Machine learning app remembers names so you don’t have to

Depending on your perspective, real-life conversations with strangers can be refreshing or terrifying. Some of us are casual and comfortable in new social situations, while others are sure that the slightest misstep will haunt them forever. And perhaps the main one of those conversational faux pas is forgetting the name of the person who just introduced themselves seconds before.

Rather than lock himself in a prison of shame on such occasions, [Caleb] retaliated with this slightly spooky 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 – like listening to your every conversation. It doesn’t do this to serve you ads based on your conversations, but to extract the name of your conversation partner from the natural flow of the conversation.

This turns out to be a tricky problem, even with the help of Named Entity Recognition (NER), which essentially looks for the names of things in natural text. Apache OpenNLP, the NER library used here, works well for extracting names, but figuring out if they’re part of an intro or just a bit of third-party gossip is where [Caleb] put most of his coding effort into it. That, and trying to make the whole thing at least a little privacy friendly. See the video below for a demo.

To be sure, that doesn’t do much more than a simple “Remind me your name again?” would, but without the embarrassment. It’s still pretty cool though, and we’re especially excited to learn more about NER and the tons of apps for it. These are plans for a future day, however. We are just happy to see that [Caleb] moved on from monitoring the bodily functions of his dog and child. At least for now.

Sherry J. Basler