Wolfram Alpha’s new image recognition tool is unintentionally hilarious

It knows over 10,000 images. Supposedly.

 

AJ Dellinger

Tech

Published May 15, 2015   Updated May 28, 2021, 7:58 pm CDT

The machines might be learning a bit too much lately. Following Microsoft’s “How Old” experiment, Wolfram Alpha has rolled out its own artificial intelligence bot that can identify (or try to identify) the subject of an image.

Wolfram Alpha’s Image Identification Project is a new function built into the Wolfram Language. The project allows you to drag or upload a picture and ask the computer intelligence to tell you what it sees. “It won’t always get it right, but most of the time I think it does remarkably well,” Stephen Wolfram wrote in a blog post.

Here’s how the AI faired when we tossed some images its way:

Selfie Stick

Wolfram Alpha

That’s actually a pretty good guess.

Apple Watch

Wolfram Alpha

Profound.

Segway

Wolfram Alpha

Nailed it.

R2D2

Wolfram Alpha

Amazingly, Wolfram found an untapped marketing opportunity for Star Wars.

Groot

Wolfram Alpha

Groot is not a turtle. Groot is Groot.

Sloth

Wolfram Alpha

That’s all Sloth ever wanted to be recognized as anyway.

Dickbutt

Wolfram Alpha

Yeah, sure. Why not?

The Dress

Wolfram Alpha

PICK A SIDE, COMPUTER.

Bigfoot

Wolfram Alpha

Wolfram Alpha believes in Bigfoot…

Loch Ness Monster

Wolfram Alpha

…but not the Loch Ness Monster.

English Bulldog

Wolfram Alpha

Wolfram is pretty good at identifying dogs as dogs, but terrible at anything beyond that.

English Bulldog

Wolfram Alpha

Bulldogs are part of the “Non Sporting Group” according to the Westminster Kennel Club. Also this dog has clearly never worked a day in its life.

Astronaut

Wolfram Alpha

Monkeys were sent to space. This is not one of them.

Statue of Liberty

Wolfram Alpha

Yeah, of course. Everyone knows the Status of Liberty is where New York City stores all its peach preserves.

Ted Cruz

Wolfram Alpha

Does Wolfram Alpha not acknowledge Ted Cruz or does he just not show up in pictures?

Ted Cruz

Wolfram Alpha

Serious, is Ted Cruz some sort of reflectionless vampire?

What is perhaps most impressive about the project is when it does get things wrong, you can help it learn. It can currently correctly identify around 10,000 objects, but if it gets one wrong, you can correct it with a grading scale that ranges from “Great,” “Could be better,” “Missed the point,” to “What the heck?!”

The Image Identification Project definitely doesn’t get everything right. Wolfram said “the mistakes it makes mostly seem remarkably human,” but it’s human in the way that a person might take a guess at something if they had never seen it before.

Wolfram says as the project develops, it could used to help categorize large albums of photos in a snap or could improve image search options.

To create the AI that generates the guesses, the Image Identification Project was fed “a few tens of millions” of photos. It’s not great at picking out things that aren’t everyday common objects and paintings threw the AI for a loop. It has been programmed to pick out some specific people and even a couple fictional characters: Chewbacca was an important test case during the programming phase. 

Still, as our experiment illustrates, there’s a whole world out there—one full of water turkeys and other machine learning mysteries.

Illustration by Max Fleishman 

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*First Published: May 15, 2015, 3:52 pm CDT