Image search results

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Yesterday my wife challenged me to identify the person in a photo she sent. I decided to cheat, by using Google Image Search — and the results were very strange.

We've posted often about weird AI behavior in Speech-to-Text and Machine Translation and other NLP applications. Image processing has its own litany of weirdness, which is not often a topic here for obvious reasons. But this case does have a linguistic aspect, namely the cited links…

The original photo came from the website of one of my nephews, so this odd result is a plus for my family, I guess.

But the real weirdness was the set of "Visually Similar Images", which included Abraham Lincoln, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Alfred Hitchcock, Malcolm X, Theodore Roosevelt, and a bald alien, among others:

It's kind of like a visual version of Google Translate poetry

If Andy Warhol had done it as a collage, you could hang it on a museum wall.

Update — experiment suggests that pretty much any adult male is a "gentleman", according to Google Image Search, though the "Visually Similar Images" collage varies.



  1. Jayarava Attwood said,

    October 19, 2020 @ 7:05 am

    All you've done is search for black & white, front-on portraits of "gentlemen". I don't get anything like the same group of gentlemen in the first place, but the search term completely changes who turns up. Play around with it.

    There's nothing "odd" about the result if you know how image search works. The fact that all the images are in fact visually similar – all men, all portraits, all monochrome, mostly dark haired – is a huge leap forward in technology. It failed a bit on the moustache.

    You may have been expecting Google to use facial recognition? But that would be illegal as things stand and such systems are only used by police and secret services (and the police were only allowed to use them in the UK this year).

  2. Philip Taylor said,

    October 19, 2020 @ 7:09 am

    I agree with the "monochrome" part, Jayarava, but not with the "facial recognition illegal" part — I threw Google Image Search an image of Vincent van Gogh's face, and the majority of the matches that it offered were also of Vincent van Gogh.

  3. ohwilleke said,

    October 20, 2020 @ 4:00 pm

    Voice ID in my car does the same thing, returning, for example, "Stanley Gallery" for a spoken "Sharon Oh-Willeke".

  4. Tye said,

    October 20, 2020 @ 10:01 pm

    I have been reading Language Log for several years now. I could not remember any posts about Weird Al's behavior. I guess his parodies would be worthy of linguistic analysis. Then I read the original post more carefully.

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