It's a common topic of conversation: the dying art of handwritten letters and more personal forms of communication. The fact is communicating through typing is very efficient. It's faster to type and hit send than it is to write out a note or letter and then mail it to someone and texting can often convey important information much more quickly than a phone call.
That doesn't mean that the slower versions of things have lost their place in this world, they just need to be reimagined. Scientists at University College London have developed a computer program that can replicate a person's handwriting called "My Text in Your Handwriting."
The program examines a person's handwriting -- a sample as small as a paragraph -- and then lets the user type new text using their own handwriting. The art of the handwritten can continue, but with the speed of typing and email.
“Our software has lots of valuable applications," said Dr. Tom Haines, a professor of computer science at University College London and one of the developers of the program. "Stroke victims, for example, may be able to formulate letters without the concern of illegibility, or someone sending flowers as a gift could include a handwritten note without even going into the florist. It could also be used in comic books where a piece of handwritten text can be translated into different languages without losing the author’s original style.”
The program is yet another example of machine learning software. We've seen examples of machine learning in a variety of things like self-driving cars, the Nest smart thermostat, robots being taught how to do household chores and apps that can identify flowers.
In this instance, the algorithm analyzes a person's glyphs or the way a person writes a specific letter. The software finds what is consistent about the style and spacing of these glyphs and then replicates that. Beyond just the characters, the software reproduces a person's pen-line texture and color, ligatures (marks joining letters), and vertical and horizontal spacing.
The researchers say that unlike fonts that mimic handwriting but are clearly computer-generated, the software produces text that actually looks hand written. They tested this by asking people to distinguish between envelopes that had been addressed by their software and those that had been hand written and the volunteers were fooled by the software 40 percent of the time.
The team has taken on famous handwriting samples and reproduced the penmanship of such luminaries as Abraham Lincoln, Frida Kahlo and Arthur Conan Doyle (whose original handwriting is pictured above, followed by the software version). While some might say this could lead to forgeries, the researchers say that their handwriting analysis software, which synthesizes tiny details in texture and shape, could actually be a useful tool in helping to identify forgeries.