Parent company Facebook's system failure gives a behind the scenes on their AI

An image outage across Facebook, Instagram, and WhatsApp offers a behind-the-scenes look at how Facebook’s AI sees your pictures.

The outage, which began on Wednesday and affected Facebook’s 1.5 billion-plus every day active users and rendered Instagram all but unusable, stopped social-media photos from loading and left of their place descriptions like: “picture could contain: table, plant, flower, and outdoor” and “picture may contain: tree, plant, sky.”

On Twitter, people shared screenshots of how their photos were tagged. “To be fair, ‘one person, beard’ is pretty much a spot-on description of me,” Zack Whittaker, an editor at TechCrunch, wrote.

Facebook automatically scans all photos on the social network with facial- and image-recognition software powered by AI to detect who or what’s being pictured.

That is then used in the company’s accessibility efforts to explain images to people who are blind or otherwise visually impaired, and who’s accessing the site through a screen reader.

In short, Facebook makes use of machine learning to routinely interpret images, then reads this interpretation aloud to blind users. The photograph outage meant that we got an in-your-face look at these interpretations, too.