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I like to describe Medium as YouTube for text. There’s a big community of writers running on on likes, comments and engagement, hoping their writing pushes through the noise. Because it’s the brainchild of one of Twitter’s founders, there is a vast majority of writing about startups, tech and digital nomad-tinged life advice. This is why when I wanted to write a satirical piece about an iPhone app that rates and organizes your photos, I chose to publish it on Medium.

The Roll is admittedly a pretty neat app that assigns your photo an “aesthetic score” and then describes your photo using keywords. The best photo on my camera roll, a picture of my girlfriend exploring the rocks on a beach, scores a 96%. I decided to test The Roll to see how it would do with a “random sampling” of photos pulled from the internet. I posted the score and keywords it assigned them. As you could guess, my “random sampling” includes some instantly recognizable famous photos, known for not only their aesthetic beauty but for their political and historical impact.  Here’s a sampling from the piece:

Kevin Carter, "the vulture and the little girl"

Kevin Carter, “the vulture and the little girl”

Aesthetic score: 35%
Keywords: animals, field, livestock, grass, nature, landscape, herbivorous, outdoors, day, grassy, brown, rural scene, selective focus, animal, beauty in nature, tranquility.

While The Roll is able to detect the “beauty in nature” this photo exhibits, The Roll is unable to comment on the responsibilities of Western journalists in the third world, their conflicting roles as both objective documentarians and active players in the horrors in front of their lenses; nor quantify the tragic consequences of photojournalism in the public sphere. But it’s early. Looking forward to the next update.

The story behind the vulture photo is disturbing, one of the reasons that the photo matters. Check out the full article  on Medium for more misguided photo analyses, and my conclusion of whether technology will eventually be able to replace humans when it comes to judging visual art.

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