Last Friday, Fred Wilson wrote a post lauding Google’s photo search. I’ve had the same experiences. In the past couple of months I’ve made numerous searches without expecting a useful result but in nearly every case I was pleasantly surprised. Just in the past week I wanted to search for a short story I wrote while in middle school that I digitized at some point over the past few years. My first attempt was to search for “paper” which got me too many results to parse through. But for my second attempt I tried “essay” and was able to find a photo of one of the hand-written pages. It was simple to look at the date I uploaded that one page to find the others. A couple of days ago I was out of town but needed my passport information to fill out an online government form. Turns out that I have a photo of my passport on my Google account - I backed it up years ago as I was traveling so I had proof in case anything happened to it.
On one hand I’m clearly impressed by how accurate the searches are but does make me worry about how much information we inadvertently share that can be indexed. It’s hugely convenient now but it’s impossible to predict the future and see how it will be used. I wonder how many photos we’re currently sharing that we assume are indiscernible to these automated systems. The vast majority are safe for now but given the pace of technological progress I’ll be shocked if software isn’t more accurate and faster than humans in 20 years. And photos are just a small piece of the puzzle - every bit of digital content we produce will be data mined until it can’t reveal any more. All this will benefit us in the short term but I wonder the world will look like when everything we produce can and will be analyzed and understood by machines.