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What happens when AI tries too hard to improve reality, in one photo

Courtesy of Alex Harker/Imgur
Man of the mountain
By Johnny Simon
Published Last updated This article is more than 2 years old.

Google Photos’ intrepid Assistant just wants to help.

Part of the Android-maker’s photo app, it helps organize the thousands of photos stored on your phone. It can make little albums of places you went based on geolocation data, and through facial recognition can even organize albums about your friends, family and pets through. If you take a sequence of similarly composed photos, it can turn those into a little animation.

Or… it might turn your friend into a giant head lurking in a forest.

That’s what happened to Alex Harker, who snapped a few quick pictures of scenery and friends while skiing in Banff, Alberta:

Courtesy of Alex Harker/Imgur
The originals, friends still intact.

Once the images were on his phone, Google Photo’s Assistant, correctly thinking that these three frames belonged together, got to work—but not in the way a human might expect.

Harker explained on Reddit:

I literally took like 3 pictures, one with them in, and two without them. And for some bizarre reason Google Assistant offered me a really strange panorama of the 3 photos spliced together.

The resulting image features Harker’s friend Matt hiding behind the trees, while his other friend has vanished completely.

After he discovered the glitchy panorama on his, he shared it on Reddit, where it quickly shot up to the top of the r/funny subreddit and has garnered over 188,000 upvotes.

Courtesy of Alex Harker/Imgur
What the panorama looked like in Harker’s Google Photos app.

Observers online have remarked that while the image makes absolutely no sense, Assistant did a pretty good job of reconciling the edges of photos shot at differing perspectives. While there still is a giant head lurking beyond the pines, the foreground is nicely smoothed and cohesive.

Steve Dent of Engadget writes:

If you study the image closely, you can’t help but be impressed by the algorithm’s attention to detail. It did a pretty darn good job of masking out the trees to the subject’s left and inserting him “behind” them. It has also cropped his upper body beautifully to follow the contour of the slope, making it look like he’s hiding in a ravine, ready to tell punk skiers to slow the hell down.

While Google Photos and other AI powered image software have been found to make far worse mistakes, this is a goofier illustration of the ways in which ways tech tries to organize our lives.

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