Human beings have a remarkable ability to make inferences based on their surroundings. Is this area safe? Where might I find a parking spot? Am I more likely to get to a gas station by taking a left or a right at this stoplight?
Such decisions require us to look beyond our “visual scene” and weigh an exceedingly complex set of understandings and real-time judgments. This begs the question: Can we teach computers to “see” in the same way? And once we teach them, can they do it better than we can?
The answers are “yes” and “sometimes,” according to research out of MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL). Researchers have developed an algorithm that can look at a pair of photos and outperform humans in determining things like which scene has a higher crime rate, or is closer to a McDonald's restaurant.
An online demo puts you in the middle of a Google Street View with four directional options and challenges you to navigate to the nearest McDonald's in the fewest possible steps.