The first time Google Photos made me cry, it was a blow that surprised me.
One morning in April, I looked at my armed phone to find more news about the disasters in the world. Instead, there was a photo alert that warned me that Google's image processing robots created a collection of my videos. I have already seen such artificial intelligence videos – what Facebook does from your summary of the year is repetitive misfortune – so I did not expect much. Then I pressed to reproduce and in thirty seconds it was a ruin, with a long, raw face.
The video was about my 5-year-old daughter Samara: almost every moment she was awake she was constantly remembered by me, her father is obsessed with the cameras. My obsession created an archival nightmare; The videos and photos of Samara and her older brother Khalil, who were born in the era of smartphones, are now a few terabytes – more images than a man, have time to revise thoroughly. Someone may ask why to capture all these moments?
Well, in this simple two-minute collection, Google Photos let me see the look of the answer.
Google's computers can recognize faces, even those who are old. Google Photos also understands that the tone and emotional value of human interactions, things like smiles, nervous twittering, frowning, torture, dances of joy and even fragments of dialogues such as "Happy Birthday!" or "Okay!" Synchronized with Hollywood film music, the result is an installation where events that are of obvious importance – birthday, school plays – are mixed with dozens of ordinary moments of childhood joy.
She was the baby Samara when her hair was cut when she climbed a few steps to her knees; Samara, when she was little when she was playing with her brother when she fought with him when she boldly swung her swim class; Samara is already in a nursery while eating a pizza while he takes his tongue out of the camera. I can not post the video here; That would be to show your diary. However, if Samara ever became president of her class at the kindergarten, Google's video could be equivalent to Bill Clinton's "Man From Hope" video and win with an amazing triumph.
That's what I mean when I talk about a "shock that surprised me": who would believe a software would make him cry? Instagram and Snapchat images can move you on a daily basis, but Google Photos is not a social network; this is a personal network – a service that started three years ago, whose purpose is essentially to function as a database to house our growing collections of personal photos and a service that most often works on machines and not on other people , which I like.
And yet, for the technologies I use regularly, Google Photos has become one of the most emotionally relevant. This is unbelievable, not only because of the degree of usefulness but also because it eliminates the headache that causes the storage and demand in the tsunami of the photos we all make. Google Photos is also exceptional because it makes it possible to understand yourself through photography.
With its intense focus on artificial intelligence structuring, Google Photos is launching a new era of customized robot historians. The millions of images we take will become the raw material of the algorithms that will organize memories and make stories about our most intimate human experiences. In the future, robots will know everything about us and tell our stories.
However, we are progressing ahead of us. Before worrying about tomorrow's science fiction, it's worth wondering how to use the basic utility Google Photos currently has. Technological companies have tried to create digital photo management mechanisms since we started shooting movies. Most efforts have failed; While our cameras are improving, we take more pictures and the more shots we make, the less we can manage the storage.
"With the invention of mobile phones, there was nothing that people did not do, absolutely nothing that did not appear in an image," says Martin Rush, a sociologist at Queen's University, Kingston, Ontario and author of "Killed Photography" An academic study of the happy problem with too many pictures. "But this has created its own problems: this has become a huge problem."
More than a decade ago, the world of technology came up with a partial solution to overloading photos: making images social. Through services like Flickr, Facebook and Instagram, we tried to organize our images, others doing it for us. The best photos were those that had the highest scores on your social profile; the worst, the ones you have not posted.
Social networks, however, create yet another series of problems: the fear is that it will not be omitted, the sense of performative anxiety, the loneliness and erosion of privacy. "There was a feeling in which, because everything was public, young people had to constantly change the public perception of themselves," said Rye.
Similarly, Google tried to participate in the social photo game. Google's first incarnation was part of Google Plus, the search company's social network, which was sealed and just closed. Several years ago, when he realized that social networks were not his focus, Google went back to the designer's table with Google Photos.
Its upgraded service has done three things: it offers almost unlimited and free storage of your photos (you can pay more so that your images are stored in better resolution sizes). I put them in the cloud so you can access them anywhere. And most importantly, pictures can depend on Google's false artificial intelligence to decide who has perceived the company as a key problem in the mobile phone era: the fact that we can take pictures, but we rarely see them
"We realized that you will never remind or remember any of these moments," said Anil Sabarval, vice president of Google, who runs the team that built Fotos and still leads it. "You were on a beautiful vacation, you took hundreds of incredible pictures, the years passed and you never saw them again".
When launched in 2015, Google Photos generates immediate relief. For example, face recognition made it possible to share photos automatically. Now that I take pictures of my children, Google recognizes them and shares those photos with my wife; Your photos are shared with me. In an incredible way, instantly and without having to think about it, everyone has a complete collection of our children's pictures and the anxiety of keeping them safe is gone.
Then we have Google's daily reminders to remember. It's hard to exaggerate when I mention how good Google's machines are to dive into your collection and find new things that can 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: your children on the first day of school this year and the same day last year, or the photo you've taken before the Empire State building ten years ago.
Last month Google released a new home device, the Home Hub, a voice activated device that has a screen where it shows an endless slideshow with this kind of nostalgic bait. This is magical. I've been in the Home Hub for more than a week and deeply changed my experience with my pictures. They have acquired their own lives.
How many memories, organized through artificial intelligence, shape our stories about ourselves.
And despite what it takes to stop using Google Photos, I'm also a little terrified of what she promises in the future. There are many scientific studies in the social sciences that show how pictures change our memories in a meaningful way. Research shows that when we take pictures without thinking that our ability to remember the events in the world around us is reduced. The photos also shape the perception we have for ourselves, to the point of creating new memories: the fake picture can convince you that something has happened to you, even if it did not happen.
Taking all this into account, I worry how many memories, organized through artificial intelligence, shape our stories about ourselves. I think of Samara – and children like her – how one day she will see videos like Google created for her, and she will make some conclusions about her childhood just because some machines of technology companies who receive advertising funding have taken decisions about what scenes will show and which will hide.
There is currently no crash: Google Photos videos are happy and vivid. But if the story depends on who tells your story, Google Photos takes us to a new ground.
Today, machines are increasingly understanding our human world and shaping our reality as deeply as possible, and the cameras themselves are inevitable.