This AI camera takes pictures without seeing anything

The Paragraphica was even given a 'nose' that looks like that of a star-nosed mole, an animal that essentially cannot see
Inventor Bjorn Karmann and the Paragraphica. (

We often use cameras to capture images of our surroundings.

Skies, trees, lakes, mountains, buildings, historic streets, sunsets ...

Anytime something lovely or stunning catches our eye, we reach for our camera and snap a pic! It's a way of saying that you were there to see something special.

Now a new gadget is asking a curious question: Can a camera capture a special scene without actually seeing it?

Meet the Paragraphica. It is an AI (artificial intelligence) camera that was invented by Bjorn Karmann, an engineer who lives in Amsterdam, Netherlands. The Paragraphica has no lens to take in light and capture an image. Instead, it uses information about what your current location looks like, and uses AI to create an image that is something like what you are seeing.

Odd, right? Let's have a closer look at the camera that can't see!

The weather is ________

This and next few three-part images show a) where Karmann was when the photo was taken, b) the AI paragraph that generated the image, and c) the final picture. This one was in a park. (

Here is how Paragraphica works.

First, the camera collects information about the camera's location using three different APIs (application programming interfaces). An API is something that allows two different computer programs to communicate with each other. This information includes stuff like the time of day, the weather, the address, and more.

This one was in nature. (

Then, creates a paragraph that describes what the camera should be seeing based on that data.

Finally, it uses a text-to-image conversion program to create an image. When all of the information is ready, you 'point and shoot' the camera and an image appears in the viewfinder.

This one was in the middle of a public festival. Yes, none of those people on the right are actually real. (

The camera also has three dials, which the user can set to further adjust the image in different ways. This include how closely the AI will follow the data as it makes its image, and how far out a radius in metres the AI will search for information about a location.

How does the AI know?

These three dials control how the camera uses AI to make its image. (

You might wonder, if it can't see anything, how does AI know what a place looks like? Good question!

Overall, artificial intelligence works by 'learning' from data collected and catalogued by humans. It then uses this information to perform a task, such as writing a story about a Viking who loves dogs and strawberries!

In the case of this camera, humans have collected billions of points of data on what certain weather looks like, what a grassland looks like, or what a crowded street in Western Europe (or Japan or Ghana or Canada) looks like. We even have precise satellite images of specific location (like how you can use Google Maps to look up an exact street address).

The Paragraphica collects all of this data to create an approximate image of a certain place at a certain moment. It's not accurate and it's not meant to be. It's just an idea of how it probably looks based on the data.

The nose knows (nothing)

Instead of a lens, this camera has a funny nose! (

And what about that strange red thing on the front of the camera? This funny horned nose doesn't actually do anything practical. It is a nod to the nose of the star-nosed mole.

This underground animal can barely sense any light with its tiny eyes. Instead, it uses its sense of touch and smell to navigate its dark underground world. According to the device's website, Karmann said that "this amazing animal became the perfect metaphor and inspiration" for how the Paragraphica perceived the world.

Vision, which we use as our main way of experiencing the world, isn't important to either it or the star-nosed mole. (Although we're pretty sure that the mole isn't using AI either!)

We find this both very strange and really neat!

And if you're curious about how a camera actually works, watch our recent General KnOWLedge video on that very thing!

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