Google’s Allo messaging app will soon let you create personalized stickers from your selfies

Google is working on a new feature for its mobile messaging app Allo that will permit iPhone users to create stickers based on their selfies. Taking advantage of neural networks, machine learning and the work of artists, the app will create virtual avatars personalized to match the user’s own distinct look, said the company.

“Photography in the form of a selfie is a very direct form of expression. It comes with a set of rules bounded by reality,” wrote Google. “Illustration, on the other hand, empowers people to define themselves—it’s warmer and less fraught than reality.”

The feature is pretty straightforward: you just snap a selfie and the app returns an automatically generated illustrated version of you. You can also customize your new sticker manually with various facial features and other options.

What makes you, you?

Rather than algorithmically determine the colors, shapes and textures in selfies, Google’s system takes advantage of an advanced algorithm that picks out qualitative features of one’s face in a manner similar to the way people do.

“While we could have trained a large convolutional neural network from scratch to attempt to accomplish this, we wondered if there was a more efficient way to get results, since we expected that learning to interpret a face into an illustration would be a very iterative process.”

Toying with its existing more general-purpose computer vision neural networks, Google found out that a few neurons in these networks were good at focusing on things they weren’t explicitly trained to look at.

The company explains:

By virtue of being large general-purpose neural networks, they had already figured out how to abstract away things they didn’t need.

All that was left to do was to provide a much smaller number of human labeled examples to teach the classifiers to isolate out the qualities that the neural network already knew about the image.

They fed the neural network illustrations created by an artistic team which captured a wide variety of facial features, such as different hairstyles, skin tones and nose shapes. Human curators then trained the network to match the right illustration to the right selfie.

Google’s research team has taken special care to ensure that the illustrations cover a range of race, age, masculinity, femininity and androgyny. Furthermore, they’re working with a range of artistic voices because “it’s not enough to make an avatar that is a literal representation of yourself when there are many versions of you.”

The feature began rolling out today in Allo for Android, and will come soon to Allo on iOS.

The most recent update to Allo for iOS included Incognito chats for group conversations and new notification settings for selectively enabling and disabling individual notifications.

Google Allo is a free download from App Store.