Image recognition has huge potential for business, for impaired internet users and for individuals. But what are image recognition APIs and what can they do for you? This article seeks to clarify what image recognition is, what an API does and how it can help your business or you get more out of the internet.
What is an image recognition API?
Image recognition describes where a piece of software can detect the characteristics of an image and accurately categorize it. For example, if you upload an image of a Ferrari 458 to an image recognition API, it should recognize that it is a car and that it is (or should be) red. Depending on the API, further classification may be possible depending on the type of image you’re using.
An API is an Application Program Interface. It is essentially a middleman between program routines that tells one element how to work with another, or provides the tools needed to perform a function. There are dozens of types of API that can achieve a range of goals, in a range of programming languages. In this context, an image recognition API is the tool you can use to access the deep learning power of some commercial image recognition systems.
Most users simply don’t have the massive amounts of resources to build their own deep learning machine which is what you need to perform image recognition. You also need masses of data and the power to interpret it all. Big names such as Google’s Vision API, Microsoft’s Face API, ImageNet and others have such machines and allow access to them through APIs for free or a fee. This allows businesses of all sizes to access this power and for users to get new experiences as a result.
How is image recognition going to change our internet experience?
Different internet users will gain different advantages from image recognition. Let’s look at both the website owner and the user to see how both sides can benefit.
The business benefits of image recognition
As an example, let’s say you run a self-sell portal similar to Etsy or a dating website. You want to manage the quality and suitability of all the images uploaded by users but cannot possibly do it all by hand. You want to block all adult or unsuitable images and sort them into the appropriate categories and there are too many to do them all yourself.
Enter the image recognition API. You can use the API along with a suitable image recognition machine to scan every single image and define it by set criteria. So you could scan it for indecent images and delete them. You could scan images and sort ones that contain food into the food category and knitwear into the woolen category. All without having to do a thing.
There is also an opportunity for augmented reality and interactive image and video. For example, take a picture of a pair of sneakers someone is wearing in the street. If you take a picture of them, the image could be augmented with a link to purchase them for yourself. This benefits business in that it offers an immediate sales opportunity and benefits the user as they get what they want right now.
The user benefits of image recognition
Aside from the sneaker example above, users can benefit greatly from image recognition. Augmented reality means we could instantly access reviews, price information and lots of data simply by taking a picture of a product. That gives us massive amounts of data to help us make a buying decision.
Mark Zuckerberg summed up an often overlooked benefit to image recognition in his speech on AI earlier this year. He envisioned an image recognition API that worked with blind or partially sighted people that could ‘read’ an image and describe what it sees out loud. This could have massive repercussions for impaired internet users.
Image recognition also plays a part in vehicle safety. The new autonomous braking and collision avoidance technologies being introduced work similarly. They scan and assess images many times a second to keep you and your car safe while on the road. It is this technology that will eventually lead to autonomous cars.
Image recognition APIs aren’t going to revolutionize our internet experience on their own. They work alongside existing technology to add a layer of interaction and immersion to the world we see. While my examples are limited, there is huge potential for gaming, movies, the auto industry, retail, entertainment and any technology-enabled industry. The good news is that this is just the beginning of what intelligent systems can achieve!