Behind the Scenes of Face Swap Live, the ‘Creepy’ App That Launched a Thousand Memes

Behind the Scenes of Face Swap Live, the 'Creepy' App That Launched a Thousand Memes

When I smile, Hilary Clinton smiles back. When I raise an eyebrow, hers lifts in unison, like a bizarre game of Simon Says. When I grimace, the wrinkles on her forehead deepen, her lips crinkling and pursing to one side.

Thanks to the wonders of computer vision and a goofy new app called Face Swap Live, I am controlling Hilary’s face – with nothing more than the expression on mine.

If you haven’t yet experienced the viral, nightmarish joys of Face Swap Live, it’s well worth the 99 cents it’s currently selling for. Download the app and point your phone’s camera at a friend, and it will convincingly map their face, in real time, onto someone else’s: yours, a baby’s, Beyonce’s, Richard Nixon’s.

Since appearing in the app store about a month ago, the app hasn’t strayed far outside of Apple’s most-downloaded offerings, peaking in the United States. at No. 14. And while the technology isn’t perfect – the app’s first truly ubiquitous meme was a disastrous face-swap between a dad and his baby – the results are lifelike enough, enough of the time, that the “Today” show dubbed it “Kafkaesque” and the Daily Dot called it “creepy.”

“It’s a lot of fun,” said Jason Laan, one of the app’s two creators. “But behind the fun, there’s some really amazing, hardcore technology.”

Laan, a chemical engineer by training, has a long history of turning serious tech to more frivolous purposes: In the eight years since he founded his app development firm, Laan Labs, he estimates that they’ve launched around 50 products, from Tap DJ (“mix and add FX to your iPod music!”) to Dog Vision HD (“see the world how your dog sees it!”).

But for Laan, computer vision – the science of training computers to extract and understand information from pictures, the same way humans do – has always possessed a special intrigue. Researchers at places like Google and IBM, with their extraordinary 3-D cameras and lightning-fast processing speeds, had enabled computers to catalog objects, recognize faces and even interpret feelings. Laan and his partner, Will Perkins, began wondering if the iPhone’s improving camera and processing capabilities would allow them to try out similar projects, albeit less seriously.

So late last winter, Face Swap Live was conceived. The app that has since launched a thousand YouTube videos, Imgur posts and nightmare memes.

Face-swapping makes a pretty ideal consumer application for the new computer vision tools, incidentally. While the technology is novel, the art form is not: Know Your Meme traces the first instances back to the early aughts, when the visages of an eccentric Vietnamese singer and and a 16-year-old Chinese kid began showing up on other bodies and in other places.

In 2004, the Something Awful forums fatefully began switching the faces of babies and their grandparents. It was an onerous Photoshop process, a labor of lolz, if you will: isolating the faces manually; copying, moving and rotating them; blending and feathering the mismatched edges until the heads and bodies fit. Even all that work made for some pretty unholy collages: The babies’ heads pixelated, over-large; the grandparents’ shrunken and neckless.

“Wasn’t that (expletive) creepy?” exclaimed an SA writer in 2004. “Now I have to go to bed … Oh, the dreams I’m going to have.”

But the appeal of the face-swap has always been its weirdness – the degree to which it inverts and diverges from reality. The best face-swaps are also the most surreal: Tom Cruise as Jack Nicholson, Barack Obama as George Bush, Nicholas Cage as literally everybody.

“There’s something about absurdity that gives Internet memes a lot of traction,” said Britney Summit-Gil, a doctoral student at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute who studies Reddit culture. “Absurdity has a long, storied history of entertaining humans.” And it’s not so different from awe, she says – one of our more viral emotions.

Oddly enough, however, we’re moving closer to a world where face swaps are both less “awesome,” in the sense of inspiring wonder, and less obviously absurd. Thanks to innovations like the ones that spurred Face Swap Live, face-swapping no longer requires any time at all, to say nothing of expensive editing software and human effort.

Just look at how fast Face Swap Live is, an accomplishment Laan and Perkins credit to a basket of cutting-edge algorithms. When they look at your face, they simply look for reference points – the corners of your eyes where the color changes, the curve of your chin – and then line them up with those points on another face, auto-smoothing and blending them in.

With better cameras, Laan and Perkins say (3D cameras, particularly, like the ones Intel just unveiled atCES), our smartphones could do far more than copy-paste a face. Already, Disney is working on a technology that can map your face down to its individual wrinkles. At Stanford University and Germany’s Max Planck Institute, researchers have developed a technique that photorealistically transfers one person’s facial expressions to another – not face-swapping, in the traditional sense, but face-hijacking via algorithm.

