In the early days of the internet, search engines seemed like one of the greatest things ever. It’s hard to imagine an era of search engines before Google, but these initial versions still managed to get users to the information they needed.
As the web matured, so did search engines, offering even more accurate results in less time. However, when it comes to image search, it is not always easy to describe things with words in a manner that search engines will understand. If you enter as much data as possible, Google’s search engine has a pretty good idea of what you want and will find a picture. The results aren’t always on the money, but still useful.
Of course, if you are looking for a person, showing their picture around gets faster results than simply describing how they look. The same applies when doing a visual search on the web: showing the program exactly what you want narrows down the results considerably.
However, early versions of this technology could not compete with the degree of visual search offered by the human eye. Factors such as shape, size, and colour allow us to distinguish one object from another. Since science does not really understand how the human mind chooses which to emphasize, it is difficult to imbue a program with such knowledge.
Place the Face
One area where the technology has made great strides is facial recognition. Law enforcement regularly makes use of this to locate criminals with considerable success.
Consumers have also benefited—the iPhone X unlocks with nothing more than a glance from the user. Apple’s version of this function improves upon the earlier equivalent from Samsung, and smartphone biometrics is an area where regular advancements are almost certain.
Facial recognition was a major goal for both industry and governments, so it received considerable emphasis. Other areas of visual recognition have not had the same degree of attention and are still in development, but visual search is maturing rapidly overall.
Entering a picture of something into Google ideally brings up a result that looks like the one you entered. The search engine’s neural networks analyze the image and locate its equivalent. The accuracy of these results continues to improve, and the company has announced another exciting addition for smartphones users: Google Lens.
Ever been fascinated by something, but did not know what it was? Google Lens allows you to point your smartphone at the object in question and the search engine will identify it. Love that red sports car parked across the street, but do not know the brand or year? This program can tell you.
Bing Visual Search
Google is not the only tech giant working in this area. Bing may not have the same “go-to” cachet, but Microsoft continues to improve its capabilities.
What’s exciting about Bing’s visual search is the way it allows users to choose a particular portion of the image to emphasize. Say you are looking at a shot of a home interior and a refrigerator catches your eye. Want to learn more about what make it is and who offers it? You can use Bing to hone in on just that section for a visual search. It can even connect directly to retailers offering that fridge for sale, allowing you to purchase.
Although currently restricted to a handful of categories, this aspect of visual search holds tremendous advantages for both consumers and retailers. Expect it to advance in sophistication quite quickly.
Not to be outdone, Pinterest has announced Pinterest Lens, which also offers sophisticated visual search via an upgrade to its app. Once you choose an image, Pinterest analyzes it and searches for similar pins. The program also presents a series of keywords that you can select to help refine the search. 55% of those on the site use Pinterest for shopping, and the company plans to monetize Lens, so the e-commerce possibilities for this program could be considerable.
All of these developments offer exciting new ways to get accurate information in the blink of an eye. On the downside, it cannot help but further reduce the ability of brick and mortar retailers to compete with internet shopping. It was bad enough that people would go into stores to try items and then buy them online; now they will also be able to take a picture, price match, and order in a matter of seconds. As with most all technological advancements these days, there will be clear winners and losers.