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What ancient advice can teach us about AI

Artificial Intelligence (AI) is everywhere. Siri, Alexa and Google Assistant have become indispensable to millions of users. Tesla Autopilot has the potential to change driving forever. And IBM Watson took a new job providing big data solutions to corporations after its first job was in jeopardy.

Those are just the most prominent examples. Helpful applications of AI are being deployed in a broad spectrum of industries, but AI also has the potential to be misused.

About the author

 Jason Egnal is Chief Marketing Officer at Zenfolio. His background spans a variety of industries, including SaaS, AI, Fintech and Consumer Electronics. 

Zenfolio, the website builder and photo sharing site, recently introduced technology that applies AI to assist photographers in selecting the best photos from the thousands of shots typically taken during a photo session. The advanced image recognition technology is tremendously powerful and can make photographers more efficient than they ever dreamed.

When exploring the best way to roll out AI to the photography community, Zenfolio had some fascinating discussions about corporate responsibility generally, and its obligations specifically.

AI: ancient concept, new reality

The concept of AI was theorized centuries ago by Greek philosophers, with myths about Talos and Pandora creating chaos and destruction. 

Perhaps these cautionary tales about artificial beings influence our thinking today. While the ancient Greeks would no doubt have been amused by the rudimentary nature of philosophical discourse at Zenfolio, the advantage the company had  were discussions based on actual implementations, not merely theoretical pondering (and the team wore more practical clothing, to boot).

Artificial Intelligence contributes to efficiency, accuracy and productivity in ways the early Greeks could not have imagined. It has evolved to be capable of language processing, optical recognition, and human interaction. 

Yet, there are positive and negative aspects to consider surrounding the responsible deployment of AI.

The positive application of AI in photography

The photography industry is generating exponentially more images than ever thanks to digital cameras and the best photo editors. Photographers need to be more efficient and productive in the time-consuming process of finding the best images out of thousands. 

AI can analyze large amounts of data and perform specific functions, getting faster and more accurate as it learns, usually when fine-tuned by a human. 

Since each photographer has a unique style, and relies on their creative eye to characterize their work, it's important to establish a model where AI can assist in a specifically defined task, yet leave ultimate creative control in the hands of the photographer.

The inherent bias of AI in photography 

A major challenge in many types of artificial intelligence is bias. Especially in facial recognition technology.

Some AI models inherit bias from the datasets upon which they’re trained, and may therefore reinforce or exacerbate societal biases. This tends to occur due to the lack of variety in the training set for the models. 

Diverse data can help mitigate problems that lead to biases in the system, but datasets still require filtering to prevent errors. 

Artwork created on Craiyon

Image generated with DALL-E AI using text “Photographer with camera opening mythological Pandora's box” (Image credit: Zenfolio)

Personal information tied to photographs

We have already seen several controversial uses of facial-recognition technology. Earlier this year, a New York-based startup was fined tens of millions of dollars by European authorities for amassing billions of facial images and personal information from Facebook, LinkedIn, and other websites. Then, using it to train facial-recognition software to identify individuals based on face scans. 

The company justifies its actions by stating that its technology is designed to be used by law enforcement agencies in fighting crime. However, there are other companies whose websites allow anyone to upload any photo to identify the subject. 

Facial-recognition technology is undeniably a powerful tool for photographers and their clients to easily group and view photos of a specific person. It’s one of the best features in the Google Photos app, for example. 

However, there is no need for a business to associate Personally Identifiable Information (PII) with the image in order to achieve these results. 

For photo sessions that generate thousands of images, with a set of similar subjects appearing in many of the photos, applying facial-recognition to find a specific person does not require the application to know anything about that person, other than their unique facial features. 

Once all photos of a person are selected by the AI, it can then rate each image based on a set of criteria ranked in importance, e.g. the sharpest image, the happiest faces, whether eyes are open or closed. 

By keeping the initial set of photos stored locally on a photographer’s computer, the technology can be applied in extremely useful ways, without the subject in the photo being at risk of having AI models learn to more accurately identify them from a large group of private images. 

Should the photographer then share a subset of the best photos with their client through the Zenfolio cloud storage services, for instance, the gallery is password-protected, and advanced settings for the photographer to either enable or disable facial-recognition features for each client's gallery.  

Deploying AI with intelligence

Empowering professional photographers with affordable access to advanced AI is a very new initiative. 

And the team behind have been cautious and thoughtful, and perhaps even philosophical, in deploying the solution. 

Using cutting-edge technology, drawing on almost two decades of experience in securing images and video, and partnered with the best security technology providers. 

There is always a possibility that circumstances will evolve in unexpected ways, but the approach the company has taken is to try to ensure that it does not enable or contribute to negative applications of AI technology.

Perhaps the Ancient Greek philosophers would be surprised that today, their Talos steers a Tesla. Or that the chaos and destruction they feared from Pandora is limited to the music industry. If all companies spend time contemplating the moral and ethical impact of their creations – tunics and sandals optional – perhaps we can prove those ancient concerns unfounded.  

But as the more contemporary philosopher Douglas Adams said: “A common mistake that people make when trying to design something completely foolproof is to underestimate the ingenuity of complete fools.”

Source: TechRadar

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