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March 30, 2008

TechCrunch finally realizes that image recognition has not been solved

Filed under: Image search, computer vision/machine vision/AI, rants, news — Peter @ 4:34 am

A new post at TechCrunch just appeared: Image Recognition Problem Finally Solved: Let’s Pay People To Tag Photos. A new company apparently provides image recognition for photo tagging - but only with human help! That’s not surprising to me. What is interesting is the change of attitude at TechCrunch: “A trail of failed startups have tried to tackle the problem… Google has effectively thrown in the towel…” After so many enthusiastic articles about image recognition technology somebody finally saw the light. And so did the founder of Riya. For a much longer list of “failed startups” in this area try this article about visual image search engines.

P.S. When I tried to reply to their post with a two-sentence comment, it was rejected. How odd! 

P.S.S. The TechCrunch post was about TagCow, now I see a very recent post (elsewhere) about Picollator. They claim they have a visual image search engine for faces. People will keep trying….

March 28, 2008

Fields related to Computer Vision, part 3

Here I finish (part 1 and part 2) my short review of Quantitative Biological Image Analysis by Erik Meijering and Gert van Cappellen.

The last two items on the list of fields are the following.

Computer Graphics: numbers in -> image out. Instead of numbers one could have math functions that produce numerical descriptions of images. These descriptions are likely to be different from those in computer vision: vector vs. raster images (the difference is in fact superficial from the point of view of cell decomposition). It’s also “the inverse of image analysis”. That would seem to imply that if you use Image Analysis followed by Computer Graphics you’ll end up with the original image. That would make sense only if the data produced by image analysis does not go very deep (not image segmentation or Fourier transform etc). I think that Computer Graphics is simply irrelevant for Computer Vision.

Visualization: image in -> representation out. The idea is that high dimensional image data is transformed into a more primitive representation. Displaying contours of objects is an example of that, illustrated below with Pixcavator. “Pseudocoloring” is an interesting subtopic here even though it can be also classified as image processing.


 In conclusion, a couple of quotes from the article. In spite of the disagreement, I am glad that there are people thinking about these issues. 

Although it is certainly possible to categorize problems, in a sense each biological study is unique: being based on specific premises and hypotheses to be tested, giving rise to unique image data to be analyzed, and requiring dedicated image analysis methods in order to take full advantage of this data.

It seems to me that there is nothing here that would make these fields/methods/problems limited to biological applications (or medical).

All too often, scientific publications report the use of image analysis tools without specifying which algorithms were involved and how parameters were set, making it very difficult for others to reproduce or compare results.

I think it is the common attitude presented in the first quote that causes this problem. The solution is obvious:

Most of image analysis should be context independent.

In other words, it should be mathematical. Once mathematical issues are understood, image analysis becomes a tool, like a calculator or spreadsheet software.

P.S. I’ll try to rewrite the list and put it in the wiki under Fields related to Computer Vision.

March 23, 2008

Computers can’t imitate brains

Filed under: computer vision/machine vision/AI, rants, news — Peter @ 6:00 pm

I liked this recent blog post 10 Important Differences Between Brains and Computers. The reason is that it gives plentiful evidence in favor of my contention that in designing computer vision systems one shouldn’t try to imitate the human. There are two main reasons. Firstly, computers and brains are very different. Secondly and more importantly, we don’t really know how brains operate!

March 21, 2008

Fields related to Computer Vision, part 2

Filed under: computer vision/machine vision/AI, reviews — Peter @ 3:41 pm

In the last post I discussed a certain part of the article Quantitative Biological Image Analysis by Erik Meijering and Gert van Cappellen. I continue.

Image Analysis: image in -> features out. (Possibly several images in case of video or stereo vision.) Here are a few more image processing methods that are used for analysis:

  • Morphology – erosions, dilations, etc. Repeated erosions will remove small particles then you can count the rest (“granulometry”). Repeated erosions that also preserve the topology will produce “skeletonization” of objects. Robustness of topology under morphological operations interests me a lot right now.
  • “Colocalization” – evaluating the degree of overlap of two biological entities differently colored.
  • Fourier transform – finding periodic patterns in the image. It tells you a lot about the textures present in the image.
  • Image segmentation – finding objects in the image. There are many interesting methods (watershed, active contours, topology). It would be interesting to compare them some time in the future.

These are image processing tools used for image analysis but most of image processing/enhancement tools however are just that. Sometimes it works both ways: 

  • Boundaries of objects can be enhanced by means of edge detection.
  • Fourier transform in combination with its inverse is used for denoising.

Computer Vision: image in -> interpretation out. Elsewhere in the article: “…image analysis… is defined as the act of measuring (biologically) meaningful object features in an image.” From this point of view,

image analysis = low level computer vision.

(BTW, that’s exactly the subject of our wiki.) Because of this overlap I prefer the term “computer vision” for this. “Analysis” is just too broad a term. Does finding the average color in the image qualify as analysis? Yes, of course. Does it tell as anything about the contents of the image? No, not a bit. I like this definition:

high level interpretation = image understanding.

There will be another post on the subject.

