Researchers at Google have made a significant advance in automatic image recognition and the way that contents are described.
A blogpost from Google says that it is tackling the well-versed belief that a picture is worth a thousand words, explaining that its system can describe and identify the content of an image in simple terms.
This has benefits for image search, which is a feature that Google offers, but will also benefit people with visual impairments.
"People can summarise a complex scene in a few words without thinking twice. It's much more difficult for computers. But we've just gotten a bit closer - we've developed a machine-learning system that can automatically produce captions to accurately describe images the first time it sees them," wrote research scientists Oriol Vinyals, Alexander Toshev, Samy Bengio and Dumitru Erhan.
"This kind of system could eventually help visually impaired people understand pictures, provide alternate text for images in parts of the world where mobile connections are slow, and make it easier for everyone to search on Google for images."
The system takes on images that a person would find easy to describe but that might confuse automatic recognition systems because of their complexity. A provided example is of a collection of pizza slices. This, they explained, returned the caption 'Two pizzas sitting on top of a stove top oven"', which is accurate.
The researchers carried out tests on openly published datasets, including Pascal, Flickr8k, Flickr30k and SBU, and produced descriptive sentences that are described as "quite reasonable".
"A picture may be worth a thousand words, but sometimes it's the words that are most useful - so it's important we figure out ways to translate from images to words automatically and accurately," they added.
"As the datasets suited to learning image descriptions grow and mature, so will the performance of end-to-end approaches like this. We look forward to continuing developments in systems that can read images and generate good natural-language descriptions."
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