"Usability" is a catch-all word that we throw around…
If you’re like me, you’ve probably been waiting a long time for the Utopian leisure society to emerge where robots and computers do our work, while we sip on maitais and eat bon bons. As I always say, “work is for the peasants.” Fortunately, our computer overlords have been working overtime in the past week to bring us one step closer to reality.
Well, ok, maybe they misread our instructions, but we do have some nifty software to help us automate the rating of photos. First up, the smart folks over at Xerox have made Whitney Lawson’s job much easier by letting you know when your travel pictures suck. Apparently they have some dude named Al Gorithm who uses secret sauce to pick good and bad images. How does it work? The software looks at color range, contrast levels and even position of elements in the composition (hello, rule of thirds).
Xerox says good skies are:
“Dramatic skies are good skies for the Xerox algorithm. Silhouette lit photos are ranked high as well as black and white clouds.”
Whereas bad skies are:
“Very overcast skies where everything looks blue is an indication of poor quality.”
In other words, if you live in Seattle, do not use Xerox to rate your sky photos. *rimshot*
On the more sophisticated front, there’s my friend Dr. Hany Farid. And when I say “friend,” I mean I talked to him on the phone once about four years ago (hey, that’s probably more than you’ve done with half your Facebook “friends”). Dr. Farid first gained notoriety for creating some software that tell if a photo had been manipulated (or more specifically would generate a confidence score). For example, saving a file as a JPG twice has a very characteristic pattern that is detectable by his software. A number of news organizations were interested in licensing his software to detect image manipulation.
You might recall the controversy surrounding the Iranian missile test photo that was supplied to wire services by the Iranians where they photoshopped in a few more missiles and removed a dinky looking van. Dr. Farid’s software had no problem picking that one up.
His latest project has much wider societal implications. Instead of just detecting photo manipulation, the new software ranks fashion and beauty photos on a scale from 1-5 based on the level of manipulation. The New York Times reports that research is being published in The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences this week.
Will it help people realize that the movie stars and models that they aspire to look like actually look significantly less attractive? Will it change the body distortion issues that plague people with eating disorders? Perhaps. Some European countries have already proposed labeling images that have been retouched to counter the unrealistic portrayal of people that has become the norm, and Dr. Farid’s software could help people understand the intensity of the retouching with a simple scale. Will Angelina Jolie and George Clooney still be attractive? Check.