Microsoft’s New App Can Recognize a Dog, Even In an Adorable Disguise

Dogs are a machine’s best friend, too.
February 11, 2016, 6:23pm
Image: Nicholas Deleon/Motherboard

Microsoft is using dogs to demonstrate its machine learning chops.

The app, called Fetch!, analyzes photos of dogs using the iPhone's camera or photo library and then attempts to determine the breed. While that may sound silly—did you see today's news about gravitational waves?—it's actually a great way to demonstrate how companies like Microsoft, Facebook, and Google are teaching computers how to see and recognize different objects.

"We wanted to bring artificial intelligence to the canine world," Mitch Goldberg, a development director at Microsoft Research, said in a statement. "We wanted to show that object recognition is something anyone could understand and interact with."

Using the app is simple enough: You either feed it a photo from your iPhone's library or use the iPhone's camera to take a photo right then and there. The app then processes the image and then comes up with its best guess as to what the dog's breed is.

The results look like this:

Image: Nicholas Deleon/Motherboard

The app correctly determine the breed of my own dog, nearly-internet-famous Pembroke Welsh corgi Winston, and also correctly determined the breed of a shiba inu I found online dressed up like Donald Trump.

This kind of image recognition isn't merely a fun diversion, of course: Teaching machines to recognize images could, say, help blind users visualize a photo that's been posted to Instagram.

The release of Fetch! is the latest in a string of offbeat apps Microsoft has released under CEO Satya Nadella, who has encouraged Microsoft to embrace competing platforms like iOS instead of pretending they don't exist. (That's largely been the story of Nadella's tenure as CEO: a newfound emphasis on releasing high-quality versions of core Microsoft apps, like Word, Excel, and Outlook, on non-Windows platforms.) The company last December released an iPhone app called Selfie that, well, takes selfies, and in January released an Android alarm clock app that presents users with a series of tasks (like solving a puzzle) upon waking up.