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Microsoft's weird website claims to know how old you are (or not)

Technically Incorrect: In an attempt at "playing" with face-detection tools, Microsoft wants to either flatter you or ruin your week. It couldn't cope with my face at all.

Technically Incorrect offers a slightly twisted take on the tech that's taken over our lives.


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I must face the fact that I am faceless. Screenshot by Chris Matyszczyk/CNET

You're at a bar, chatting to someone comely.

You fancy that you can surprise them. You ask: "Guess how old I am."

The comely one knows that you wouldn't be asking this unless you believe you look younger than you are.

Microsoft isn't that comely one. It has no such qualms about telling you the grim truth buried in your gnarly face.

It has emitted a site called How-old.net. This claims to be able to guess precisely how old you are from a picture.

A picture is supposedly worth a thousand words. In my experience most of those are the word "liar." Ask anyone who has visited a dating site in the last decade what it feels like to conjure an image of someone in your head, only to find that in person they really don't look like that at all.

Microsoft believes that it knows what it sees. In a post Wednesday on its Machine Learning blog, co-authors Corom Thompson and Santosh Balasubramanian explain that they were "playing" with a release of the company's Face detection API. (An API, or application programming interface, enables software programs to talk to and work with each other.) They paired this with the Bing Search API to create the full joy.

With the help of even more Microsoft creations, they believed they had something potentially workable.

They thought that around 50 people would participate. They were stunned to discover that 35,000 wanted to play. Thompson and Santosh are engineers in information management and machine learning at Microsoft. (For the technical details of how they put it all together in a day, see their blog post.)

Dear Corom and Santosh, humans are, at heart, vain. They are also desperate to be loved and not to die. This creation plays into the very core of their fears. It manipulates their souls in a surer way than social networking.

Weak human that I am, I tried it.

The results were even worse than I could cope with. It's not that the machine believed I was 92. It was that it believed my face wasn't a face at all. It said: "Couldn't detect any faces." (Evidence above.)

There is an English phrase to depict someone of low pulchritude: He has a face like a smacked arse. This is clearly me. My face is, in fact, a bottom. Which leaves open the question of what my bottom might be. Perhaps I should upload a mooning image and see what it says.

I am now disappearing into my basement bunker, there to bang my face against its walls until it looks like a face. I will likely emerge when I'm 70.