Geography 970

February 7, 2010

“Knowledge” Getting Even Fuzzier with Google Goggles

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , — Tim Wallace @ 10:16 pm

One debate I find particularly fascinating these days is that of “what is ‘knowledge’?”.  If you quickly answer a question by looking it up (say, via the internet or even a book), did you ‘know’ the answer or did you simply know how to find the answer?  Well, that line has just become blurrier.  Google has now come out with an application for the Android Phone performs a search on a picture.  In essence, you no longer need to know what you are looking at to . . . well, know what you are looking at.  That is, if you are in the ‘knowledge is access to information’ camp.

Google Goggles (yes this is a line in a Dr. Seuss book) performs a search on images and returns results.  It works best on book jackets, logos and landmarks, but the hope to expand it to the point where it will be able to identify species of plants and animals.  I have tested it out and it is surprisingly effective.  A picture of Science Hall from across North Park returned the following page as its first hit:  Searching for ‘Science Hall’ on Google using text doesn’t do nearly as well.

So, where does the Geography come in?  For starters, it uses your location to refine the search results.  One would have to assume that it returned Science Hall as a hit at least partially because of the location of the phone.  The application is, however, able to override the location in order to go with an accurate result.  Upon taking a picture of a picture of the Grain Belt Beer billboard in Minneapolis, the application returned an article on the history of that very billboard, not directions to my local liquor store.

Google Goggles uses location in another way as well.  It is a somewhat primitive application in augmented reality.  Using your position and a compass, the application will ‘tell’ you what you are looking at without even taking a picture.  The example given in the promotional video is that of a busy street with a few restaurants on it.  Point your phone at ‘The Rusty Barnacle’ and get all the reviews you want.

This is all pretty slick, but does it make us any more knowledgeable?

When evrythng is chopped up into 140 chrcter blrbs, do we rtain anythng?  Or do we just glnce at it, decde if it’s relevnt & pass it alng?

And even if it is relevant, like a restaurant review or the location of some dope new coffee house, are we retaining the information as well as we would have if we’d taken the time to read the books and maps with the same information?  Perhaps, in some cases.  But I’m somewhat undecided on all other cases.  It seems far too easy to settle a bet these days.

And far too easy to make a typo or err in any other digital way.  After the Saints won the Superbowl, a good friend of mine sent me an enthusiastic text from his spanky new smartphone, ‘It’s college the Saints won!’.  No, this wasn’t cockney.  I’m fairly certain he meant that it was ‘cool that’ the Saints won.  So, even if this vast reservoir of information at our fingertips can be considered our ‘knowledge’, maybe we won’t even be looking up the right thing.  Eh, just take a picture of it.



  1. I believe the technology behind Google Goggles is content-based image retrieval. It extract some primitive visual features, such as color, shape, texture from the picture you take and retrieve similar images from a collection of images owned by Google. Those retrieved images have information associated with them in Google’s database; therefore, users can view the related information.
    I really have no idea how it can be so fast since the image database should be very large. As you mentioned, for starters, Google Goggles uses your location to refine the search results, this will take extra time. How do they make it?

    Speaking of “knowledge”, technology really makes some people, like me, less knowledgeable.

    I used to remember a lot of things, now I heavily rely on search engine. In fact, the homepage of my browser is Google. With the development of new technology, like Google Goggles, we don’t need to remember a lot of information (including geographic information) and everything seems searchable.

    If the technologies are not available in certain situation (such as in a disaster), what can we do?

    Comment by Fei Du — February 8, 2010 @ 12:27 am

  2. “Aoccdrnig to rscheearch at Cmabrigde uinervtisy, it deosn’t mttaer in waht oredr the ltteers in a wrod are, the olny iprmoatnt tihng is that the frist and lsat ltteer is at the rghit pclae. The rset can be a toatl mses and you can sitll raed it wouthit a porbelm. Tihs is bcuseae we do not raed ervey lteter by it slef but the wrod as a wlohe.”

    I wonder if people do similar things with maps. Does anybody know if there already are experiments testing that?

    Comment by Jing Gao — February 8, 2010 @ 1:00 pm

  3. My Fanboy Response: I’m so blown away by Google Goggles. Wow, such an impressive achievement in a number of inter-relate fields (AI, Augmented VE, image recognition, and as Fei says, simply the speed of search is incredible).

    My Academic Response: Connecting this development to Jing’s more recent post about “maps as authoring reality” and the way those early paintings informed and constrained our notions of “America” and “Nature”, this app has incredible power to constrain our understanding of the world becuase, apparently, only things where we can spend money (books, bottles of wine, restaurants) make it into the app (although they do promise tree identification soon).

    Here’s my basic question: If you’re only going to highlight a few things in the real world (e.g., augment them), which ones is it going to be???

    Comment by markharrower — February 8, 2010 @ 3:09 pm

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