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Your Next Gogh-To App

Your Next Gogh-To App

Reading time: 4 minutes

Get your culture on

The first time you probably heard of Google’s Arts & Culture app was last year, when everyone was using it to find their art doppelganger and posting the results on social media. It was a fun teaser to get people to download the app, which lets you use your mobile device to dive deep into the collections of thousands of museums and historical locations—taking the best elements of Google Photos, Street View, and 360-degree videos to create a detailed digital experience for art lovers who can’t globetrot to museums around the world.
What is even more interesting was the tech behind it: Computer vision technology that scanned your facial features and compared them to its growing database of art portraits. This summer, Google worked on a more sober project, taking crowdsourced images of the Lion of Mosul (which was destroyed by ISIS) and using machine learning to model a 3D-printed replica of the 3000-year-old statue that is now on display in London.
Google has been working on digitalizing the world’s museums with machine learning, computer vision and AR tech since 2011, when they opened their Cultural Institute in Paris and started building relationships with museums all over the world, getting those museums to open up their archives and letting the Google team catalog it all.
Suddenly thousands of rare and unusual artistic and historic artifacts that were previously “un-Googleable” are now available for anyone to browse for free. In return, museums get a beautiful digital archive that preserves their paintings, photographs, sculptures, historical documents, and more for generations to come.
The seeds of the Culture Institute and its app grew out of a partnership with the Israel Museum in Jerusalem back in 2011, when the museum debuted new scans of the Dead Sea Scrolls that Google’s team created with ultra-hi-res technology. The scans were viewed by a million people in 210 different countries in less than a week—most of whom will never get to see the scrolls in person.
Google’s Cultural Institute is an interesting intersection of historians and engineers; the latter group also hopes to create a standard set of tools that will allow any museum to digitize their collection. It’s the kind of archiving technology that any business with a culturally or historically significant archive will be able to use. For now, Google Arts & Culture is free to download on Google Play, and functions beautifully on Android devices. Its desktop web portal looks great on the hi-res screen of the Chromebook, too.
Here are five ways you can take a deep dive into culture, Google-style.

Virtual tours

Ever wish you could take Google Street View inside a place you’d like to visit? Arts & Culture utilizes the same technology to show you around some of the world’s greatest museums and most significant historical sites. Get 360-degree views of Stonehenge, the Taj Mahal, Machu Picchu, the Guggenheim Museum, the Sydney Opera House, and more.

High-definition artwork

Experience masterpieces close-up with Google’s “Art Camera”—a ultra-high resolution robotic camera made specifically for artworks—which Google deploys to different museums to create an AR showcase that would be impossible in real life, such as this Vermeer exhibition that includes missing stolen artworks.

Culture in 360 degrees

Strap on a mobile 3D viewer and view museum exhibits in 360-degree videos. It’s not quite like standing a gallery without leaving your house, but it’s close.

Daily curation

The home screen spotlights the app’s Daily Digest, a curated collection of features that serves as a window into the archives for the casual browser. It’s a little bit like the featured article and photo on Wikipedia’s homepage, but it’s a lot more fun to use. There you’ll find artist profiles, “This Day in History” features, and spotlights on interesting works of art from deep in the archives.

Fun search tools

This being Google and all, the search functions had better be top-notch. And Arts & Culture delivers. You can search by art movements (both chronologically and alphabetically), artists, places, historical events, and figures. Then there’s the fun stuff, like the Objects tool: Search for cats through history, then narrow your search down by era and even color.

IRL museum enhancements

Heading to a museum in person? Google is also working on ways to enhance your IRL experience. Arts & Culture is testing out an “Art Recognizer” feature: Just open the app, point your phone’s camera at a painting, and it’ll search for information on it.

Tech takeaway

The Arts& Culture app is a cool, free way to explore and experiment with some of Google’s latest machine learning advances—and maybe find some creative ideas for your business, too.
Google, Google Photos, Street View, Android, and Chromebook are registered trademarks of Google Inc.

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