Amazon visual query

Above: An Amazon visual query using the smartphone app. Credit: Oscopic.

The Smartphone Lens and Visual Query

The functionality of the smartphone lens is in transformation. In a few years the ordinary function of taking-making-capturing a digital photo-or-video will exist in tandem with the widespread use of the lens for image query. I will hold up my camera pointing it towards something and I will be served information about it. The essence of visual query is information provision. Just as when I do an audio query on Shazam I am asking my device to provide me with information about a track I like.

The smartphone lens will become a basic way of finding out more about something. Visual query enters the quotidian at the level of curiosity: what make of car is that? What breed of dog is that? What are those flowers called? Who designed that? Who painted that painting? What brand of shoes are those? And, eventually (privacy laws depending), who is that person?

Taking-making-capturing a photo-image as a digital file may well become a secondary activity; the lesser of the two activities as per ordinary use. Accurate information about the visual world around is likely going to become the most needed and popular of the two functions.

Visual query is still being developed. Its development seems to be evolving in a manner similar to voice recognition. That is to say, it works, just as long as you make the query easy. (Voice recognition works but only as long as you speak super-clearly and in an accent that is convenient to the device.) Visual query is already on the Amazon smartphone app. (Of course, Amazon is only interested in serving the user results about items it has got available to sell--products.) It works fine if you point your lens at a flat-plane, like a book cover, a CD case, or a cereal packet, but almost anything more challenging than that will return the "We haven't found anything yet" fail message.

In the context of this transformation, the lens as image-capture device recedes and what comes to the fore is the lens as visual sampler, a visual sniffer-of-the-air. The lens becomes only a route to information and not a route to a picture. The lens will tend to facilitate information gathering without any necessity for taking-making-capturing: there will be no requirement for any permanent trace-or-evidence of my visual query searches to exist. In that case, the image will have become, one could say, dematerialized.

(30 April 2018)