MIT’s New Tool Erases Anything (Or Anyone) From Old Photos

from Fast Company

We’re all guilty of the Crop. You know, that group photo where you look so good that–sorry bestie, apologies grandma, see ya, ex–you carefully crop the other person out.

But what if there was a tool that could erase people and things automatically–a magic wand that could do hours of imperfect Photoshop work in an instant? Now, thanks to an MIT Media Lab project led by Matt Groh, that tool is real–if still imperfect.

Dubbed Deep Angel, it’s an AI that lives inside a simple-to- use website, which will scan photos you upload, or even your Instagram feed, for people, dogs, cats, snowboards, bowls, buses, traffic lights, pizzas, and teddy bears, to name a few, and automatically erase those things from your photos, according to your wishes.

As an image-conscious millennial, I fed my own Instagram feed into the machine in an attempt to improve my past. For as confusing as AI can be, Groh’s team has built a remarkably simple front-end interface to control it. In one column, you select what you’d like to remove from your photos, and in the right column, you select your source material.

More here.

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13 Responses to MIT’s New Tool Erases Anything (Or Anyone) From Old Photos

  1. Amber Stile October 10, 2018 at 4:58 pm #

    This is such an interesting article regarding the growth of Data and AI systems. While ‘deleting’ people or things from photos has always been an option through cropping or editing them out, this shows the AI is growing intelligence. To be able to recognize a car in a photo and remove it rather than needing a specific description shows an increase in data knowledge, most likely due to increased usage. This could also be seen as an incredibly beneficial feature for those experiencing a break-up or even applying for a job – once it’s improved, of course.

    As the author states, we live in an overwhelmingly image-conscious era where people can watch everything we do and see the most private aspects of our lives. If high school wasn’t embarrassing enough, now people have to be concerned about their online appearances as well as physical appearances. The benefit to this software is that we no longer have to delete something entirely when we want just a small aspect of it removed – we simply remove that aspect. So, when someone is out of a relationship, they no longer have to remove all of the photos where they thought they looked great, they can just request that Deep Angel remove their ex from the photos. Aside from that, the more beneficial feature is geared with future employers in mind. In high school and college, partying is a common thing and when people post photos showing themselves intoxicated, it shines a poor light on them. Rather than having to remove all of their fun times, applicants can now just remove the alcohol from their photos and it just seems like them having fun with friends.

    Now, there is certainly a while before this AI can be used to it’s best potential, but the fact that it was created means that there is a new round of AI’s that will be formed to compete with it. It’s truly exciting to see where our society will take us as we move forward. It’s also interesting to think of how employer’s will develop AI to counteract this to see the true sides of their applicants.

  2. Paul Lee October 11, 2018 at 9:20 pm #

    This article was more than fascinating; it shows how an AI can slowly learn to do simple things like editing a photo for mankind. I like to read and learn about new technological innovations from robots to simple applications. I also like to test out new technology that come out on the market and see if this could impact an individual in any way. Mankind today is constantly coming with state-of-the-art technology that can make a huge difference in the world. It is wonderful and makes me ecstatic to see many people challenge each other or try to improve life with their technology. Many of the fascinating technology today is AI as it becomes more and more relevant, many people question AI and what could happen if they learn too much.
    Reading this article that says an MIT Media Lab Project led by Matt Groh that allows a person to use MIT AI called Deep Angel to erase or “crop” out humans, objects, or animals. I could not believe what I was reading and I thought this project was lazy because many people, especially my peers, take editing photos for social media serious. Reading this article, I can see that this AI could prove to be very useful. Many people do a decent job in cropping out the desired part of the photo, but it is evident that they did crop out with the photo being warped or the imagery is bent out of shape. Deep Angel, that apparently lives inside an easy to use website which scan the photos you upload to it and erases the part of the photos you do not want. What surprises me even more is that Deep Angel can investigate your Instagram feed and edit the photos which I thought was very smart for this AI to work well with Instagram as many people edit and upload their pictures for Instagram.
    I understand that Deep Angel still needs to learn as it tends not to properly erase out certain aspects of a photo. It will learn because it is an AI, it will improve and know what it can do to make human lives easier. This program or AI is very dangerous, in my opinion, but also very useful that many people could use. I say that this is dangerous because the point that Mark Wilson writes in the article that powerful leaders could use this AI for propaganda to erase certain parts of history. This was a very strong point that many people around the world need to consider especially the countries with dictatorship. With this thinking, it led me to understand that many people around the world using Deep Angel could manipulate their photos and bluntly lie about it to other people. This AI could cause deep mistrust and very deep lies that could affect many people.
    Even thought it is dangerous, I believe the intent of the MIT group that created this project was to create an AI that is very useful and can crop or edit photos for people. They wanted to create simplicity for people, make their lives easier and have a better result than if they had done it themselves. For that, I deeply respect them as they are innovators trying to impact the world with their invention. This AI, Deep Angel, is still in the early works and needs a few bugs to be fixed but I am looking forward on how it will shape our world and photography.

