Writer Tara Calishain shares tips and tools so you can learn to do cool stuff with technology.
Headlines about artificial intelligence are almost uniformly grim: it’s the worst thing ever, the robots are coming, they’re taking our jobs, Daleks will rule the earth. Behind the headlines, though, things are a bit more prosaic: AI has a long road ahead of it. While it’s good at some things, it’s awful at others, and I don’t take seriously any robots that have to levitate to get up stairs (sorry, Daleks).
If you want to get a sample of what AI can do right now, take a look at photo apps on the web. Editing photos is often daunting, but web apps make it easy. If you can upload a photo, you can use a web app to colorize it, remove the background, and more!
These tools can’t take the place of a full-fledged photo editor like GIMP or Photoshop, or even a heavy-duty web app like PicMonkey. On the other hand, they’re free, and there’s no learning curve. If you’re interested in editing photos but don’t know how to get started, these apps can help you dip your toe in the water and get a sense of the possibilities.
For comparison I’ll be using this photo of my great-great-grandmother, Munsie, and showing you what four different sites can do to enhance this picture.
Colorizing photos is equally an art and a skill, and an AI-based app is not going to come close to the ability of a human colorist. At the same time, not everyone has the time or the ability to learn to colorize. These apps won’t be perfect, but you’ll be surprised how good they are. Note also that not all coloring apps are equal. The two I’m going to show you here will give you very different results. Pick the one you like best or try a lot of different photos for comparison.
With Algorithmia, you can upload a picture or choose one from the web. The instant you do, Algorithmia will start colorizing it and provide you with a comparison image. You can download that or download the fully-colorized photo. Here’s a comparison of Munsie.
As you can see, the image is almost sepia-toned except for the red in the jacket. I suspect it’s because this picture was taken outside in full sunlight and the image is accounting for the glare.
Colourise treats the image quite differently. This app was developed by GovTech Singapore, and the images it used to train its AI to color photos was completely different, which shows up in how it colors the picture of Munsie:
As you can see, Colourise went more for a green tint than red. I like this better because of the enhanced difference between Munsie’s skin and the wall behind her. Furthermore, her hair looks more natural, and not like there’s been a sheen of color applied to it. All photos are different, though, and I wouldn’t settle on using Colourise exclusively based on the processing of one image.
Take Out the Background with Remove.bg
I’m willing to bet that you have a picture of someone where you’d like to remove the background. Whether it’s because you want to get rid of somebody behind you or because the setting isn’t flattering, removing background images can be so useful but at the same time so difficult. But not with Remove.bg. Try this tool with a photo and you will feel like a wizard. In just a few seconds you’ll get a clean image with no or very little background.
There are a couple of caveats to be aware of: Remove.bg works best for single individuals, and it only works on humans (can’t take the background out of your dog picture!). All you have to do is upload your photo. Here’s the picture of Munsie with the background removed:
It’s almost perfect in only seconds. The only thing Remove.bg missed is the arm beside Munsie (probably because the arm and her jacket are so close together) and a bit of shadow.
Remove.bg does offer the option of editing the image further before downloading it, but I found the tools a little awkward. If you’d be comfortable using that, you’d probably be more comfortable using GIMP or Photoshop, which would give you more options for cleaning up the image. (To be honest I’d probably just crop the photo a bit.)
Get Stylin’ with DeepArt
Maybe you want to glam up your picture a little bit and give it a little pizazz. DeepArt is here for you. Upload an image and choose a style, and it’ll apply the style to your image for free — with one condition.
The one condition is that as of this writing the queue for getting your image processed is over five days long. If you’re willing to pay €1.99 (about $2.25) you’ll get your image in fifteen minutes. I found myself pleasantly surprised by how Munsie’s image worked out:
Editing images doesn’t have to be complicated, difficult, or costly! And we have AI to thank for it. I suspect that we’re only going to see more of these apps over time. I’ll be able to do even more of this instant editing, and see my picture of Munsie in more new ways.
Featured image: Photo courtesy Tara Calishain