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September 11, 2017
How Pinterest is Bringing Artificial Intelligence to the Forefront
By: Naomi Nishihara

Pinterest, the image sharing service, has billions of images, known as “pins,” that millions of users organize, save and persuse.

But with so much content, displaying interesting and useful pins for each user is a challenge. One of Pinterest’s recent efforts in improving this experience illustrates Trend 1 of the Accenture Technology Vision 2017, “AI is the New UI.”

For years, Pinterest has been experimenting with artificial intelligence, and one of the most popular ways to find new images is through Related Pins – an AI-driven recommendation system based on what users have pinned before. Like most current applications of AI, it’s largely behind the scenes.

This year, Pinterest is taking things a step further.

A recently introduced feature called Pinterest Lens brings AI to the forefront. Lens uses computer vision to help users identify, buy or create things they see online or in the physical world.

For instance, users can photograph a meal at a restaurant or an item they want, and the app will find them pins with recipes or links to buy the item online.  

 

Simpler, More Natural Interactions with Tech 

Tech Vision 2017 details how AI is moving beyond the so-called back-end to take on more sophisticated roles in technology interfaces and make interactions with technology more natural and simple – much like speaking commands into your phone or to a personal digital assistant, such Amazon Echo.

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While Pinterest Lens doesn’t use voice, its image recognition is a step toward natural interaction with technology.

Rather than curating images in the background, Lens essentially answers photographic questions. If a user spots a woman wearing a blue coat they admire, Lens can help them find out where she got it and how much it costs.

This type of interaction with technology is much more natural – like asking the woman herself – than typing “blue coat” into a search bar and hoping to find the right one among the thousands of results.

 

Designing for Humans

Lens also touches on another Tech Vision 2017 trend, “Design for Humans,” which describes how new technologies will increasingly adapt to individual human behavior.

For example: Stitch Fix, a subscription styling startup that customizes every shipment of clothes to an individual customer’s taste. The company says 99.99 percent of its shipments are unique.

Like Stitch Fix, Lens will be able to customize the experience for each user, and not just based on their searches. In arecent announcement, Pinterest said that if users photograph the clothes they have in their closets, Lens will be able to recommend outfits.

Personalized technology like Stitch Fix or Pinterest Lens will allow businesses to take on a new role in customers’ lives, shifting from provider to partner.

As a recent TechCrunch article pointed out, if Lens succeeds in shrinking the distance between Pinterest and the real world, we will have a valuable new window into user behavior.

Businesses now have an unprecedented opportunity to transform relationships with people. Just as simplifying use and designing for humans will help customers reach their goals, the new relationships with and insights into their customers will help businesses grow too.

We invite you to read the full Tech Vision to dive deeper into our five “Technology for People” trends.

Naomi Nishihara is a research associate principal on the Technology Vision team.

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