  3. Alex Fialkowsky October 12, 2018 at 10:40 am #

    The AI product marketed as Deep Angel is an early program that allows people to remove whole objects or people from photos. This product was marketed to people as a tool to remove things such as photo-bombers, exes, etc. But it could be very dangerous if used for the wrong reasons. It may seem simple and harmless right now, but having the ability to remove anyone or anything from photographs is a dangerous power if it is in the wrong hands. The perfect example would be if someone committed a crime and there was photographic evidence. If the criminal were to have access to this program, as well as those photos they could almost clear their name in a matter of minutes. The technology could also be taken advantage of for reasons of propaganda. For example, if the US is attempting to provide foreign aid to a country and they decide to take photos, they could use this program to remove unsightly things from the background that could change the perspective and motive of the image. Perhaps if there wasn’t full cooperation between the soldiers and the people, so they had to restrain a few with zip ties. The men could pose for a photo, smiling, and know fully well that those people who are detained will not be in the photo. Photographs and media are a vast portion of our information in the world, and the day we perfect technology that allows us to tamper with this information, it could mean the end of the truth. If this technology is used for the wrong reasons, people of power and influence could be literally deleted from history. In my opinion I find this all very horrifying and it makes me worry about the future of this country. In a perfect world, this technology would not be used for such purposes, unfortunately we do not live in a perfect world and must expect and plan for any action that could occur from this.

  4. Michelle Vekshteyn October 12, 2018 at 3:15 pm #

    This article is so relatable. I think that everyone has had a bad experience with a picture. Whether someone posts an unwanted picture of you, or you really like how you look in a picture and want to crop the other people out.. we have all been there. I know for a fact that I love how I look in pictures from a couple of years ago, but I can no longer post the pictures because I am not friends with those people anymore. Sometimes I love how I look, but my friends will not let me post something because they do not like how they look… or vice versa. It all sounds so silly, but that is the reality of social media in today’s day and age. Thankfully MIT is working on a Media Lab project where anyone could upload a picture to their website, “Deep Angel”, and erase an object or a person from the photo. Instead of having to use Photoshop, which most people don’t have/ don’t know how to use, a simple click of a few buttons will do the work for you. Once again we are seeing a technological breakthrough to have humans do less work. Deep Angel is described as being, an AI that lives inside a simple-to- use website, which will scan photos you upload, or even your Instagram feed, for people, dogs, cats, snowboards, bowls, buses, traffic lights, pizzas, and teddy bears, to name a few, and automatically erase those things from your photos, according to your wishes.” I was obviously curious to see how this website worked, so I tested it myself. I uploaded a picture of me and someone that I no longer speak to, and I clicked “I seek to remove a person”. Sadly, this blurred out both myself and the person, and did not give me the results that I was hoping to see. As seen at the bottom of the article, the author also tried and received blurry blotchy results. Obviously, the website is new and is still a project in the works, so I was not surprised that the quality of the task being promised was not perfect. I must say to the creator of this website, Matt Groh, that once this advances, it will be a big hit and he will have credit for a great idea. I am sure that this will improve in months to come, and will be of popular demand/usage when the website really fulfills what it is intended to do.

