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A machine literally shocks you into taking 'good' photos

Engadget chatted with Buczkowski to find out what inspired a project that’s macabre, but speaks to excessive Instagramming, AI and other controverisal areas of tech. First off, it’s a real, fully functional device that can attach to any mirrorless or DSLR camera. Its AI was trained on the much-used CUHKPQ data set, which contains 17,000 internet photos rated by humans. The box has a built-in camera that can detect when you’ve composed a scene to its standards, then fire a jolt of electricity into your hand, forcing your trigger finger to move and take the photo.

“My initial idea was to use electric shocks.” said Buczkowski. “I really liked the idea that the human becomes the interface in this scenario, because it’s possible to control muscles and nerves with these SENS [subcutaneous electric nerve stimulation] units.”

Rules of thirds? Check. Contrasty? Check? Boring? Check. (Peter Buczkowski)

With this system, it’s the AI that finds Cartier-Bresson’s “decisive moment,” not the humans — we meat puppets merely transport the AI and camera to photogenic spots. So why do you even need the human, then? “My starting point was to create a new type of computer and action camera device, and the human was always part of that,” said Buczkowski. “But in this case, we’re switching it around, because the device is using the human.”

So with the machine as taste-maker, what are the results? “Mediocre,” is the word that Buczowski heard most often. “People have said that the photos are not creative, that they look like pictures of a database, that algorithms don’t make great art,” he said.

Humans can achieve equal levels of tedium on their own, though. Other projects (like this video) address the idea that the we pursue popularity on social media by just copying everyone else. “This is how we condition ourselves on Instagram; we see pictures of the Golden Gate Bridge that get a lot of likes, so we post a picture for the one-millionth time of the same thing,” Buczowski noted.