Google’s Turning Your Phone Camera Into a CTRL+F for the Real World

Google on Wednesday debuted two new search features that tap into images online or photos you take in a store, part of the company’s effort to expand far beyond text you type into a search box.

One feature announced at the Google I/O conference, scene explorer, lets you sweep your phone camera across a shelf of products at a supermarket or pharmacy to recognize the products in view. Google then overlays product information and ratings on the screen so you can find snacks with no nuts or scent-free lotion, search leader Prabhakar Raghavan said. It’s an expansion of the Google Lens app.


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“Scene explorer is a powerful ability in our devices’ ability to understand the world the way we do, to see relevant information overlaid in the context of the world all around us,” Raghavan said. “This is like having a supercharged Control-F [find shortcut] for the world all around you.”

Another feature expands Google’s multimodal search, which combines text and images into one search query. Now, by adding “near me” text, you can tailor searches to nearby results. For example, you can combine a photo of some unknown dish with the words “near me” to find a restaurant nearby that’ll serve it, Raghavan said. That feature will arrive later this year for English speakers.

Search, the first service Google offered and the one that propelled it into today’s multi-product juggernaut. It remains a core part of the company’s mission to make information useful to the world’s population, and search ads are still Google’s single biggest source of revenue.

At Google I/O, Google also said it’s adopted a new 10-tone Monk Skin Tone Scale to better improve diversity in its AI training data, search results, and other operations.

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