Google I/O showcases new ‘Ask Photos’ tool, powered by AI – but it honestly scares me a little

At the Google I/O 2024 keynote today, CEO Sundar Pichai debuted a new feature for the nine-year-old Google Photos app: 'Ask Photos', an AI-powered tool that acts as an augmented search function for your photos.

The goal here is to make finding specific photos faster and easier. You ask a question – Pichai's example is 'what's my license plate number' – and the app uses AI to scan through your photos and provide a useful answer. In this case, it isolates the car that appears the most, then presents you with whichever photo shows the number plate most clearly.

Google IO 2024

I really want to know if this is a Google employee’s actual child or if it’s a Gemini-generated kid… (Image credit: Google )

It can reportedly handle more in-depth queries, too: Pichai went on to explain that if your hypothetical daughter Lucia has been learning to swim, you could ask the app to 'show me how Lucia's swimming has progressed', and it'll present you with a slideshow showcasing Lucia's progression. The AI (powered by Google's Gemini model) is capable of identifying the context of images, such as differentiating between swimming in a pool and snorkeling in the ocean, and even highlighting the dates on photos of her swimming certificates.

While the Photos app already had a search function, it was fairly rudimentary, only really capable of identifying text within images and retrieving photos from selected dates and locations. 

Ask Photos is apparently “an experimental feature” that will start to roll out “soon”, and it could get more features in the future. As it is, it's a seriously impressive upgrade – so why am I terrified of it?

Eye spy

A major concern surrounding AI models is data security. Gemini is a predominantly cloud-based AI tool (its data parameters are simply too large to be run locally on your device), which introduces a potential security vulnerability as your data has to be sent to an external server via the internet, a flaw that doesn't exist for on-device AI tools.

Ask Photos is powerful enough to not only register important personal details from your camera roll, but also understand the context behind them. In other words, the Photos app – perhaps one of the most innocuous apps on your Android phone's home screen – just became the app that potentially knows more about your life than any other.

I can't be the only person who saw this revealed at Google I/O and immediately thought 'oh, this sounds like an identity thief's dream'. How many of us have taken a photo of a passport or ID to complete an online sign-up? If malicious actors gain remote access to your phone or are able to intercept your Ask Photos queries, they could potentially take better advantage of your photo library than ever before.

Google says it's guarding against this kind of scenario, stating that “The information in your photos can be deeply personal, and we take the responsibility of protecting it very seriously. Your personal data in Google Photos is never used for ads. And people will not review your conversations and personal data in Ask Photos, except in rare cases to address abuse or harm.”

It continues that “We also don't train any generative AI product outside of Google Photos on this personal data, including other Gemini models and products. As always, all your data in Google Photos is protected with our industry-leading security measures.”

So, nothing to worry about? We'll see. But quite frankly… I don't need an AI to help me manage my photo library anyway. Honestly Google, it really isn't that hard to make some folders.

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Microsoft just launched a free Copilot app for Android, powered by GPT-4

If you're keen to play around with some generative AI tech on your phone, you now have another option: Microsoft has launched an Android app for its Copilot chatbot, and like Copilot in Windows 11, it's free to use and powered by GPT-4 and DALL-E 3.

As spotted by @techosarusrex (via Neowin), the Copilot for Android app is available now, and appears to have arrived on December 19. It's free to use and you don't even need to sign into your Microsoft account – but if you don't sign in, you are limited in terms of the number of prompts you can input and the length of the answers.

In a sense, this app isn't particularly new, because it just replicates the AI functionality that's already available in Bing for Android. However, it cuts out all the extra Bing features for web search, news, weather, and so on.

There's no word yet on a dedicated Copilot for iOS app, so if you're using an iPhone you're going to have to stick with Bing for iOS for now if you need some AI assistance. For now, Microsoft hasn't said anything officially on its new Android app.

Text and images

The functionality inside the new app is going to be familiar to anyone who has used Copilot or Bing AI anywhere else. Microsoft has been busy adding the AI everywhere, and has recently integrated it into Windows 11 too.

You can ask direct questions like you would with a web search, get complex topics explained in simple terms, have Copilot generate new text on any kind of subject, and much more. The app can work with text, image and voice prompts too.

Based on our testing of the app, it seems you get five questions or searches per day for free if you don't want to sign in. If you do tell Microsoft who you are, that limit is lifted, and signing in also gives you access to image generation capabilities.

With both Apple's Siri and Google Assistant set to get major AI boosts in the near future, Microsoft won't want to be left behind – and the introduction of a separate Copilot app could help position it as a standalone digital assistant that works anywhere.

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Hark! A VR headset powered by Linux that you can maybe buy one day

The thing you didn't even know you wanted is here: SimulaVR have been working hard on bringing Linux to the VR world and the result is the SimulaVR One and, well, it actually looks pretty cool. 

Now, you might be thinking, do we need Linux in a VR headset? It's a good question and the answer, in our view, is why not. The year of Linux has been coming for a while and SimulaVR might have just found the missing piece. 

According to SimularVR's technical preview, Intel's NUC is being used by Simula as the guts of the One, specifically an 11th-gen Intel NUC with a four-core i7,  Iris Xe integrated graphics, Wi-Fi 6, and 3-4 USB ports, Thunderbolt, and two DisplayPorts, although the IO is still under discussion. 

SimulaVR One

(Image credit: SimulaVR)

On the actual VR side, Sharp has provided two 2448 x 2448 panels, which, when paired with an innovative three-lens design, offers 100-degree field of view and 36.2 pixels per degree (PPD), which SimulaVR is quick to note beats the Valve Index and Oculus Quest 2

The year of Linux, here at last  

But let's get into the meat: the SimulaVR One is, above all else, a Linux-toting VR headset and it runs Simula, a desktop environment that runs on the Godot game engine. The OS is capable of running any desktop app, which is pretty neat. 

You can install Simula OS, available for download on Github, on other VR headsets, including the HTC Vive and Valve Index. 

We've attached a GIF below to show you how this looks in practice. Without actually using the headset it's hard to say how good choosing Linux over other OSes will be, but it's certainly interesting. 

SimulaVR One

(Image credit: SimulaVR)

If you want to buy the SimulaVR one then sadly you're out of luck for now, as the company has yet to put a release date on the device and we don't expect to see it any time soon. Making VR work is really hard – just ask Oculus – and we applaud SimulaVR's tenacity, so hopefully we'll get to try it out soon.

Via Tom's Hardware

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