Poetic Descriptive Camera

Sometimes half the fun of hatching an idea is thinking through all the silly things you’d do, even if you’re ultimately too lazy to dig in and actually do it.

In this spirit, I’d like to share a hack to playfully disrupt the Descriptive Camera, a project by ITP’s Matt Richardson.

@fascinated, @ProfessorPerl and I planned…but didn’t execute…our poetic intervention. But nevertheless, it’s fun to share the idea even if we didn’t do it.

Descriptive Camera

Matt Richardson’s Descriptive Camera looks like a regular camera. But rather than producing an image of the subject, the camera outputs a text description of metadata describing what’s in the scene.

Richardson’s project highlights an important hang up around information retrieval for images. Most metadata about photos focuses on where the images were taken, with what kind of camera, etc., but very little information is available about what’s actually in the photo. If we had more text descriptions of content, it would be much easier to search and parse images.

As Richardson points out, technology at the moment doesn’t offer affordable solutions for routinely-produced text descriptions yet.

(Although I did find an impressive example of a supermarket scanner that recognizes objects by their visible characteristics.)

Mechanical Turk

Alas, until that edgy Japanese technology is pervasive and recognizes objects beyond bananas and beer, we have to rely on human intelligence to provide text descriptions of photos.

The Descriptive Camera uses Amazon’s Mechanical Turk to process images into text. After the camera takes a photo, it sends the image to Mechanical Turk. Then a task is offered up to people who pseudonymously agree to write a short description of the photo in exchange for a few cents.

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| |  Corner of a wood floored   | |
| |   room with a tool chest,   | |
| |  bike, stack of books, box  | |
| |  leaning against the wall,  | |
| |   an open door with a bag   | |
| |  hanging off the doorknob,  | |
| |     and a pair of closed    | |
| |  double doors with cables   | |
| |   hanging on the handles.   | |
| ------------------------------- |
|                                 |
|                                 |
-----------------------------------

Poetic Camera

But what if instead of these prosaic descriptions, you had poets writing responses on Mechanical Turk?

How fun would it be to gather some critical theorists, some real wordsmiths deep in the aesthetics of description, to sit on the other end of a Turk request.

They would pen beautiful, imaginative texts describing broom closets and discarded toolboxes.

What would it look like to have all these high-brow writers churned through a “dehumanizing” platform such as Mechanical Turk? A service of menial tasks that are cheaper for humans to do instead of machines.

What role would poetry play, and what would the words look like being printed out of that camera, conveying the sense of a human being on the other end, communicating with you.

-----------------------------------
| | To ponder workmanships      | |
| | In crayon or in wool,       | |
| | With “This was last         | |
| | her fingers did,”           | |
| | Industrious until           | |
| | The thimble weighed heavy,  | |
| | The stitches stopped,       | |
| | And was put among the dust  | |
| | Upon the closet shelves.    | |
| ------------------------------- |
|                                 |
|                                 |
-----------------------------------

Images: “Descriptive Camera” by Matt Richardson

2 comments

  1. Pingback: Results for week beginning 2012-06-04 « Iron Blogger Berlin
  2. Neil · June 10, 2012

    See also: Mike Vanis’ Acoustic Poetry, http://mikevanis.com/acoustic-poetry