It's hard to be Google without having an incredible amount of information in your database. The whole function of what they do is based around having the best searchable index of information, after all. But what about information that doesn't exist as part of a webpage?
As artists, we're well aware of the fact that there is just as much data in imagery as there is in text, but tagging and searching that data is a monumental task. Fortunately for us, Google has been working on this difficult problem for quite some time, and has built up an incredible database of cultural history under the admittedly less than creative name Google Arts and Culture.
Aside from the slightly boring name, however, the tool itself is absolutely incredible. There is such a vast amount of information available that almost anything you could possibly want to find out about is there, whether it's a piece of contemporary modern art or something from the stone age.
But even more impressively, the app doesn't just contain information about all of these cultural artifacts, but actually visit them within the app. When pairing your smartphone with a cheap virtual reality headset, you can walk past your favourite Banksy piece on the virtual street or visit a temple constructed in ancient Greece.
Google has also partnered with a number of art galleries around the world to share museum data such as open hours and ongoing exhibits, as well as log their current collections as part of a database. Opening the app while actually in one of the museums and scanning the piece you're standing in front of with your phone will allow you to pull up a huge amount of information about it.
Unfortunately, only three museums are currently participating in the program, but naturally this is likely to increase dramatically once word of the app gets out to curators. It would certainly be most advantageous for them to work with Google rather than developing their own unique augmented reality apps and experiences.
The three museums that are currently participating are the Dulwich Picture Gallery in London, the Art Gallery of New South Wales in Sydney, and the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC.
Probably the most interesting aspects of the project is the way you can sort the results of your own searches. This allows you a variety of ways to look at the progression of art history, from how cats have been represented since ancient Egypt or the relative impacts of various seminal pieces in a specific genre or movement.
The app is available for Android and iOS, or you can visit the website itself at https://www.google.com/culturalinstitute/beta/