A little Science Fiction piece I wrote for a local camera club magazine.
|POINT & SHOOT
Artificial intelligence, we’ve all heard or read about it. Some say, “we won’t see it anytime soon, certainly not in our lifetime.” But most people are unaware of the Singularity, and even if they are cognizant of the concept, they tend to dismiss it as pure fantasy. According to Ray Kurzweil, “[the Singularity is] a future period during which the pace of technological change will be so rapid, its impact so deep, that human life will be irreversibly transformed.” Ray Kurzweil wrote those words more than ten years ago in his book, “The Singularity Is Near”. Believe it or not, we are on the cusp of that interval of time. Like it or not, artificial intelligence is on the horizon and in our haste to satisfy our appetite for technological advancement, our foot is pressing down on the accelerator.
True, the birth of the first sophisticated AI may still be several years away, but a recent breakthrough has given technicians a stable platform to turn science fiction into a reality. There are several projects underway that will utilize basic levels of artificial intelligence to enhance everyday tools. One of those tools being developed is the camera, a genuine point-and-shoot. This extraordinary device will be on the shelves in just two short years. The designer, Alfred Stringer, a Vancouver Island resident, claims there will be no need for any manual settings; all considerations will be selected by the camera’s brain.
Point-and-shoot cameras have been on the market since the introduction of the Brownie way back in February of 1900. The resulting images were suitable for the average user when documenting everyday events or capturing shots of friends and family. However, one hundred and fifteen years of development has increased the ease of use and the quality of the images, especially over the past ten years. And now, brace yourself for a tremendous leap in technology that will revolutionize the photographic industry. The price will be too high and its weight a little too hefty for the average user, but professional photographers and serious photo enthusiasts are salivating at the opportunity of owning this incredible device. With the exception of very few instances, the camera will eliminate critical decisions in all the fundamental requirements to produce an image. All the photographer has to do, is: get the camera to the shooting location, set it up on its custom-made tripod, press the actuation button, and the camera’s AI will do the rest. Precise exposures, balanced lighting, and tack sharp images will be the result each and every time unless soft focus or blurred images might present a more artful effect.
The camera will boast a 96-megapixel medium format CCD sensor and have an ISO range from 60-260,000. The kit lens will be an amazing 14-300mm - f3.5-5.6. The versatility and quality furnished by this optical masterpiece will make it the go-to lens for the majority of your shots. However, a variety of prime lenses are available for working in a studio, shooting close-ups, capturing distant subjects, or attaining a certain look or style. The AI will know what lenses are available and prompt you to change lenses when it deems necessary. The lenses available at launch time are: 14mm - f2.8, 30mm - f1.4, 50mm - f1.4, 105mm - f4.0 Macro, and a 300mm - f4.5. A 600mm - f4.6 is in development and will be available one year following the initial release.
Some of the most dramatic photographs ever taken were taken during less than favorable conditions. In order to protect one’s investment and to enable the user to shoot during inclement weather, a high quality customized weatherproof covering comes with the camera as standard equipment. If you encounter wet snow or heavy rain, the camera will be kept dry. However, the covering will not be required during mild weather conditions as it does have a substantial degree of weather resistance.
A vast assortment of filter settings will be accessible for the AI to choose from, and it will always choose the best one to compliment the subject and lighting. The hassle of installing individual screw-on filters will become a thing of the past. This multi-filter is built in. There is only one filter element combined with each of the lens’ complex set of optics. This patented product is a marvel in itself. The secret to its versatility is an elaborate combination of transparent materials and the degree of electrical charge applied to the component.
The following considerations were used in the camera’s development:
White Balance and general metering: Presumably, your present camera has an auto WB setting, but it’s not likely to be spot-on every time. How does Stringer’s new camera fair? It is guaranteed to be one-hundred-percent accurate one-hundred-percent of the time. How is this possible, since there is no actual metering system installed? Stringer isn’t exactly sure, but it’s the AI that is analyzing the available light. He discovered this during the development stages while trying to marry a light metering system with the AI. During a test, Stringer realized the resulting image was totally accurate despite the fact that he forgot to switch on the meter. Stringer says that the AI sees the available light, analyzed it, and makes adjustments based on the information received and compares that to its internal database. It does this all in less than a millisecond. You’ll never have to concern yourself with the type or amount of light again.
