Computer vision: It sounds like a throwback to an eighties sci-fi movie, right?
Well, maybe, but it’s also the name of a very real type of technology that’s changing the world around us. When used correctly, computer vision can save everything from time and money to saving lives through the smart application of algorithms to medical data.
So get yourself a nice cup of coffee, sit back, relax, and prepare to learn everything you need to know about computer vision without the headache.
What is Computer Vision
At its simplest, the term computer vision refers to a type of computer science that’s focussed on allowing computers to “see.” In the same way that natural language processing allows computers to process audio searches better and to listen and speak, computer vision allows machines to see.
It mostly does this using a combination of artificial intelligence and machine learning, the latter of which is a related technology that aims to enable machines to “learn” in the same way that humans do. The concept itself is pretty easy to understand, but getting a computer to do it is something else entirely.
If a machine-learning algorithm was created to identify pictures of cats, instead of trying to program the software with a set of features that define what a cat looks like, it would be fed hundreds of thousands of pictures of cats. Over time, the software would build up its own interpretation of what a cat looks like – and it would also get better at it as time went on, and it was exposed to more and more pictures of cats.
How CV Works
So how exactly does computer vision work? We’ve already touched on it lightly in the above example, but we can go a little deeper without getting too confused. The general idea behind it is to feed images into an algorithm and allow it to analyze those images.
It’s not as basic as just getting a computer to recognize what it’s looking at. The full power of computer vision comes in when it’s being allowed to arrive at its conclusions. The idea is not just to process the image but to interpret it, usually by providing some output.
Other applications of computer vision include being able to recognize patterns or to detect shapes. In fact, the tech is so promising that as far back as five years ago, Mark Zuckerberg predicted that computer vision would soon be describing images in plain English to users, noting that it could have great benefits for the vision impaired.
“If we build computers that could understand what’s in an image and could tell a blind person who otherwise couldn’t see that image, that would be pretty amazing. This is all within our reach, and I hope we can deliver it in the next ten years.” Five years on, we’re definitely at least halfway there.
Main Industries That Use CV
Computer vision is useful across a range of different industries. Optical character recognition (OCR), for example, is already being used all over the place to convert handwritten documents into computerized documents to make it much easier for people to search through them.
But perhaps no industry is benefitting from computer vision quite so much as the healthcare industry. AI in Healthcare has different applications and use cases, from filling out healthcare records to running sophisticated prediction modeling and simulations.
When it comes to computer vision, a compelling use case in the healthcare industry is the ability for smart algorithms to power through huge numbers of medical scans to look for anomalies. They might not replace front-line physicians, but they will offer a useful layer of oversight. Human physicians are just that – they’re only human, and they make mistakes. Computer vision can try to spot those errors and flag them before they become a more serious problem, potentially saving lives.
And this gives us a hint towards some of the other areas that computer vision can help with. For example, it could monitor traffic flows in real-time and provide guidance and routine updates, and it could even help to bring about “smart cities.”
The applications are truly countless. For example, why not use it to boost CAD or research and development by crunching data faster than any human could hope to keep up with? Like other forms of algorithms, computer vision is at its best when tackling problems at scale, so it’s unsurprising that it has far-reaching effects that could impact every aspect of our lives. What we see now is only the beginning.
Now that you know a little bit about computer vision and how it’s used across a variety of different industries, the next step is for you to make sure that you’re applying what you’ve learned today.
It’s true that computer vision is used across a wide variety of industries and that some of those industries can make better use of it than others. At the same time, it’s also true that some industries are better placed to profit than others, especially in the short term.
Either way, computer vision technology isn’t just a flash in the pan, and so if you can put the tech to use at your company, it’s a no-brainer. It’s an investment in the future and one that could continue to provide dividends in the months and years to come. With a bit of luck, it could even provide a competitive advantage!