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June 25th, 2010:

Query By Sketching

MysteryLogo.jpgEarlier today, while Carol and I were out on an errands run, we were stopped for a light behind a beat-up pickup truck. On the back of the truck was an emblem on a sticker, and Carol asked me what it was. And in truth, I don’t know, though I’ve seen it a time or two before. It looks like a band logo, though not of any band that I’ve ever listened to.

It was a right profile of a cartoonish man running, with his hair streaming in the wind. In one hand he’s holding a sheet of paper in front of him. The whole thing is in red, inside a red circle. There’s no text of any kind. (The figure is filled in with red; my sketch above is in red Sharpie. Also note the painfully obvious: I’m a words guy, not a pictures guy.)

The challenge intrigued me when I got home. How would I look something like that up? I tried text descriptions in Google Images: “little red guy running”, “red logo running man,” and so on. Saw lots of interesting things, but not that logo. I didn’t spend a great deal of time on it and gave up after a couple of minutes.

We don’t really have a search system for pictograms, and we probably don’t need one all that badly, but it made me wonder how we would make the attempt. Text descriptions? “Right-side profile of cartoon man running, holding a sheet of paper in front of him. Enclosed in circle. Color solid red.” Or perhaps a sort of Visio interface where we could drag across cartoon fragments of describable things and drop them into a rough sketch that the computer could compare against images in its database. This would require machine abstraction, but would be useful for identifying more than just band logos.

As with “query by humming” for music that sticks in your head, it’s a difficult problem computationally, and not as useful. My guess is we that won’t do it, not because we can’t, but because there’s no payoff. And thinking about it for a few minutes reminds me how really really far we still are from genuine “strong” AI.

In the meantime, does anybody know what the little running red guy represents?