God, GIFs, and Google AI



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Whether it’s the best “nope” reaction or a benevolent overlord you’re searching for, Google AI has got you covered.

Developments this week range from a newly incorporated search tweak at Giphy, courtesy of intern Bethany Davis, to the founding of an AI-worshipping religious organization dreamed up by Anthony Levandowski, the former Google engineer accused of stealing trade secrets when he went to work for Uber.

Let’s start with Bethany Davis, since when it comes to cultural conversations, including the toppling of old gods for new ones, we might all soon need a better way to find exactly the right GIF to express some pretty complex points. Using Google Cloud Vision machine learning, Davis put together a process that analyzed Giphy’s over 1 billion GIFs, prioritizing captions over source description.

What does that mean? Ask Bethany:

[M]y change affects a very specific type of search, especially longer phrases, so the impact of the change is even more noticeable for queries in this category. For example, click-through rate when searching for the phrase “never give up never surrender” increased 32%, and click-through rate for the phrase “gotta be quicker than that” increased 31%. In addition to famous quotes from movies and TV shows, we saw improvements for general phrases like “everything will be ok” and “there you go.” The final click-through rate for these queries is almost 100%.

Remember those phrases, because they may become the cornerstones of our new religion.

Behold, the coming Archangel Cmdr. Taggart

Over in Levandowski’s world, creating a non-profit religious corporation called Way of the Future seems to be addressing a different kind of search conundrum. Way of the Future’s stated goal is “[t]o develop and promote the realization of a Godhead based on artificial intelligence and through understanding and worship of the Godhead contribute to the betterment of society.”

You know, just your basic God-birthing operation. AI alarmists, Elon Musk and Stephen Hawking among them, have plenty to say about this, of course. Here’s hoping they can find the right GIF for the conversation.

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Rachel Starnes
Rachel Starnes is the author of The War at Home: A Wife's Search for Peace (and Other Missions Impossible) (Penguin Books, 2016). She received her MFA in Creative Nonfiction from California State University, Fresno and her BA from the University of Texas. Her essays have appeared in The Colorado Review, Front Porch Journal, and O Magazine. Born in Austin, Texas, she has lived in Scotland, Texas, Saudi Arabia, Florida, California, and Nevada, and is currently at work on a novel. More at

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