Aperture: This setting is almost always in question. What f-stop is the best for the shot? Do you want maximum depth of field or do you want to isolate a portion of the subject? The AI will analyze the scene and make decisions based on the extensive amount of data downloaded into its brain during the manufacturing process. Precise apertures will not be required. The metadata provided will not likely read f-8.0, for example; it will more likely read: f-8.0052 or something near that (plus or minus). There is no mechanical iris. The AI will open or close an optical-electromagnetic-diaphragm to any increment it desires. The choices are virtually limitless. No shooting scenario has been left out; the camera always knows what aperture, or fraction to select.
Shutter Speed: Exposures from several hours, to snippets of time as quick as 1/10,000 of a second, this camera has it all covered. And to top this off, there is no shutter button, only a start button with which to begin the process. The camera knows when to trip the shutter. If something or someone is moving in the scene, the camera’s eye will track the subject and snap the shot at the most opportune time.
ISO: A lower ISO is always preferable when lighting conditions are ideal, but extremely high settings are available to the AI. As mentioned earlier, any ISO from 60 to 260,000 can be utilized. Noise reducing software is built in to facilitate marginal loss in image quality. Stringer has financial ties with the company that is developing this component and promises to use the very latest advancement.
Light: The camera can identify and utilize every known source of light to its best advantage. Whether it’s as delicate as the biological illumination generated by a glowworm or as intense as the light emitted by an arc welder, the camera will balance the exposure perfectly.
Shadow: A built-in flash will fill shadow if the AI determines that it is necessary. The selected intensity of the flash will provide the scene with just the right amount of light, from a fraction of a single lumen to the full capacity of its two flashes. In addition to the in-camera flashes, a remote flash and quality lightweight tripod comes with the starter kit.
Focus: The camera incorporates a combination of phase and contrast detection sensors to obtain initial focus. This method acquires spot-on-focus, but it is the AI that has the last say, fine-tuning the focal plane with exacting standards. Stringer had considered utilizing the latest in “light field” technology but says that the AI’s ability the use focus in conjunction with aperture and shutter speed is the key to obtaining world-class images.
Photographic techniques: The AI has been shown photographs taken by past and present masters. It has scanned tens of thousands of images, and it knows how to replicate each and every one. As time passes with every shot taken, the camera will experiment and produce images with a unique style of its own. If the results are too abstract for the owner, he or she can instruct the AI to tone down its enthusiasm to some degree. Or, this selection can be done in post-production by dialing in changes with a few simple clicks of the mouse. However, one can spend hours deliberating over nearly a hundred variations of each capture.
Portraiture and Glamour Photography: Posing a subject is mostly in the hands of the photographer, but Stringer says the next-generation A.I. (an additional two years away) will be able to verbalize posing directions. The photographer will only have to position the lights in accordance with the A.I.’s direction. This next generation camera will not require the owner to trade in, but only to upgrade the A.I. The A.I.’s developing personality won’t change, just it’s own abilities to become even more artistically creative.
The camera’s AI will do most of the thinking for you. It will even anticipate your vision as you point the lens at a particular scene. It knows the time of day and year and will utilize the existing light, shadow, colour hue, contrast, etc., to its full advantage. The camera will even suggest you wait for a later time with the intention of possibly capturing a masterpiece during the golden hour. If required, the AI will also direct you to move the camera left or right, or back or forth, in order to optimize composition or improve on lighting angle. These instructions will appear on the LCD screen.
If the resulting image is not your cup of tea, alternates can be selected in post-production. Companion software will be available (at additional cost) to allow the user a degree of control over the final image. However, anything other than a subtle change might hurt the camera’s feelings. The suggestion that the AI has feelings leads to the question: Who owns credit for each image that is created?
Of course, many photographers will cringe at the idea of losing control over the discipline. But as time passes, and once they see what the new camera can fabricate on their behalf, they will most likely submit to the AI’s mastery of the art, and allow the camera carte blanche.
Stringer says that in less than ten years, future models will acknowledge verbal commands and respond in kind. In ten years beyond that, the AI may become a constant companion, as it will be sentient. And in ten tears beyond that, the AI will possess total mobility, and it may or may not ask you to accompany it on a photo shoot.