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Apple's Animoji Will Teach You To Love Face Tracking, For Better or Worse

Apple's Animoji Will Teach You To Love Face Tracking, For Better or Worse
From Wired - September 13, 2017

One of the first things you will do after throwing down $1,000 on a new iPhone X is take your own picture. But do not expect a regular selfie. This time, you will fire up Apple's new TrueDepth camera and a suite of technologiesflood illuminator, infrared camera, front-facing camera, and dot projectorwill project and analyze 30,000 dots across your visage, creating a high-resolution map of your facial features.

This superselfie enables some of the phone's most compelling new features: things like automatically unlocking your phone, paying for coffee with your face, and turning your facial expressions into a grinning pile of poop. In a demo at Apple's launch event, the audience watched as Apple SVP of software, Craig Federighi, transformed himself into various "animoji" (as in emoji, but animated). As he thumbed through the iOS Messages app, Federighi's face became a clucking chicken, a neighing unicorn, and a chattering dung pile.

The point was to show animoji's silly side. "If you were by chance wondering what humanity would do when given access to the most advanced facial tracking technology available, you now have your answer," Federighi joked. But he also undersold animoji's potential. Someday the facial-tracking software used to create talking animoji might do more than mimic your emotionit might predict it too.

Follow the Face

The technology that Apple is using is not new, exactly. "The infrared light projection and 3-D scanning is something that is present on the consumer market for some time now," says Dino Paic, director of sales at facial-recognition software company Visage Technologies. In fact, it's a lot like what Microsoft Kinect's depth camera has done for years. Using the phone's TrueDepth camera, Apple can track more than 50 muscle movements and overlay those features onto the emoji you know and lovethat includes the fox, the unicorn, and yes, the pile of poop. As you contort your face from a smile to a frown, the expression on your chosen emoji changes with it.

Apple's primary achievement was squeezing this technology into a phone that you will have with you all the time. In that light, Apple tasking its biggest brains to turn you into a talking emoji is not trivialit helps acclimate people to seeing their faces tracked in real time. Avoiding that creepy factor will be even more important if and when Apple decides to extend its facial tracking technology to other use cases.

That certainly seems within reach. Last year, Apple acquired a company called Emotient, which uses facial tracking software to analyze and predict human emotion. By watching how your face movesif you raise an eyebrow, glance downward, smile, or frownmachine learning can begin to figure out how you feel.

Second That Emotion

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