Adobe’s push to detect false images, digital beautification


Firstly they want to see attribution, so everyone knows who created the content. Secondly, a summarised edit trail for people to see what changes were made.

This is all just in the planning and development phase, but one of the most exciting developments Adobe brings to the table is called ‘About Face’; software built in collaboration with University of California Berkeley scientists and funded by the US Department of Defense that detects when a photo of a face has been altered.

Adobe's in-progress About Face tool can detect when faces have been digitally altered.

Adobe’s in-progress About Face tool can detect when faces have been digitally altered.

Did someone really make Trump’s face look like that, or is it the real thing? Does that magazine model really have such big eyes and high cheekbones?

At Adobe’s conference research scientist Richard Zhang demonstrated an early version of About Face by stretching and manipulating a photo.

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The software then analyses the photo and displays the likelihood of manipulation as a probability score, in this demo it was 100 per cent.

“As I’m stretching out his forehead, that means certain pixels are being stretched,” said Zhang. “It’s only looking directly at the pixels.”

For example, About Face can identify whether a forehead has been made smaller or a jawline tightened, because it can work out which pixels have been stretched or condensed.

The AI within the program was trained to recognise manipulated images by looking at thousands of altered images of faces generated from the original, using both Photoshop and a human artist.

“Now wouldn’t it be cool if it could also tell us which pixels were actually touched?” said Zhang.

“Once we’ve found that an image has been edited, we can also predict what parts of the image were manipulated.”

The About Face tool makes suggestions for getting the altered photo back its original state, though it's not perfect.

The About Face tool makes suggestions for getting the altered photo back its original state, though it’s not perfect.

In the demo, the equivalent of a highlighter mark was drawn over the changes in what is called a heatmap, which shows us where edits have been made, and to what extent.

“We see an overlay on the image showing how much we think that region has been warped,” said Zhang.

And the fascinating thing is that, if About Face knows where the manipulations are, it can reverse them.

The ‘undo’ option recovers what About Face thinks the original image looks like.

Perhaps not so great for celebrities and artists who use photo manipulation tools to make art or present a ‘better’ face to the world. But great for the rest of us, particularly young people, to easily see how faces are changed in magazines and on social media, or to ‘undo’ the glitz and see the original with all its skin imperfections, eye bags, puffy faces, and wrinkled glory.

The author travelled to Los Angeles as a guest of Adobe.

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