Google researchers say they have a software technology intended to do for digital images on the Web what the company’s original PageRank software did for searches of Web pages.
On Thursday at the International World Wide Web Conference in Beijing, two Google scientists presented a paper describing what the researchers call VisualRank, an algorithm for blending image-recognition software methods with techniques for weighting and ranking images that look most similar.
Although image search has become popular on commercial search engines, results are usually generated today by using cues from the text that is associated with each image.
Despite decades of effort, image analysis remains a largely unsolved problem in computer science, the researchers said. For example, while progress has been made in automatic face detection in images, finding other objects such as mountains or tea pots, which are instantly recognizable to humans, has lagged.
“We wanted to incorporate all of the stuff that is happening in computer vision and put it in a Web framework,” said Shumeet Baluja, a senior staff researcher at Google, who made the presentation with Yushi Jing, another Google researcher. The company’s expertise in creating vast graphs that weigh “nodes,” or Web pages, based on their “authority” can be applied to images that are the most representative of a particular query, he said.
The research paper, “PageRank for Product Image Search,” is focused on a subset of the images that the giant search engine has cataloged because of the tremendous computing costs required to analyze and compare digital images. To do this for all of the images indexed by the search engine would be impractical, the researchers said. Google does not disclose how many images it has cataloged, but it asserts that its Google Image Search is the “most comprehensive image search on the Web.”
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