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Finding the Hidden Faces in Google Maps

Hey, is that soybean field looking at me?

Onformative/Google Maps

Sometimes if you gaze into a verdant pasture, the verdant pasture gazes also into you. Angrily.

At least that's what it looks like in the above aerial shot of the "Jewish Autonomous Oblast" in far-east Russia. The cranky face peering out of the grass was spotted by the folks at Berlin's Onformative design studio. And they've found many more faces, too – because they've actually built a computer program that sifts through Google Maps with facial-recognition technology to find anthropomorphic features.

Why would they do this? The designers of "Google Faces" wax poetic about that:

The way we perceive our environment is a complex procedure. By the help of our vision we are able to recognize friends within a huge crowd, approximate the speed of an oncoming car or simply admire a painting. One of human’s most characteristic features is our desire to detect patterns. We use this ability to penetrate into the detailed secrets of nature. However we also tend to use this ability to enrich our imagination. Hence we recognize meaningful shapes in clouds or detect a great bear upon astrological observations.

Objective investigations and subjective imagination collide to one inseparable process. The tendency to detect meaning in vague visual stimuli is a psychological phenomenon called Pareidolia, and captures the core interest of this project.

Meaning, I think, that they simply found the task hilarious. Here are a few more mammoth land-mugs that their AI has located. From Denali National Park in Alaska comes this sunglasses-wearing bloke:

These cubist faces in the wilds of eastern Russia could've been painted by Picasso:

Wipe that stupid grin off your piehole, Sacha:

Onformative's made a video showing their program doing its things, although honestly I can't spot the faces in most of the landmarks it highlights:

(H/t to Creative Applications Network)

About the Author

  • John Metcalfe
    John Metcalfe is CityLab’s Bay Area bureau chief, based in Oakland. His coverage focuses on climate change and the science of cities.