But what is surprising is how researchers working on an ambitious project based at Stanford University reached those conclusions: by analyzing 50 million images and location data from Google Street View, the street-scene feature of the online giant’s mapping service.

For the first time, helped by recent advances in artificial intelligence, researchers are able to analyze large quantities of images, pulling out data that can be sorted and mined to predict things like income, political leanings and buying habits. In the Stanford study, computers collected details about cars in the millions of images it processed, including makes and models.

“All of a sudden we can do the same kind of analysis on images that we have been able to do on text,” said Erez Lieberman Aiden, a computer scientist who heads a genomic research center at the Baylor School of Medicine. He provided advice on one aspect of the Stanford project.