Nov 27, 2008

Tech - Software to improve your looks

Douglas Hamilton

JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Want to optimize your looks without radically altering them? An Israeli team of computer scientists may have the answer.

They have developed a computer software model based on the innate preferences that studies show we have for human faces.

"This technology could become a product where for example there's a web service where people upload their photographs and have them enhanced or beautified by our software," said Professor Dani Lischinksi of Hebrew University in Jerusalem.

Studies show that eyes a certain shape and distance apart, nose a certain length, lips a certain curve, increase the probability that we will find one face more attractive than another.

"We were able to fit a mathematical model to this set of data that we've gathered, namely the images that we showed to people and their responses in terms of the beauty scores that they chose to give to each image," said Lischinksi.

The team then applied the model to modify images so as to make them appear more attractive. They are now exploring a variety of potential commercial applications for the software, Lischinski said.

"This is something we're looking into," he said. It remains to be seen whether women would simply use the improved image as a guide to more effective makeup application or whether people take it to a plastic surgeon and say: "Make me look like that."


The results can be striking. The photographed face of one conventionally pretty woman processed by what some Israeli media dubbed "the beauty machine" became clearly more beautiful.

Crucially, the software did not attempt to correct the very slight crookedness in her nose, so she was unmistakably the same person but subtly enhanced to great effect.

The aim is not a world "where everybody looks the same or everybody looks like a Hollywood star or a supermodel. What our program tries to do is to improve the perceived attractiveness of the face but in a manner that tries to change as little as possible," said the professor.

The Israeli scientists say they are well aware of the adage that "beauty is in the eye of the beholder."

"I think obviously the original faces have more. They represent the true character of that face and when we modify the image some of that character might go away. This is one possible criticism," Lischinksi said.

So far, the model simply presents the optimized version of a face which could be used as a photograph -- if the owner was prepared to disappoint in any real-life encounter.

Some of those asked did not prefer the "improved" looks of movie stars, for example. "I think a lot of it has to do with familiarity," Lischinski said.

But if the face is anonymous, the modified version is strongly preferred, the team's trials have shown.

A random trial among Jerusalem women was inconclusive.

One woman said she would not use the program "because then you see yourself in the perfect light and no one is perfect... It's impossible and it's unethical and it will just make you upset."

The software also demands high-quality photographs taken head-on. Blurred images or tilted chins defeat it. Leonardo da Vinci's Mona Lisa loses her enigmatic smile and appears horribly distorted, her lips like those of a cartoon witch.

(Editing by Janet Lawrence)

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