How Google is teaching computers to see

Computers used to be blind, and now they can see.

Thanks to increasingly sophisticated algorithms, computers today can recognize and identify the Eiffel Tower, the Mona Lisa or a can of Budweiser.

Still, despite huge technological strides in the last decade or so, visual search has plenty more hurdles to clear.

At this point, it would be quicker to describe the types of things an image-search engine can interpret instead of what it can't. But rapid progress, coupled with the growing number of brilliant minds taking up the challenge, is making intelligent robo-eyesight within reach.

Hartmut Neven, an engineering director leading visual-search initiatives for Google, predicts that near-perfection could come in the next decade.

"Within 10 years, we can pretty much recognize, in principle, pretty much any object we're interested in," Neven said in a recent interview. "Scientific and technical progress is accelerating in an exponential (pace)."

Neven began his research in 1992, and under his own forecasted timeline, is essentially more than halfway to meeting his goal.

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