Thursday, October 09, 2008

Putting a (Better?) Face On Things

I just read the most interesting article in today's New York Times. It's about a new use of technology that I'm surprised hasn't been in use before now.

Basically, there is a computer program, called in the article a "beautification engine," that can input a photograph of someone's real face, and then show what that person's "ideal" face (i.e., the face found the most beautiful by others) might look like. The photos below show a woman named Martina Eckstut in her before shot (left side) and after shot (right side):

Here's a bit more from the article about what the computer program is and how it was developed:
The photograph on the right was doctored by the “beautification engine” of a new computer program that uses a mathematical formula to alter the original form into a theoretically more attractive version, while maintaining what programmers call an “unmistakable similarity” to the original.

The software program, developed by computer scientists in Israel, is based on the responses of 68 men and women, age 25 to 40, from Israel and Germany, who viewed photographs of white male and female faces and picked the most attractive ones.

Scientists took the data and applied an algorithm involving 234 measurements between facial features, including the distances between lips and chin, the forehead and the eyes, or between the eyes.

Essentially, they trained a computer to determine, for each individual face, the most attractive set of distances and then choose the ideal closest to the original face. Unlike other research with formulas for facial attractiveness, this program does not produce one ideal for a feature, say a certain eye width or chin length.
On one level, I am saddened and disturbed by this. I mean, don't we all feel bad enough about the way we look without a computer program showing exactly how far away we are from looking our best? Will there be people who buy this program, print off the photo of their "ideal" look, and then go to their local plastic surgeon and say, "Fix me"?

Then again, I must admit I am dying to see what my mug would look like after being spruced up by having my 234 measurements tinkered with. Would I actually be...handsome? Could I contemplate a career as a billboard model for beer or fast food?

Anyway, I don't have any truly deep thoughts about this now. I just thought it was neat. To read the entire article, or to see more "before and after" photos, go here.


R said...

Don't like it. I thought the lady looked fine in the first picture.

Melanie said...

I agree! She looks much better as she really is.

Muley said...

I can't help but think about that movie "The Stepford Wives" when I see stuff like this.

In a way, this is harmless -- it's just another bit of technology, like the "morph" program that was popular years ago that would allow you to magically change one face into another. Hopefully, it will just be used as a parlor trick, but as I said in the post, I'm afraid some people already dissatisfied with how they look will use this as justification that they have the "wrong" features, and will try to set things "right."

Besides, this thing seems to make everyone look more the same, and less distinct. Can you imagine if Abraham Lincoln had had the "perfect" sized features and the "proper" distances between them? He would look bland and forgettable instead of the striking Lincoln we know today.