IBM Watson Machine Tagging! (freeware)

First a quick brief on what this is all about:

This was a class project which aimed to investigate, develop, and report on a variety of techniques to visualise, analyse, and enrich metadata describing a collection of images from the State Library of NSW that document a wide range of political and social issues from the 1960s to the 1990s.

The class was divided into six groups, with the one I was part of looking at machine tagging and machine learning.

Our four group members were tasked with looking into machine learning software that is freely available online, so we each decided to play with one before coming back with our assessments.
This is mine.

I decided to look at an application provided by IBM: Watson.

IBM Watson is a visual recognition service available to be used by anyone. After having created an account with IBM on their website, a user can create a “Lite” account which translates to being given access to the free demo mode of different available applications from IBM.

You can find a tutorial on how to get started here: https://console.bluemix.net/docs/services/visual-recognition/getting-started.html#getting-started-tutorial

An interesting capability here is the chance to create a custom model, which I did not. I opted for going with the general model available, as my team-mates would also be using the standard or general models available through the applications which they were testing. (Also, creating a custom model would be quite time consuming and advanced).

Running a test set of 32 images sourced from the State Library of New South Wales’ collection of Tribune negatives to see what kind of tags it would produce proved very easy, as multiple images were able to be uploaded into the application at a time.
We had decided to split the 32 images into sets of 8 pertaining to four categories:

  • Portraits
  • Protests
  • Meetings
  • Miscellaneous

Let it be noted that each member of the group used the same test set, so we could then compare our results.
The following images are screen-captures of IBM Watson’s results.

Portraits:

Protests:

Meetings:

Miscellaneous:

At first I was a little disappointed but not surprised that there were so many inaccuracies in regards to the tags that Watson had provided.
However, as can be seen, there are also many accurate tags. The ability the application has to identify crowds, people, buildings, roads, auditoriums, lecture rooms, as well as polo is quite impressive.

There are definitely uses for this machine tagging software. A human sorting through a set of 60 000 images would be time consuming to say the least. The capability to sort and classify images, to detect faces and people has a definite potential in reducing the time and effort spent by a human in that task.

As a final note, creating a custom model might be an interesting step to take beyond the one I have undertaken, also perhaps applying some facial recognition applications to the faces detected may have uses as well. For example finding people of note, such as politicians and protest leaders throughout the already detected faces.

Overall, the free application provided by IBM was easy to use and gets a tick from me. How does it compare with the applications used by my team-mates? Well, just check the reviews they’ve uploaded to this blog, and decide for yourself. Have a play, they’re free!

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