Can MIT's AI Make You Disappear?
The eggheads at MIT’s Media Lab are at it again. This time, they have mixed some artificial intelligence with some image editing tech and named the result “Deep Angel.” They claim it can make people, animals, and other objects disappear. Let’s see what the Deep Angel actually does and decide if it’s worth getting excited over it.
What is Deep Angel?
“Deep Angel is an artificial intelligence that erases objects from photographs,” says the first sentence on the AI’s page. That’s it; that’s all Deep Angel does. It has the nice feature that enables anyone to link a public Instagram account to Deep Angel. That enables you to “erase” objects from someone else’s photos or videos.
I wonder how the owners of those copyright-protected images feel about Deep Angel. Their work is copied, the originals are not manipulated by Deep Angel. They have given the public license to copy their works (for “non-commercial” uses, I suppose) But did they anticipate that large and/or numerous objects including people would be erased from their works? Erasing a living being is a highly emotion-charged act, as Deep Angel can literally show you.
Watch the video embedded in this page. First, a brave and gay flotilla of sailboats wink out of existence on the sun-drenched bay. That’s spooky but not very scary. But then a dog vanishes while being petted by its master; many dog lovers will no doubt gasp in angst at that poignant sight. And when cars and people start disappearing, it gets pretty unsettling for even the most pragmatic realist.
“Deep Angel enables you to uncover the aesthetics of absence,” the MIT gang says. My brain hurts just trying to uncover the meaning of that sentence. And “What happens when we can remove things from the world around us?” ask the creators of the Deep Angel software.
If you're trying to eliminate an anonymous face from the background of a vacation photo, then fine. But what if the intent is to deceive, or revise history by making someone effectively disappear?
Buddhists and Hinduists will appreciate Deep Angel’s dramatic demonstration of reality’s impermanence. Both philosophical systems (they are religions only for instructional and motivational purposes) exhort devotees to release their attachments to impermanent objects, animals, and people. In Hinduism’s most famous and honored sacred text, the Bhagavad-Gita, the Supreme Personality of Godhood, Krishna, teaches his most ardent devotee, the warrior Arjuna: “He who wherever he goes is attached to no person or place by ties of flesh… take it that such a one has attained Perfection.”
What more effective way to practice non-attachment could there be than Deep Angel? Over and over again, one can experience the sudden loss of a closely-held delight; a favorite hat, a pet, a loving spouse, a child or grandchild. Practice makes perfect, does it not?
Christianity holds that the physical world to which we are so attached is as meaningless as dry grass that is cast into a fire. “For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul?” asks Mark 8:36, rhetorically. Deep Angel can help you see the whole world vanish one piece or class of pieces at a time, while you, the observer, remain unaffected by catastrophe.
Can Deep Angel Help You Fight a Parking Ticket?
But perhaps I've gotten too philosophical here. Deep Angel lets you select the type of object you want to remove from a photo. Some of the options are Person, Cat, Dog, Car, Bicycle, Airplane, Bus, Traffic Light, Fire Hydrant, Parking Meter, Stop Sign, Bird, Horse, Cow, Umbrella, Tie, Frisbee, Baseball Bat, Wine Glass, Fork, Knife, Banana, Hot Dog, Toilet, TV, Cell Phone, and Scissors.
I only wish I had this tool available yesterday, when I was submitting my evidence photos to fight a parking ticket in New York City. I could have removed the parking meter from the photo! Maybe you can think of something you'd like to make disappear, too. But alas, in my testing, the technology does not work nearly as well as shown in the demonstration video. In the first photo below, I asked Deep Angel to remove the umbrella. It did a fair job of recreating the pond in the background, but the poor girl went missing too. And in the second, the little girl survived, but the dog removal looks like it was done with a brown crayon.
From a technological standpoint, Deep Angel is merely an image editing tool in which AI does the tricky work of identifying objects, guessing at what was behind them, and precisely specifying the pixels to be replaced. Or, tracking a virtual object’s virtual movements and erasing pixels exactly where they would be if the object was real and really moving. Anyone who has done such editing manually will approve of this time-saving use of AI! But the wonder is not in the tech; it’s in absence.
Your thoughts on this topic are welcome. Post your comment or question below...
This article was posted by Bob Rankin on 29 Aug 2018
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Article information: AskBobRankin -- Can MIT's AI Make You Disappear? (Posted: 29 Aug 2018)
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