Currently, the whole process, from uploading a picture to accessing a link, takes about 10 seconds, Zitnick says. Matching the actual picture in the database takes about a second, but uploading an image to the server and downloading the Web page takes about four to five seconds, depending on the wireless connection, he says. Presently, the search engine has been tested on databases containing 30,000 images, but by using this image-matching approach, Zitnick expects that the system could handle searching through millions of pictures without slowing down.
As Lincoln is downloaded by more people, and they add pictures and links, the application will become more useful. However, at this early stage, it’s unclear whether or not the user experience is good enough to attract people to the software in the first place. “The question is whether it’s above or below the threshold of what the user will take,” says Luis von Ahn, professor of computer science at Carnegie Mellon University, in Pittsburgh. “It’s always possible to do [image recognition] that’s better than nothing, but it’s hard to do something that’s perfect.”
Still, he believes that the “application is really cool,” and that importantly, the research leverages user-generated information to make the Web links relevant to a given picture. In his own work, von Ahn has developed computer games for people to play that train computers to recognize objects in pictures. The technology is now the basis for the Google Image Labeler, which consists of a game that helps Google serve up more-accurate picture results for keyword searches. Microsoft’s approach of having a computer match images in a completely automated way is aiming for the gold standard of computer vision, says von Ahn, but he believes that there are decades of work to be done before the standard will be achieved.