Finally we might have software to spot a digital fake. And this might lead to labels on published photos in magazines or advertisements revealing just how fake the photos are. Similar to a cigarette warning label, so to speak. Two scientists are developing a program to rate the alteration of a photo on a scale from 1 to 5, from something minimal like color tinting to full-blown cartoonish characteristics. See the before and after images here.
Their research is published this week in the journal, The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
The researchers took samples of photos from the Web sites of actual professional photo re-touchers and analyzed the alterations. Using the crowd-sourcing service Mechanical Turk they had nearly 400 people rate the before and after images on a scale from 1 to 5. They then compared these human perceptions with eight statistics that refer to changes in shape, color and texture. Such changes might be the number of pixels moved, or changes in the amount of blurring done between the before and after shots. They found that their statistical system matched the human perceptions 80 percent of the time. One example of the system failing to match human perception was when a few changed pixels resulted in a massive change, like replacing a man's missing tooth.
The intention is to have labels printed beside re-touched photos, immediately informing the public of the level of alteration. Apparently there are discussions in the works with Adobe, to have a Photoshop plug-in that rates any image edits in real time, informing the re-toucher when they have strayed too far from the truth.
Studies have already found links between the idealized body images in advertising and fashion magazines and eating disorders in young women.
From a New York Times article describing the research:
The Dartmouth research, said Seth Matlins, a former talent agent and marketing executive, could be “hugely important” as a tool for objectively measuring the degree to which photos have been altered. He and his wife, Eva Matlins, the founders of a women’s online magazine, Off Our Chests, are trying to gain support for legislation in America. Their proposal, the Self-Esteem Act, would require photos that have been “meaningfully changed” to be labeled.
“We’re not trying to demonize Photoshop or prevent creative people from using it. But if a person’s image is drastically altered, there should be a reminder that what you’re seeing is about as true as what you saw in ‘Avatar,’ ” the science-fiction movie with computer-generated actors and visual effects.
Apparently there is already a natural public backlash against photoshopping. As the editor in chief of More, a magazine for women over 40, said:
"…readers…have become increasingly sophisticated in understanding that photo retouching is widespread, and the overzealous digital transformations become notorious, with the before-and-after images posted online and ridiculed."
[via New York Times]