Microsoft launches emotion tool for developers


In addition to the emotion tool, Microsoft is releasing public beta versions of several other new tools by the end of the year

The Microsoft Project Oxford team announced today at Microsoft’s Future Decoded event in London plans to release public beta versions of new tools designed to help developers to create smarter apps that can identify things like sounds, words, image and even facial expressions and emotions.

Chris Bishop, head of Microsoft Research Cambridge in the UK, showed off the emotion tool earlier today in a keynote talk at Future Decoded, a Microsoft conference on the future of business and technology.

The emotion tool released today can be used to create systems that recognise eight core emotional states – anger, contempt, fear, disgust, happiness, neutral, sadness or surprise – based on universal facial expressions that reflect those feelings.

The tools, many of which are used in Microsoft’s own products, are designed for developers who do not necessarily have machine learning or artificial intelligence expertise but want to include capabilities like speech, vision and language understanding in their apps.

Microsoft released the first set of Microsoft Project Oxford tools last spring, and the project’s leaders say they quickly drew the interest of everyone from well known Fortune 500 companies to small start ups who are eager for these capabilities but do not have a team of machine learning and artificial intelligence experts in their ranks.

“The exciting thing has been how much interest there is and how diverse the response is,” said Ryan Galgon, a senior programme manager within Microsoft’s Technology and Research group.

Utilising machine learning, these types of systems get smarter as they receive more data; the technology is the basis for major breakthroughs including Skype Translator’s real time translation and Microsoft’s Cortana personal assistant.

In the case of something like facial recognition, the system can learn to recognise certain traits from a training set of pictures it receives, and then it can apply that information to identify facial features in new pictures it sees.

Galgon said developers might want to use these tools to create systems that marketers can use to gauge people’s reaction to a store display, movie or food. Or they might find them valuable for creating a consumer tool, such as a messaging app, that offers up different options based on what emotion it recognises in a photo.

The facial recognition technology that is part of Microsoft Project Oxford also can be used in of other ways, such as grouping collections of photos based on the faces of people that appear in them. Or it can be used for more entertaining purposes; earlier this week, in honour of the facial hair fundraising effort Movember, Microsoft released MyMoustache, which uses the technology to recognise and rate facial hair.

The emotion tool is available to developers as a public beta beginning today. In addition, Microsoft is releasing public beta versions of several other new tools by the end of the year. The tools are available for a limited free trial.

They include: Spell check: This spell check tool, which developers can add to their mobile- or cloud-based apps and other products, recognises slang words such as “gonna,” as well as brand names, common name errors and difficult to spot errors such as “four” and “for.” It also adds new brand names and expressions as they are coined and become popular. It’s available as a public beta beginning today; Video: This tool lets customers easily analyse and automatically edit videos by doing things like tracking faces, detecting motion and stabilising shaky video, and is based on some of the same technology found in Microsoft Hyperlapse. It will be available in beta by the end of the year; Speaker recognition: This tool can be used to recognise who is speaking based on learning the particulars of an individual’s voice. A developer could use it as a security measure since a person’s voice, like a fingerprint, is unique. It will be available as a public beta by the end of the year; Custom Recognition Intelligent Services: This tool, also known as CRIS, makes it easier for people to customise speech recognition for challenging environments, such as a noisy public space. For example, a company could use it to help a team better use speech recognition tools while working on a loud shop floor or busy shopping centre. It will be available as an invite-only beta by the end of the year.

In addition to the new tools, Microsoft Project Oxford’s existing face detection tool will be updated to include facial hair and smile prediction tools, and the tool also has improved visual age estimation and gender identification.

Developers who are interested in these tools can find out more about them and give them a try by visiting the Microsoft Project Oxford website.


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