Computer Vision Eyes Art Markets

The term Computer Vision conjures up the image of the metal eyeballs of the Terminator robot flashing in malevolence as they target their prey. Instead, the nascent Artificial Intelligence (A.I.) technology is bringing a level of understanding and categorization to images that is opening the art world to people who would never in the past have considered appreciating and even investing in art for the love of it. The technology is also providing businesses a way to manage licensing for digital art that was nearly impossible just a handful of years ago.

Digital Art Curation

Art and photography websites now host millions of works. Companies like Photobucket.com found it challenging to curate the 15 billion images it supports on its platform. Additionally, users upload 2 million images per day onto the website.

Initially, Photobucket had a team of five individuals dedicated to ensuring the quality of images and cleansing pornographic and hateful material from the portal. These moderators would manually review a queue of randomly selected images from just 1% of the two million image uploads each day. However, pornography and offensive material still made it through the daily culls.

The computer vision company Clarifai worked with the Photobucket team to integrate its A.I. into the Photobucket portal. They configured the software with Clarifai’s Not Safe for Work (NSFW) nudity recognition model to filter inappropriate images. They increased their discovery rate for unacceptable content from .1 percent to 70 percent. Within the first month’s use of the product, Photobucket uncovered two child pornography accounts they passed on to the FBI.

The internet has not only provided a new channel for distributing and promoting digital art, but also of copying it and using it without permission or license fees. Now, even Google’s free Rekognition computer vision software gives website managers the power to police online digital artworks. A fuller-featured, subscription-based version of Google’s software can search out and flag unlicensed images posted anywhere on the internet.

Autonomous Art Markets

Artfinder’s mission is to bring the world of art to everyone. The website sets out to create a mass market without any barriers to entry. The company also wants to expand a market in which artists directly benefit from all the sales.

Established in 2010, the UK-based company claims that it has sold 10-times more art in a month than 90 percent of galleries [in Britain] sell in a year. The business plan focuses on putting more original art in the home decor market.

The company uses an A.I. agent to match a description or even an image of something a customer would like to purchase with offerings on the website.

“So even before they buy an artwork they can ask questions, they can find commonalities with the artist or artwork, and really discover whether something is interesting for them.  Once there’s chemistry between art-lover and artist, a match is almost guaranteed,” said Jonas Almgren, the CEO of art marketplace Artfinder.

In December 2017 William Tunstall-Pedoe, one of the key minds behind Amazon’s artificial intelligence Alexa, became an investor in the company as part of a $2.2m funding round.

On the Horizon

Artfinder is leading the way in the use of A.I. to promote original art. It is expanding its A.I. beyond the website to Twitter.

Artfinder last year created a Twitter chatbot called Emma. Tweet any photo to Emma and the A.I. will display art on the Artfinder website of a similar style. One day soon, though, Emma may have a voice.

In May 2017 Amazon had sold more than 10 million of its voice-activated Alexa Echo systems to households around the world, according to GeekWire. Alexa is the AI component of the Echo device that processes voice commands and responds in kind.

Computer Vision will increasingly serve as the eyes of Alexa, Siri, Cortana and a host of other voice-activated assistants. People will rely on the services to understand their natural language requests and to serve up information through human-like speech. So, instead of Tweeting or transferring a file of an image to Emma, art hunters will ask their digital home device to show them samples of what they have in mind. The A.I. will in due course learn their owner’s tastes and offer suggestions.

Perhaps, one day, Emma will even hang that outsized print for you.