Soon, Google Photos could remember more than we



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Service is a brilliant solution to those millions of photos we take, but we never see; however, someday the narrative of our intimate life could be in the hands of robots

The first time Google Photos made me cry was a scam that took me by surprise.

One April morning I looked at my resigned phone to find more news of the world's calamities. Instead, there was a photo alert that warned me that Google's image-processing robots created a kind of collection with my videos. I had seen this type of video produced with artificial intelligence – what Facebook does of the summary of its year is a recurring misfortune – so I did not expect much. Then I pressed to reproduce, and in thirty seconds was a ruin, with a long, tear-stained face.

The video was about my 5-year-old daughter, Samara: almost every moment she was awake was celebrated fully and permanently by me, her camera-obsessed father. My obsession created a file nightmare; Videos and photos of Samara and his older brother, Khalil, both born in the era of smart phones, now span several terabytes – more images than a human being could have time to thoroughly review. One might ask: why capture all these moments?

Well, in this simple two-minute collection, Google Photos allowed me to see a glimpse of the answer.

Google computers can recognize faces, even those that age. Google Photos also seems to understand the tone and emotional value of human interactions, such as smiles, nervous laughter, frowning, tantrums, joy dances and even snippets of dialogue such as "Happy Birthday!" or "well done!" Synchronized with a Hollywood movie song, the result was an assembly in which events that were of obvious importance – birthday, school plays – were mixed with dozens of common moments of childhood joy.

There was Baby Samara when her hair was cut when she took a few hesitant steps; Samara when she was a kid when she played with her brother when she was fighting with him when she dived bravely into the swimming lesson; Samara was already in preschool while eating pizza on a car trip when she flicked her tongue at the camera. I can not post the video here; It would be like showing your diary. However, if Samara was once president of his kindergarten class, Google's video could be equivalent to Bill Clinton's Man From Hope video and win with an overwhelming triumph.

This is what I mean when I say a "blow that caught me by surprise": who would believe that software would make you cry? Images on Instagram and Snapchat can move you daily, but Google Photos is not a social network; is a personal network, a service that began three years ago, the purpose of which was, in essence, to function as a database to house our growing collections of private photos and a service that usually runs machines, not other humans who post things to I like.

And, despite all the technologies I use regularly, Google Photos has become one of the most relevant in emotional terms. It is extraordinary, not only because of the degree of utility it has, but because it has eliminated any headache that caused the storage and search through the tsunami of photos that we all produce. In addition, Google Photos is extraordinary because it presages a possible understanding of ourselves through photography.

With its intense focus on structuring through artificial intelligence, Google Photos suggests the beginning of a new era of custom robot historians. The billions of images we take will become the raw material for the algorithms that will organize the memories and build the narratives about our most intimate human experiences. In the future, the robots will know all about us and tell our stories.

However, we are anticipating. Before worrying about tomorrow's science fiction, it's worth admiring the basic utility Google Photos currently has. Technology companies have tried to create mechanisms to manage digital photos since we started discarding the film rolls. Most efforts failed; As our cameras improve, we take more photos, and the more photos we take, the less we can organize storage.

"With the invention of cell phones, there was nothing that humans did, absolutely nothing, that they also did not portray in an image," said Martin Hand, a sociologist at Queen's University, Kingston, Ontario, and author of Ubiquitous Photography, an academic research on the happy problem of having many photos. "But this has generated its own problems: it has become an overwhelming problem."

More than a decade ago, the world of technology came up with a partial solution to overloading the photos: making social images. Through services like Flickr, Facebook and Instagram, we try to organize our images by making other people do it for us. The best photos were those that had the highest rankings in their social profile; the worst, those you have not published.

However, social networks created another set of problems: there was the fear of being left out, a feeling of performative anxiety, loneliness, and an erosion of privacy. "There was a feeling that because everything was public, the young people had to constantly edit the public idea of ​​themselves," Hand said.

Similarly, Google tried to participate in the game of social photos. The first incarnation of Google Photos was part of Google Plus, the search company's social network, which had its destination sealed and closed. A few years ago, after realizing that social networks were not his forte, Google returned to the design table with Google Photos.

Your revamped service did three things: it offered almost unlimited free storage for your photos (you can pay more so your images are stored in sizes with a better resolution). I put them in the cloud, so you can have access to them anywhere. And, more importantly, Photos could depend on Google's fake artificial intelligence to sort out what the company perceived as the main problem of the cell phone age: the fact that we can all take photos, but it's rare we see them

"We realized that you would never recall or remember any of those moments," said Anil Sabharwal, Google's vice president who led the team that built Photos and still heads it. "You were going on a wonderful vacation, you took hundreds of amazing photos, the years went by and you never saw them again."

When it began in 2015, Google Photos generated immediate relief. For example, facial recognition made it possible to share photos automatically. Now, when I take a picture of my children, Google recognizes them and shares those photos with my wife; Your images are shared with me. In an incredible, instantaneous way without having to think about it, each one has a complete collection of our children's photos, and the anxiety to keep them safe has disappeared.

So we have Google daily reminders to remember. It's hard to overdo it when you mention how good Google machines are to get into your collection and find new things that might surprise you. In a series called Before and After, Google will find pictures of the same person, or groups of people, in similar poses in two different periods: their children on the first day of school this year and the same day last year. , or the photo you took in front of the Empire State ten years ago today.

Last month, Google launched a new device for the home, the Home Hub, a voice-activated device that has a screen that displays an endless slideshow with this kind of nostalgic bait. It's magic. I've been at the Home Hub for over a week and have profoundly changed my experience with my photos. They have acquired a life of their own.

How memories organized through artificial intelligence are shaping our narratives about ourselves.

And, despite the cost of stopping using Google Photos, I'm also a little bit terrified of what it promises for the future. There is a lot of social science research that shows how photos change our memories in a meaningful way. One study proved that when we take pictures without thinking, our ability to remember events in the world around us is reduced. The photos also shape our perception of ourselves, to the point of creating new memories: a false photo can convince you that something happened to you, even if it never happened.

Taking all that into account, I worry about how much memory organized through artificial intelligence is shaping our narratives about ourselves. I think of Samara – and children like her – as one day she will see videos like what Google has produced about her, and she will draw certain conclusions about her childhood just because some machines of for-profit technology companies that receive advertising funding take decisions. about what kind of scenes they would show and which ones they would hide.

There is no calamity at the moment: Google Photos videos are happy and bright. However, if the story depends on who tells your story, Google Photos will take us to a new terrain.

Today, machines are increasingly understanding our human world and shaping our reality as deeply as possible and, like the cameras themselves, are inevitable.

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