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Software Science

Computers With Opinions On Visual Aesthetics 125

photoenthusiast writes "Penn State researchers launched a new online photo-rating system, code named Acquine (Aesthetic Quality Inference Engine), for automatically determining the aesthetic value of a photo. Users can upload their own photographs for an instant Acquine rating, a score from zero to 100. The system learns to associate extracted visual characteristics with the way humans rate photos based on a lot of previously-rated photographs. It is designed for color natural photographic pictures. Technical publications reveal how Acquine works."
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Computers With Opinions On Visual Aesthetics

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  • by Seriousity ( 1441391 ) <Seriousity AT live DOT com> on Friday May 15, 2009 @06:23AM (#27963681)
    Oh great, now we'll turn our computer on in the morning, and it will say "I think this is far too early!" and switch itself back off.
    • Is that a bad thing? I'd love to have a computer that holds itself to my standards for time of activity, rather than gradually being held to my computer's schedule.

      Signed: Redundant array of inexpensive employees, high availability node #145738433
    • Funny, eh? I, however, don't need to know the visual aesthetics of the dude, which is what I was greeted with when I went to the actual site. Thanks, it was the perfect troll.

    • by RogueyWon ( 735973 ) * on Friday May 15, 2009 @09:52AM (#27965545) Journal

      Oh, this takes me back to something that happened when I was still at school, around about 1996 or so.

      At the time, despite being pretty much clueless by slashdot standards, I functioned (and still do function, when I can't avoid it) as the all purpose IT helpdesk for my family.

      Now, I have an aunt who was working as a manager in a medium sized UK based IT firm (I can't remember the name and I don't even think they're still around). However, do not take this as any indication that she knew anything at all about computers. She didn't. Nor did she have any inclination to learn. She could just about manage to use Microsoft Office and the web/e-mail clients that were around at the time (I think this was around the time of Netscape 2). Literally anything beyond that would baffle her. She'd call her monitor "the computer" and so on. She was employed, I gather, for her "management skills".

      Now, even at the time, I had a feeling that this was a crock. My aunt is a rather forceful personality. A less diplomatic person might use more bovine terminology and I always got the impression that she wouldn't be much fun to work for.

      She's also very, very, very large (over 25 stone) and ugly as sin to boot. That's not me being deliberately rude. There's just no nicer way to put it without doing a genuine dis-service to the truth.

      Anyway, one Saturday afternoon, I get a call from her. Her voice implies that she's perched in that dangerous territory between bursting into tears and throwing a screaming, PC-destroying fit. Apparently, her computer is "insulting" her. I need to go over there instantly. I got a lot of this kind of stuff until, a couple of years later, I finally told her where she could stick it after I moved off to university and got a call asking me to travel 200 miles to fix something. Anyway, I'm not best pleased about losing a Saturday afternoon, especially with exams coming up, but for the sake of a quiet life, I head over.

      Oh boy was it ever worth it.

      Sure enough, every two minutes on the dot, her PC is insulting her. Whatever she's doing in Windows, a little dialogue box will pop up with a splendidly vicious insult. I mean, some these were absolute gems and were clearly aimed right at her personally. A few of the more repeatable examples (and I still remember these more than a decade later) were:

      "Careful! Better fetch an extra chair. I think those two are about to give way."
      "Wow you must be constipated. Or does your face just look like that normally?"
      "Did you just fart, or do you always smell like that?"
      "Wipe your face. Half your lunch is stuck between your fifth and sixth chins."
      "Is that your face or your arse I can see? Your face? Hmm... the arse might be better."
      "I can access over 64,000,000 images via the Internet and none of them are as ugly as you."
      "Shall I compare thee to a summer's day? No? How about a half-digested turnip?"

      There was plenty of other stuff as well, including the old classics about ID10T and PEBCAK errors, but enough of it was specific enough to my aunt (making mention of particularly distinctive unflattering features) that this was clearly something bespoke.

      Anyway, my aunt's in an absolute state at this point. She's convinced that the computer is insulting her. She tells me she tried covering up the monitor for half an hour (so it couldn't see her), but when she came back, it had been queuing up the insults.

