New beta software automatically tags and captions historic images

gado images rebrands p120513lj 0116 1
Lawrence Jackson/White House
The photograph above is pretty straightforward — it doesn’t take too much expertise to see that it’s of President Barack Obama. And even if you’ve been living under a rock for the past decade or so, the White House and presidential seals are pretty big clues — for a human, that is. But for a computer? Not so much. But one newly re-branded company is working to change that with software that can identify historical figures from centuries before the word “artificial intelligence” was even thought of.

Project Gado first began as a way to develop new technology for quickly digitizing visual history through scanning hardware, from images to sheet music. Six years later, they’ve accomplished that goal and set out on another challenge — making sense of all that visual data, quickly and efficiently.

Now re-branded as Gado Images, the company is teaching computers how to interpret each image, automatically adding tags, labeling historical figures and even writing a caption. That photo of Obama? Not only did the beta software correctly identify the president, where he was, and what he was doing, but it also knew enough to indicate that he’s the 44th president and that the image was taken on December 5, 2013. And the system works to identify much older historical figures as well, along with their significance — which is pretty good considering most American’s don’t know that Franklin Roosevelt was a president. Currently, the system can recognize over 60,000 well-known personalities, both current and historic.

While a historian could properly identify many images, the Cognitive Metadata Platform makes it possible to label large volumes of visual history quickly and efficiently, simplifying a challenge that many museums and art galleries face.

The web-based Cognitive Metadata Platform, currently in beta testing, is expected to launch later this year.  The software works by combining a few existing concepts (like IBM’s Watson and Google Vision) with original programming. The system combines facial recognition and object recognition as well as optical character recognition to identify and read text to generate a few keywords.

Using neural networks, the system is able to make sense of all that those keywords and even add related terms. When the facial recognition identifies Martin Luther King Jr. in an image, it will also add related keywords like “civil rights,” for example.

“By combining all the different inputs together [the system] can become quite confident in what it’s seeing in the image,” Gado Images’ CEO, Thomas Smith, told Digital Trends. “It’s a learning system, learning relationships between entities and specific collections.” If the program knows that two people are often seen together, it will often tag both people or generate related keywords, he added.

The system can even estimate a time frame for when the image was taken, even on scans of photographs that come with no digital metadata. Using historical information like the person’s birth date and age-approximation software, the program can venture a pretty good estimate on when the photo was shot.

For historical purposes, the optical character recognition is also playing a big role. Many archival photographs will have a date or notes from the photographer on the back. With the OCR and a scan of both the front and back, the system can add the original notes, as well as adding more keywords relevant to those notes.

The program works on more than just photographs, and can help archive a number of different types of visual history, including drawings and even sheet music. Here’s how the system interpreted a few more visuals, including a postcard and a drawing:

The program was even able to correctly identify Digital Trends from a text-free logo, adding “consumer electronics” and “news” among the list of keywords.

As a neural network system, the platform will continue to “learn,” tracking any human input to use with future scans.

The platform will even put the keywords together into a brief caption. “In some cases, we have human annotators write a caption for the image, and use these entities as keywords,” Smith explained. “In other cases, the CMP actually uses natural language processing to turn the entities into an automatically generated, human-readable sentence caption for the image.”

In the image of Obama, the software generated this short caption: “44th President of the United States Barack Obama at the White House, Washington, DC, December 5, 2013.”

Through a partnership with Getty Images, Gado Images is working to allow museums, art galleries, and private collectors to monetize their collections. That gives non-profit historical organizations a recurring revenue source, and also saves time (and money) on the scanning and labeling process. In order for buyers to find an image they would like to use, they need to be tagged correctly, which is where the keywords and captions from the Cognitive Matadata Platform come in.

“Its a great way for a cultural heritage organization to take their archives and turn it into a source of recurring revenue,” Smith said. Along with serving as a platform to monetize historical collections, the automatic keyword and caption generation saves organizations from the time — and cost — required to add the information manually.

