It seems strange, but some people are much better at googling than others. They find the link first, whether it’s tickets to a show, a niche answer to a trivial question, or a pair of shoes you’ve been coveting since you saw them on TV. They’ve been lifted by search engines, but they’re not intimidated by the vastness of an open search. They are master keyword manipulators.
And in the age of search engine optimization, there’s less of a chance once you type in a high-volume keyword: there’s a company that tailors its content to your chosen search, and a million more who pursue her. When you search for “men’s boots,” for example, you’ll likely come across Gear Patrol. boots buying guide. It’s also here for a reason – it’s thorough, informative, and awash with stylish men’s boots. This time Google worked – it brought you to the content that matched your query. What if your search was a bit more abstract, like a description of the type of boot you wanted?
Try “Boots That Are Yellowstone Breeder Meets Ralph Lauren”, for example. Google probably won’t understand what you mean. If you take it to ASOS, you won’t get any matches; even on Nordstrom – or even Amazon. Even Instagram, which has been trying to switch to e-commerce for months now, won’t bring you the right results, or even any products.
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This is where artificial intelligence comes in. A new AI called Among others acts as a search engine for fashion products. It can include abstract requests – “outfit for when we colonize Mars”, “breaking waves” or “morning sunrise in Montana” – and more literal requests – “what to wear in Texas”, “live on a ranch or “busy Parisian street outfit.”
It was built by Anthropogenic AI technical staff Karina Nguyenwho has also carried out research for The New York Times, Wired and Bellingcat. Use of product and e-commerce photography of Ralph LaurenProenza Shouler and Victoria Beckham, Nguyen has created a “prototype visual playground” where shoppers can “explore quality outfits with their creative research.”
At this time, you cannot purchase what Inter Alia offers – it is only a pilot system. It does, however, offer a glimpse of a future where our purchases will be more authentic, the result of creative keyword searches that more accurately reflect the way we think about products and, more specifically, clothing. You see, fashion is mostly references. When we see something, it usually conjures up something else, forcing us to connect the dots. That’s why we can say things like “it looks like something John Mayer would wear. You associate a shirt with someone else’s wardrobe because you know what their clothes look like.
Right now, though, you can’t really buy “John Mayer outfits” unless you find a post that identifies his favorite pieces. With AI, however, you can search for aesthetically similar styles, creating a world in which every purchasable item could possibly come from its closet. This way, we can all (somehow) free ourselves from exploitative algorithms.
Sure, the AI is an algorithm, but Instagram relies on constant machine learning, which helps its app learn you, the user, and make recommendations based on your actions, effectively influencing what you’ll search for. Most often is “possibly. It’s a vicious circle, which is why your Explore or For You pages can quickly go from trucks and cattle to trips to Italy and influencers. And they can stay that way if you signal that you like it, making those topics all you see.
AI offers a chance to explore outside the silos created by social media, because although Google does, in theory, it’s not as easily buyable – at least not without clicking through multiple middlemen first.