Another Google-launched initiative, this one related to the arts, shows how its influence continues to extend beyond just technology. Google Goggles (logo at left), a smartphone application that debuted in late 2009, serves as a “visual” search engine, replacing keystroke searches with pictures taken on Android-enabled devices and iPhones. (Blackberry availability to come.) Pop a photo of the Washington Monument, for example, and the app returns related details, no search query necessary. (It’s also useful when you’re not quite sure what you’re looking at.)

Photo of Frida Kahlo’s “Frieda and Diego Rivera” (1931) — with Goggles results

Now, thanks to Goggles, the search engine’s announcement of a partnership with the J. Paul Getty Museum in California will make the days of self-guided audio tours at museums seem quaint. The Getty is the first to provide Google with images (about 300 paintings are included) and prepared content designed to complement any visit to its Los Angeles venue.

A photo of a painting will provide such features as commentary by artists and curators, and even characters in the artwork itself, as in an animated conversation with a human-like pig in a 14th-Century rendering of the Adoration of the Magi. Amazingly, the algorithm developed by Google is sensitive enough to detect subtle differences, for example, between Claude Monet’s multiple depictions of Rouen Cathedral, other versions of which hang at museums like the National Gallery of Art and the Musée d’Orsay, in addition to the Getty. (It should be noted that the Goggles venture is separate from the ambitious Google Art Project begun earlier this year, which currently provides virtual tours of several major repositories around the world.)

Needless to say, the instant and tailored information provided by the simple snap of a picture will provide rich enhancement to the on-site experience at museums such as the Getty (right), with others sure to follow.

Just remember to turn off the flash.