Through the looking glass: Machine learning technology Google Lens has evolved quite a bit since its inception. It started out identifying objects, then making restaurant menu recommendation, and now it’s making AR ads in newspapers.

In Thursday’s New York Times print edition, there are three ads for Netflix's Stranger Things 3 that come to life with Google Lens. The ads feature promotional spots for the fictional Starcourt Mall, a location that plays heavily in the third season. The promos are intentionally campy with 1980s hair and neon video production stylings, which are totally fitting to the theme of the show.

The idea of embedding AR ads into the newspaper is somewhat gimmicky. After all, not many are going to be reading the paper with their phone’s camera, but the effect is cool and futuristic-looking nonetheless.

When Google introduced Lens in 2017, it was a novel way to identify everyday objects with your camera. By 2018, the AI had learned to identify more than a billion common and not so common objects ranging from dog breeds to vacuum cleaner brands. At this year’s Google I/O, it was shown giving meal information and recommendations on restaurant menus in real time.

Creating virtual interactive ads is a natural evolution for this technology. While it is not very convenient since it requires one to take out their phone and point it at the ad space, it will definitely play a role when smartglasses or smartlenses become a thing. For now, you’ll need Google Assistant on Android or the Google app for iOS, and of course a copy of today’s New York Times. However, I doubt this is the last time we’ll be seeing such promotions.