Imagine shouting at an animal and telling from the returning echo whether it’s a dog or a horse. A team of scientists has pulled off the photographic equivalent of that trick: They teased out a 3D image of a scene by timing the reflections of light onto a simple detector. Known as temporal imaging, the new technique demonstrates the power of a type of artificial intelligence called machine learning to unearth patterns in what appears to be mere noise.

“It’s really surprising to me that they can get anything out of this system because there’s absolutely not enough information coming out of it,” says Laura Waller, a computer scientist and electrical engineer at the University of California, Berkeley, who was not involved in the work. “That just shows the ability of machine learning to solve things that seem unsolvable.”

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