When you apply Google’s artificial neural networks to cartography, the hills literally have eyes.

A discovery by Google researchers studying artificial “neural networks” (computational models that can adapt to different inputs, sort of like our central nervous system) shook the Internet’s sleep last month.

While training neural networks to interpret and identify images (hey robot, is that a frying pan or a tennis racket?), researchers found that if they allowed the network to linger on certain elements of a picture (edges, shapes, or complex subjects like a building or a face), it could over-interpret them. It would visualize figures and objects where there were none.

The results are like an LSD trip—and maybe not a good one. If you spend much time on the Internet, you’re probably familiar with the Google robot’s hallucinations. In case you aren’t, here are a few original examples:

(Google Research)

Last week, Google released the ”DeepDream” code to the public, so that anyone with some programming skills could process their own images with a psychedelic glaze. Naturally, a couple of brave mapmakers stepped in and produced some geo-visualizations—now, the hills literally have eyes.

Tim Waters, a freelance geospatial developer and consultant, rendered a couple of England’s cities using OpenStreetMap data, while Keir Clarke of GoogleMapsMania gave downtown Washington, D.C., the treatment using Google Maps.

Their results are below, and I can only hope we see more of these. Developers, where’s my DeepDream map of the world?

Liverpool (Tim Waters/OpenStreetMap contributors/CC BY-SA)
Leeds 1 (Tim Waters/OpenStreetMap contributors/CC BY-SA)
Leeds, with more processing (Tim Waters/OpenStreetMap contributors/CC BY-SA)
Washington, D.C. (GoogleMapsMania)

About the Author

Most Popular

  1. An aerial photo of downtown Miami.
    Life

    The Fastest-Growing U.S. Cities Aren’t What You Think

    Looking at the population and job growth of large cities proper, rather than their metro areas, uncovers some surprises.

  2. Transportation

    When a Transit Agency Becomes a Suburban Developer

    The largest transit agency in the U.S. is building a mixed-use development next to a commuter rail station north of Manhattan.

  3. a map of London Uber driver James Farrar's trip data.
    Transportation

    For Ride-Hailing Drivers, Data Is Power

    Uber drivers in Europe and the U.S. are fighting for access to their personal data. Whoever wins the lawsuit could get to reframe the terms of the gig economy.

  4. a photo of a woman on an electric scooter
    Design

    A Bad New Argument Against Scooters: Historic Inappropriateness

    The argument over whether electric scooters belong in Old Town Alexandria reflects an age-old rationalization against change.

  5. a photo of a BYD-built electric bus.
    Transportation

    A Car-Centric City Makes a Bid for a Better Bus System

    Indianapolis is set to unveil a potentially transformative all-electric bus rapid transit line, along with a host of major public transportation upgrades.

×