      Anyway, having confirmed that a virus scanner doesn't pick anything up, I ask to see any disks she's put in the PC lately, or any files she's downloaded. The downloaded files all look pretty safe, and it doesn't seem like anything dodgy's come in via e-mail either. However, she then shows me a couple of disks (3.5" floppies) she'd brought home with work on. These are a numbered series of progress reports. Most of the disks look absolutely fine - a few Word and Excel files. Nothing too scary (I don't think MS Office files were being used extensively for exploits at the time).

      However, on the fi

    • by c0p0n ( 770852 ) <> on Friday May 15, 2009 @11:18AM (#27967121)

      Dude, the algorithm is simple. B&W pictures automatically get 85 points.

    • Zounds! You've explained it [].
    • I know what you mean. Just woke up after a long night on the town, discovered a few pics I can't recall taking in my iPhone camera roll and uploaded to Acquine. It analyzed and each photo got an Acquine rating of "Ugly Whore". Wow, this thing is not only amazing, it's accurate. Time for me to switch off.
  • by Anonymous Coward

    I'am afraid I cannot do that Dave.

  • Matter of opinion? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Shrike82 ( 1471633 ) on Friday May 15, 2009 @06:30AM (#27963709)
    Isn't aesthetic value a hugely personal thing? I mean I looked at some of the photos on the site and the ratings were arse-backwards as far as I was concerned. Generic, boring and frankly badly composed images were getting ~95%, whereas others that I thought were truely exceptional were being ranked in the 50's.

    I'm not saying "my opinion is better", just that it seems sort of pointless to assign a value to a picture like this.
  • Rubbish. (Score:4, Funny)

    by onion2k ( 203094 ) on Friday May 15, 2009 @06:30AM (#27963711) Homepage

    It's terrible. Awful. A hopeless system. I wouldn't use ever it.

    And I'm not just saying that because it rated a couple of my photos as poor. :)

  • Post Quality Inference Engine for Slashdot. No more mods.
    • That should be easy. Rate posts based on the presence of keywords. "GNAA", "Frosty piss"(and variants) etc. get a post flagged as troll, presence of "M$" and "correlation is not causation" get flagged "insightful".
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by mangu ( 126918 )

        presence of "M$" and "correlation is not causation" get flagged "insightful"

        That's not how Slashdot really works. Due to the number of astroturfers here, anything critical of Microsoft, no matter how true it is, is usually modded "Overrated", while "Vista works fine for me" gets "Informative".

        • Re: (Score:1, Offtopic)

          by fortyonejb ( 1116789 )
          I'm sorry, I can't find your version of /. Maybe we're on a different internet, can you give me the address of yours?
        • No seriously, exactly how many people do you think Microsoft pays by the hour to browse slashdot and post pro-microsoft stuff? How much would one guy posting a few comments an hour, with no guarantee that he will be modded up, benefit microsoft financially? Seriously? Are you really so out of touch as to think that anyone who posts that Vista is working OK for them in the middle of a traditional MS-bashing is an astroturfer?

  • by powerslave12r ( 1389937 ) on Friday May 15, 2009 @06:33AM (#27963733)
    This seems a little far-fetched considering the vagueness of someone liking a photo that another person doesn't. I can't imagine this on something like flickr. I guess this could be some standalone rating that people could use on stock photography sites, where buying something needs to have commercial appeal. Websites such as tend to do these things manually, they probably might find some use for this.
  • by marmusa ( 557884 ) on Friday May 15, 2009 @06:38AM (#27963749)
    From the Acquine website "A rule of thumb is that if the aesthetic quality of a photo is obvious to most people, it may not be worthwhile to seek Acquine's opinion on it because Acquine may assign funny scores in such cases." So in cases where the correct score is obvious, Acquine's score can't be trusted? That rather neatly avoids validation or refutation of Acquine's results. This is suspicious and seems to cast doubt on the trustworthiness of its score in less obvious cases.
    • by mangu ( 126918 ) on Friday May 15, 2009 @07:53AM (#27964271)

      "A rule of thumb is that if the aesthetic quality of a photo is obvious to most people, it may not be worthwhile to seek Acquine's opinion on it because Acquine may assign funny scores in such cases." So in cases where the correct score is obvious, Acquine's score can't be trusted?

