Cameras that can interpret what, and even who, they are looking at and take photographs and video footage on that basis are now here, and can cost less than £300. AI cameras offer the promise of us being able to capture much more genuine snapshots and video of important moments and memories in our lives. If we position them so they have a view of what is happening, they can take remarkably intuitive decisions on what moments will make a good photo. AI cameras make judgement calls on when to snap based on both wider social and aesthetic norms and the personal preferences and habits of the owner. This means we can experience the memorable moments of our lives without having to interrupt or step outside of them.
However, the darker side to cameras powered by the latest technology in the world of AI is the way in which they hold the potential to change the game when it comes to surveillance. Tech start-up Lighthouse has recently released a new breed of AI home security cameras. Each camera costs $299 (the system isn’t yet available in the UK) and a $10 monthly support subscription to be able to access the cloud-stored footage. The cameras sense 3D space and learn to recognises faces. This is a very useful development in terms of previous generations of IoT cameras that are prone to sending out false alarms. The creepy side of it is the spectre the technology raises when it comes to the theoretical possibility of inter-family spying.
A trial conducted by New York Times journalist demonstrated the positive and potentially worrying side of Lighthouse’s product. Tell the interface “what did the kids get up to when I was away?” and Lighthouse will show clips of footage of the children while the parents were not home. “Did the dog jump on the sofa?” and if there is footage of the family dog sneakily getting on the sofa, Lighthouse will find it and show it. All innocent enough.
However, if it’s a spouse or partner the system’s owner is concerned about, Lighthouse also offers the ability for the owner to have almost perfect surveillance of what the individual has been doing, or been with. The journalist asked Lighthouse to show any footage of his wife with an unfamiliar person. The system played footage of his wife with the babysitter, whom it had not yet encountered. But the potential for invasion of personal space and privacy is clear, especially considering the affordable price. The company is introducing functionalities such as being able to set the system to only retain footage of unrecognised faces, to play down worries around “inter-family spying”.
Google has recently released its own AI-powered camera, the Clip. It costs $249, is about a centimetre thick, roughly two-thirds of the size of a beer mat and has a 130-degree field of vision. And it can be clipped onto a jacket, piece of furniture etc. etc. When switched on, Clips snap and record what its AI deems to be interesting. Clips are programmed to recognise people, facial expressions, framing, lighting and the other aspects that combine to make a ‘good photo’. When the camera decides the right combination of qualities is in place, it takes bursts of footage and snaps.
Google has made an effort to put safeguards in place to prevent Clips from being considered sinister. A bright LED light makes it obvious the camera is operational and it is generally not connected to the internet. It needs to be connected to a phone for clips to be viewed and saved and a Google account is not mandatory.
Early reviews of the Clips have been positive and while the artistic and technical quality of the images captured is nothing special the emotional level is a level up. The fact they don’t interrupt moments, capture natural behaviour and are empowered by their AI to do so in a way that resonates with us means they can really offer a way to capture some quite beautiful memories. However, it doesn’t take a genius to figure out that pretty soon other manufacturers will release more discreet models using similar hardware and AI technology that don’t have a bright light showing when the devices are switched on. And that’s not quite such an appealing thought.