The first time Google Photos made me cry was a punch that surprised me.
One morning in April, I looked at my battered phone to find more news about the incidents in the world. Instead, there was an image warning that warned me that Google's image processing robots created a kind of collection with my videos. I've already seen such videos produced with artificial intelligence – what Facebook makes from the summary of your year is a recurring accident – so I did not expect much. Then, I pressed to reproduce and, in thirty seconds, it was a ruin, with a long and weeping face.
The video was about my 5 year old daughter, Samara: almost every moment she is awake is marked by a thorough and lasting way by me, her father is obsessed with cameras. My obsession has created an archive nightmare; Samara's videos and photos of her elder brother Khalil, born in the era of smartphones, now include several terabytes – more images of a person can have time to look exhaustively. Someone can ask, why take all those moments?
Well, in this simple two-minute collection, Google Photos allowed me to see the answer in the answer.
Google computers can recognize faces, even those who are aging. Google Photos also seems to understand the tone and emotional value of human interactions, things like smiles, nervous giggles, frowns, anger, joys, and even fragments of dialogues like "Happy Birthday!" or "Well done!" Synchronized with Hollywood movie music, the result was a montage in which the events that were of obvious importance – birthday, school plays – were mixed with dozens of common moments of childhood joy.
She had a Samara baby when her hair was cut, when she took a few wobbly steps; Samara, when she was small when she played with her brother, when she fought with him, when she bravely fell into her swimming class; Samara is already in pre-school age while eating a pizza on a car trip when she picks up her tongue on the camera. I can not post the video here; It would be like showing your diary. However, if Samara once runs as president of her classroom in a kindergarten, Google's video could be equivalent to Bill Clinton's video from a man of hope and win with a convincing triumph.
This is what I mean when I speak of a "shock that surprises me": who would believe that the software will make him cry? Instagram and Snapchat images can move you daily, but Google Photos is not a social network; it's a personal network, a service that started three years ago, the purpose of which was essentially to function as a database to accommodate our growing collections of private photos and a service that most often runs machines, not other people who publish things that I like it.
And, in spite of everything, the technologies I use regularly, Google Photos has become one of the most relevant in emotional conditions. This is remarkable, not only because of the degree of usefulness it has, but because it eliminated any headache that caused the storage and search through the tsunami of photos that we all produce. In addition, Google Photos is outstanding because it assumes a possible understanding for itself through a photo.
With its intense focus on structuring through artificial intelligence, Google Photos suggests the beginning of a new era of personalized robotic historians. The billions of images we are taking will become raw materials for the algorithms that will organize the memories and will build the narratives about the most intimate human experiences. In the future, robots will know everything about us and tell our stories.
However, we are ahead of ourselves. Before worrying about tomorrow's science fiction, it's worth astonishing the basic tool that Google currently has. Technological companies have tried to create mechanisms for managing digital photos, because we started to reject film rolls. Most efforts failed; While our cameras are improving, we take more photos, and the more we take photos, the less we can arrange storage.
"With the invention of mobile phones, there was nothing that people did, absolutely nothing, that they did not present themselves with the picture," says Martin Hend, sociologist at Queen's University, Kingston, Ontario, and author of the Ubiquitous Photography Academic Research on the Happiness Problem with that there are too many photos. "But this created its own problems: it became a big question."
More than a decade ago, technology in the world came up with a partial solution to overload photos: making pictures become social. Through services like Flickr, then Facebook and Instagram, we tried to organize our pictures by making others do it for us. The best photos were those with the highest ratings in your social profile; the worst, those who have not published.
However, social networks created another series of problems: there was fear that it would be left out, a sense of performance, anxiety, loneliness, and erosion of privacy. "There was a feeling in which, because everything was public, the young people had to constantly regulate the public idea for themselves," Raka said.
In the same way, Google tried to participate in the game of social photography. The first incarnation of Google Photos was part of Google Plus, the social network of the search company, which had a destination sealed and just closed. A few years ago, after he realized that social networks were not his forte, Google returned to the design chart with Google Photos.
Its upgraded service did three things: it offers almost unlimited and free storage for your photos (you can pay more for storing your images in sizes with better resolution). I put them in the cloud so you can access them everywhere. And most importantly, the photos could depend on Google's false artificial intelligence to solve what the company considers a key issue in the mobile phone era: the fact that we can all take photos, but rarely we see it
"We realized that you will never evolve or recall at any one of those moments," said Anil Sabharwal, vice president of Google, who led the team that built Fotos and still manages it. "You were on a wonderful vacation, you took hundreds of amazing photos, years passed and you never saw them again."
When it started in 2015, Google Photos generated immediate relief. For example, facial recognition has made it possible to automatically share images. Now, when I paint my children, Google recognizes and shares those photos with my wife; Your pictures are shared with me. In an incredible way, instantaneously and without thinking about it, each one has a complete collection of photos of our children, and the exhaustion of security is gone.
Then, we have daily reminders on Google to remember. It's hard to exaggerate when I mention how many good Google machines you need to dig into your collection and find new things that can get you stunned. In the series, called "Before and After", Google will find photos of the same person or groups of people in similar positions in two different periods: your children on the first day of school this year and the same day last year, or the photo you acquired before the Empire State Department building ten years ago and today.
Last month, Google launched a new home device, Home Hub, a voice activation device featuring a screen where it shows an endless slide show with this type of nostalgic bait. It's magical. I've been with Home Hub for over a week and deeply changed my experience with my photos. They got their own life.
How many memories organized through artificial intelligence shape our stories about ourselves.
And, even though it seems like stopping me to use Google Photos, I'm also a little scared of what it promises for the future. There are many research in the social sciences that show how the photographs change our memories in a meaningful way. One study showed that when we take pictures without thinking that our ability to recall the events around the world is reduced. The photographs also shape the perception we have for ourselves, to the point of creating new memories: a false photo can convince you that something has happened to you, even if it never happened.
Given all this in mind, I care about how many memories organized through artificial intelligence shape our stories for themselves. I think that for Samara – and the children like her – they will see the videos one day as Google did for her, and she will draw some conclusions about her childhood just because some machines for profitable technology companies that receive advertising funding have brought decisions about what scenes they were supposed to appear and which they would hide.
At that time, there is still no trouble: Google Photos videos are happy and bright. However, if the story depends on who is telling your story, Google Photos leads us to a new field.
Today, machines increasingly understand our human world and shape our reality in the most profound way possible, and, like the cameras themselves, are inevitable.