Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Camera Hogs

lost it: something about meaning, and machines asking " what does it mean" and humans wondering what it means themselves.

it is surveillance cameras. intelligent ones that require people to update its visual database daily.

at the end of a shift a worker, a security guard decides to take care of a month's worth of machine questions.

"Damn annoying machines," thought the guard as he sat down at the security camera terminal. A friendly voice greeted him.

"Hello Stephen, I have 1,345 anomalous instances that I wish for you to review." The machine was care-free-sounding, it presented him with a screen of options.

Stephen mass-deleted hundreds of instances that the machine considered only mildly interesting. Probably things it had never seen before, like a new balloon, or some crazy car or costume; the machine was designed to report when it saw things it didn't recognize completely.

Finally Stephen was down to only 10 short videos, he began to review them.

The first was a night-time video of an open shopping center's parking lot. On the nearest sidewalk two crows were fighting. That was it.

"That was it?" balked the security guard.

"that is it," confirmed the machine. "I found it 73% of interest and was only 25% confident in what it was."

"It's two crows fighting," he hit the 'next' button to review the second video.

The second video was a daytime shot of the same parking lot. A square zeroed-in on an upper-right part of the screen. The picture zoomed in on a store front, but the picture was fairly blurry which made it hard to discern detail. Suddenly the doors of the store burst open as some large, amorphous form emerged violently. Items which looked perhaps angular were falling to the ground from this surprising object pulsating and lurching about on the screen in front of him.

"What the hell is that!?" he thought, then remembered. "I know what that is. It's a minor scuffle between a very obese woman in skin-tight clothing and a very skinny woman who was on some kind of drugs or something. Watch, you can see me and Gary come into frame here and break up the fight."

Indeed, two gray forms moved along what was probably the sidewalk and merged with the torrential white blob in the center. The blob divided into two parts and the video stopped.

"I found that of merely 12% interest, but was only 5% certain what it was." the machine placed the 'next' button over the last frame of the video.

"you only found that of 12% interest, eh?" asked the guard.

"Yes," answered the machine.

"OK, then," the guard clicked the next button.

Videos 3 through 8 were of this same bazaar fare, Stephen remembered how much he used to enjoy these sessions with the machine. It found the strangest things.

But nothing was as strange as videos 9 and 10.

At first Stephen noticed nothing strange about video 9.

"What is this? What don't you understand about this scene?" As far as Stephen was concerned, this was a regular daytime shot of that same damn parking lot. There was nothing surprising or out of the ordinary. He watched the video twice more looking for that hidden strangeness that these machines could find. "Dismiss this video, show me 10."

Stephen didn't want to just dismiss that video, it had an interest rating of 100% and a confidence of 1%, but Stephen couldn't for the life of him see anything anomalous. The next video was the same parking lot on a different day. Again, it was boring and not unique in any way to Stephen's eyes. The fact, however, that 10 and 9 were similar in scene piqued his curiosity just a bit.

"Show me 9 again please," commanded Stephen politely.

"You wish me to undelete it?" asked the machine in what struck Stephen as a somehow off-handed way.

"yes, yes," Stephen was greeted with video 9 playing in front of him. Suddenly a strange, cold, sick feeling appeared in his stomach. "Show me 10 again," he gasped. "It's the same woman and child. They are exactly the same, aren't they?"

The machine answered back spryly, "They are the same, pixel for pixel. Very high 99.999 range adjusting for signal noise and entropic loss."

"This is what you had guessed, but you were only 1% sure that you were right? You had guessed that in two videos on two different days a woman and her child would walk across a parking lot and then out of frame. And that they were so identical as to follow the exact pixel paths of each other on the different frames. Exactly as though they were clones

You guessed this, but were only 1% confident? What else could it have been!? And what does it mean?"

The machine was silent.


Telene said...

ooh! that's a cool one ^.^ me gusta muchisimo!

Karl said...

that's damn interesting