Google really wants people to use its Allo chat app.
The company has just introduced a new feature that's super reminicscent of Bitmoji, the personalised emoji service that Snap bought and integrated into Snapchat. Google's feature is a little different, though. It uses computer vision and neural networks to build an emoji sticker that's supposed to be based on - and look just like - your selfie. In other words, it uses algorithms to emojify your face.
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All you have to do is snap a selfie, and it’ll return an automatically generated illustrated version of you, while also providing you with customisation options to help you personalise the stickers. Jennifer Daniel, Allo's expressions creative director, revealed in a blog post that the Allo team explored how it could enable an algorithm to pick out qualitative features in a manner similar to the way people do.
Here's how it works: humans use context clues to determine a person's eye colour in different lighting conditions, but computers can't do that, so Allo relies on neural networks in order to interpret every permutation of lighting condition, eye colour, etc. The Allo team discovered that a few neurons among the millions in these networks could focus on things humans weren't "explicitly trained to look at".
So, because Allo uses this technology to in a sense "notice more", it is able to create a realistic illustration of you that captures the exact qualities your friends can recognise. But rather than replicate a person’s appearance exactly, the Allo app develops a lower resolution model in the form of emoji stickers. It's less about reproducing reality and more about breaking the rules of representation, Allo said.
So, now, you can use Allo to generate personalised emojis that truly represent you, rather than relying on Snapchat's Bitmoji, which only offers the ability to swipe through and pick characteristics like skin colour, outfit choice, and hair style.
This new feature is starting to roll out in Allo now for Android, and it will come soon to Allo on iOS.