What’s All the Fuss uss About?

Your phone’s cam­era can now search the web as well

Computer Active (UK) - - Contents -

Google Lens

What is it?

A clever new tech­nol­ogy that in­te­grates your phone’s cam­era with Google’s search en­gine. Your cam­era will recog­nise what’s be­ing shown on the screen, then au­to­mat­i­cally search for in­for­ma­tion about it on­line. The re­sults will ap­pear in a box on screen. If it works as well as Google claims, it’ll be the best use of aug­mented re­al­ity yet.

What’s aug­mented re­al­ity?

It places a com­puter-gen­er­ated im­age on top of what’s be­ing shown on a phone’s screen, merg­ing the real-world en­vi­ron­ment with a dig­i­tal one. It was the tech­nol­ogy be­hind the Poké­mon Go game, which be­came hugely pop­u­lar last sum­mer. In it, play­ers col­lect dig­i­tal char­ac­ters hid­ing in real lo­ca­tions. These type of games are all a bit gim­micky, un­like the ben­e­fits of Google Lens.

Can you give me some ex­am­ples?

Yes. Point your cam­era at a flower, and it will tell you what species it is (‘Milk and Wine Lily’ in the im­age above right). Point it at a restau­rant, and it will search for reviews and open­ing times. Eat out while on hol­i­day abroad and it will trans­late for­eign-lan­guage menus. If you’re at a zoo, Google Lens might iden­tify not only the type of an­i­mal, but also the species, and show facts about it on screen. It can even log your phone into your Wi-fi by read­ing the ‘set­ting sticker’ on your router (see im­age be­low left).

How does it work?

By us­ing what so many tech­nolo­gies now de­pend on: ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence. Google claims that its al­go­rithms have learned how to recog­nise ob­jects in a photo bet­ter than hu­mans can. The com­pany’s boss Sun­dar Pichai dipped into his Big Book of Jar­gon to call Lens “an in­flec­tion point with vi­sion”. He then gushed: “The fact com­put­ers can un­der­stand im­ages and videos has pro­found im­pli­ca­tions for our core mis­sion”.

What is Google’s core mis­sion?

Of­fi­cially, it’s to “or­ga­nize the world’s in­for­ma­tion and make it uni­ver­sally ac­ces­si­ble and use­ful”. Un­of­fi­cially, it’s to make enough money to send Croe­sus mad with envy.

How will it make money?

Ad­ver­tis­ing. With Google, it al­ways comes back to ad­ver­tis­ing. In an in­ter­view with Cam­paign web­site, Ray Dol­lete, a di­rec­tor at mar­ket­ing firm Phe­nom­e­non, re­vealed the kind of per­sonal data com­pa­nies could get from Google Lens: “The sim­ple act of tak­ing a photo of a board­ing pass could tell you a lot about a per­son: their travel plans, life­style, air­line pref­er­ence, seat­ing pref­er­ence”. This would be price­less for com­pa­nies want­ing to tar­get their ad­verts to in­di­vid­u­als.

Hasn’t Google re­leased sim­i­lar things be­fore?

Yes – you may be think­ing of Word Lens, which is part of the Google Trans­late app. It can trans­late words in pho­tos in 37 lan­guages. Or per­haps you mean the dread­fully named Google Gog­gles, which recog­nises land­marks, paint­ings and bar­codes to give you more in­for­ma­tion about them. It seems that both will be su­per­seded by Google Lens.

When will it be avail­able?

Not sure yet, but we’d be sur­prised if it doesn’t ar­rive by the end of the year. What we do know is that it will ap­pear first as part of Google Pho­tos, now used by 500 mil­lion peo­ple, and Google As­sis­tant, which lets you per­form tasks – such as send­ing mes­sages and search­ing the web – by speak­ing into your phone. Soon we could all be look­ing at the world through a dif­fer­ent Lens.

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