Kodak Moments, the consumer printing division of Kodak has a new way to encourage you to print photos: a Facebook Messenger chatbot. It works just like you’d imagine. You start a chat thread with the Kodak Moments Assistant on Facebook Messenger, allow it access to your Facebook account, and it will root through the photos you’ve stored there over the years and suggest ones that you might have forgotten about — and that you might want to put in a frame or on a mug.
Kodak Moments is also adding a similar feature to its mobile app, which again either requires access to your Facebook (or Google) account, or your phone’s camera roll, and will surface photos using the company’s “unique image science capabilities” in a news feed-style section in an attempt to generate print sales.
What this all means, according to FastCompany, is that Kodak’s image surfacing algorithm relies largely on “the data attached to a photo like tagging, relationships, location, engagement and keywords.”
You could say that again. The first image the Messenger bot suggested I print was a photo that prominently featured my ex-girlfriend. While we remained friends, you’d think the fact that the bot has access to my Facebook account — which has a record of the exact date we changed our relationship status — would have meant it was capable of exercising some basic social caution. But that’s the problem with the low-level artificial intelligence that’s starting creep into the corners of our lives. It understands the data more than the user, so inadvertent algorithmic cruelty is a very possible result. (At the very least, the mobile app’s first suggestion was one of my current girlfriend, though it wasn’t the most flattering photo from my camera roll.)
Beyond that, the rest of the bot’s results were mostly just underwhelming. It did find a picture of my mother with my grandfather from her wedding day that I forgot I uploaded, and a picture of two of my friends from an old party that is funny to me but not really print worthy. It also spent much of the morning fetching similar, if not the same, photos every time I asked it to find more — including more pictures of my ex.
And there’s no option to shoo away images of people or times in your life you might not want to remember. You only have three options every time the bot surfaces new photos: you can ask for more of those same people, print the photos it found, or have it search for more photos. It doesn’t even deep link you back to the album where the photos originally uploaded, which makes it blatantly clear that Kodak only wants to reconnect you with these memories on the company’s own terms.
I get it. We all take a lot of photos. And folks like me, who’ve been on Facebook since 2004, have an enormous catalog of them stored on the social media platform that we’ve largely forgotten. I think there’s value in a company being able to use algorithms to sort through that glut and resurface pictures of people and places that we might care about, especially if they’re doing it in a more engaging way than Facebook’s “look at this image from this day X years ago” feature.
While I think Kodak’s take on the idea feels like I’m just shuffling the same deck of images, it might be enough to jog others into paying a few bucks for the ability to yank these moments out of the digital abyss and back into the physical world. But if those algorithms are still this crude and scattershot, then maybe it’s still worth doing all the work ourselves.