Mermaid, Mushroom, Snowman: AI-Fueled Emojis Energize Text Messaging

As the prevalence of Emoji-shaped merchandise flooding the aisles of Walmart suggests, the modern-day logographs are becoming more and more commonly intermingled with our normal script.  They’ve inspired a movie and a Happy Meal toy, which, at least in America, is an ironclad marker of success and popularity.  The smiley face has been a cultural icon for decades, so it only makes sense that as it evolved into and beyond other common emoticons that they gained traction across global lines into many age groups.  Once the Emoji keyboard came out on iOS and Android, other advancements were bound to occur. Their cultural significance led to more Emojis, better Emojis, and even a special Machine Learning algorithm that can recognize words that denote certain emotions and items and replace them with Emojis.

Users of Instagram may have first noticed this particular AI application, but now most electronic-wielding folks have the ability to interact with this feature. When texting on an iPhone, for instance, the word “happy” brings up several smiling Emoji options, the same ones, in fact, that “smile” brings up. If you ignore the suggestions initially, you can hit the Emoji keyboard after typing out a text and it will highlight words it found that could be replaced with Emojis.  The program allows applications in which it is implemented to read the text, decipher the meaning, and determine if an Emoji alternative is appropriate.

At first glance, this seems superficial. It’s cool, sure, but what’s the point of a program that deciphers your text and offers an Emoji replacement? Like many things, the simple commercial application just offers a glimpse of what the technology could become. Though this algorithm was probably implemented to make Instagram and other applications not only easier to use, but more desirable as they incorporate technology to keep up with popular trends, it could open up various possibilities. For instance, in a recent episode of South Park, the concept of Emoji analysis is used to help hunt down an Internet troll, but whether that could work in the real world remains to be seen. The possibilities extend past social media though. A linguist could use this application to understand how our language is changing to incorporate logographs.  No matter what the future applications of this algorithm may be, one thing is for sure: thanks to machine learning, it’s easier than ever to pepper our messages with cute little pictures in lieu of words.

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