When Google Photos' AI helped to confirm my daughter's photographic memory

Dinakaran Sankaranarayanan


When Google Photos' AI helped to confirm my daughter's photographic memory

When social media was at its peak, it became a norm to use check-in feature on Facebook or Twitter etc to let the world know the cool places that we are going or hanging out. It also became a customary tradition to take selfies or food photos with our family and friends and share them everywhere.

Post privacy awareness, some of us stopped sharing photos. Dozens of selfies were still clicked and saved for posterity, but we stopped from sharing publicly, but in private WhatsApp group etc. I have been using Google Photos for a few years now and is one of the best products rolled out by Google of late. What makes this app awesome is the ‘memories’ feature. It displays photos taken long back as memories and as a young parent, it gushes out a multitude of emotions watching newborn daughter slowly transforming over the years. Nostalgia is awesome.

Speaking of Nostalgia, I cannot miss recommending this MadMen pitch for a product which propose to be called The Carousel. It is one of the amazing scenes that was ever written and performed in my opinion.

“Nostalgia - its delicate, but potent. Teddy told me that in Greek nostalgia literally means “the pain from an old wound.” It’s a twinge in your heart far more powerful than memory alone. This device isn’t a spaceship, it’s a time machine. It goes backwards, and forwards… it takes us to a place where we ache to go again. It’s not called the wheel, it’s called the carousel. It let’s us travel the way a child travels - around and around, and back home again, to a place where we know are loved.”

In some ways, Google Photos trigger that sort of nostalgia.

Google Photos AI-powered Tagging Feature

Google Photos rolled out AI features in the app couple of years back. The way it works is that all the photos that are stored on the app are analyzed and Google AI identifies them the objects, faces, landmarks in the photos and tags them accordingly. It is a wonderful feature and it helps to search for photos based on the object tags that are stored by AI.

My wife and I had a conversation with the daughter around planning for a new movie and the discussion went around what dress she is going to wear for the cinemas. And then she told us about that the last time when we went for ‘Incredibles 2’ movie and that she wore a particular dress and she was able to even recollect the colour of the dress and who gifted it to her. We were awestruck by her memory but still wanted to confirm if whatever she says is true. I remember taking a picture of my daughter besides the movie poster in the cinemas. Since I had a huge stock of photos and it was a long time ago, it would have been very difficult to scroll these pictures and locate it.

Using AI to locate the pictures

I thought of using the Google Photos search photos feature to locate the picture. I was aware that Google’s AI can even read the text in the pictures as well. So here is how I went about it.

I thought I could search the text within the photo. Since the photo was taken with background of Incredibles movie poster , I searched for : “Incredibles” and I got no search results.

Then I tried for the keyword “The Incredibles”, but again no search results.

It is at this moment that I remembered that Google AI tags the photos using common object properties. For eg, it tags photos with cars, bicycle, landmarks, greenery etc. So I tried with the keyword “Poster” and voila, I got a stream of search results and the photo that I wanted to locate was there as a second result. I was blown away by how quickly the app was to locate the picture.

And Ladies and Gentlemen, my daughter was indeed right. She was wearing the exact same dress and I can personally vouch that kids have an incredible memory.

Possibilities of AI in Image Recognition

It is amazing when technology works and the underlying Google AI most probably used is the Google Vision API. Try this by uploading images in the website and witness how Google AI tags these pictures and share other metadata.

As AI is improving, it is becoming evident how modern softwares are able to distinguish facial and human features , apply bokeh to improve portrait photos by blurring the background etc. I recently came across this site https://www.remove.bg that helps us remove the background from photos. It is awesome. Give it a try, the end results are mostly spot-on.

However, there are few situations when AI messes it up. For instance, it tagged a human face as Gorilla . It was early days though, but it triggered a big debate.

With AI, the possibilities are limitless, but it is equally frightening to think about all the unintended consequences associated with it.