When Google's Search by Image Function Turns on Itself

Sebastian Schmeig, a new media artist, set up a recursive image search algorithm and animated the results at 12 images per second, tracing its evolutionary drift.

Sebastian Schmeig, a Berlin-based new media artist, set up a recursive image search algorithm and animated the results at 12 images per second, tracing its evolutionary drift. Beginning with a transparent .png image file (virtually no image at all), Google's Search by Image function turns up the most similar image it can find and then searches for the closest match to that image, and so on. The resulting flipbook of 2,951 images is fascinating and hypnotic. 

John Pavlus, at FastCo.Design, has a delightfully philosophical take on the experiment: 

What’s incredible about this video is how it takes a "meaningless", dumb-pipe process of symbol manipulation and somehow generates a short history of the universe. It’s all there: the Big Bang (searching a blank image spontaneously outputs views of the oldest stars in the universe), the condensation of matter into finer structures (vague views of deep space morph into clusters, then galaxies, then planets), the sudden -- in cosmic terms, anyway -- explosion of life and human awareness (the sudden appearance of faces that overtake the video), which is itself quickly overtaken by tools, artifacts, and mass-produced products ...

Tangible items give way to brands and icons, which then give way to abstract mathematical symbols and visualizations, and then a spontaneous equilibrium of images of Google itself--as if the ghost in the machine is stirring with self-awareness in a strange loop. Is this Google’s way of saying that it sees itself as the culmination of cosmic history, with its human creators as a mere flash in the pan?

For more of his insight, see "Life, The Universe, and Everything Visualized in Google Image Search." For more on Search by Image, see this promotional video from Google:

For more work by Sebastian Schmeig, visit http://sebastianschmieg.com/.

Via FastCo.Design.

Kasia Cieplak-Mayr von Baldegg is the executive producer for video at The AtlanticMore

Cieplak-Mayr von Baldegg joined The Atlantic in 2011 to launch its video channel and, in 2013, create its in-house video production department. She leads the development and production of original documentaries, interviews, and other video content for The Atlantic. Previously, she worked as a producer at Al Gore’s Current TV and as a content strategist and documentary producer in San Francisco. She studied filmmaking and digital media at Harvard University.

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