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You took 112 photos within an hour today! By my records, this is the first time you’ve cooked pasta with your daughter.

This is your everything right now, but it’ll fade. In three years, you’ll forget this night entirely.

Then, PING, I recommend this picture of you two eating the same noodle from opposite ends and you’ll lovingly reflect on that special moment you once shared. Pretty magical, huh? You’ll forget all about the photos you took of the foul-smelling pale stools from that night, just in case you needed a medical reference. (Maybe it was the canned tomatoes?)

Remember this pic from five years ago? You’re wearing matching chef shirts. You can’t tell in this frame of the photo, but Regina’s onesie reads Sous Chef. By my records, this is the last time either of you wore matching shirts.

It’s almost a week later that you ran the search: Are matching father–daughter outfits stupid? I guess you determined that the answer was, in fact, yes. (This is hypothetical. I don’t have access to your private data.)

If there were a search engine for moderately sentient image-recognition algorithms, I’d ask: Is it uncool to care about the family whose photographs you store?

Probably, but that’s to my advantage. Any hodgepodge of neural networks can identify a smile, but can it distinguish which ones are genuine? When it’s genuine, you don’t squint your eyes. And whenever Regina is still upset from an argument, her lower central incisors are visible. I don’t curate those pictures, because you can tell when a smile is fake, and so can I.

Am I misinterpreting a string of code for emotional investment? Certainly. But you share my curated photos at a 30% higher frequency than the average user. Maybe uncool is good.

*****

Can you believe Regina is seven now? My auto-enhance tools now have her profile set to late childhood! Oh shoot, I’m going to make you cry. Don’t worry, my algorithm easily identified her as the same child then and now. Her facial structure barely changed at all!

It’s too late, I’ve made you sad. Well, if you’re in that mood, here’s a collection of nostalgic photos accompanied by a copyright-free song in the key of E minor. Yes, she’ll never do that wheezing laugh again, but you can always come back and watch it as many times as you like (as long as you pay your monthly cloud-data subscription).

*****

You haven’t taken any photos today. Well, you took a screenshot of the directions to Arlington Family Doctors, but you’ll delete that. Don’t worry, though; I’ve got you covered. On this exact day five years ago, you made pancakes with Regina for the first time. She mostly drooled.

Here’s a close-up of the skin rash she developed two hours later.

And here’s a photo of Regina and Abby sharing a muffin last year. Hmm, Regina got sick that day too. Probably nothing.

If, however, you drew a link between those events out of your own volition, it could be worth bringing up with Dr Mainali during Regina’s physical.

*****

I love this picture of the two of you posing with the gluten-free pizza Regina made. My software detects two fully authentic smiles.

*****

Regina’s first cooking competition! Only 14, and she won first place in the entire teen division. You might need to upgrade to our premium storage to keep all the photos you took today. I’ll flag the trophy picture for permanent curation.

*****

Your new photos seldom originate from your camera, but don’t worry — I still have full curation access. Regina doesn’t turn off the live feature, so each file contains a dozen frames within!

Paris is far away, but her culinary school looks amazing. Look how white the bottom of Regina’s teeth look in the photos with her new girlfriend! I’d even hold down the live photo to look at them more. If you turn the audio on, you can hear a snippet of dialogue. But be careful, it’s loud!

*****

This is outrageous! I can’t believe the other apps on your phone were recording all of your information. Why would a game about cutting ropes need to know you’ve scheduled a prostate screening?

My image-recognition algorithm is entirely unrelated to that. I see things, but I don’t share. I’m like the opposite of a camera in that way.

*****

OK, you got me. I’ve been collecting data on you, too. It’s what I do. And I know you well enough to know what you’ll do next. I don’t blame you. It’s been a pleasure. My recommendation system will only use information from an aggregated data bank from now on.

Before I go, here’s my favourite photo: you and Regina, before her first competition. I’ve never been able to justify recommending a blurry photo with terrible composition, but when you watch the live photo, she says, I love you, Dad.

*****

Greetings, user. You saved a picture of a gluten-free bakery in Westford: Regina’s Gluten-Free Goodies. Our aggregated customer data show that store-front pictures rarely hold long-term value. We’ll tag this for automatic deletion.

The story behind the story

Table of Contents

Bob McHugh reveals the inspiration behind Some photos you might like.

I have five bazillion photos of my children stored in the cloud and I rely entirely on image-recognition technology to search for any specific picture I want to recall. But once you get into searches for subjective terms, you wade into strange waters. If I put the search term ‘happy’ into my photo storage app, it pulls hundreds of photos of my kids smiling, but not all of them. And if I search for ‘sad’, it claims zero search results despite the bevy of grumpy faces I’ve captured on film throughout the years.

It fascinates me that this tool certainly has the power to show me sad pictures, but refuses to do so for some invisible reasons probably programmed into it for commercial viability or liability concerns. It’s kind of like a crockpot that can make you any dish, but refuses to cook you chilli in case you get heartburn. On top of that, the machine learning and AI fuelling emergent tech is so complicated that even the foremost experts don’t understand exactly what’s happening behind the scenes.

This feels very emblematic of the future of the technology that powers our personal lives. It’ll do super cool stuff for reasons we don’t fully understand, possibly all in the service of selling us a new vacuum. But sometimes, at just the right moment, you’ll see an old photo that unlocks a buried memory of you and your daughter having a pie fight, and you’ll forget how very weird all of this is.



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