Machine Learning App Remembers Names So You Don’t Have To

Depending on your point of view, real-life conversations with strangers can either be refreshing or terrifying. Some of us are glib and at ease in new social situations, while others are sure that the slightest flub will haunt them forever. And perhaps chief among these conversational faux pas is forgetting the name of the person who just introduced themselves a few seconds before.

Rather than commit himself to a jail of shame on such occasions, [Caleb] fought back with this only slightly creepy name-recalling smartphone app. The non-zero creep factor comes from the fact that, as [Caleb] points out, the app crosses lines that most of us would find unacceptable if Google or Amazon did it — like listening to your every conversation. It does this not to direct ads to you based on your conversations, but to fish out the name of your interlocutor from the natural flow of the conversation.

It turns out to be a tricky problem, even with the help of named-entity recognition (NER), which basically looks for the names of things in natural text. Apache OpenNLP, the NER library used here, works well at pulling out names, but figuring out whether they’re part of an introduction or just a bit of gossip about a third party is where [Caleb] put the bulk of his coding effort. That, and trying to make the whole thing at least a little privacy-respecting. See the video below for a demo.

To be sure, this doesn’t do much more than a simple, ‘remind me of your name again?’ would, but without the embarrassment. It’s still pretty cool though, and we’re especially jazzed to learn about NER and the tons of applications for it. Those are projects for a future day, though. We’re just glad to see that [Caleb] has moved on from monitoring the bodily functions of his dog and his kid. At least for now.

9 thoughts on “Machine Learning App Remembers Names So You Don’t Have To

  1. This is fantastic! Really, I’m just waiting for the smartphone app with face and voice recognition that has access to massive database of facts about everyone that was extracted from social media posts. I can’t wait to know everyone’s everything without caring about any of them! :)
    (OK, so this actually sounds like this would be a great tool for spies trying to infiltrate groups.)

  2. we carry around a much more powerful machine learning system, you just need to learn how to train it.

    what you do is, after you come back from a party or a bar or whatever, you write down the names of everyone you met. write them in the order you met them…the important part is that if you met a group of 4 people, their 4 names are together. they’re probably a clique and you’ll probably see them as a group the next time too. do it every time you come home. it’s handy to glance at it before you go to the same bar again. but even if you don’t, writing it has had an impact.

    of course if you can’t hold onto a dozen names for a couple hours until you get home, you might have to start at a different point :)

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