On the 21st floor of a high-rise hotel in Cleveland, in a room full of political operatives, Microsoft’s Research Division was advertising a technology that could read each facial expression in a massive crowd, analyze their emotions, and report back in real time. “You could use this at a Trump rally,” a sales representative told me.
At both the Republican and Democratic conventions, Microsoft sponsored event spaces for the news outlet Politico. Politico, in turn, hosted a series of Microsoft-sponsored discussions about the use of data technology in political campaigns. And throughout Politico’s spaces in both Philadelphia and Cleveland, Microsoft advertised an array of products from “Microsoft Cognitive Services,” its artificial intelligence and cloud computing division.
At one exhibit, titled “Realtime Crowd Insights” a small camera scanned the room, while a monitor displayed the captured image. Every five seconds, a new image would appear with data annotated for each face – an assigned serial number, gender, estimated age, and any emotions detected in the facial expression. When I approached, the machine labeled me “b2ff,” and correctly identified me as a 23-year-old male.
It interpreted my facial expression as “neutral,” with a bit of “surprise.”