Dries Depoorter is the mind behind an artificial intelligence that can be extremely useful and, at the same time, terrifying. Believe me: the system is able to find the exact place and time when a photo posted on Instagram was taken. Named from The Follower (literally, “The Follower”), the 31-year-old Belgian introduced his creation last week and showed in detail how AI works.
In practice, AI exploits photos with location tagging and cross-references the data with public camera feeds that frame the same location. It seems simple, but it is necessary to analyze a lot of information, cross it with geographic coordinates and have the right perspective so that the results are accurate.
Not only are the results accurate, they are also frightening. Deeporter says that, during the first tests, he managed to find the exact moments of several photos.
In one of the photos used in the test, a man appears kneeling on his back in Times Square, in New York, with the flag of Brazil.
Because, through a security camera pointed at the famous intersection of avenues, the artist managed to find the exact moment when the boy was getting ready to take the picture.
Deepporter told, in an interview, who came up with the idea to create the tool while accompanying a public security camera. He says he spent about thirty minutes watching a person take a picture for Instagram.
Curious, the artist scoured the social network in search of the photograph, but could not find it. From there, the developer started to build the system.
For now, the project only analyzes public data released by users with more than 100,000 followers, such as pointed to VICE. According to the Belgian, the tool is part of a series of initiatives to warn about the dangers of technology and information disseminated online.
The system, according to Deeporter, is called “The Follower” because it goes beyond virtual followers, also encompassing the ability of a system to follow traces left on the web.
Experts question privacy limits
As much as all the data used by Deeporter is public, including the cameras he uses in the project, many experts have already raised questions about the limits of privacy.
For Francesca Sobanda, a professor at a university in Wales, “any project that involves AI and open cameras is a project that can, unfortunately, reinforce a social state of surveillance by putting people’s lives at risk”.
The Belgian, however, doesn’t seem to care too much about it. “For me, it’s more about the technology and not the people I used,” he says.
“I’ve used a lot of people, so there’s no focus on one person.” When asked about showing people’s faces, identifying them, he replied: “Yes, but they posted the photos too.”
Belgian artist is known for other projects
Dries Depoorter is not a new name when it comes to creative projects. One of the great highlights of his portfolio is the The Flemish Scrollers.
Basically, the system monitors the level of distraction of Belgian politicians during parliamentary sessions. The AI identifies the politician and gives a percentage of how much time he spends glued to his smartphone.
Another interesting project by the Belgian is the die with me. The app creates a great chat room for users who have less than 5% battery on their cell phones and are looking for “peace offline”, as it describes it.
Finally, there is also the clock short lifea device that shows the amount of life already spent in percentage based on a person’s life expectancy.