British Columbia

B.C. researchers using A.I. to change the face of anonymous interviews

Interviewing an anonymous source with their face blurred or pixelated out is a common practise in the media. But what if a source could be made anonymous while also better expressing themselves?

Technology brings expressive parts of face to life while keeping identification hidden

This isn't an oil painting: it's a freezeframe from a video showing off new A.I. technology to obscure the identity of an anonymous source on TV or in a film. (aipaint360.org)

Artificial intelligence technology developed by researchers from Simon Fraser University and University of British Columbia could change the way anonymous sources look when their faces are hidden on camera, researchers say.

The team has been working on a way to better express the emotions of anonymous interview subjects — whose faces are usually covered or obscured by pixelation — while still protecting their identity.

Steve DiPaola shows off the technology he and his team are developing. On the left-hand half of the screen is traditional facial blurring. At right, an example of A.I.-generated anonymity. (Simon Fraser University)

"It would look, pretty much, like a painting," professor Steve DiPaola told Stephen Quinn, host of CBC's The Early Edition.

"We're using artificial intelligence to take the hundreds of years of knowledge that portrait painters use; that they get your outer and, in some ways, your inner resemblance."

DiPaola says the technology brings expressive parts of the face like the eyes and eyebrows to life but also abstracts the face enough to prevent identification.

While artificial intelligence does much of the work, a producer can adjust facial features manually, he said. For instance, if the anonymous source is known for having large eyes, the producer can shrink them.

"At every level, there is control," DiPaolo said.

DiPaolo says the look of the A.I. technology is very different from what news outlets traditionally use and might take some getting used to.

He argues, however, once audience see it, they might actually be more engaged by it.

Listen to the full story:

Interviewing an anonymous source with their face blurred or pixelated out is a common practise in the media. But what if a source could be made anonymous while also better expressing themselves? 6:37

With files from CBC Radio One's On The Coast

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