Computer vision refers to the field of training computers to visualize data as humans do. This technology has the potential to reach a stage wherein computers can understand images and videos better than humans. Also, the use cases are practically limitless, despite the technology still existing in its nascent stage of exploration.
Computer vision as a concept has been around since the 1950s. In its infancy, computers were trained to distinguish between shapes such as squares and triangles. Later on, training shifted towards distinguishing between typed and handwritten text.
Reasons for popularity
The main reason for computer vision’s popularity is its potential to revolutionize many every-day aspects of our lives. Computer vision drives autonomous vehicles and allows them to distinguish between traffic signal lights, medians, pedestrians, etc. It can also be used in healthcare, for detecting tumors in advance and identifying skin issues.
There is a huge opportunity for employing computer vision in agriculture as well. It can be used to monitor the quality of crops, locate weeds and pests, based on which farmers can take action.
How about facial recognition? Yes, computer vision is already being used in new-generation smartphones to detect the user’s face. Even QR code scanning is an example of the adoption of computer vision. This technology can also be used in supermarkets to identify which users are making which purchases.
Amazon is testing a convenience store called Amazon Go, which doesn’t have a billing counter. Instead, the store uses computer vision to identify customers and the items they add to their cart. A bill is sent to them online through the Amazon Go App once they leave the store with these items.
Advantages of computer vision
While computer vision has a lot more to achieve, it has already achieved ground-breaking innovations. That makes sense because this technology brings a lot of advantages to daily and professional life.
The human eye grows tired of scanning its environment. Factors such as fatigue and health come into the picture. With computer vision, this is eliminated because cameras and computers never get tired. Since the human factor is removed, it is easier to rely on the result.
Numerous use cases
From healthcare and agriculture to banking and automobiles, if explored smartly, computer vision can be employed in almost every aspect of our lives. These machines learn by viewing thousands of labeled images, thus understanding the traits of what’s being visualized. The same primary computer vision technology that evaluates the quality of packages in a factory can also be used to identify trends in the stock market.
Computer vision can be used to increase productivity in operations and eliminate faulty products from hitting the shelves. This technology will also allow companies to manage their teams efficiently by identifying staff that could be used for other activities that require attention. For example, in Amazon fulfillment centers, productivity among workers is measured to improve efficiency and resource allocation.
Challenges faced by Computer Vision
Every emerging technology starts with a few significant drawbacks. From this technology’s development to its impact on society, there is a lot to look forward to, but a lot to be concerned about as well.
The challenge of making systems human-like
As much as computer vision is making huge leaps in its progress, it is difficult to simulate something as complex as the human visual system. The human brain-eye coordination is a marvel to behold, and its ability to understand its environment and make decisions is unparalleled by computer vision systems, at least at the moment.
Tasks such as object detection are complicated since objects of interest in images and videos may appear in a variety of sizes and aspect ratios. Also, a computer vision system will have to distinguish one object from multiple others within its view. This is a skill that computers are taking time to get better at.
Computer vision also hasn’t reached the stage wherein it can identify the difference between handwritten and typed text. This is due to the variety of handwriting styles, curves, and shapes employed while writing.
This is arguably the biggest social threat that computer vision poses. The qualities that make computer vision effective are also the concerns of humans that value their privacy. With computers learning from thousands and thousands of images and videos, computers are getting better at recognizing individuals by their facial features, and everyone’s information is stored on a cloud.
Computer vision can track people’s whereabouts and monitor their habits. With such information, governments and businesses could be lured into penalizing and rewarding workers based on their actions. China, a nation with strong AI capabilities, is already looking to use computer vision to monitor its citizens and provide information that funds its controversial social credit system. On the other hand, San Fransisco has banned the use of facial recognition technology by the police and other related agencies.
It is psychologically unhealthy for humans to know that they are constantly being observed and monitored during every aspect of their lives. It would be interesting to see how governments intend to tackle this issue.
Computer vision’s progress can make people truly feel like they’re living through a sci-fi film. The future of this technology is filled with a range of use cases to be catered to. Numerous businesses within this realm are collecting millions of images and videos that can be used to train their computer vision systems. Also, existing businesses are exploring ways to employ computer vision into their operations.
Computer vision has its present challenges, but the humans working on this technology are steadily improving it. Every emerging technology brings its fair share of advantages and disadvantages. While it is important to celebrate its progress, it is equally important to gauge its potential negative effect on society. This is the only way to ensure that computer vision makes our lives more comfortable and less constrained.