  5. Cassie Sibilski October 12, 2018 at 3:32 pm #

    This article about an AI program was very interesting and really shows what a modern day and age we are in. It talked of a program called “Deep Angle” that could basically erase a specific thing from one image or many at a time through its program. The idea is that you pick something; example; cat, pizza, or a specific person, that you want erased from a photo. The program can supposedly recognize these items/people and will erase them. This is meant to be used as a photo editing tool, or to be able to “clean up” a social media profile. In theory this kind of technology seems like it can be very useful and practical for social media users, but like everything else, it has its flaws. The example photos that were in the article that were edited, did not look perfect, in fact they looked extremely distorted. That said, I’m sure it won’t be long before issues like this will be resolved. Once the program is cleaned up and the process becomes streamlined enough so that photos don’t look altered even after they are, this program can really become popular. In today’s world, people are constantly judged by everything they are doing online, especially by potential employers. When people interview for a job today, it’s probably very likely the interviewer looked for your social media profiles prior to you possibly getting the job. This means that people are probably looking for a way to clean up their social media account photos without erasing entire photos. This program could be the answer, and I’m sure a technology such as this one can be taken even further to be able to do other similar functions. That would end up furthering the popularity of a program like this as its use could span across many uses. Overall this type of technology is very interesting and the fact that a program can “erase” something out of an image completely is pretty futuristic seeming if you ask me. I look forward to seeing what other programs such as this one develop over the next few years.

  6. Sandra C October 12, 2018 at 3:52 pm #

    Social media a huge part of daily lives for many young adults and kids today. When it come to removing something from a photo, it seems impossible unless a green screen was involved. However, MIT Media has given us the skills to be able to edit a photo almost like a professional. Now there seems to be an app or website for everything, even removing objects.This kind of website excites me and is something I believe will be a great addition to the way that millennials post pictures on social media. The users of sites like Instagram and Snapchat are constantly using filters and stickers to enhance the way their image looks. This website is also incredibly intelligent. It can scan a picture and take out exactly what the user asks it to take out. Not only is this smart, but it can be helpful when trying to save time editing a photo.
    My concerns for this is how great is it really. There is only so much that you can cover up when removing an object from a picture. After looking at the article, this can easily be seen when they tried to remove a car from a picture. One can notice the picture was edited by the gaping hole that is covered up by pixelated colors or duplicated images to match the rest of the picture. I do believe that this will become useful when trying to delete small items from pictures. For example, a garbage can from a photo. Because of how quickly something can blow up in this generation. I can see this becoming a new “meme.” It can be funny to see a change in pictures, whether it is an ex significant other or friend, this app can turn a picture carrying bad memories into one that is funny. However, this is only the beginning of this technology, and with already being off to a great start, it is exciting to see what is to come.

  7. Petar Micevski October 12, 2018 at 4:10 pm #

    The distortion of certain objects from photos is simply the beginning of cracking the mind of an AI. Because of AI’s mannerisms, it is able to learn from its mistakes. What makes an AI such a superior being to the human is its ability to store and recall information. By executing certain methods, the AI is able to observe which method progresses the most and uses that as a basis to advance towards its programmed objective. However, the ability to erase a certain object from one angle of a photo requires consistent tracking and immense calculation. This is because an AI has to try and estimate what the photo looked like without the object intact. Anyways, with this tool, many doors are open for exploration due to its impact on the internet.
    Throughout the semester, I have read many articles about issues with privacy on the internet. With the ability to distort certain images, we would be able to not only protect our privacy but also change history as we know it. Some of this history might include something minute, like a breakup. On a greater scale, we could digitally wipe out sections of future events such as a crash or a war. This could potentially cause problems because some countries might use this technology to wipe out negative events about themselves. With this in mind, it really brings a major question into the discussion: How much of history should we be allowed to delete? Personally, I believe that all of history is important because we should be able to learn from our mistakes. By choosing to “save” our reputation, we are not allowing ourselves to learn from our mistakes. It is through history that we learn from our mistakes and establish our culture. If we were able to wipe out certain nationalities form the digital world, humans would have the power to protect their citizens from certain geographic areas or cultural ideas. Some of these ideas were present before AIs when the United States covered Area 51 on Google Maps so Google could keep Area 51 private and undisclosed. If we were able to conceal certain areas then, imagine how much AI programming can help us perfect technologies. In fact, AI’s are evident in the smallest of things. One AI that I read about was Deep Blue, an AI built to master chess. 20 years ago, people thought that chess was a game that was too advanced for a computer. Deep Blue was made to learn from every game it lost. Eventually, it started to learn algorithms that were the best move against every beginning move. Once it knew the first best move, it used that algorithm as a benchmark to find the next best move. Deep Blue was the first AI to defeat the world chess champion at the time (Garry Kasparov). Currently, the strongest chess AI is Google’s Alphazero with a chess rank of 3600+. The reigning world champ’s rank is 3100. This is a simple example of Artificial Intelligence’s basic skills operate. As we learn to clean up their programming, we will be able to achieve something that comes very close to perfection.
    So why should we be excited about AIs? They will be able to change things for the better. But what’s so special about them? They can only get better.

