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  • 12.16.16

What Peter Thiel And Elon Musk Deserve For Christmas (According To An AI)

An AI bot called Gifted recommends presents based upon pictures of the recipient. Its suggestions can be a little hit or miss, though.

What Peter Thiel And Elon Musk Deserve For Christmas (According To An AI)

Finding a last minute Christmas gift can be hard, even if you know someone well. Gifted, a new SMS chatbot by developer Michael Jordan, leverages machine learning and artificial intelligence to try to make it easier, by recommending gifts based upon a person’s appearance. So how well does it work? Spoiler: Not too well, but if you’re especially hard up, it might kickstart some ideas. It certainly beats frantically buying presents on Christmas Eve at the local Gas ‘N’ Gulp.

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Here’s how Gifted works. Using SMS, you send the Gifted chatbot an image of the person for whom you want to find a gift. From there, Gifted uses ClarifAI, an AI-driven photo tagger, to scan the image and translate what it thinks it sees into keywords, which it then rates based upon confidence. Gifted then matches these keywords up with a database of manually-picked Amazon products and sends you a link to a product. You can try it for yourself by texting any image to (267) 422-7066.

So how’s it do? Well–err. Here’s what Gifted recommended when I sent it this picture of my wife:

I can confidently say my wife would likely consider such a gift inscrutable at best, and insulting at worst, if I told her it was generated for her because a robot thought she looked tired and without confidence. (Adding further injury: Gifted also recommended I buy this same brand of Hey Girl tea for my sainted, gray-haired mother.)

Gifted thought I should buy my editor, Kelsey Campbell-Dollahan, an avid bicycle enthusiast who was pictured literally wearing a bicycle uniform, an Amazon Fire TV Stick. Er, okay? I would have thought some biking paraphernalia, but no, that recommendation is reserved for this picture of a three-year-old, who Gifted thinks I should buy a fixie:

And what about me? Here’s a picture of me posing in Turkey in front of a ceramic Tyrannosaurus.

No Jurassic World Blu-Ray, or Dinosaurs Attack! collectible card set, or this robotic triceratops? Come on, Gifted.

Okay, but how does Gifted deal with celebrities? Here’s what it recommended for a picture of Donald Trump.

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[Photo: Flickr user Gage Skidmore]

Hey! That’s actually not a bad gift! What about Trump’s right-hand man in Silicon Valley, Peter Thiel?

[Photo: David Paul Morris/Bloomberg/Getty Images]

Uh, okay, yeah, I guess it’d be a good gift for Thiel too. What about Elon Musk? A DIY rocket-kit, perhaps?

[Photo: Flickr user Steve Jurvetson]

I’m noticing a trend, so I sent Gifted a picture of Kanye West. At this point, I wasn’t expecting much, so I was pleasantly surprised by the result: A Bluetooth shower head for listening to music in the shower!

[Photo: Patrick Kovarik/AFP/Getty Images]

Show Gifted an image of Woody Guthrie, though, and it’ll recommend the same gift–same with many other musicians I tried, although Gifted did think Björk could use some bronzer.

This may seem like it’s an AI issue, but it isn’t. Gifted’s AI is pretty good at, say, looking at a picture of Trump and coming up with valid keywords: “portrait, people, politician, administration, business leader, adult, man” and so on. It doesn’t recognize Trump, per se, but it recognizes the genre of person he appears to be, and the setting he’s in. These words can then be used to search a database for appropriate Amazon gifts.

Instead, the limitations in Gifted simply come from the fact that the Amazon gift database it uses is still being fleshed out, and that’s a manual process: Every gift for business leaders, for example, needs to be separately added. As this database gets developed, Gifted’s results should become better. “Ideally the pool of gifts would be larger,” writes Gifted’s creator Michael Jordan. “But I’m a one-man team and having to manually tag gifts is profoundly time consuming. I only have 250 products in the database and that covers everything from infants to grandparents to cats and dogs–I’m trying to create a way to automatically tag gifts to create an automated database. I’d like to get up to 1,000 gifts by the weekend.”

And, in truth, when I re-sent Gifted a picture of Trump this morning, it recommended this book about behind-the-scenes statesmanship in World War II instead. So Gifted is definitely improving, and could be useful to you, at least as a fun trifle that might accidentally recommend a decent gift. Just make sure to sense-check it first.

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Try Gifted for yourself by texting an image to (267) 422 7066.

*Some celebrity images have been changed for copyright reasons, your results may vary.

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