Coke can + chocolate = fire


Image-searching engines have an oddly philosophical quality to them. The searches are always a little imprecise, because they hunt for pictures not via actual content of the images — Google and Yahoo and Flickr’s engines cannot actually “see” what’s in the picture — but via the keywords associated with the picture, such as the words the webmaster used when they put the pic online.

The upshot is that when you pump a word like “lazy” into an image-searching engine, the results are kind of like a tone-poem of ontology — a drifting set of vaguely-connected pictures, each one illustrating some facet of the word’s meaning. In Flickr, “lazy” gives you pictures of sleeping cats, dogs, and, weirdly, some line-art of a face. Over at Google Images, however, “lazy” produces a shot of Homer Simpson crashed out on a couch, some polar bears — but also the perennial sleeping cats, which seems to be the Jungian archetype for laziness. I’ve often spent several minutes paging through the results of a particular search, fascinated by the various things people think a word “looks like”.

Now Grant Robinson has reversed these propositions in a great little online game called Guess the google. It pumps a word into Google Images, gathers 20 pictures from the results, presents these you in a 5-by-4 grid — and you have to guess what was the original word. It’s time-limited, so the faster you guess the higher your score is.

Robinson’s a brilliant designer. While you’re at his site, check out his iteration of John Conway’s Game of Life — one of the prettiest versions I’ve ever seen!

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I'm Clive Thompson, the author of Smarter Than You Think: How Technology is Changing Our Minds for the Better (Penguin Press). You can order the book now at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Powells, Indiebound, or through your local bookstore! I'm also a contributing writer for the New York Times Magazine and a columnist for Wired magazine. Email is here or ping me via the antiquated form of AOL IM (pomeranian99).

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