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Beauty Is in the Eye of the Beholder—but Memorability May Be Universal

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Imagine spending a weekend afternoon with friends at an art museum: nodding with crossed arms, desperately searching for something insightful to say. The vast majority of paintings you stroll past are immediately forgotten, but some stick in your mind. As it turns out, the paintings you remember are likely the same ones everyone else does.

There’s a scientific term for that: image memorability. “It’s the idea that, essentially, there are some intrinsic patterns that make some content more memorable than others,” says Camilo Fosco, a PhD student studying computer science at MIT and the CTO of Memorable AI, a startup that uses machine learning to test how engaging content will be for advertisers and creators. In other words, certain pieces of art have that je ne sais quoi—and now a team of scientists is using AI to figure out what it is.

In a study published earlier this month in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, University of Chicago researchers Trent Davis and Wilma Bainbridge show that the memorability of artwork is not only consistent across people,…

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