Tech 2005: What's New and What's Next

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Photo Epiphany

The popularity of digital photography is leading to a revolution in imaging software. Today, cameras can tag images with useful metadata (data about the image) such as the date and time a shot was taken, the camera model, and other details. Future cameras, equipped with GPS chips, will go further. "I could see a cell phone's camera putting in the GPS coordinates of an image, and software that automatically recognizes that the shot is in Paris," says Tapan Bhat, director of product management for Adobe's Consumer Digital Imaging and Digital Video Products division. He predicts such technology could surface in 2007.

Desktop software will be smarter, too, able to analyze photos to recognize elements such as mountains, dogs, or swimming pools and then apply metatag information to aid organization.

Also likely by 2006 are software advancements that will automate routine tasks such as removing red-eye and fixing minor flaws, helping users get better results in less time. Further out, software could provide features like "lazy snapping," a technology Microsoft Research recently demonstrated in China. With a few vague mouse strokes, users can, for example, identify an object they want to crop, and the lazy-snapping algorithms will automatically detect and mark the borders. The feature analyzes the image's contrast and colors to detect object edges with much greater precision than is possible with current magic-wand controls.

Microsoft Research also showed technology that can transform a 2D photo of a face into a 3D model. The tool could allow you to import a realistic-looking model of yourself into a game.

Adobe's Bhat emphasizes that smart software will ultimately revolutionize the way we work with and even think of photos. But the payoffs remain years away. "The first [such features] will start hitting in 2006, but it may be fairly rudimentary. It's going to be a while before the technology is good enough to happen by default."

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