Google Likens Abstract Art to Tire, Housecat, Muammar Gaddafi

(ver 4)

By Terry Ward

As a visual artist, I was crestfallen to learn that according to The Ultimate Current Highest Authority --Google-- one of my completely abstract paintings looks just like: a guinea hen, somebody's cat, and a tire.

Any artist --in fact web user-- can find out what Google thinks your images resemble. You might query your latest painting or search a family reunion snapshot of Aunt Minnie.

Artist's own totally non-representational abstract art image

Resembles, according to Google: a guinea hen, someone's cat, and a tire.

The amusing and sometimes alarming image search results come from a rather recent feature: a sort of facial recognition process run upon any sort of image --with or without faces. How: One browses to Google, clicks on Images, and clicks the tiny camera icon inside the search field. This launches a pop-up a box allowing one to upload an image to query --or one can simply paste-in the URL of an image already on the web.

Google says this abstract art image:

Officially looks just like chopped strawberries, a bakery shelf of cookies topped with the Elmo character, and lots of happy smiling Asian people.

Perhaps the technology could be a boon some day to those looking to protect intellectual property. Celebrities, graphic designers, art photographers, fashion designers and such might some day be able to see if their images appeared elsewhere without authorization. Certainly Disney's legal team is already at work.

I'm no portraitist, but Google says this abstract art image

Resembles Gaddafi! Or a hedgehog.

Maybe police or genealogists searching for certain faces of the past could find clues in the global cyberfog. Missing persons searches perhaps could be improved. Even spies could perhaps search the world for certain kinds of fortifications or antennas.

Some day. Perhaps.

I will never understand just how this art detail image

Equals blocking a karate kick in the face.

As it is, the new tool has a few bugs to work out.

The whole system seems to have a bias toward representational photography. Such a bias is fine when plugging in a representational photo. A search for images similar to --say-- George W Bush's main WikiPedia photo makes the system produce many pages of "visually similar" copies (and parody images) --along with inexplicable photos further down of Kanye West, Will Ferrell, and Jay Leno.

Artist's next abstract image

Resembles suckling pups? What?

But plug in a totally abstract image and the output will still favor realism. Tourist snapshots and nature photos are Google's favorite outputs rather than abstract images --even those made by the same artist. Instead of showing similar abstract imagery, the system defaults to realism with similar colors and contrast characteristics. A close-up of smear of artist's paint with a scribble and a few gouge marks will equal --to the Google-bot-- a peacock tail, a shopping mall in western Poland, or a sprig of poison ivy.

The basic Google Image Search page with camera icon is here:

And with the camera icon, one can see what is "visually similar" to one's self*, one's art, or one's other images. Just be prepared for the image to be compared to foliage, world despots, or bowls of cat food.

*I did the self-check. Facial recognition accuracy plummets when querying non-famous faces. According to Google, I look just like Venezuelan actress/model Gaby Espino, Italian singer/songwriter Alan Sorrenti, Dutch software innovator Ronald van Woense, numerous urban music-mixers, and actor Joseph Vassallo --at least no Gaddafi there. (

( ver3 )

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