This week Google launched AutoDraw, a neat little drawing app that turns a doodle into a pro-looking piece of artwork. But it's more than just a neat little app.
AutoDraw is a sign of AI things to come. Artificial intelligence and machine learning usually grab headlines when they're doing something like driving a car or helping medics perform intricate surgery. So it might be tempting to dismiss AutoDraw as a clever but throwaway bit of tech gimmicky. In fact, it's a great example of how AI is giving us everyday superpowers.
AutoDraw is a lot of fun and super simple to use and works with a mouse and a computer screen or a finger on a mobile screen. And it's free. From your first line, AutoDraw starts trying to work out what you're drawing and offers a selection of professionally-rendered alternatives across the top of the screen. Select one you like and it replaces your rough sketch with the pro version, or you can carry on drawing and AutoDraw will carry on guessing.
A wobbly triangle shape has AutoDraw foxed but add a circle that is clearly, ahem, pepperoni and the AI knows you're after a slice of pizza.
So, draw a triangle with a curved base and AutoDraw will offer up a range of better, straighter triangles as well as a curious selection of alternatives ranging from noses, socks, teeth and boomerangs. Add a circle and, hey presto, a slice of pizza appears in the selection. Click on it and your wobbly sketch is replaced by a slick icon-style graphic.
It's a bit like predictive text. And, yes, that means AutoDraw does get it hilariously wrong sometimes. In fact, much of the time-wasting fun is to had seeing what the machine thinks it is you're trying to draw. Or trying to get the right result from the poorest possible doodle.
A simple set of tools let you add text, shapes and colour, re-size and move drawings, and export or share your finished masterpiece. Or it that AutoDraw's finished masterpiece?
AutoDraw is powered by the same technology used in another Google AI experiment called Quick, Draw!, which gives you 20 seconds to draw each of a series of objects. In the process, the machine learns how most people draw a particular object.
The result is great for anyone whose drawing isn't up to much. When it comes to trying to draw on a computer, that means most of us. Announcing AutoDraw, Dan Motzenbecker - Creative Technologist at Google Creative Lab - said: "The next time you want to make a birthday card, party invite or just doodle on your phone, it'll be as easy and fast as everything else on the web."
For professionals who have to turn out simple graphics, icons and illustrations it is a lot quicker than creating from scratch and faster, too, than searching through clipart libraries or icon collections.
This is machine learning at work in a simple little web app that anyone can use. It's an example of how artificial intelligence is becoming more and more capable of learning from our actions and behaviour and then helping us make a better job of what we are doing.
AutoDraw turns a crude sketch into a useable piece of artwork - whether five minutes of fun or a productivity hack for graphic artists - but the same technology is finding its way into all sorts of tasks that require skill or time that most of us you don't have.
Imagine how much more we could get done if all the routine things we do each day could draw on that same power.
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