While the company has moved from physical hardware to software development, the new program still jives with the company’s mission to digitize and share the world’s history. One of the company’s earliest projects was to help the Baltimore Afro American — the longest running African American Newspaper — digitize a 1.5-million image archive. “It’s really expensive and challenging to digitize and annotate archives at large. They had only scanned about 5,000 images at the time, so we launched Gado to help organizations to scan images and then make sense of those photos in a way that makes sense for a small organization,” Smith said.

While the software’s current focus is historical visual data, Smith says the software has the potential to be used in a variety of industries in the future. For example, a media company could use the system to create an archive and easily find images of a specific location, object, or person, or photographers could use the system to archive their work and quickly bring up an image of a specific client.

Emerging Tech

How emotion-tracking A.I. will change computing as we know it

Affectiva is just one of the startups working to create emotion-tracking A.I. that can work out how you're feeling. Here's why this could change the face of computing as we know it.
Movies & TV

Skip the flowers and sunshine this spring and watch the best shows on Hulu

It's often overwhelming to navigate Hulu's robust library of TV shows. To help, we put together a list of the best shows on Hulu, whether you're into frenetic cartoons, intelligent dramas, or anything in between.
Movies & TV

The best shows on Netflix right now (April 2019)

Looking for a new show to binge? Lucky for you, we've curated a list of the best shows on Netflix, whether you're a fan of outlandish anime, dramatic period pieces, or shows that leave you questioning what lies beyond.
Movies & TV

Star Wars: Episode IX — The Rise of Skywalker: Everything we know so far

Star Wars: Episode IX - The Rise of Skywalker's first teaser trailer and plot details have arrived. Here's everything we know about the movie before it premieres in December 2019.
Product Review

Fujifilm's X-T30 is a pro-level camera that costs less than an iPhone

At just $900, the Fujifilm X-T30 keeps pace with the $1,500 X-T3 in many respects. It is an impressively versatile machine and is great as either a first camera for beginners or a second camera for pros already shooting on the larger X-T3.
Photography

Go for bokeh, not for broke with the best cameras under $1,000

Looking for a great camera without spending more than $1,000? From the stellar Fujifilm X-T30 to the beginner-friendly Canon EOS Rebel T7i, here are the best sub-$1,000 cameras on the market right now.
Emerging Tech

Awesome Tech You Can’t Buy Yet: Halfbikes, VR for all your senses, and more

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's fun to gawk!
Photography

These are the best camera straps you can get your hands on

Choosing the right camera strap for your needs can be a tough decision. To help sort through the junk, we've rounded up the best camera straps on the market for you to choose from.
Photography

Fujifilm X-T30 vs. Sony A6400: Midrange mirrorless cameras compared

The Fujifilm X-T30 and Sony A6400 are two of the best cameras you can buy for under $1,000, but which should you choose? Each has an edge in certain situations which makes picking a winner difficult, but here's how they compare.
Photography

Photography news: Sony brings Eye Autofocus to critters via A.I.

In this week's photography news, the Sony a7 III and a7R III have some new capabilities, thanks to updated firmware. Lexar teases a crazy fast 1,000MB/s memory card, while Vimeo launches bulk upload possibilities.
Product Review

Equal parts tool and toy, the Lensbaby Edge 35 bucks photographic tradition

The Lensbaby Edge 35, part of the Composer Pro optic swap system, creates tilt-shift-like blur without the tilt-shift price. Made for photographers who want find tradition boring, it opens up new ways to work with blur.
Deals

The best budget-friendly GoPro alternatives that won’t leave you broke

Cold weather is here, and a good action camera is the perfect way to record all your adventures. You don't need to shell out the big bucks for a GoPro: Check out these great GoPro alternatives, including some 4K cameras, that won’t leave…
Photography

Etch-A-Snap camera puts a modern spin on one of your favorite childhood toys

Can't draw on an Etch A Sketch? Snap a photo with the Etch-A-Snap and the camera will draw out the scene for you. The weirdly cool camera designed by Martin Fitzpatrick replaces the usual LCD screen with an old-school Etch A Sketch.
Photography

The Black Eye Pro Cinema Wide G4 is a knockout lens for any smartphone

Where cheaper wide-angle accessory lenses add distortion, and costlier models don't always justify their higher prices, the Black Eye Pro Cinema Wide G4 offers a valuable balance of modest price and high quality optics.