The World’s 50 Most Innovative Companies

Google for Developing a Photographic Memory

Illustration by Brian Stauffer
2 min

At its best, Google marries awesome computing resources with algorithmic intelligence to create popular services that no one else can match: Search, Maps, Gmail, and YouTube have been massive hits because they centralize content and make it easy to find what you want. With an estimated 1 trillion–plus images now taken annually, storing and presenting photos has become Google’s next big project—and a powerful way to pull users even further into its orbit. “We thought we could apply machine intelligence in an impactful way around photos and videos to make it easier [for users] to enjoy what they create,” says VP of Google Photos Anil Subharwal. Launched in May 2015, Google Photos coalesces a user’s images across hard drives and devices, as well as closet shoeboxes, thanks to the PhotoScan app, which debuted last November and digitizes old prints. Drawing from Google’s image-recognition and AI capabilities, the service’s Assistant feature can also curate images into movie montages, animations, and collages. (One movie format, called Lullaby, stitches together images of your sleeping baby.) More than 200 million users have embraced Google Photos—an indication of how the company’s restless invention continues to transform culture. “People still scroll [through images] today,” Subharwal says. “We plan to do more to make even that first page of recent photos smarter.”