What happens if you ask Google Images what's most similar, starting with a blank image, repeating the process 2951 times?

Sebastian Schmieg of the Netherlands created this video by feeding a transparent image to Google Image Search and asking it to find similar images, and then taking the top result and feeding it back into the similarity algorithm, 2951 times. It's a wonderful look at an evolutionary process.

Search by Image, Recursively, Transparent PNG, #1 (via Kottke)



    1. Like a game of Telephone.  Eventually one of the players is going to just say “Boobies”.

  1. Interesting how at times it seems to get stuck on the same image, then cuts to an image that doesn’t seem to have any relation to the “stuck” one. Then another chain of associations starts.

    1. This is because of his algorithm: he would pick the “highest one that hadn’t been used before”. So it’s natural that it would often go into a dead end of a single image, explore the problem space of all instances of that image, then would leave that space once they had been exhausted, and not return to it, because they’d been done.

      I’m interested in what this algorithm converges on, like the “following the first link on all pages on Wikipedia eventually reaches X” app that was posted a while back, only with a vastly larger data set.

    2. It has a Pi feel to it, long stretches of repetition, suddenly wild flights into seemingly random directions, before falling into a pattern again.

    1. Yeah, maybe it’s just reading all the Robert Anton Wilson stuff lately, but one of my late-night thoughts last night was that this video is like this perfect metaphor for the way the mind is constantly making new thoughts…

  2. At 0:59, Skynet becomes self-aware. At 1:04, Skynet discovers boobies. At 3:25, Skynet descends into psychosis via memetic infection.

    Humanity is safe, for now.

  3. I’ve often wondered if dreams work like this: the sensory, conceptual and memory-related parts of the brain free-associating in the absence of new input.  The video seems to have a very dream-like quality to me.

  4. Just watched this full screen with George Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue playing the background. Pace of change in the film lines up brilliantly with the accelerated, beautiful tempo of the song. Highly recommended combination!

  5. As an experiment, it’s barely begun.  The experiment is feeding X image into Y algorithm, and we have a sample of 1.  So no conclusions can be made.  He now needs to start the image feed with a line, a circle, a square, a cross, a face, a cat, add colors, invert the colors, etc., etc.

  6. I like the phase changes – where it’s been fixated on an image of a galaxy for several seconds then *fwoomp* okay bored of that.

  7. A bunch of petty photographers are probably going to whine that their work was automatically included.

    This kind of demo is a good example of why copyright should be as liberal as possible.

  8. Its great how it starts out as a galactic opera, space depicted as a destination for all wondrous possibility.  Then, it degenerates into Hollywood and finally ending in doom and gloom of ice melt and financial collapse.  Wonderful. 

  9. Had great success myself with this (pre-2000 firewalling), starting with any random seed word, then selected next search based on speed reading first twenty hits for the subject matter I was looking for. For example, ‘space based lasers’,  if you just plug that in, you get pop, but if you start with a random seed and ‘reverse surf’, looking for any subject matter on SBL in the hits, amazingly, it would converge onto hidden lists of often ‘back doored’ defense documents. This was so successful, (again, pre-2000 firewall) that for a year or two I was able to sell search data to a defense policy firm.
    It still works, but the gigaverse to search has become so large, it takes geometrically longer to converge onto what you are ‘reverse surfing’ to find, if you don’t give up. Taken to the next level (not aiming for a specific end), it’s a great way to devine on what you want to read for the evening, instead of the standard reditt pop hit lists.

  10. Dina Kelberman (who is an awesome comic artist) has a similar project on Tumblr called I’m Google: http://dinakelberman.tumblr.com/.

    At least, I think it’s similar. She’s never explained exactly what she’s doing (as far as I know), but the title and content suggest that she’s using Google to direct the flow of her image chain.

  11. This felt spookily like thinking to me at times. I could see this kind of thing being my subconscious as I turn my attention to different subjects.

  12. The last few frames gave me a fantastic idea: to create the Great Internet Misleading Correlation Generator. 

  13. Obviously done with safe search on, or else the last half would have been all penis. At least, that’s what happens to me when I search for anything at all on google images.

  14. Probably the most profound short film I’ve ever seen.

    ie – At the risk of paradolia (finding patterns, even where there are none, which is apparently what human IQ  is best at, though it’s also maybe a waste of time, LOL), – you can totally trace/witness the “Human Evolution of Consciousness” here.

    ie – Start with the cosmos, then we get: cars, guns and porn, fashion, and eventually – we become self-aware.

    (ie – When Google-Search `finds itself’ in the images here)…

    Then – there’s a laptop computer – and (er, sorry, `Matrix’ philosophy again, which combines most metaphysics into one loose idea) a strong argument exists, that the Universe/fabric of perceivable Reality is in fact all a big computer program (explains strong & weak forces, the 4 Laws of Thermodynamics, and why Maths
    has such symmetries in it, and fractals, etc). 

    Then – the stick figures from Rage Guy comix look kinda like gray aliens, which is what we may well evolve into…

    So, maybe via Google (the interwebs in general) itself, presumably once we pass `10 to the power 10′ connections (eg same amount of neural connections in the brain, and nearly same amount of connections on the net), (and also the number that represents a `paradigm shift’ for every step of evolution) we ultimately become `self-important/self-aware’ Gods ourselves, (possibly in the tophats, not sure) – and can celebrate our wisdom – that we can make and drink the `red pill’ at will (from the cup of knowledge, ie possibly the ultimate Holy Grail = sacred knowledge, whatever that means) and create
    more Universes at whim… 

    – Also since there’s finally a `red pill’ image (a mandala, which has been argued is `the shape of the Universe with opposites resolved’, ie yin/yang finally integrated) there – which also The Matrix (or maybe that African American lady who apparently maybe wrote it) riffed on (or ripped off, ie the red pill – from Total Recall, depending on your POV, lol).


    …and I would arbitrarily end the interpretation of symbolic meaning there, ie – a few seconds from the end, as i guess that’s also what the filmmaker did.
    (Stopped when he got tired, lol.) 

    Anyway, so – hats off – 

    There – in that video, you have The History of Cosmic Consciousness in 5 mins flat.  

    And – Like all Art, very possibly all completely superfluous, but certainly helps make the time passing more interesting, lol. 
    Big congrats. 


    Random Philosophizer

  15. I don’t know much about this stuff, but Google doesn’t know the image is “blank”. Maybe the guy knows the image is “black” but it’s most certainly not “blank” as in devoid, it has attributes. 

    Just ask Alan Charlton

  16. So, why am I supposed to be impressed? Are all female breasts on the Web soooo dissimilar that I only see two or three? Why am I supposed to be impressed?

  17. I would love to see this go for like 5 minutes or be done with video somehow with 4 second intervals. It gets the coolest thing I’ve watched all day award for sure.

  18. LMAO!  I was watching that with my 14 year old son looking over my shoulder when the “Boobies” popped up.  We were both like “Augh!”  and started laughing.  Kind of suprised it didn’t get stuck on them for awhile.  

  19. I love how the process of the image evolution at least in a gross way mirrors that of the universe.  Nothing to star clusters, to things in the world. Representations of ideas and emotions.

  20. I was watching this while “Ancient Machine” from Halo 2 was playing in the background. Haven’t seen anything that would match this discordant song, until this video. Neat concept.

  21. 1. I’m amazed it didn’t converge on endless porn.. but maybe safe browsing was on

    2. Know what’s next? Start with a blank web page and find similar pages.

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