The murmur of the snarkmatrix…

August § The Common Test / 2016-02-16 21:04:46
Robin § Unforgotten / 2016-01-08 21:19:16
MsFitNZ § Towards A Theory of Secondary Literacy / 2015-11-03 21:23:21
Jon Schultz § Bless the toolmakers / 2015-05-04 18:39:56
Jon Schultz § Bless the toolmakers / 2015-05-04 16:32:50
Matt § A leaky rocketship / 2014-11-05 01:49:12
Greg Linch § A leaky rocketship / 2014-11-04 18:05:52
Robin § A leaky rocketship / 2014-11-04 05:11:02
P. Renaud § A leaky rocketship / 2014-11-04 04:13:09
Jay H § Matching cuts / 2014-10-02 02:41:13

Cross-training in the streets

This post from Adrian Holovaty on Google Street View and driverless cars basically blew my mind. Keep in mind I just wrote a long-ish post about Google’s computer vision ambitions, so I knew some of this stuff already. Even so, the core insight that Adrian shares here is astonishing.


A while ago, when I was writing for a telecom/broadcast trade pub, I interviewed someone from Media Access Canada, which was lobbying for expanding requirements for closed captioning, described video etc.

In making the case, my interviewee said something like “let’s say you wanted to find an example of every red dress that appeared on TV – now you would have that”. Because described video turns all this wordless stuff on screen into text, you’d have a searchable database of what happens on TV. And it sort of amazed me that an idea worthy in itself would produce so much data that could be used for other purposes.

Interestingly, though, the lobbying failed. I imagine it’s because it wasn’t sexy enough, and it’s obviously expensive. It’s like in that linked binary pairing – described video/searchable database – pushing from one end made the idea “not saleable” or however you’d want to label it.

So it means that these kinds of ideas also have an ideological investment, too. If Google could ‘textualize’ all video and then sell that info–thereby flipping our binary–it seems it’d be far more likely to happen. That feels both full of promise and slightly unsettling.

It’s been a while since I saw a Streetview car, but I have to wonder if it might not be the best teacher for a machine-driven car to emulate—my vague memory is that being behind a Streetview car can be very irritating.

That said, I have to recount my favorite Streetview tale. Sometime circa September of 2007, I was going to a wedding in Delaware. I flew into the Philadelphia airport and rented a car and got a map from the rental car company, but it did not cover most of my drive. I had also checked the directions on Google Maps at home and jotted them down, but my printer was down, so I did not print them or print the map. At the time I had a Windows Smart Phone–one I rather liked, in fact. I got off at the offramp and promptly realized something was wrong. I did a lot of driving around, a lot of trying to figure out things from the edge of my rental car map, and a lot of frantic calling of people hoping to find someone sitting in front of a computer. Zilch. I tried to load maps on my phone, but the signal was very poor. I was pulled over for quite a while when I noticed an odd white pickup that I had already encountered once park behind me. The driver got out and started walking towards me which was slightly nerve wracking. Nevertheless, I crakced the window and he said, “Excuse me, ma’am, are you lost? I noticed you’re driving around in circles.” “Um, a bit. . .I was supposed to get off at this offramp **** but nothing else matched up.” “Where are you trying to get?” “——, Delaware” “Oh, but you’re still in Pennsylvania! I think there are two of these offramps, one in each state. It’s a confusing place to drive.” “Oh. ..?” “Well, I’m with Google Streetview, and I have to drive around a lot, and the signage here is particularly odd.” “!!!” And then he showed me a map on a laptop and we figured out how to get me where I was going. Really good customer service.

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