ai colorization

And the process it uses to color them isn’t what you might expect.

We’ve seen before how artificial intelligence is already on its way to beating humans at playing Go and giving dating advice, but now it seems like there’s another area that machines will soon take us over in: colorizing old photographs.

Waseda University recently showed off some old Japanese photos that have been fully-colorized by AI that learned the colorization process through analyzing large data sets full of categorized photos. That’s the really cool part: the AI is coloring photos based on previous photos that are similar to it. Black and white photo of a garden? Well then the AI colors it similarly to a color photo of another garden. Black and white photo of a birthday? The AI will color it similarly to other birthday photos.

How does it actually work? Well, maybe this chart will help clear some things up:

▼ Um… uh… so… yeah, it’s actually really complicated. Let’s just concentrate on that box in the lower right showing the preexisting photos that the AI is thinking about when it colors the new one.

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For those who are interested in how the AI works, the full source code is available on GitHub, but for the rest of us, we’ll just enjoy these photos of old Japan that the AI masterfully brought to life using its colorization intelligence.

▼ A black and white original photograph from 1935…

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▼ …and the result after it was colorized by the AI. This looks like it could’ve been taken today, if some eclectic wardrobe choices were made.

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▼ So peaceful. This 1917 one almost looks like a painting.

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▼ I’m not sure if that hat matches the rest of the outfit, but this guy doesn’t look like he cares what we think.

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When tested on users, the Waseda research group found that the photographs were colorized with “90 percent naturalness,” which is pretty good considering I’m lucky to get 60 percent or so when I take a phone photo.

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▼ Man, these end-of-Meiji-period plants look just like the plants we have today! Imagine that…

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▼ A fine group of 1905-era people, posing with their plants.

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▼ The plants seemed to have done a lot of nice growing five years later, in 1910.

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The Waseda University research group hopes that the colorization AI will eventually get to the point where it can be released to the public and anyone can use it for their own photos. It would be great to be able to just use a colorization program to automatically bring old family photos back to life…although we have to wonder: is feeding the AI all this information about human families and friends really such a good idea? Won’t that just make it easier for it to blend in and eventually destroy us?

I’m just saying; if we’re ruled by AI colorization overlords a few years from now, we know who to blame.

Source: Waseda University via Japaaan Magazine
Images: Waseda University