At Google I/O in May, 2013, Google unveiled a new feature for Google+ (later integrated into Google Drive, as well): Auto Awesome Pictures. Auto Awesome harnesses the power of machine intelligence and big data to automatically enhance and apply effects to your photos. Beginning with automatic photo quality enhancements and automatic animated gifs (from photo series and burst photos), Google has rolled out new features, including new gif enhancement effects (like automatically removing passersby walking through your photos) and Auto Awesome Movies, which cuts photos and video clips together with filters and movies for a no-hassle movie making feature.
More recently, they’ve added Auto Awesome Snow and Twinkle effects, which trigger when snow or sparkling lights are detected, and turns the image into an animated gif with falling snow or twinkling lights. There are also indications of semantic associations being applied, like adding snow when a snowman shape is detected in the image, even a snowman doll). Despite some occasional, and sometimes accidentally brilliant, misfirings, these effects are applied with remarkable accuracy and brilliance.
Today, Google went one step further, announcing a new version of the Google+ app with “shake to snow” (a clever play on the mechanics of snow globes), allowing the user to apply an Auto Awesome snow effect to any image by opening it in the Photos part of the app and shaking their phone. It’s probably safe to assume that we will eventually see other Auto Awesome Effects rolled out more generally like this, while Google continues to add new effects. We might see things like leaves falling in Autumn photos, or Firework animations added for the Fourth of July, or Waves or Ripples added to water photos.
Auto Awesome is a truly disruptive technology in the original sense of the term: it commoditizes filters and effects previously available only to skilled users of image and video editing software. It helps turn even the least skilled photo or video taker or editor into something closer to a professional level. Fortunately for professionals, it can also be a creative medium in its own right, if used correctly.
For many users, Auto Awesome will be a pleasant surprise, a series of enhancements and effects added to photos and videos they would never have considered enhancing or applying effects to. For professionals, or creative amateurs, Auto Awesome can be triggered deliberately and creatively. Since the Auto Awesome images remain the property of the person who uploaded the original images (the “templates” for the Auto Awesome, as it were), and can be downloaded and transferred I can foresee a time when there may even be a digital marketplace for these goods.
Instagram lets you upload images and short videos and manually apply a variety of filters. Vine lets you create six-second short videos (or stop motion videos). Google+ not only lets you upload and edit photos with built-in editing tools, on a site that already allows for some of the most beautiful images possible on any social network, but also add effects manually, and automatically add enhancements and effects as well, allowing for the full range of creative expression allowed by Instagram and Vine, and then some.
Google+ was already one of the best social networks for photographers and other visual artists, and now it may well be far and away the best one, while also raising the caliber of casual amateurs to a higher level without any effort on their part to learn the tools. Better yet, we can expect all of these features to be available for Google Drive users as well.
I love technology and how it changes our lives. There’s something almost spiritual about how new technologies connect and empower us. And it’s really cool, too.