Update: In ImageJ’s Features page, under “Analysis” image segmentation or particle analysis isn’t even mentioned! “Analysis” means different things to different people.

March 17, 2008

All this thing needs is computer vision…

Filed under: computer vision/machine vision/AI, news — Peter @ 6:50 pm

and it’ll go on a killing spree. Amazing video of robotic motion! See how it recovers when kicked (it doesn’t kick back - yet!) and when it slipped on ice.

March 13, 2008

Fields related to Computer Vision, part 1

I just finished reading Quantitative Biological Image Analysis by Erik Meijering and Gert van Cappellen (Chapter 2 of Imaging Cellular and Molecular Biological Functions, S. L. Shorte and F. Frischknecht (eds.), Springer-Verlag, Berlin, 2007, pp 45-70). It’s an excellent article! I especially liked the part that classify fields related to computer vision. I outline it below along with a few thoughts of my own. There are nice illustrations too but I won’t copy them.

Image Formation: object in -> image out. It may be important to know how the image was formed originally. The reason is that if you have a priori knowledge of the hardware that produced the image you may be able to use it to mitigate noise and imperfections (image processing below). However, it seems to me that the hardware manufacturers should be taking care of this.

Image Processing: image in -> image out. Smoothing, sharpening, blurring and de-blurring, other image enhancement, and on and on, hundreds of tasks with many different algorithms for each. Just take a look at Photoshop! Most of the ImageJ is also about image processing. Since the output is an image, the main purpose is to supply people with better looking images. A secondary purpose is preprocessing for image analysis to improve quality. The term “quality” is relative and depends on the context. One thing clear is that image processing leads to loss of information. That could harm your image analysis. So, you need insight into the problem to be sure that what you lose isn’t important. That insight comes from image analysis – full circle…

Image Analysis: image in -> features out. Let’s start with “dual purpose” image processing tasks. These operations are also image analysis tools:

  • Intensity transformation – the value of each pixel is replaced with another value that depends only on the initial value. The main application is binarization (via thresholding or otherwise) as many image analysis tasks are applicable only to binary images.
  • Local filtering - the value of each pixel is replaced with another value that depends only on the values of pixels in a certain neighborhood of this pixel. One of the main applications is edge detection (pixels where the values are changing the fastest). Morphology is another method of detecting edges (dilated version minus eroded version) but is limited to binary images. Unfortunately, neither method guarantees an unbroken sequence of edges. As a result, it may be impossible to reconstruct the object this sequence is supposed to surround.

There is more here than I expected. In the next installment:

  • More of Image Analysis,
  • Computer Graphics,
  • Computer Vision, and
  • Visualization.

March 4, 2008

ImageJ vs. Pixcavator, a follow-up

Filed under: updates, image processing/image analysis software, reviews, rants — Peter @ 2:16 pm

In the last post I provided a list that compared the capabilities of ImageJ (without plug-ins) and Pixcavator 2.4 in analysis of gray scale images. Then I submitted the link to the ImageJ’s forum.

The premise was very simple. The list contained enough features of ImageJ’s to show that they are comparable (in a certain narrow sense). It also contained some Pixcavator’s features that ImageJ doesn’t have to make the comparison interesting. I expected people to try it and give me some feedback. This is done every day because it’s a fair trade: people get to try something new and I get to learn something new. That didn’t happen.

My post was taken as an attack on ImageJ. The responses were along these lines:

  1. ImageJ is free (as in “free speech” as I was explained).
  2. ImageJ works on all platforms not just Windows.
  3. ImageJ’s plug-ins include “particle tracking, deconvolution, fourier transform, FRET analysis, 3D reconstruction, neuron tracing…”

Clearly, this wasn’t the kind of feedback I expected. I thought they were simply off topic.

To resolve the issue somewhat I added the first two items to the table and also promised to have a post to compare ImageJ with plug-ins to Pixcavator SDK (it’s free but unlike free speech it will only stay free for some time…).

Even though this was very unsatisfying, it wasn’t all bad - there were a few positive/neutral responses (thanks!) and there were spikes in the number of visits and downloads.

In retrospect, I should have made it clear that the comparison was from the point of view of a user not a developer. In this light, the main advantage of Pixcavator becomes evident – its simplicity!

So I didn’t learn anything new and didn’t get to improve my software, so what? I can turn this around and say that the end result is in fact a good news:

None of the statements in the post has been refuted.

The only statement that has been refuted – multiple times – is: “Pixcavator is better than ImageJ”, the statement I never made or implied.

One interesting reaction came from Mark Burge: “I would hazard to say that everything in Pixcavator is surely available through a plugin”. I wagered $100 that he was wrong. No response so far. How about we make this a bit more interesting? Here’s is a challenge:

$300 for the first person who shows that all of these features of Pixcavator’s are reproducible by the existing ImageJ’s plug-ins!

Meanwhile life goes on. We had a couple of milestones recently. First, we reached 30,000 downloads of Pixcavator since January 2007 (versions 2.2 – 2.4). Second, the wiki - the main page – has been visited 10,000 times since August 2007. Recently we are getting over 80 daily visitors.

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