How Does Google Image Recognition Work?

March 30, 2020 • Shannon Flynn


Google Images has been around for almost two decades now,
and it’s safe to assume that everyone has used it more times than they can
count. It’s an invaluable tool that has optimized the way we search for
anything and everything image-related. Google image recognition is a part of
that process, and it works by streamlining search results. 

When you search for something, there’s a whole network of
operations ensuring you get what you’re looking for. The way this system
operates can get complicated, so it’s essential to understand this concept
by first knowing what image recognition itself is.

What Is Image Recognition?

Image recognition is a network’s ability to identify
pictures. This definition is over-simplified, but at its core, image
recognition does what the phrase implies — recognizes and identifies photos.
This technology uses machine learning (ML) and artificial
intelligence (AI) to do so. 

AI is the knowledge base that computers or digital
platforms possess. AI technology is often independent of human instruction,
working on its own to solve problems. ML is a subset of AI and involves
machines using algorithms to learn concepts with little to no human guidance. A
device can learn on its own and gather the data it needs to complete processes
and requests.

Because Google’s image recognition technology incorporates
AI and ML, this process happens autonomously. When you search for
“dog” in Google, the image recognition process happens instantly.
Similarly, Google Images updates automatically as new images get posted or
taken down across the internet.

How Does It Work?

Google image recognition requires a few steps to work.
From the initial stages to the final output, the internal convolution neural networks use various
algorithms to break down, categorize and piece back together each image into
corresponding labels. The details get more complicated from there, so a
step-by-step guide can help you understand the inner workings.

First, Google’s software dissects the image into different
pixels. Depending on the picture’s size and quality, some photos can have
millions of pixels. When the system takes the image apart pixel by pixel, it
can then analyze them in terms of color. Colors help the software determine
patterns, schemes and gradients for future matching. 

Next, technical engineers create labels or tags that will
eventually contain the pixels. These labels are everyday terms like
“flower,” “dog,” “car” and other familiar
objects. Google stated that the search engine has 1100 of these labels, which narrows down
search results and sorting capabilities. The ML software then learns from these

The software categorizes the images using a neural
network, which mimics the human brain and its learning capacities. Google’s
neural network has 60 million parameters and 650,000 neurons.
The more neurons a network has, the better. This system acts as a filter and
extracts the pixels from the input side and puts them into the labels on the
output side. 

After a system has learned the proper ways of
categorization, the last step is for it to work on its own. As new or unknown
images come in, it processes and sorts them accordingly. So when you search for
a term like “dog,” all the photos that fall under that label will then
come up through this process. 

A Deeper Dive Into Image Searching

The reason Google image recognition is so important is
because, without it, you wouldn’t be able to find most of the images you search
for. Many photos don’t come with labels, tags or additional information that
can classify them. Google’s systems take care of that aspect, so you don’t have
to spend time continuously searching. 

As you make your searches more detailed or intricate, Google will sort the search and match it with more and more of its labels. This ability allows you to be specific and dive deep into Google to find exactly what you’re looking for. It’s also the same technology that enables you to reverse image search — where you can input a photo to see the matching results that come up!