How Google Photos Became a Perfect Jukebox for Our Memories
#GooglePhotos , introduced in 2015, has become one of the most emotionally resonant pieces of technology today. It is also shaping our narratives along the way
The first time Google Photos made me cry, it was with a sucker punch.
I had looked at my phone one morning in April, expecting more news of global woe. Instead there was an alert from Photos, letting me know that Google’s image-processing robots had created some kind of montage from my videos. I had seen such A.I.-produced clips before — Facebook’s tone-deaf year-in-review montages are a recurring blight — so I was not expecting much. Then I pressed Play and within 30 seconds, I was a crumpled, weepy wreck.
The montage was of my 5-year-old daughter, Samara, whose nearly every waking moment has been thoroughly and permanently memorialized by me, her camera-obsessed father. My obsession has created an archival nightmare; videos and pictures of Samara and her older brother, Khalil, both born in the time of smartphones, now span several terabytes — more images than any human might ever have time to meaningfully review. What, one might ask, was the point of capturing all these moments?
Now in this single two-minute montage, Google Photos had given me a glimpse of the answer.
Google’s computers can recognize faces, even as they age over time. Photos also seems to understand the tone and emotional valence of human interaction, things like smiles, giggles, frowns, tantrums, dances of joy and even snippets of dialogue like “happy birthday!” or “good job!” The resulting montage, synced to a swelling Hollywood score, mixed obvious highlights — birthdays, school plays — with dozens of ordinary moments of childhood bliss
There was baby Samara getting a haircut, taking a few unsteady steps; toddler Samara playing with her brother, fighting with her brother, taking a brave dip underwater in swim class; preschool Samara eating pizza on a road trip, sassing the camera with her tongue out. I can’t post the video here; it feels like showing you her diary. But if Samara ever runs for kindergarten class president, the Google montage could be her “Man From Hope