Grad Student Attempts to Delete Humanity

Have you ever tried finding yourself in Google Street View? I have a friend who’s found himself twice. Both times he was pretty blurry, but there was no question. Twice. Six billion people. Found himself twice. What are the odds?

If you’re going to go hunting though, you’d better hurry – Arturo Flores, a computer science grad student from UC San Diego, is

Flores says that situations such as my friend are exactly the problem that spurred his project – though Google goes to the trouble of blurring pedestrians’ faces, in some cases it’s still fairly easy to identify individuals. This is the crux of his idea: to provide privacy in an age where there are actually cars driving around chronicling every street on Earth. Scary, when you actually write that out and read it back.

Flores’ system is pretty impressive. As you’re well aware, Google Street View works via a series of successive shots of a street, about one 360° photograph for every few meters. Flores’ algorithm identifies a pedestrian and then, approximating the background form the previous and next image in the sequence, effectively deletes the pedestrian entirely, leaving behind an impressively well-rendered space.

But that’s not all that gets left behind. Flores’ system is not without its problems; as the program can only as of yet recognize human beings, things like dogs on leashes, umbrellas, and other hand-held items can find themselves mysteriously hovering on their own. Another snag is pedestrians walking in the same direction of the Google Street View car at a particular speed – in the ‘before’ and ‘after’ image, the person would be covering the same piece of background, leaving no source material for their deletion. Additionally, the system works only with planar surfaces, such as buildings, meaning folks taking a stroll in the country are safe from deletion. But even with all these bugs, this is nothing if not intense.

My biggest issue, personally, would be the sudden disappearance of humanity next time I take a stroll through Street View, especially in an urban environment. I think the complete absence of humans might be a chilling experience, wouldn’t it?

Written by Ty Dunitz

Ty is an illustrator who stays up too late, and has to wear glasses. You can follow him on Twitter if you want to (@glitchritual), but he's just gonna throw your stupid PR crap in the garbage, so don't email him.

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  • LB

    That would be super cool to see hovering umbrellas and other objects!

  • Kiana

    I think what Flores needs is Photoshop CS5. haha

  • Photoshop CS5 content-aware ftw

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