London | Scientists have developed a new software that can analyse the handwriting of any individual and accurately replicate it, an advance that may spark the comeback of the handwritten word in a world dominated by the QWERTY keyboard.
Researchers at University College London (UCL) created ‘My Text in Your Handwriting’, a programme which examines a sample of a person’s handwriting and generates new text saying whatever the user wishes, as if the author had handwritten it themselves.
Our software has lots of valuable applications, said Tom Haines, from UCL. 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, Haines said. 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, he said.
The machine learning algorithm is built around glyphs – a specific instance of a character. Authors produce different glyphs to represent the same element of writing the way one individual writes an ‘A’ will usually be different to the way others write it. Although an individual’s writing has slight variations, every author has a recognisable style that manifests in their glyphs and their spacing. The software learns what is consistent across an individual’s style and reproduces this, researchers said.
To generate an individual’s handwriting, the programme analyses and replicates an author’s specific character choices, pen-line texture and colour, the joining-up between letters, and vertical and horizontal spacing. The system is flexible enough that samples from historical documents can be used with little extra effort. Thus far, the scientists have analysed and replicated the handwriting of figures such as Abraham Lincoln, Frida Kahlo and Arthur Conan Doyle.
To test the effectiveness of their software, the team asked people to distinguish between handwritten envelopes and ones created by their automatic software. People were flummoxed by many of the envelopes, resulting in them being fooled by the computer generated writing 40 per cent of the time.
Given how convincing the computer generated handwriting is, some may believe the method could help in forging documents, but the team explained it works both ways and could actually help in detecting forgeries. We can use our software to characterise handwriting to quantify the odds that something was forged.
For example, we could calculate what ratio of people start their ‘O’s’ at the bottom versus the top and this kind of detailed analysis could reduce the forensics service’s reliance on heuristics, said Gabriel Brostow from UCL. The research was published in the journal ACM Transactions on Graphics.