Google has upgraded its Street View cameras for the first time in 8 years — and the implications are worrying

Google Street View Car
A Google Street View

Flickr / Sancho

You’re about to see a lot more on Google Street View — and Street
View’s about to see a lot more of you.

Google has upgraded the cameras for its mapping service for the
first time in eight years, with the new kit capturing sharper
imagery with more detail as of August.

According to a profile
in Wired
, the new cameras are so sharp they might be able
to see a store’s opening hours from a sign. And they’re
feeding all that granular data back to Google’s machine learning

As per usual, the new cameras will sit atop Google-branded cars
capturing information about the world. They capture still HD
images on either side of the car.

Better imagery should mean the service becomes more useful.
Google’s mapping vice-president, Jen Fitzpatrick, said people no
longer just search for their own addresses on Google Street View.

“People are coming to us every day with harder and deeper
questions,” she told Wired. Such as: “What’s a Thai place open
now that does delivery to my address?”

Google has already invested huge amounts into artificial
intelligence and machine learning, and is using that technology
to scan Street View data to answer conversational queries.

Eventually Fitzpatrick wants people’s questions to become even
more conversational, like asking what the pink-coloured building
down the road is.

“These are questions we can only answer if we have richer and
deeper information,” she said.

What is less obvious is what else Google can figure out
from the new Street View data, and how it might use the

Wired reports that a team of Stanford researchers — including
Google’s own chief scientist at its cloud division Fei-Fei Li —
found they could use Street
View data to predict income, race, and voting patterns
. The
team used software that analysed the make, model, and year of
cars from Street View photos.

At the time, the team said: “Using the
classified motor vehicles in each neighborhood, we infer a wide
range of demographic statistics, socioeconomic attributes, and
political preferences of its residents.”

What could Google figure out by itself with even more detailed

When Wired asked Google if it planned anything similar, a
spokesperson only said the firm was always looking for ways to
use Street View data to improve the company’s platforms —
including beyond maps.

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