Nadia, a camera that infers beauty


At the beginning of 20th century Eastman introduced the No. 1 Kodak camera with the catchy slogan “You Press the Button, We Do the Rest”, and revolutionized photography by providing the public a photo device that was easy to use. With Nadia, the smart camera designed by German artist Andrew Kupresanin, it feels like this intention is pushed into becoming a paradox. Users don’t even have to look at the shot as Nadia does not display the photographs to be taken. The screen only shows an aesthetic quality rating percentage that informs the user about when and what to snap. To do so Nadia utilizes AQUINE, the first publicly available aesthetics inference engine, which is supposed to give “intelligent, unbiased and instant assessment of photos”. It is described as a machine-learning based online system for computer-based prediction of aesthetic quality for colour natural photographic pictures. It is a fact that progress will lead to systems able to think creatively and infer beauty. What Kupresanin is questioning is what effect this will have on individual preferences and our creative process? Are we going to become lazy conformists? In their most recent publication the AQUINE team say simply that: “We leave aside subjectivity for now and consider aesthetic attributes to be a consensus measure over the entire population” (Datta et al 2008). So although the researchers acknowledged early on that semantics play a part, they couldn’t include their dynamic nature, or the quite profound differences that can exist between the perceptions of different groups and individuals. To be fair this is a route a research team has to follow, as a complex semantics comes as a result of research, not as its premise. However the output of aesthetics without semantics has some of the characteristics of stock market trading programs that make the same judgment at the same time and therefore all contribute to mutual collapse when the system tips out of balance. This is what Kupresanin is highlighting and worrying about: the dualism between creativity and conformism is a risk our society faces if we stick to the surface of things. Semantic, subjectivity and context are intrinsic to the creation of beauty.

Valentina Culatti