20 images that are likely matches, giving researchers a much smaller and more accurate pool to work with. Then the researchers turn to crowdsourcing, and with the aid of adept pattern-matchers, are able to narrow things down even more, resulting in 97% accuracy. This will allow researchers to spend more practical time in the field working on conversation efforts instead of wasting time in front of a computer screen.

Using text to visually search within Google

Photo courtesy of Google
Photo courtesy of Google

Google has undergone a number of changes in recent months, including but not limited to, the shutting down of some services but the launch of others. And while the end of Google Reader was announced in an effort to drive more users to Google+, that service has also seen some new features.

One of these features allows users who are logged in to search within their own albums on Google using Google Search. This kind of technology relies on Computer Vision algorithms to identify people, places, and things more easily, even if they haven’t been properly sorted or identified. The goal is to aid in visual searches through the use of phrases such as “my photos of cats” or “my photos of flowers,” etc. And as is often the case with Computer Vision and machine learning, the more photos you have, the better the technology is often able to refine itself over time.

What are your thoughts on this feature? Does it sound like something you would use?

Scramble Face service geared toward Internet users looking to protect their online presence

In a world with new computer vision-related software being introduced regularly, it’s no surprise that many consumers feel as though there is nothing they can do to protect themselves against an unwanted invasion of privacy.

However, just as companies come out with new facial recognition technology and algorithm-based programs, there are other companies that are helping customers gain a bit more control over how much of a presence they have on the web.

One example is VersusMedia, a Los Angeles-based company which launched Scramble Face in March, with a product targeted toward users wanting to locate and remove pictures of themselves that have been posted or indexed across the internet.

The premise is that in a world where potential employers and educators research applicants ahead of time, users should have some control over the content that appears on the Internet, be it something they posted or something that someone else uploaded.

Users who register with Scramble Face will upload pictures, and then pay for a 90-day period. During this time, the program continually scans the Internet for photos matching the individual, and provides a website name and number of pictures matched on each particular site.

What remains to be seen is whether the site helps with the removal process of identified photos, or simply makes users aware of images that exist, leaving them to deal with it on their own.

Image recognition used with Instagram, other social media sites

starbucksInstagram users threw a fit late last year when the popular photo app announced its new terms of services, many which users felt were a violation of privacy.

The main thing users took issue with was the ownership of photos, that is, if Instagram is allowed to take photos from its users and re-appropriate them as the company sees fit.

But what many people don’t realize is that their photos are already being used in the marketing and advertising worlds. Just consider gazeMetrix, a startup that uses computer vision and machine learning when sorting through photos on social media platforms, in order to recognize brand logos and trademarks being photographed.

In finding the use and appearance of these logos, companies are then able to promote their brands more effectively by targeting ads to the proper markets, see how these items are being used, and communicate to users of their specific products.

An article on Forbes.com provides examples of the many ways this data can be used. What are some other potential uses?

Protecting against invasion of privacy

Facial recognition is a hot topic when it comes to identifying suspects and finding criminals, but these are only ways in which it can help aid society. However, many citizens have voiced concerns that along with facial recognition technology comes an unwanted invasion of privacy, according to an article recently posted on CNN.

This concern, of course, is not new, but the decreasing costs and increasing availability of facial recognition technology have made it much more relavant.

Those who are worried can rest a bit easy; the technology available is not yet intelligent enough to automatically match a face on the street with a person in a computer. Such a search would take hours to complete.

However, there are applications, such as a new iPhone one, which is able to use photos of a person – either real or from the Internet – and compile information such as gender and birthdate, to guess the person’s social security number. Watch the following video for more on this:

http://i.cdn.turner.com/money/.element/apps/cvp/4.0/swf/cnn_money_384x216_embed.swf?context=embed&videoId=/video/technology/2011/10/05/t-ts-iphone-camera-id.cnnmoney

So how do people protect themselves from being photographed against their will? What happens if and/or when facial recognition technology becomes so commonplace that its use extends beyond law enforcement to include business owners and any given person on the street?

Image recognition technology extends its use to advertising campaigns

Image recognition search engines are leading the way today as a new method for the curious public to discover on-the-go information. Once confined to the realm of text-based searching, now consumers are able to rely on software powered by computer-vision technology to connect isolated images with the world at large.

Google is one of the larger companies utilizing computer vision to provide a service to its customers. Its Google Goggles application, made available last year on both the Android and iPhone platforms, allows users to take a picture of a product or a landmark and returns results about the picture in question and any related products or information. In the future, Google hopes to expand its results to living objects, proposing the identification of plant and animal species based upon pictures.

Another company, Pongr, is using similar technology but in a different way. Instead of providing a purely informational service, Pongr bridges the gap between consumer and advertiser. According to a recent press release from the company, users can send in photos of products they like and Pongr will return to the customer with information, links and special offers on and from that brand, while the companies themselves learn valuable information about their consumers and target audiences.

The most recent example of this is Pongr’s collaboration with Pepsi and The X Factor, which asks consumers to send in pictures of Pepsi products advertising The X Factor. In turn, they will be sent links to exclusive content pertaining to the brands and entered into a contest to win – all through the use of computer-vision technology.

The following graphic is Pongr’s explanation of how it works:


Image courtesy of Pongr

The technology is nothing new, but Pongr puts a new spin on it, by capitalizing on something that is already a part of the status quo: cell phone users taking pictures. It then caters to this demographic by connecting the consumer’s every day world with the online world. And at first glance, this appears to be a win-win situation for all parties involved. However, it does bring up the question of what continually new and interesting ways can computer-vision technology be put to use.

Reverse image search technology available with Google

Technology that powers reverse image searching is one of the latest rollouts from Google, as the company’s search function has expanded in recent months.

The feature, which was first introduced to a select audience in June, is now available to the general public. According to the Google Images Help page, Google makes use of computer vision technologies to match an image to similar ones in the Google index and associated databases, and returns “best guess” results, which include both text and other image results.

This comes alongside news from six weeks ago of Google purchasing a facial recognition company, and for many, brings up concerns of what Google will be capable of by combining these like technologies.

However, the aforementioned kinds of concerns are likely premature, if not entirely unwarranted, as the type of technology in question is able to search for generic objects, whereas the possibility of returning results as specific as faces is unrealistic – at least at this point.

Although what Google is doing is on a large, corporate scale, there are smaller companies, such as ImageGraphicsVideo, which are creating similar types of software which companies can implement to do similar, industry-specific tasks. And understanding the capabilities of Google in regards to its image search is merely the first step in unraveling what computer-vision software is able to do in other realms.