Urban Legends,
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Episode 4 – Google Photo found my girlfriend I never knew I had

November 05, 2017

Google Photo found my girlfriend I never knew I had

Not many things in this world are free and unlimited. There is sunshine and there is Google Photo.

I have been travelling around the world for the last ten years and taken hundred thousands of pictures. The free and unlimited storage of Google Photo has been my most trustful companion.

There is a tab called “People and Pets”. It recognizes your friends, families and even pets from your pictures. I didn’t think much of that feature. I always travelled by myself, always among strangers and have no pets. Whenever I opened that tab, I saw faces of strangers I have met once and never again.

Some time ago I noticed a face that showed up repeatedly in a few dozen of my photos. It was the face of a girl with a sunny smile. I don’t remember ever met her before. I labelled her Sunni because of her smile. In the following days, Google Photo found more pictures of her.

In the St Mark’s Square of Venice, her face appeared on a random tourist in the background. In the souk of Marrakech, her face was on a half-veiled woman behind a half-closed door. In the ruins of Machu Picchu, her face appeared as a shadow of leaves cast on a stone wall. On the remote Easter Island, her face was peeking behind from a giant moai. She appeared on photos from every country I ever visited. Most time she wore her sunny smile, but sometimes she was sad, a few times angry, like on a morning I was pissed off by a crooked taxi driver. I saw her face from photos as far back as my first trip to London ten years ago.

I thought it was only a peculiar bug in Google Photo. Perhaps the Google AI was suffering from pareidolia like a human, seeing faces never existed.

Then the Google Assist started to automatically create an album for me. One was titled “Wandering the street of Tokyo with Sunni”. Another was “Adventuring the Amazon with Sunni”. There was even one said, “Ten-year anniversary with Sunni.” It was like Google Photo thought Sunni was my girlfriend.

Recently I started to use the phone app “Google Photo Scan” to digitize my childhood photo. I came upon a batch of faded photos my parents took when I stayed at the Children Hospital. I was eight at the time and had a lung infection, and was hospitalized for two months. There was a girl who always wandered to my bed. Her face was pale, but she was friendly, and we became friends. She always carried a small earth globe with her, and once she asked me about places I like to travel.

“Everywhere,” I told her.

“Everywhere is not a place,” she replied.

I picked a few countries I have read in books, and she told me about the countries she liked to visit. Together, we came up with a list of places we will visit before we die.

“One of us will die in this hospital,” she told me one day, “but the other will live and visit all the places in our list.” We made a pinky swear to seal the deal.

At the time I thought I was the one going to die. I felt sick and could hardly leave my bed. She looked pale, but she wandered around freely. But no, she had leukaemia.

She never told me her name, but her grandma used to call her “Sunshine” because of her sunny smile. I forgot when she died. After people died, their memory slowly faded like an old photo.

I found the list again in a box of my childhood toys. Every country I have travelled in the last ten years was on the list. The last country on the list is Nepal. While trekking there in the Himalayans, I met a girl. We became friends and later we started dating.

Ever since then, Sunni’s photo had started to disappear. Perhaps a Google engineer has found the bug and fixed it. Perhaps Sunni is angry with me and wants to murder me. But more likely, I think she’s happy for me, that I’m no longer alone.

Not many things in this world are free and unlimited. There is Google Photo and there are Sunshine and her sunny smile.

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