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

Google Street View Car Flickr / Sancho McCannA Google Street View car.

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 algorithms.

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 information.

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 neighbourhood, 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 data?

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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