Something From Nothing

I love the latest crop of adverts in my card games. Apparently, there is a new photo app that can take a blurred poor quality photo from the past. One taken of your relatives, yourself or your friends and make them colour or black and white HD. All the details become miraculously visible. No, it’s not possible. It’s the stuff of sci-fi.

I always love it in those detective movies when they have a CCTV film of the culprit and the detective says, ‘can you enhance that?’ then the tech guy, runs an algorithm and hey presto, you see the culprit as if they are in front of you. A few magic swipes on the screen and an image that was a fuzzy mess, become fully clear. That is what these ads show.

But you cannot create something from nothing. If an image contains no, or very little information, then you can only guess at what is missing. Like a puzzle, one of those images that you have to guess what it is. A computer is no more clever than you at that. It fills in the missing bits of the picture with guesses. It looks at each part, then based on what it sees, makes as guess at what comes next.

Let me explain. You have a photo from the 1960’s. It is out of focus and was taken too far away. So that the people in it, are hard to make out. You scan it into your computer or tablet or phone. Looking at it, you think, ‘I can’t make out the people.’ What do you do?

This image of me, as a child, is a good example. You cannot see my eyes. No programme in the world can add those in. You can make out some of my teeth. A programme could guess at where the others are, in the dark cavern of my mouth. But it would look odd. The point is, ‘you cannot create something from nothing.’

These adverts make it appear that there are apps, that can take these pictures, and give you a pin sharp, HD repair. That just isn’t possible. Sorry to burst your bubble.

You see you cannot create something from nothing. If the image has no information within it about, let’s say eye colour, where can that come from? Guess work? If the image lacks information on nose shape, lip shape, eye shape, where can the programme get that? Guess work? It’s called extrapolation. The programme takes what it has and ‘extrapolates’ what it lacks. This process can work really great for an image that has a lot of information. But it is really rubbish if the image lacks information. So a slightly out of focus image, close up of a person. That can be improved greatly. Because the image contains a lot of information. The programme sharpens it up and hey presto, you have a pretty good image. But an blurry distant image of a person. Where you can see little of the detail in that person. The programme has no information to start with.

But the advert shows images that lack ‘all detail’. They lack eye colour, face shape, basically everything. There is no way that the before and after images are possible. That is, unless it can work with another HD image of that person. It needs to get the information from somewhere. Otherwise, your green-eyed, red haired grandma, could become a blue eyed blond.

The internet, and apps available on smart phones, seem to be an unregulated area of advertising. Buyer beware. The app will improve an image. There are many, many apps, a lot of them free, that can do that.

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Author: Mike Nevin

I decided to write about the funny side of being cared for. I am a full time wheelchair user with daily carers. It's my experiences with my carers that inspired this blog.

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