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Cool Photography: Google Faces Finds Smiles from Space

Have satellites captured optical illusions in these pictures of Earth, or is the planet really emoting? Take a look for yourself.

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Courtesy Google

What do you see here?

Have you ever looked into the sky and seen a cloud that vaguely resembled your mom? Or gazed at the twisted trunk of a tree only to see an old man staring back at you? Then you have experienced pareidolia, the human mind’s tendency to read significance into random stimuli. You have also intuited what children and poets have long held true: that anything can be a canvas for a human face.

Computers are learning the same lesson, with the help of some ingenious humans. Earlier this year, Berlin-based design studio Onformative combined facial-recognition software with Google Earth images to scan the planet’s surface for terrain that forms human-like expressions.

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Courtesy Google

Do you see faces here? Google Faces does.

The resulting project, Google Faces, “hovers over the world to spot all the faces that are hidden on earth,” say Onformative founders Cedric Kiefer and Julia Laub. (For the full gallery, visit

Our innate talent for pareidolia allows us “to enrich our imagination,” note the designers. Sometimes it’s hard to recognize the exact faces the software sees, but look closely (or step back) and you’ll be rewarded with a surprising visage drawn by Mother Nature herself. What was once a random rock formation becomes a shape that triggers an emotional response.

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Courtesy Google

What do you see in this photo?

The next time you go on a nice hike or picnic, consider this: You might be just a beauty mark on one of earth’s many expressions.

Reader's Digest
Originally Published in Reader's Digest