Of the many announcements at the recent Google I/O 2017 conference, only one got me truly excited. The soon to be available Google Lens.
Lens lets you point your mobile phone camera at an object and then returns information about what it sees in an intelligent way. Want to know the type of flower blossoming in your neighbour’s yard or see reviews for the restaurant you’re walking past? Lens will do that. It can also recognise, read and translate text. It attempts to analyse and understand the context behind why you're looking and make suggestions based on that (by using information such as time of day and your location).
It’s the visual Shazam for everything.
I believe it’s one of the first truly useful consumer emerging tech examples incorporating A.I. and augmented reality (sorry Pokemon Go fans).
At a technical level there isn’t any major breakthrough here. The big players such as Microsoft, Amazon and IBM have almost commoditised A.I. vision through the release of developer APIs. These allow any business or startup to tap into this technology to train and create models which visually recognise objects. Some, such as Clarafai’s food model will even recognise the ingredients in a photo of a cooked dish.
Google though has the advantage of the world's largest data set and the compute power across all of its platforms allowing them to use their machine learning muscle to train and recognise any object. Connect that to their already existing leading search platform and we have a very knowledgeable beast. The camera becomes an important new gateway to Google outside of the search box and increasingly popular voice assistants.
No doubt it’s not going to recognise everything and will make some amusing mistakes - however the more it’s used the smarter it will become. With the move away from mobile first to voice and conversational interfaces, your mobile camera being the potential gateway into search is a lucrative one for Google to monetise in order to maintain their advertising dominance.
Lens is 'coming soon' to both Google Assistant and Google Photos.
Like Google, Facebook also have a huge and similar data set to tap into and are reliant on advertising for revenue. It will be interesting to see how they compete with Google in this space.