These researchers believe we’re moving closer to a world where remote workers can Skype into meetings half-clothed, their faces mapped onto a body in a business suit. They suspect we’ll be able to tweak actors’ bad takes and zap unsuspecting bystanders from live TV news.

Far outside the realm of face-swapping, real-time computer vision – particularly of human bodies and faces – will enable a million other technologies: self-driving cars, diagnostic computers, robots that understand emotions and react accordingly. We won’t even delve into the more dystopian applications, like live video-manipulation or mass surveillance.

I ask Perkins and Laan about that, because it’s seems odd: a silly app that advances a promising, and ominous, technology. Do they contemplate the juxtaposition at all, I wonder?

“We just want to have fun,” Laan says. Then they both laugh nervously.

[“Source-Gadgets”]

Uber Launches ‘Trip Experiences’ API on Its Developer Platform

Uber Launches 'Trip Experiences' API on Its Developer PlatformAt Uber’s first ever Asian hackathon held in Bengaluru on Tuesday, taxi aggregator Uber announced the launch of its Global API called Trip Experiences. Launched on developers.uber.com, it lets startups leverage Uber’s API to provide an enhanced and gamified travel experience during the free time that Uber riders have during their trips.

Saad Ahmed, Business Development Lead, Uber India said that it was also the first time that a global API launch was done from Bengaluru, where the company would be setting up an engineering team.

Dmitry Shevelenko, Head of Business, Uber Developer Platform said that the company’s focus on its API platform, launched in March 2015, had been on helping riders make a booking without having to re-enter the address on the Uber app. A focus on intent to ride has been good for the company, he said, citing Microsoft’s integration of the API into Cortana, which was done from the Hyderabad office.

“The API has been helping folks up to point A. Using our API, someone could rebuild our Uber for Android app. What we’re announcing today is a shift from utility, to opening up the platform for true creativity,” Shevelenko said, adding that the Trip Experiences API opens up opportunities that happen on the trip itself. He calculated that Uber riders had generated 20 billion units of free time on over one billion cumulative Uber trips.

The Trip Experiences API will leave users in control, the company said, adding that only apps specifically given permission will be able to connect to Uber and access their trip details. Users can also turn off the feature on an app by app basis, the company said. The company showcased use cases for apps centred around entertainment, news, dating, gamification, local guides, and IoT-based home automation.

The API can tell developers when the rider has free time, how much free time they have, where they’re coming from, and where they’re going, the company said.

Zomato, Zo Rooms, Housing.com, and Satyam Cinemas were some Internet companies who had integrated Uber’s API into their apps, the company said.

In a recently mailed fact sheet, the company said that it had over 250,000 driver partners on its platform active in India, with a presence in 26 Indian cities.

[“Source-Gadgets”]

YouTube Launches Pakistani Version, Paving Way for Ban to Be Lifted

YouTube Launches Pakistani Version, Paving Way for Ban to Be Lifted

The Supreme Court’s ban in place since September 2012 applied to YouTube’s global and localised sites.

The new site, youtube.com.pk, is currently live but inaccessible inside Pakistan, and the government and Google hope its creation will mean the Supreme Court will lift the ban, even if only partially.

Content on the local site can still be regulated, and a senior government official told AFP Wednesday Pakistan’s telecommunication authority could ask Google to remove content it deems objectionable.

If Google complies, it could meet a condition set by the Supreme Court for lifting the ban.

“The understanding is that on the localised version offensive and blasphemous content could be blocked by Google on the government’s request,” the official said.

A Google spokesman confirmed that governments are allowed to request the removal of YouTubevideos that violate local laws.

“We have clear community guidelines, and when videos violate those rules, we remove them,” the spokesman said.

But the Internet giant said it would review requests before taking videos down.

“Government requests to remove content will continue to be tracked and included in our Transparency Report.”

Islamabad has been in intermittent talks with Google for several years over the issue, another source close to the matter said, without providing a specific timeframe for the unveiling of YouTube Pakistan.

“We are in a very near-term sort of thing. The roadblocks have been removed,” the source said.

A Supreme Court official meanwhile said the next court hearing about the ban is in two weeks.

Users in Pakistan continue to access YouTube using proxy servers and Virtual Private Networks.

Blasphemy is a contentious issue in Pakistan and the country has seen violent riots sparked by content considered offensive to Islam.

