Camera Describes Pictures Instead Of Taking Them, Using Crowdsourcing

Using Mechanical Turk, Matt Richardson created a camera that prints out people’s impressions of a picture, rather than the picture itself.

Our photos are filled with gobs of metadata, but it’s mostly useless stuff to anyone but pro photographers. It identifies the camera the photo was taken on and all of its settings, but it can’t tell us anything else. Was it raining in the photo? Was it taken on the beach? This is all mineable data for search engines that it’s up to us to categorize.

The Descriptive Camera is a project by Matt Richardson, and it’s essentially a webcam glued to a printer and some additional processing equipment. But when it takes a photo, rather than printing an image, it prints out text descriptions, such as:

"Looks like a cupboard that is ugly and old. having some plates on it with a lamp attached to it."


"It’s a dark room with a window. The image is quite pixelated."

The responses, while odd by any measure, are actually rich with information—far richer than automated image processors could identify. So how is that possible? After the camera takes a photo, a JPEG is uploaded via Amazon’s Mechanical Turk API. This API has actual humans pick up various intelligence-related tasks, and in this case, that task is to automate a process that a computer normally can’t: describe a photo.

So to the end user, after a picture is taken, a yellow LED signals that the photo is "developing." Following a few minutes of waiting (while workers scurry to pick up the task), a description is printed and the user has their photo.

Is the project scalable? It could be. Amazon charges about $1.25 per annotated photo, putting the price on par with high-end photo prints. But when it comes to my personal photos, I’d take the soullessly faulty calculations of computer software over the brutal honesty of a total stranger any day. Then again, $1.25 isn’t bad for a piece of art.

[Hat tip: PetaPixel]

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  • Cambridge

    If this was a platform instead of a camera it would be great for tagging meta-data of web based imagery for blind accessibility of the internet. See the W3 standards... Voice over would read out the picture's description as a cursor moved over it. 

  • Ryan

    Wouldn't it be great if the camera could give the output in help translate an image for a visually handicapped person.

  • coolmccool

    Awesome mini-thermal printing hipster goodness...

    Thankfully this gadget-meme will have faded away into a aged till-roll of invisibility by next week.

    In the mean-time, you could try 'Elephant' by Raymond Carver, if you're looking for "art" 

  • M J Horn

    I may be being dim but I don't quite get this. The next generation technology starting to find market applications is Augmented Reality and if those technologies (as with Project Glass/Google Goggles) have in built image & sound recognition (along with other search by what you see functions and meta data) then communicating any image, who created it and all manner of other information to a sighted or visually impaired person would perhaps be far more useful and engaging without intercepted human intervention. Or maybe I just didn't get it.


  • Hadeel Ammous

    this is an amazing invention... and it would be more and more awesome if it can read what it prints !
    then this unvention will present it self to the blind people, and help them see the wrold throw a different perspective !

  • Suleman Ali

    I wonder if this is something that a blind person would appreciate if the camera was able to give output as audio or in braille.  Perhaps though a 3D printer would give a better output for them to appreciate