New AI Shows What Historical Icons Really Looked Like

As machine learning ascends into realms of superhuman capability, it continues to do impressive and horrifying things with faces. For example: in one of his recent videos, YouTuber and software engineer Károly Zsolnai-Fehér outlines a new AI program that can make restored “super-resolution” versions of historical photographs. Versions that show us what historical figures like Abraham Lincoln and Albert Einstein really looked like.

Zsolnai-Fehér posted the video describing the cutting-edge AI (above) to his YouTube channel, Two Minute Papers. Zsolnai-Fehér, who’s made countless videos like this one, notes this explainer covers a recent paper describing Time-Travel Rephotography. (Rephotography is a visual analysis comparing two or more photographs that depict the same subject at different times.)

Side-by-side black-and-white and colorized images of Emmeline Pankhurst.

Luo et al. 2020 / Two Minute Papers

The AI program, which a team of researchers—including ones from Google Research—published in a study, not only restores and colorizes antique images, but allows for super-resolution; that is, the AI increases the resolution of any source images engineers feed into it.

Side-by-side black-and-white and colorized images of Abe Lincoln.

Luo et al. 2020 / Two Minute Papers

As  Zsolnai-Fehér explains, the AI can upscale antique images thanks to an end run around the otherwise difficult task of restoring them faithfully. The program does so by morphing a source face (e.g. Thomas Edison or Emmeline Pankhurst) into a “sibling” photograph; literally a realistic image of a fake person with similar facial features as the face in the source image.

Side-by-side black-and-white and colorized images of Henry Ford.

Luo et al. 2020 / Two Minute Papers

The program then takes this sibling face—which has far better resolution, coloration, etc. than its source image—and morphs it back into looking exactly like the source face. The result is a face that looks like the original, but now appears like it’s being viewed through the lens of a modern camera.

Side-by-side black-and-white and colorized images of Albert Einsetein.

Luo et al. 2020 / Two Minute Papers

Perhaps even more impressive than the AI’s ability to create upscaled versions of faces is its ability to facilitate aging. Zsolnai-Fehér shows this capability a little more than four-and-a-half minutes into the video, and it’ll blow your hair back. Or perhaps even blow it clean off your head if you ever decide to have an AI age your face.

Feature image: Two Minute Papers

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