In 2010 Pakistan shut down Facebook for nearly two weeks over its hosting of allegedly blasphemous pages. It continues to restrict thousands of online links.

At 60, ‘The Room on the Roof’ is back with gorgeous illustrations

At 60, 'The Room on the Roof' is back with gorgeous illustrations10.7K
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Dylan Thomas, in his poem Fern Hill, says, “Time held me green and dying / Though I sang in my chains like the sea.” When I revisited The Room on the Roof, after too, too many years, I felt as if Thomas had written that line for Ruskin Bond – for upon his eternal roof, Ruskin is yet green, and yet dying, and yet singing in the chains of his birth, his identity, his art, his beloved Doon Valley and his endless search for joy.

My favourite artistes have been the Beatles, Rajesh Khanna and the Nawab of Pataudi. I bring up their names for a reason – The Beatles, in their music, started with innocent energy and charm and flew higher and higher into almost intellectual pop, only to fall apart when the flight began to drift; Rajesh Khanna started with that same innocent energy and charm, honed it instinctively into an art which soared to the heavens and then crumbled to earth when the instinct turned into crafted ego; and Pataudi, born with brilliance in his blood, overcame tragedy to lift Indian cricket to a level from which it rose and rose and rose, even as he played the role of a leader, a source, and let his talent only occasionally fully blossom.

Rereading The Room on the Roof, I was struck by the truth of Ruskin’s genius and art – he reached a peak at a very young age, and he discovered his source, his art, at a time when others were relying only on innocence and energy and charm. Because, Ruskin’s first book is full of joy, but it is not a happy book.

It has hard edges, bitter realisations, death, departure and doubt. It is a story of the body as much as the spirit – when Ruskin describes the other boys, he starts with their form, their skin, their colour; when he confronts Mrs Kapoor, you can feel the teenage heat.

It is a story, a book, full of such wonderful detail, such descriptions – just read the section of the storm on the roof, or the first visit to the chaat shop – and yet the characters are as dark as they are real. The guardian, the sweeper, Suri, the friends, flawed and yet final. The picnic is not a journey of complete joy; it is full of effort and pushing a panting car out of a river and lust in the forest and prying eyes and uneasy games… And yet they are all woven together with threads of words which bind and yet break so easily.

Departure. Everything is always leaving Rusty. Everybody. So eventually he has to leave – but not before a final sojourn to his beloved room. A room where nothing happens, and yet so much does. Where the elements – whether the lizard, or the morning light, or the storm, or the proximity of bodies, or the fear of walking over the edge – make each moment both a threat and a treat.

And then the climax in Hardwar – or is it a climax? Has Rusty really reached a final decision? No, he has not. He only knows that to be where he is is the complete truth, and yet only the first step on another journey.

At seventeen, Ruskin knew that life was not a childhood game, but he also knew that the game of childhood was the only way to survive life.

And he has been doing so for the past so, so many years – in his little cottages, his little joys, his teas and his mornings and his mournings.

When he was a child, he wrote of childhood as he was an adult – throughout his adult life, he has written of childhood as a child! That is the secret of Ruskin’s art. His stories, his characters are always just slightly on edge. Departure and death are as real as toast and tea. No, he never returns completely to the room on the roof, but every room he as ever lived in since is a journey back to that room.

As Ruskin himself says, he does not want to change a word of The Room on the Roof. He knows it is him – or “he”, to be correct.

The Beatles and Rajesh Khanna moved from innocence to awareness, and their art is a reflection of that journey. Pataudi journeyed from innocence to tragedy and then returned with a hardened art. Ruskin Bond journeys on from the raw, gentle awareness of his first book, and until today uses that awareness to spread innocent, edgy joy to readers around the world. If his first book had been only tales of childhood, he would never be the writer he is today.

Read or reread The Room on the Roof. You will be stunned, as I was – stunned at the art, the craft and the great leap which fills this book with wonder. Each one of us has our own rooms, our own roofs, and Ruskin knows this. But he also knows that his room and his roof are unique, as ours must be, too.

“Ahead of them lay forest and silence, and what was left of time.”

Green and dying, in the Fern Hill of the Doon Valley, may the chains from which Ruskin sings never break, nor chafe too much. We need him – all of us.

Excerpted with permission from The Room On The Roof: 60th Anniversary Edition, Ruskin Bond, Illustrations by Ahlawat Gunjan, Introduction by Tom Alter, Penguin India.

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