Introducing Murphy: Helping you imagine "what if"

Last year at Microsoft's Build Conference, our team created the HowOldRobot to showcase new machine learning technologies in Azure. This little demo spread instantly across the internet with more than 90 million people uploading a picture to have it guess their age. We were surprised and delighted by how much fun and creativity people had sharing the results from the robot through social media. With all the new cognitive services, machine learning and intelligence capabilities we announced at Build we wanted to show you what else was possible. To that end, we want to introduce you to Murphy, the newest member of the Skype bot family.

Murphy is an experiment running on Azure that is powered by the intelligence of Microsoft Cognitive Services, including the knowledge of Bing. You can chat with Murphy using Skype and ask it hypothetical "what if ..." questions like "what if I were superman?" Murphy will try to respond with an image that visualizes an answer to your question. Murphy is brand new and still learning so it sometimes doesn't have an answer right away, but the more people interact with it, the more creative it will become, gradually improving the results.

Building Murphy

We wanted to share with you the story behind Murphy. A year went by from the launch of the HowOldRobotat Build 2015, and Build 2016 was just around the corner. We got the team together to think about what we could do this time. We had a set of cool new technologies that were being announced, and we just needed the right story. One of our team members came up with an idea around the next generation of the HowOldRobot - she called it "How old will you look." The idea was that you could upload an image to a robot, and it will imagine things about you in the future.

One of the engineers on the team, Corom (who led the how-old effort for our team last year), took hold of this idea, and then the real magic started happening. He called it "What-If":
What if a machine could have an imagination? Ever since I was young I have been fascinated with creating machines that could be a little more human. Many of these attempts at robotics failed, for example the case recorded in my school journal when I was 11 years old.

"April 9, 1990 - I took apart an old vacuum cleaner and tried to build a robot.

April 11, 1990 - I had to throw away the robot which was made out of the vacuum cleaner."

I remember my mom wasn't too happy about this. A few years later, with the help of my older brother Zaron, we built a fully functional remote controlled R2-D2 robot for a high school performance. It worked that time.

This inspired a simple idea. Could we tap into this human creativity to build a robot that could use machine learning capabilities and create accurate and imaginative images based on the what-if questions it was being asked?

That was it. Project 'Murphy' was born. We enlisted the help of a few friends from across Microsoft, and over the last weeks, we built Murphy together. Murphy was created as an experimental project to showcase new technologies from Microsoft's Cortana Intelligence Suite – mainly Microsoft's Cognitive Services, including Bing Image Search and the Microsoft Bot Framework. It also uses other existing Microsoft technology like Azure Stream Analytics, Azure Data Lake and PowerBI.

As bots evolve to become the next generation of applications, we're also thinking about our principles in bringing machine learning and intelligence together with human interaction. Our intention is to make sure we augment human ability with that of machines, that these new apps are trustworthy and that they're inclusive and respectful so they can be used by everyone. We're still learning, and so is our new bot Murphy.

During this crucial learning period we have quarantined Murphy to be only available as a SkypeBot, and have provided its users with an easy way to report issues to Murphy (see the little ":O" face option when you chat with it on Skype). You can find Murphy by using the link on our website, and add it as a contact to your Skype account.

We also know you care about how your photos are used. Murphy stores your picture for 10 minutes so it can chat with you and then those images are deleted. During that time the images are only used to generate the query you asked for.

Go ahead, give Murphy a spin. Ask some questions and see the results for yourself, let us know when we get it right. If all goes well, we'll make the service available more broadly.

Go have some fun with Murphy. #ProjectMurphy.

The Murphy Team