“A Little Brighter”: Your Camera’s Voice-Controlled Future

Posted in Equipment, Photography by Nathan Lee Bush on December 28, 2011

Ever since I read Ray Kurzweil‘s, The Age of Spiritual Machines 10 years ago, I’ve become something of an armchair futurist, making bombastic pronouncements about where it’s all heading. My favorite (and probably quite annoying) pastime, is to prophetically declare “it’s the future, whether we like it or not” whenever the latest futuristic but still rough technology explodes onto the scene.

Once the exponential nature of technological development, and the rough milestones by which we can expect certain events, is grasped, it’s easy to just imagine the most unbelievable science fiction scenario rooted in infant current technologies, predict an improbably quick arrival, and find yourself usually proved right. Due to the increasing pace of change, these paradigm shifts are now measured in years and even months, rather than centuries and decades. The cornerstones of modern communication and information access, hardware like laptops and smartphones, and platforms like Facebook and Google, are blinks of an historical eye, but have fundamentally transformed our way of life in a matter of years.

And so cameras, which have become small computers, have become subject to Moore’s Law as well. In this spirit, last year I made an impassioned plea for wirelessly connected cameras, so we don’t have to rely on our inferior iPhones and Androids to post a quick snap to Instagram, Tumblr or Facebook.

I was not shocked to hear, then – although it was quickly debunked as an international version of an April Fool’s prank (“Day of the Holy Innocents?”) – that an enterprising Swede had hacked his 5D Mark II to run Apple’s robotic personal assistant, Siri. Siri is still very much a beta system, somewhat limited to simple phrases and concepts, but it’s nevertheless a great leap forward in computer voice recognition. It doesn’t require the long training formerly required with dictation software; you just pick up the phone and start talking. And it can comprehend, to some extent, natural language, which, while second nature to us, has proved the elusive holy grail in speech recognition AI. This will only improve, of course, and I imagine we’re only a few years off from having conversations with our phones much the way we would with our real personal assistants, heretofore reserved for the CEOs and managers of the world.

With Apple typically setting the high bar with consumer technology, it won’t be long before we see similar capabilities spread to the wider ecosystem of popular electronics. It’s easy to see where this is heading: all our devices will soon comprehend our natural language commands and queries. How would this look on consumer cameras? Probably phrases along the lines of, “a little brighter,” “more blur” and the like. But on pro cameras, I imagine we could one day fine-tune a shot completely verbally, with our eye to the viewfinder: “triple ISO,” “a 60th of a second.. Nevermind, 125th,” “record video and use my last video settings.”

Of course, a physical control set (honed over the last 150 years), as second nature for veteran photographers as breathing, is unlikely to be bested in working speed to our relatively slow speaking rate. But I imagine we’ll find ourselves settling into a hybrid system of navigation. Rather than the deep menu-scouring tedium, for example, we could simply say, “enable mirror lockup,” on Canon, or “Commander Mode” on Nikon. It’s the future, whether we like it or not.


Nathan Lee Bush is a fashion and fine art photographer and filmmaker in New York City. His work is on his site, vimeo and blog.

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3 Responses

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  1. Darin said, on December 29, 2011 at 12:08 pm

    Yes! Someone with my idea! Put wifi on the cameras (at the least, if not a mini data plan to run on 3G) that is the iPhones main advantage, that we don’t have to wait until we get home, put the sd card in the computer, and then upload.

  2. Bradley C. Bush said, on December 29, 2011 at 12:36 pm

    Well stated and clearly explained. Good writing, Nathan!

  3. […] this blog, Through The Looking Glass, I predict the arrival of Siri-like voice control on cameras, and how natural language control might be useful to pros; I wrote about a cool and affordable […]

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