Flickr’s simple ‘Park or Bird’ tool is actually a demo of complex image recognition

flickrs simple park bird tool actually demo complex image recognition flickr
The reason for creating this new tool stems from this xkcd comic, which presented Flickr’s engineers with a challenge.

Flickr’s engineers have worked really hard in developing a new tool that can tell whether a photo was shot in a national park, and if it contains a bird. You simply upload an image, and within a couple seconds Flickr returns the results. You must be asking why Flickr would devote money, time, and resources to something our eyes can easily pick out? While the new “Flickr Park or Bird” feature seems pointless, it actually demonstrates complex image recognition software Flickr is employing in its search algorithms. What might seem easy for us humans to discern is slightly more complicated for computers, yet the feature shows how far software has come along and what the future of image search will be like.

Determining if an image was taken in a park is relatively easy, as long as GPS data is embedded. Flickr matches the GPS info with records in a database, and can tell you the exact name of the park where the photo was taken. If there is no info, results are returned as question marks; in one image we uploaded, Flickr had no GPS data to work off, but it was able to tell that it was taken indoors.

Related: Yahoo finally rolls out Flickr for iPad

Recognizing a bird (or anything else for that matter) in an image is more involved. Flickr says its Vision team “has been working for the last year or so to be able to recognize more than 1,000 things in images using deep convolutional neural nets,” and one of the things its software is good at is finding birds. The method is a bit technical to explain (you can read more about it here), but simply put, the software matches an input image (image of a bird) against layers and layers of images; one layer “might recognize the most basic image features, such as short straight lines, corners, and small circular arcs,” while another layer has more complex shapes, and “further layers might recognize higher-level concepts, like eyes and beaks.”

Flickr says its Vision team “is already applying this deep network to Flickr photos to help people more easily find what they’re looking for via Flickr search, and we plan to integrate it into Flickr in other cool ways in the future. We’re also working on other innovative computer vision and image recognition technologies that will make it easier for Flickr members to find and organize their photos.” By recognizing what’s in a photo, users in the future won’t have to manually tag what’s in them using text, as the software will be able to pick those things out automatically.

It's not perfect, as this image upload shows. Flickr couldn't determine where it was shot due to missing GPS info, but it also thought this famous Internet feline is a bird.
It’s not perfect, as this image upload shows. Flickr couldn’t determine where it was shot due to missing GPS info, but it also thought this famous Internet feline is a bird.
Movies & TV

How ‘invisible’ effects brought Winnie the Pooh to life in ‘Christopher Robin’

Christopher Robin earned an Academy Award nomination for the innovative way it merged Winnie the Pooh and other imaginary characters with its human cast in postwar London. Here's how visual effects studio Framestore worked its movie magic.
Smart Home

Your office is a mess, and it’s making Marie Kondo cry. Here’s how to tidy it up

Here's how to "Marie Kondo" your office. If you've been inspired to remove clutter and create a minimalistic workspace that makes you happy and helps you focus on what matters, then we have ideas that you'll want to try.

What’s the difference between Lightroom CC and Lightroom Classic?

Lightroom CC has evolved into a capable photo editor, but is it enough to supplant Lightroom Classic? We took each program for a test drive to compare the two versions and see which is faster, more powerful, and better organized.

Researchers teach self-driving cars to predict pedestrians’ next moves

University of Michigan researchers are developing a system that teaches self-driving cars to predict pedestrian movement. Humans don't always act in their own best self-interest, so autonomous cars will need to practice protective driving.

From DSLRs to mirrorless, these are the best cameras you can buy right now

From entry-level models to full-frame flagships, many cameras take great photos and video. The best digital cameras, however, push the industry forward with innovative sensors and improved usability, among other things. Here are our…

OnePlus 6T vs. Honor View 20: We compare the cameras in these ‘flagship killers’

For less than $600, you can buy either the OnePlus 6T or the Honor View 20, two extremely capable smartphones with plenty of exciting features. But which one has the best camera? We found out on a recent trip to France.
Emerging Tech

Awesome Tech You Can’t Buy Yet: Grow veggies indoors and shower more efficiently

Check out our roundup of the best new crowdfunding projects and product announcements that hit the web this week. You may not be able to buy this stuff yet, but it sure is fun to gawk!

Photography news: Wacom’s slimmer pen, Leica’s cinema special edition

In this week's photography news, Wacom launches a new slimmer pen for pro users. Leica's upcoming M10-P is designed for cinema, inside and out, with built-in cinema modes in the updated software.

Be careful who you bokeh, jokes Apple’s latest iPhone ad

With iPhone sales under pressure, you'd think there wouldn't be much to laugh about at Apple HQ. But the company has seen fit to inject some humor into its latest handset ad, which highlights the camera's Depth Control feature.

Luminar’s libraries gain speed, drop need for you to manually import images

Luminar 3 just got a performance boost. Skylum Luminar 3.0.2 has improved speed over December's update, which added the long-promised libraries feature giving editors a Lightroom alternative.

When you're ready to shoot seriously, these are the best DSLRs you can buy

For many photographers the DSLR is the go-to camera. With large selection of lenses, great low-light performance, and battery endurance, these DSLRs deliver terrific image quality for stills and videos.

Mirrorless cameras were built to be compact, so why have they gotten so heavy?

Mirrorless cameras launched as portable alternatives to bulky and complex DSLRs -- so why are they getting bigger and heavier? Cameras are trending towards heavier models, but that change comes with more advanced features.

The best place to print photos online in 2019

Have you been looking around for the best place to print out your favorite photos online or in store? Don't fret, we've pored through dozens of options and narrowed it down to the seven best.

The Panasonic FZ1000 gets a much-needed update alongside the smaller ZS80 zoom

Panasonic's 2014 superzoom camera with a larger sensor has finally seen an update. The new Panasonic FZ1000 II has a sensor that's better for low light, more physical controls, and new 4K Photo Mode features.