  8. Amanda Nitting October 12, 2018 at 4:16 pm #

    As each day goes by, there are advancements being made in the technology world whether the public is aware of it or not. The pace at which technology is progressing is fascinating and concerning at the same time. There is so much that happens behind the scenes that most people do not understand, which is resulting in the demand for learning information technology. At MIT there was a Media Lab project lead by Matt Groh where the development of Deep Angel was started. This AI technology has the potential to be able to “which will scan photos you upload, or even your Instagram feed, for people, dogs, cats, snowboards, bowls, buses, traffic lights, pizzas, and teddy bears, to name a few, and automatically erase those things from your photos, according to your wishes” (Wilson). Although the team that began Deep Angel has not perfected all its abilities yet, they are predicting this artificial intelligence to adapt and better the results of the job.
    One of the interesting aspects of Deep Angel is that Mr. Groh put emphasis on making it user-friendly so that the public will be able to utilize this tool. Not only that but since this is still in its beginning stages, artificial intelligence will improve over time and find the best solution to this. In the article, it displays several images of the quality Deep Angel is producing at the moment which is impressive. Although it is not perfect and the objects or people that are supposed to be completely erased from the photo make the image blurred in that section, there is significant potential for full success. This tool is on a completely different level than just using the crop tool or other Photoshop editing agents. Those who have mastered the skills and tools in Photoshop might be able to do a better job at erasing undesired portions of a photo right now, but as AI continues to grow and learn the right algorithms, it will surpass other editing applications.
    When I was first reading this article, my first impression was that this type of technology is fascinating. Personally, I have no experience with artificial intelligence and have learned very little about it. With that being said, it is obvious that it is an up and coming thing that is expected to have promising results. Although at first glance it seems that this would be all positive innovations for society. However, with AI still adapting, I cannot help but wonder how far some will try to use AI with everyday things. With the Deep Angel tool, it is has the potential to be as simple as erasing those one wishes to remove from a photo, but what is next? It is interesting to see how much AI will be incorporated into other activities. For me, it appears that this could get out of hand and this occurred to me when the article stated, “Soon, you really will be able to say ‘delete Mark from all my photos,’ and preserve those moments as otherwise pristine photographic memories” (Wilson). Even though it would be mind-blowing to many people, I am battling whether or not we have crossed the line. There are instances when people crop and try to remove things or people from photos because bad memories are attached, but Deep Angel might make it way too easy which could be problematic. Technology as a whole is moving so much faster than most can comprehend and that poses concern since there is so much that is already out and only a small portion understand how it all works.

  9. Nora Trapp October 12, 2018 at 4:32 pm #

    One thing that stood out to me while reading this piece was a glimpse into the future. Specifically, at the end of this article Wilson says, “Soon, you really will be able to say “delete Mark from all my photos,” and preserve those moments as otherwise pristine photographic memories.” It is crazy to think that we live in a generation where we are moving to such a technology advanced society that futuristic statements no longer seem like the future, but rather just around the corner. Every other day we are introduced to a technology that was another advancement of an existing form, or in some cases even a whole new branch of unknown technology. We live in a world where the line between fantasy and reality is so slim that sometimes we can’t even tell the difference. This new form of AI is exactly another example of reality being tested. Living in the world we live in today we need to think about the future generations. What kind of society will they live in? Will childrens books still exist? Does school now transform into an evolutionary technology where teachers can be portalled into every student’s home? These are all my personal assumptions, but how unrealistic is it to think that first hand human interaction will be uncertain when it comes to the next generation?

