COMPUTERS ARE GREAT AT organizing and searching through large collections of textual and numerical data. But it's a different story when looking through a batch of images for pictures of a sunset, say. It helps to index images according to subject or date, but that takes time and limits the range of future searches.
Now, Illustra Information Technology Inc. is coming out with software that--within limits--sifts through the actual content of images. Based on techniques developed by Virage Inc. in San Diego, Illustra's Visual Intelligence software can seek out images that resemble a given sample or even a simple outline sketch. The software categorizes still and video images according to such features as color, shape, texture, and composition--plus any useful keywords. The software is hardly perfect: Ask it to match a picture of a white flower surrounded by green leaves, and it may return an image of a white poodle on a lawn. But its selectivity is good enough, Illustra believes, to be a big help to graphics professionals working in digital art, multimedia production, desktop publishing, and printing.