The perfect image via intelligent tools

When someone spends his academic career perfecting the further development of technologies for visual image search and automatic image interpretation, you would think he would be passionate about photography. In this case, it couldn’t be further from the truth. Prof. Dr Kai Barthel is more interested in the question of how the appearance and content of images can be described as compactly as possible to simplify or even enable the handling of very large quantities of images initially: how can hundreds of image motifs be arranged so that they can be easily captured? How can you find similar images or even individual details within images in large image archives? And how do you navigate quickly and intelligently through the 80 million images offered by the Wikimedia platform alone, for instance? Because he tirelessly drives forward research in this area, publishes actively, earns awards from international conferences for his highly-respected papers and acquires significant amounts of third-party funding, the expert in image processing and machine learning received HTW Berlin Research Award in 2021.

Rapid technical development

Prof. Dr Barthel’s motivation is not solely his own lively curiosity; the inspiring teamwork in his Visual Computing Group and questions posed by his students, but also the current rapid technological developments in the field of artificial intelligence and deep learning all provide him with extra impetus. When the scientist and university lecturer was appointed to a professorship in the programme International Media and Computing over 20 years ago, he assumed that it would take another 30 to 40 years before computers would be able to understand images. Today, he admits that this actually only took a single decade.

Chief Visionary Officer for a startup

In recent years, he has created tools including Wikiview, Kiano, Akiwi and Picsbuffet. Prof. Dr Barthel could have exploited a couple of these commercially and started his own business, as his Master’s students did in 2009 when they created the pixolution GmbH. Their first customers included CEWE, a popular supplier of photo books, followed by the well-known stock photo agency Fotolia, which now operates under the name Adobe.Stock. The university lecturer continues to advise his alumni on professional issues, which is why they have awarded him the honorary title of “Chief Visionary Officer”.

Rather research than business success

But the scientist enjoys research and teaching more than drawing up contracts and developing marketing strategies. Prof. Dr Barthel prefers to present the fruits of his academic labours at conferences, trade fairs or in the form of publications, and holds lively discussions with colleagues and students on what his next challenge should be. 

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