We’ve all been there: a perfect photo ruined by the lack of a smile. However, there’s a new iPhone app called FaceApp that claims to be able to add one to any photo. Using neural networks, the app is able to make it look like the subject in the photo is smiling. But as interesting as FaceApp is, unfortunately, the developer has landed in some hot water for one of the effects it offers.

smile faceapp
Giuliamar / Pixabay

Pasting a smile on your face

FaceApp is available for free in the iPhone App Store or the Google Play store, and Redmond Pie tested it out. Apparently, the app does a decent job of pasting a smile on the face of someone in a photo, but the results turn out a bit strange when trying to add other effects such as facial hair. According to the app’s description, users can also make someone in a photograph look much older or younger or even change their gender.

As those who have used FaceApp have found, it’s essential that the person in the photo be looking directly at the camera, or the effects just don’t look right after they’ve been applied. However, it can be rather fun to play around with a photo and make yourself (or someone else) look however you want.

How neural networks work

Wireless Lab OOO, the maker of this app, describes the technology used as “neural face transformation,” which basically just means that they use artificial intelligence to add the effects to the photos. A neural network is a computer system that’s designed to be similar to the human brain, and its one part of the broader technology wave that is artificial intelligence. It almost seems like this app is just trying to tap into the trendiness of these terms when, in fact, it’s just another photo editing app. What does make it different though is that instead of just applying a filter, FaceApp edits a photo using input from other photos to affect how the resulting image looks.

Perhaps the best effect offered by this iPhone app though is the ability to put a smile on your face, something that most photo editing apps don’t do. Most users who submitted the app admit that it’s fun but also that it needs work. Perhaps the developer will take that into consideration and put some more time into it to improve it. The controversy surrounding it will surely provide some motivation in this regard.

Controversy over an iPhone app

The developer of FaceApp is dealing with a controversy related to how it works. Many users have been criticizing the “Hot” filter because it whitewashes their skin tones. It’s actually meant to remove imperfections such as wrinkles or blemishes so that the face becomes more attractive, but many also found that it makes their skin look whiter.

According to The Guardian, the developer has apologized for the filter, which many people are claiming is racist because it’s called “Hot” but turns people’s skin white. Yaroslav Goncharov, who created FaceApp, called it “an unfortunate side-effect of the underlying neural network caused by the training set bias, not intended behaviour,” reports The Guardian.

The effect is now called “Spark,” and he said they’re working on a complete fix for the problem.