Skip to main content

With AI, Instagram could become a new tool for anthropologists

1305060 autosave v1 2 37020033 m
Panithan Fakseemuang / 123RF
Instagram can serve as a valuable cultural analysis tool — if you have the time to go over a couple million photos. But Cornell University researchers recently trained an artificial intelligence program to analyze the images, uncovering how cultural clothing trends vary around the world with some photos, location data, and a computer.

The group worked directly with the social media platform and downloaded images in multiple time frames, between 2013 and 2016, from near 44 cities around the world. Those search parameters resulted in about 100 million Instagram photographs to analyze.

Related Videos

The group of researchers, led by Kevin Matzen, Kavita Bala, and Noah Snavely, decided to look specifically for fashion trends based on time and location. To eliminate all the photos that were not related, the group first used facial-recognition technology to exclude all the photos that did not include people in them. Then, the group further filtered the results to include photos that included the upper half of the body (sorry, #toesinthesand). That left the group with about 15 million photos.

With the narrower selection of photos, the team developed an object-recognition program that recognized items of clothing, for example, determining a jacket from a sweater and a scarf from a necktie. The program also learned a number of descriptors, like sleeve length, color, and popular patterns.

Once the images were tagged, the group put the data through another program, this one designed to recognize patterns not in the clothes but in the data, churring out information on what clothing items were being paired with what, which trends were popular to which areas and how the trends changed over the three-year time period.

The group discovered oddities like black and brown popping up more often during winter and white and blue favoring the summer season. While the system was designed to recognize fashion trends, the technology has implications for future studies analyzing anthropological data over large areas and wide time frames with just some photos and programming.

“Imagine a future anthropologist with access to trillions of photos of people — taken over centuries and across the world — and equipped with effective tools for analyzing these photos to derive insights,” the team wrote. “What kinds of new questions can be answered? This problem area of data-driven visual discovery is still new, but is beginning to gain attention in computer vision and graphics.”

Editors' Recommendations

The Huawei Watch Ultimate looks like the perfect Apple Watch Ultra rival
The Huawei Watch Ultimate in Voyage Blue and Expedition Black themes.

See if you can guess which smartwatch Huawei wants to take on with its latest release. It’s called the Huawei Watch Ultimate, and it’s made to appeal to outdoorsy types, complete with comprehensive diving and expedition modes.

It has a really big screen and a big battery too. That’s right, the Huawei Watch Ultimate is an Apple Watch Ultra competitor — but don’t pass it by just yet, because it’s worth your attention.

Read more
Samsung Galaxy Watch 6: the 6 things that would make it amazing
The Galaxy Watch 5 Pro showing a colorful watch face.

Samsung’s 2023 product lineup has turned out pretty impressive so far, but the more promising devices are scheduled for the latter half of the year. Among them is the Galaxy Watch 6 series. Now, the Galaxy Watch 5 line-up isn’t bad by any stretch of the imagination, but it also wasn’t really an appealing upgrade over the Galaxy Watch 4 portfolio.

With the Galaxy Watch 6 series, we’re already hearing some promising chatter in the leak land. Here’s a wish list of changes that would make the Galaxy Watch 6 series a truly tantalizing and potent alternative to the venerable Apple Watch.
Bring back the rotating bezel
Galaxy Watch 4 Andy Boxall/Digital Trends

Read more
Photography specialist site DPReview is closing down
Nikon D5500

Digital Photography Review, a popular online resource for photographers, is shutting down after 25 years of service.

The website’s closure is part of the restructuring plans announced this year by Amazon, which acquired DPReview in 2007.

Read more