Tuesday, July 27, 2004

Olivier makes comeback from beyond the grave

Another step towards virtual actors:

"Laurence Olivier is to make his Hollywood comeback alongside Jude Law and Gwyneth Paltrow in the sci-fi blockbuster Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow. It will be the Oscar-winning actor's first screen role following an enforced 15-year lay-off. The lay-off began, understandably enough, with his death in 1989.

Thanks to the wonders of digital technology, Olivier will now be resurrected to "play" the role of a villainous overlord who commands an army of giant killer robots. The film will splice together old movie scenes and archive footage of the actor in his youth, although Olivier's classic clipped delivery will be voiced by another actor. Explaining the decision at the annual Comic-Con sci-fi convention in San Diego, Jude Law said that no living actor possesses the same gravitas and authority."

Thursday, July 22, 2004

Researchers attempt to develop software to authenticate digital photos

As a digital photographer myself, I was particularly interested in the methods being developed by researchers to authenticate digital images.

"It used to be that you had a photograph, and that was the end of it - that was truth," said Hany Farid, an associate professor of computer science at Dartmouth College who is a leader in the field. "We're trying to bring some of that back. To put some measure of guarantee back in photography."

Over the last three years, Professor Farid and his students have become experts at forgery, making hundreds of images that look authentic but have in fact been digitally tweaked. License plate numbers are changed. A single stool standing on a checkerboard floor is suddenly a pair of stools. Dents on a car are wiped away with a few mouse clicks.

The skillful tampering disturbed the images in ways that the human eye could not detect. But Professor Farid says his algorithms can spot them and sound the alarm.

Jessica Fridrich, a research professor in electrical and computer engineering at the State University of New York at Binghamton, is approaching the fraud problem from the other side. She is trying to figure out who took the digital picture in the first place.

Just like the rifling in a gun barrel leaves a distinctive pattern on the bullets it fires, a digital camera has a signature of sorts. Today's digital cameras have sensors with millions of pixels. In each camera, a small handful of these are either too bright or are burnt out entirely. When a camera takes a picture, the imperfections leave a unique pattern, Professor Fridrich has discovered in preliminary research.

Now, she is trying to embed a bit of the photographer in the picture, too. The patterns in the iris - the colored part of the eye - are at least as distinctive as a person's fingerprint. With money from the Air Force, Professor Fridrich is designing a camera that takes two pictures at once: one though the camera lens, and a smaller one of the photographe's iris. The iris image along with the time and place of the photo session would then be compressed, encrypted and instantly hidden within the larger picture just taken.

Thursday, January 29, 2004

The Tyranny of Copyright

''The notion that intellectual property rights should never expire, and works never enter the public domain -- this is the truly fanatical and unconstitutional position,'' says Jonathan Zittrain, a co-founder of the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard Law School, the intellectual hub of the Copy Left.

Thinkers like Lessig and Zittrain promote a vision of a world in which copyright law gives individual creators the exclusive right to profit from their intellectual property for a brief, limited period -- thus providing an incentive to create while still allowing successive generations of creators to draw freely on earlier ideas. They stress that borrowing and collaboration are essential components of all creation and caution against being seduced by the romantic myth of ''the author'': the lone garret-dwelling poet, creating masterpieces out of thin air. ''No one writes from nothing,'' says Yochai Benkler, a professor at Yale Law School. ''We all take the world as it is and use it, remix it.''