In this day and age when Photoshop is both a noun and a verb, how much do you trust your own eyes? Of the many images you see each day in print and onscreen, do you think you can tell which have been significantly altered? Sure, we all enjoy giggling at the obvious, ham-fisted hackery on display at sites like Photoshopdisasters.com. But what about more subtle and crafty photo manipulations, where there are no giveaways like phantom limbs, or other body parts that seem to defy the laws of physics?
One new company, Fourandsix Technologies, Inc., is developing software for digital image forensics, that will reveal alterations in photos so you can tell what’s real, what’s been faked, and “divine the truth within photographic evidence.”
The people running Fourandsix definitely know their way around a pixel. The President, Kevin Connor, spent 15 years at Adobe working on Photoshop. And CTO Hany Farid is a Dartmouth College professor of Computer Science, and the author of over 100 technical papers in the fields of digital forensics, image processing, and related topics.
The potential importance of digital image forensics goes far beyond telling us which actors and actresses have been digitally altered for magazine covers. Like a trace of DNA, a few crucial pixels could be the difference between a verdict of guilty or not guilty in court. Many photographs are faked for political purposes, exposing these manipulations could sway votes and elections.
Fourandsix is still developing their forensics software, so you can’t get your hands on it today. But at their website you can sign up to be notified of any news. The site also includes a blog and a fascinating archive of Photo Tampering Throughout History, with more than 150 examples of photo manipulation from the time of Abraham Lincoln to the present.
For an example of the kind of clever sleuthing these guys are into, check out the blog post The Story in Your Eyes, which demonstrates how the reflections on the surface of your eyes can reveal what you are looking at.
I couldn’t resist giving it a try, and took a couple of quick shots of myself gazing at a familiar website.
When you look closely, there’s a surprising amount of detail captured in the eye that could be used to figure out exactly what I was looking at.
What do you think? Is the idea of digital image forensics cool? Creepy? Compelling? All of the above? I’ll definitely be keeping my eye on Fourandsix to see what they come up with.Tags