Google Lens and Other Great New Toys

July 2017

Google Lens is a dream come true. Imagine this: you’re out for a walk in the park and come across a wildflower. You take out your smartphone, point your camera at the flower, and your phone tells you its name and gives additional information.

I am forever wondering what tree I’m seeing, what flower is pleasing me, and now Google Lens will make it easy to know their names. And much more.

Imagine this: you’re walking down the street and see a restaurant. You point your smartphone camera at the building, and superimposed on the image is a card that gives you the name, rating, business listing, menu, and reviews.

Imagine this: you’re traveling in Mexico and need to read a menu that’s in Spanish. You point your phone’s camera at the menu and the translation appears on the screen.

In May Google announced a bunch of forthcoming toys, with Google Lens generating the most excitement. One more time Google is transforming search, in this case using your phone’s camera. The company is taking advantage of the extraordinary strides they’ve been making in integrating artificial intelligence into their offerings. Google Lens uses this artificial intelligence to identify what your camera is seeing.

Google Lens isn’t yet available as I write this, and at the event Google would only say that it was coming “soon.” It will be integrated into Google Assistant, which is built into Android phones and is available as an app on the iPhone.

It’s clear that this is the future. We’ll increasingly be using technologies like Google Lens to interact with the world. Think of how useful it will be when you’re traveling. Point your camera at the Eiffel Tower and superimposed on the image is all the information you need to know about it.

It’s inevitable that Google Lens will eventually be built into glasses. You won’t even need to get out your smartphone — you’ll just be able to nod your head and the information will appear in your field of vision. No doubt it will recognize people too. If you’re not good at remembering names, you’ll be able to rely on your Google Lens for an assist.

Google actually already had intelligent glasses a few years ago. They were impressive, but there was a cultural backlash and they flopped. Google will likely come out with something similar in the future. In addition, Apple is rumored to be working on intelligent glasses.

Amazon is also competing to fill our lives with intelligent gadgets, and in May announced two new Echo toys. In December I wrote about the $179 Echo and the $49 Echo Dot, which have become very popular. These are cylindrical devices that sit in your home and respond to your every command, including controlling your smarthome devices. I got myself the Echo Dot for Christmas, paired it with a Bluetooth speaker, and use it to listen to music, get the weather forecast, ask for the latest news, and more.

Now Amazon has announced the $229 Echo Show, which integrates a 7-inch display and should be available by the time you read this. You can use it for all the same things as the Echo and Echo Dot, as well as to get video news, see lyrics as music plays, make video calls, and more.

Plus, they announced the $199 Echo Look. It has a built-in camera that can shoot photos and video on command and is actually intended for your bedroom as a fashion consultant. You use it to take videos and photos of yourself in various outfits and view them on your smartphone to see how you look. It also uses its built-in intelligence (guided by fashion experts) to recommend what to wear. Seriously. Sort of like your spouse saying, “Really, you're going to wear that?”

Google, too, has an intelligent speaker for your home called Google Home ($129). They just keep adding features, and some feel it has eclipsed the Echo. For example, it can now recognize up to six different voices, so if someone says, “Add a haircut at 4 pm on Thursday to my calendar,” Google Home knows which person’s calendar to add it to.

As I was writing this, Apple announced their $349 HomePod intelligent speaker, which is expected to be available by Christmas. Like the others, it will respond to spoken requests, but apparently intends to distinguish itself by offering high-end sound. This is done via quality speakers, including an upward-facing 4-inch woofer, but also by including sensors that detect surroundings and adjust the sound projection accordingly.

What can we conclude from this? Intelligent devices are permeating our lives, and are getting smarter. Ultimately, they are extensions of ourselves as we become androids.

Me, I just want to be able to identify flowers and trees.

© 2017 by Jim Karpen, Ph.D.

E-mail Jim Karpen