Kodak CEO addresses future of digital images

Carp began his keynote address here at the Seybold publishing conference by focusing on metadata -- information that describes other information -- and the role that this type of content will play in both helping users search databases for appropriate images and also protecting image copyrights.

"All pictures could be embedded with a permanent record of the names of the people in the shot, their e-mail addresses, the name of the photographer, where and when the picture was taken, and even a sound file or a Java applet to enhance the viewing experience," Carp said.

By aligning with companies in both the photography and software industry, the Kodak chief hopes to create a consistent set of standards for the interpretation and use of metadata.

For the home user, the benefits of metadata will include access to an "electronic shoebox" that could replace the actual shoebox of old photos hidden away in a user's closet at home. "The real Holy Grail of image management is something we call 'content analysis and recognition,'" Carp said. With this technology, an image management program can analyse images and sort them into designated categories at the click of a button, he added.

For the business world, the technology described by Carp -- who became Kodak CEO in January -- allows for a sophisticated type of image watermarking designed to help address ever-growing concerns about copyright issues in the age of the Internet.

"We are creating a 'smarter' watermark -- one that will actually block unauthorized usage or even report it back to the image owner," Carp said. The metadata watermark can be set up to persist throughout alterations to the image or to break down upon the first attempt at tampering. In the latter case, a court might have images as evidence in a hearing and any disruption of the original watermark could signal that unauthorized attempts to alter the picture have taken place.

Carp also introduced another content managing technique on the horizon known as Interactive Content Imaging. Using a drag-and-drop process, users can collect images, video, text and audio in one place, making a type of virtual scrapbook. In his presentation, Carp showed just such a virtual scrapbook consisting of an image of a girl at Disneyland standing next to a Mickey Mouse character actor, along with a scanned copy of the mouse's autograph, an audio clip of the words uttered by her mom before taking the picture and some video from the day at the amusement park. "It's all about capturing and sharing content in whatever form you choose," Carp said of this technology.

The Kodak CEO also voiced his company's continued commitment to 3-D imaging and improvements to the quality of pictures on screens in PDAs (personal digital assistants) and other wireless devices.

"Today, as a matter of fact, Kodak is licensing out our OLED -- organic light emitting diode -- technology to several electronics manufacturers," Carp said. He claims that video-monitor-quality images can now be made available on cell phones.

Finally, Carp targeted "The Kodak Channel" as one of the company's most promising new initiatives. "Using your regular cable TV remote control device, you can now view and organize your family photos on your television," he said.

Well, maybe not right now, as the cable initiatives will not be ready for a few months. Once available, however, Kodak claims that users will be able to download digital camera images directly into a cable TV set-top box. The channel will also deliver content on travel planning, Web sites that might interest photographers and entertainment items.

Kodak also announced Monday its intention to collaborate with Adobe Systems on a project to develop a secure digital delivery system designed to prevent unauthorized distribution of electronic documents. Kodak will contribute its Programmable CD-ROM technology to the effort with Adobe adding the use of its PDF (portable document format) Merchant software.

The partners expect to enable publishers to provide consumers with "portable digital libraries," which could allow the first few chapters from a complete set of an author's books to be delivered to consumers on a single CD. Customers could later obtain a code to unlock the rest of the chapters, according to a Kodak statement

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Ashlee Vance

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