I have been enjoying getting to know the new iLife 09 set of applications for my Mac. In particular the new face recognition software built into iPhoto is quite amazing. Firstly it identifies all the photographs which it reckons have a face on them and then, having had me identify one of those faces a particular person, labels all photographs with that face in it with the appropriate name. It is remarkably effective at doing this but the process itself throws up some interesting thoughts.
As part of training the software which face is which you are presented with a screen full of faces which have been extracted from the photographs within which they appear. It is quite disconcerting to see multiple replications of the same face in this way. Patterns in the facial expressions become obvious in a way they would never have otherwise.
I'm currently reading a book about procrastination which talks about some of the deep-seated reasons why we put off doing things and one of the ways of exploring possible past issues is to look at family photographs and interpret them. It struck me, whatever you might think of this process, that considering the otherwise meaningless faces isolated by iPhoto in this way can give them an unexpected significance.
This touches on an aspect of the web, social media, and new technologies that I think is one of the most significant. It's about patterns. About lots and lots of data being available for the first time in volumes that allow patterns to emerge that would otherwise previously have remained unseen. Learning to see and interpret these newly available patterns is going to become a key skill.