Spies in the United States are developing technology that would allow computers to pinpoint where in the world a picture was taken, which could prove useful for a number of reasons.
According to the Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Agency, which is commissioning the work, current technology – including that used by Google – is not up to the task.
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Intelligence analysts currently have to find the location in a photograph by analysing every detail and using satellite imagery, geological and botanical information, and cultural clues.
With new technology, the computer may cross-reference clues in the picture with a vast database, or deduce the air pressure from the photograph and link it to a region with similar conditions at the time the photograph was taken.
IARPA says such technology might not be available until 2016, and has issued a challenge to companies and academics to build such a system.
“New algorithms and methods must be proposed,” IARPA says.