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The Google AI Takeover: Landscape Photography Edition

Curators’ Corner

The Google AI Takeover: Landscape Photography Edition

Google has driven cars and flown drones strapped with cameras through nearly every neighborhood, public space and desolate landscape in an effort to eventually create an image map of the world. Thanks to Google Street View, the tech company is now endowed with an image catalogue filled with scenic panoramas, which folks on the Machine Perception team at Google Research decided to use in an exploration to see if an experimental deep-learning system could create artistic content.

Artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) systems are really good at binary tasks with clear cut answers: 1 or 0, yes or no. A computer’s ability to comprehend and duplicate more subjective matters, like art and feelings, is constantly under scrutiny and development, and Google aimed to pass a Turing test-like experiment where a virtual photographer’s work could be mistaken for that of a human’s.

Google worked to train a system that “mimics the workflow of a professional photographer, roaming landscape panoramas from Google Street View and searching for the best composition, then carrying out various postprocessing operations to create an aesthetically pleasing image,” as explained on Google’s Research Blog.

Once a suitable image was selected, the model then utilized generative adversarial networks (GANs) for postprocessing. GANs are AI algorithms used in unsupervised ML that pin two neural networks against one another. In this case, the first “generative” network attempts to “fix” a professional photograph that was incorrect (i.e. damaging filters were applied), while the competing or “discriminate” network analyzes the original and edited images to determine what negative changes were made.

The virtual photographer was then put to the test, and cropped and edited its own photographs that were mixed in with images of varying quality taken by humans and rated by professional photographers. The results were that roughly 40% of the AI created images received a rating on par with semi-pro or pro-grade photographs.

Scroll through some of Google’s AI photographs below and check out their Creatism showcase, where you can click on an artificially created image and compare it the original Street View panorama.