Computers Watching Ads: Deep Learning Meets Campaign 2016

What would it look like to have a computer watch all of the 2016 political ads using “deep learning” neural network algorithms and describe them second by second? Using the Internet Archive’s new Political TV Ad Archive, launched two weeks ago, we took all 267 distinct ads totaling 196 minutes (which have collectively aired 72,807 times as of this writing) and fed them through Google’s Cloud Vision API. Since the Vision API currently operates only on static imagery, not video, each campaign ad was downloaded as an MPEG4 file and split into a sequence of frames, one per second using the Linux “ffmpeg” utility (“ffmpeg -i ./VIDEO.MP4 -r 1 frames%d.jpg”). All 11,757 resulting frames were then passed to the Cloud Vision API one by one. The output of the Vision API’s analysis of each…


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