  10. Joseph Capouch October 12, 2018 at 7:44 pm #

    The article “MIT’s New Tool Erases Anything (Or Anyone) From Old Photos” had a lot of interesting information. With everyone carrying phones that take pictures, social media being very popular, and technology making it all around so easy to snap a picture and share it with your friends, picture editing tools have a pretty significant use. Programs like Photoshop have been around for years, and the ability to crop, add filters, add captions, or otherwise modify pictures that people have taken has become more and more common. The idea of turning that process into something done by a tool that uses artificial intelligence, like Deep Angel, is something really interesting. Personally I had not seen something like this coming, even though it does make perfect sense. This is especially true with its ability to edit an entire group of photos, like those compiled into a person’s Instagram feed, as was mentioned in the article. There’s a lot of potential there, examples like removing a person from social media page after a particularly difficult break up, or simply just reducing the clutter in pictures by removing certain objects to make the photo more appealing.
    However, when discussing this technology, Deep Angel, in particular, it is clearly limited. The author supplied examples of his own photos that he used this tool on, and the results seemed less than perfect to say the least. The removal of objects often resulted in a lot of blurriness being added to the picture, and in a lot of cases made the picture overall unappealing. Not only that, but it also at times didn’t even remove the object entirely, although it did distort it in some ways, the object was left still recognizable. While this may be somewhat disappointing, the idea for the technology remains an impressive and innovative one. With the speed at which tech like this can be improved upon, and advanced, a more efficient and ideal version of Deep Angel could very well be seen in the near future, I believe.
    One last interesting topic that caught my attention while reading this article was the idea of something like this being used as a “propaganda machine that can reach back into photographic time”, as the author stated. This is probably the idea for this tool mentioned that has the most significant impact. Given implications like this, it is possible that artificial intelligence that can manipulate pictures more cleanly and leave them looking unaltered may make a huge impact in the political world. Perhaps some people in high positions will create, or otherwise get their hands on this type of technology before other people (or already have), while the public is left with imperfect tools like Deep Angel to use on their social media feeds. If this is the case it raises ideas like how expensive something like this would be to use or own, what kinds of regulations may be put on to users or photos that they have edited, and so on. All of these things will surely be clarified as this technology is advanced, and more news is brought forward on the subject.

  11. Justin Heath October 12, 2018 at 10:19 pm #

    The idea of having an application which can seamlessly crop out anything from an image sounds like a very useful tool. Similar to what was said in the article, I am very conscious of what I put on my social media because of how it is taken into consideration during the employment process. There have been many instances where I couldn’t post a picture because of a friend being inappropriate in the background. It would be much more practical to be able to completely delete something from a photo rather than conspicuously blurring things.
    When I first heard of this in a class discussion I wasn’t too impressed because I’ve had experience cropping things out of pictures in photoshop using the autofill and stamp tools. Then again, the autofill tool has its flaws in recognizing what to copy into the space, and the stamp tool is extremely tedious. From the looks of it, this Deep Angel program seems to have just about the same functionality and flaws as the autofill tool on photoshop, but it is interesting to see that the program is able to scan and identify objects to delete. Hopefully as the AI in this program enhances we will see more seamless deletion of objects from photos and be able to use this in our day to day lives.

  12. Marco V. October 12, 2018 at 10:56 pm #

    The article, “MIT’s New Tool Erases Anything (Or Anyone) From Old Photos” caught my attention. Artificial intelligence has sprung to new levels as more companies look to bank on the area. Such companies include Amazon which uses artificial intelligence in all aspects of their business. Their number one selling device is Alexa powered products. The artificial intelligence gathers information about the consumer which can be profited from in a variety of ways. Deep Angel will continue to grow and as stated it will be a way to have the perfect picture. This new tool has the initiative to become an independent app which can offer consumers a way to salvage a great picture. Companies may look to buy the tool and develop it even further or the creators can choose to license the technology once it is ready. Moore’s Law has defined the path for artificial intelligence and how the growth will continue. Artificial intelligence can recognize an abundant amount of things it is taught through machine learning and deep learning. One day the erasing tool might be controlled through Alexa and delete or modify anything within the picture in order to make it image worthy.

  13. Dimitri Drosos October 15, 2018 at 8:20 pm #

    I think that this article could also be named ‘Picture Perfect’. At first I thought it was a tad awkward that somebody could just delete something or someone from a picture as if they were never there, but then I came to realize that this innovative breakthrough is very useful. Imagine taking a photograph of a beautiful sunset and then have it ruined by a bird just happening to fly by at the exact same moment. Deep Angel is the newest hero in the fight against unnecessary objects in pictures. One of the best parts I found from this article is that, although it is still raw, the time consumed using Deep Angel is much less compared to regular photo-shopping apps. There is definitely a great deal of potential here.
    On Popular Photography’s website, the finalists were announced for the Comedy Wildlife Photography Awards. While many of these photos are funny, I can find one that could use Deep Angel. There is a picture of a bear hanging onto a sign encouraging being safe; in the background, there is another sign that I feels takes some attention from the foreground. It is a great photo, but this highlights another great use of this program: the ability to erase distracting objects.
    This is quite a big event in photography. There are so many advances in the technological area of this art; cameras are more compact and produce higher quality pictures. What Deep Angel is doing, however, will make photography more interesting for everybody. Whether you are an amateur or a professional, there is use for this technology. Overall, it is amazing.

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