Amazon’s latest artificial intelligence tool is a piece of image recognition software that can learn to guess a human’s age. The feature is powered by Amazon’s Rekognition platform, which is a developer toolkit that exists as part of the company’s AWS cloud computing service. So long as you’re willing to go through the process of signing up for a basic AWS account — that entails putting in credit card info but Amazon won’t charge you — you can try the age-guessing software for yourself.
In what sounds like a smart move on Amazon’s end, the tool gives a wide range instead of trying to pinpoint a specific number, along with the likelihood that the subject of the image is smiling or wearing glasses. Microsoft tried the latter approach back in 2015 with its own AI tool, resulting in some hilariously bad estimates that exposed fundamental weaknesses in how these types of image recognition algorithms function. Still, these experiments are more for fun, and both companies’ cracks at age-guessing algorithms are a good way to mess around with AI if you’re so inclined.
For instance, here’s Amazon’s tool trying to digest an old photo of me in my early twenties:
Here’s what it had to say about a more recent photo:
And here’s what it has to say about a drastically different image of me from nearly ten years ago, sans glasses and short hair:
Needless to say, I am not 30, 47, or any age in between in any of those photos. Microsoft is equally guilty of thinking I am far older than I actually am — perhaps a product of the beard, at least for the first two images. When giving both tools a photo of clean-shaven Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella, we get a slightly more accurate description: Amazon thinks Nadella is between 48 and 68 years old, while Microsoft’s tool thinks he’s 67. (Nadella is 49 years old). Trying Bezos yields similar results that are only kinda, sorta on point, yet still within a range of acceptability.
The goal here of course is not to try and trick the software. After all, these tools are not supposed to 100 percent accurate all of the time, and purely for fun in Microsoft’s case. Amazon, on the other hand, offers Rekognition to developers who are interested in implementing general object recognition, labeling, and other likeminded features for their products and services.
In this case, Amazon’s Jeff Barr sees the age range feature as a way to “power public safety applications, collect demographics, or to assemble a set of photos that span a desired time frame,” he writes in a blog post. For those purposes, Amazon’s tool may be good enough. Even when it isn’t, we know it will be getting better all the time, thanks to deep learning methods that train it using billions of publicly available images.