How Microsoft’s other machine learning tricks could make its bots even smarter

As someone on Twitter said, if “bots” was on your Build 2016 drinking game card, you’d be long dead. But while Microsoft is all about getting developers to create intelligent app companions to make our lives easier, is there any impressive machine learning the Redmond firm is ready to show off right now?

The answer, surprise, is yes. Besides ordering Domino’s pizzas, Microsoft has been tinkering with its Azure-based tools to recognize age, gender, emotion and individuals by name.

Remember the great/awful How Old Do I Look? website introduced at last year’s Build? The Windows 10 maker has been building off this ego-buster since, and what it’s cooked up is far more intelligent – and more flattering – than its earlier iteration.

During a demo of the API’s capabilities, Microsoft Data Scientist Carlos Pessoa showed myself and a group of reporters a Real-Time Perceptual Intelligence app that recognizes your age, gender and emotion, even if other people are in the shot with you (though it will pinpoint that data for each of them, too).

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Whereas last year’s HODIL guessed my age to be in the mid- to late 30s, and even pushed it into the 40s on some tries, today it initially got my age correct at 29, then fluctuated to as low as 26 and as high as 31, depending on my expression. A natural smile yielded the most accurate result, while a scowl or surprised tended to skew older.

It pegged my emotion at being generally happy or neutral if I was smiling broadly or just a little. A surprised expression was recognized as such or as happy, and apparently my resting face registers as sad.

Pessoa confirmed that Microsoft’s age recognition tech has gotten smarter: even if it doesn’t guess your exact age correctly, it’s usually in the ballpark now. He also showed how the machine could recognize someone by name if he took a picture of them with his phone and “taught” the machine who they were. If the same person walks by the same machine at any point during Build this week, it will recognize them.;

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