Looking awful

Scotland, as most other European countries, has an ageing population (which I think is a good thing), which they are trying to come to grips with at the Sharing Experience web site. There you can try software which will age your face. You upload your mugshot, they transform it and mail you back a link. They warn that it may take a few moments before you get your link—in fact it took four weeks for me… Heaven knows what kept it, and then I look not so much olded as folded up, I think.

There are strange ghost images, giving the effect of a third nostril, a severe case of cataracts, an epicanthic fold on one eye only, a halo around the head and strange stripes on my clothes.

Now, digging a bit, one will find that this software is developed by the Perception Lab at the University of S:t Andrews (no, I have no idea why they use a .com address). It turns out that what they do is that they start from an averaged image of aged people of your approximate ethnic group and then morph your features towards that average. Apparently whatever there was in the background of those images return as ghost images in the morphed image. They have an applet which lets you play around with face images without a four week waiting period (but it does take a bit of time to download the applet, be patient). This applet not only lets you age your picture, but make yourself younger, change your ethnicity (or even species—there is a manpanzee option) or render yourself as if painted by one of several well-known artists.

Several interesting things can be noted: Clearly you are expected to supply a picture from straight ahead, but the algorithm will do its best to work even for three-quarter views (I had no full profiles) but then there will be very strange artefacts outside the facial borders. For reasons not entirely clear to me, some pictures will let themselves be transformed with much higher quality than others. It may be that the contrast level of the image makes it less or more difficult for the algorithm to locate noses, cheeks, etc and match up against the template images. I used a photo of a friend and got almost entirely artefact-free pictures of him—I thought of sending him the manpanzee version which looked particularly good, but suspected he might get offended. I on the other hand looked terrible in all the pictures I tried, apparently I cannot be helped.

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