Inspired by reading Francois’ post about the Google „Brain“ Project and the neural network that was able to discriminate faces and “other high-level concepts” with a chance of 15,8% (I leave it to the reader to decide if that is impressive or not), and probably also in the mindset of various posts discussing our fear of technology, I remembered this project proposal by the artist Adam Harvey I came across a while ago: He tried to find out, when an apple is no longer an apple.
Or less radical: What does someone haves to do, to make an apple stop appearing as such to the Google Image Search algorithm? The answer seems to be: Not much. To put a few colourful dots on it is enough to obscure it for the machine (and asked to find similar pictures Google Search comes up with a lot of colourful dotted toys instead of apples).
On a technical site, this only seems to show that similarity judgements used by Google Image Search are not the same mechanisms that are used by humans to discriminate between different objects and to categorize them (as the underlying shape of the apple, its possible practical purposes and its biological origin make it clear to us that we see an apple, regardless of how many dots it has on it).
I wonder if it would be possible to design search algorithms that would actually try to mimic the way humans conceptualize objects (as it is far from clear to me how exactly we do it) or if there are more reliable and faster ways to let algorithms conceptualize things that would have similar outcomes as humans conceptualizing the same set of things.
But Harvey, in finding “new visual mutations that satisfy human perception and override machine vision” has a different goal, similar to the one explored in this other interesting project: To show how we are superior to machines, how we can get around the technical mechanisms that were envisioned and implemented by humans, and how we can protect ourselves against them, if they were to become our enemies. He sees machine recognition enabled enemies like autonomous killer drones, or other less deadly usages of face recognition. Hence, understanding the machines’ deficiencies allows us privacy when face recognition technology becomes very elaborate and sufficient.
A bit sarcastically, one could conclude that it is always a good business idea to invent something that makes new technology “unusable” again – as after some time we (or at least someone) will feel the need to circumvent it.
I’m glad that I finished this post before my laptop shuts itself down thanks to Work-life Balance Equipped Computers – great application to stop me from working too much…