      I noticed this with a picture I took in France that everybody praises. It got 6.9. I did the smallest possible change in color, darkening it imperceptibly. The new version got 35.7. Doing a selective gaussian blur also tends to raise the result a lot.

      My rating of their algorithm is 0.01 star, which can be summarized as "it sucks".

      • by iainl ( 136759 )

        At least you made some colour changes. I handed it the thumbnail version of a photo and got dramatically better results than from the high-res version of the same image...

      • by onedotzero ( 926558 ) on Friday May 15, 2009 @09:40AM (#27965355) Homepage
        I uploaded a 1x1 pixel black image. It scored 24.6. I then uploaded a 1x1 pixel white image, which scored 41.7.

        Looks your rating is accurate :)
      • How heavily were the original images compressed? Selective Gaussian blur tends to remove compression artifacts, smooth gradients, and keep edges intact. I wonder if Acquine was responding badly to artifacts in your source images.
        • by mangu ( 126918 )

          The image had the best possible quality that would fit in the allowed file size. I believe their algorithm is biased toward portraits, that have a big sharply focused central subject and an out of focus background.

          My picture was a boat in a canal, and it had great depth of field. What the selective gaussian blur did was to soften the surrounds, like branches, leaves, and reeds in the image, while keeping the boat in the center in sharp focus.

      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by Twinbee ( 767046 )

        It looks like one would get more consistent results out of the checksum for a picture ;)

        Thanks for testing that - not many would have.

  • by fake_name ( 245088 ) on Friday May 15, 2009 @06:46AM (#27963811)

    What exactly is a "color professional photograph"? Landscapes? Portraits? Group shots? Sports photography? Photo journalism? Abstracts? Artistic Nudes?

    This may be an interesting programming toy but it has little to no use in the real world, unless you have a desire to locate generically boring pictures built to formula. (or, generically boring pictures that have been run through the "ALIPR Picture Score Optimizer" Photoshop filter)

  • terrible (Score:5, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday May 15, 2009 @06:58AM (#27963873)

    It prefers a nazi germany flag over some beautiful landscapes and portraits

    my name is godwin and I approve this message

  • by oneirophrenos ( 1500619 ) on Friday May 15, 2009 @07:00AM (#27963897)

    This is great news, a system to tell us whether a photograph is beautiful or not. We are approaching the point where we can outsource all our thinking to computers. Soon we won't have to use our brains at all!

    (Not that many of us do presently, anyway.)

    • Mike Judge is seeming more and more like a visionary than a comedic writer right about now.
    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by noidentity ( 188756 )

      This is great news, a system to tell us whether a photograph is beautiful or not. We are approaching the point where we can outsource all our thinking to computers. Soon we won't have to use our brains at all!

      Wow, what an uhh... <looks at what mods rated your post>... insightful posting! I'll have to wait to find out what kind of posting mine is.

    • I already maintain my car when it tells me to.

  • by VinylRecords ( 1292374 ) on Friday May 15, 2009 @07:02AM (#27963923)

    Just google image search for any Pulitzer Prize winning photo and upload it to the Penn State ACQUINE system and see how some of them fare to the Goatse image...

    The Iwo Jima flag raising photo at this URL gets a 26.1 in the system. []

    The fucking Goatse image with a construction crane photoshopped into it (don't ask) just got an 84.1 on the same ACQUINE system....and no I'm not going to provide a URL just test it yourself.

    So Goate is a better image than the Iwo Jima flag raising photo?

    Am I missing something?

    • Am I missing something?

      Slow news day on Slashdot. Did you look at the previous "story"?

    • by MichaelSmith ( 789609 ) on Friday May 15, 2009 @07:09AM (#27963971) Homepage Journal

      So Goate is a better image than the Iwo Jima flag raising photo?

      Maybe all the people sending goatse to it has biased its aesthetic judgement.

    • by DerCed ( 155038 ) on Friday May 15, 2009 @07:10AM (#27963979)

      How on earth should an algorithm know how to infer the symbolic value of the flag rising image?! As far as I understand the Pulitzer Prize is not about artistic and aesthetic value, but rather about journalistic impact, isn't it?

      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        by mdwh2 ( 535323 )

        Well that's exactly the point, isn't it? We're a long way from AI being able to judge artistic merits, because doing so often isn't just a property of the image alone, but is related to what the things in the image represent.

        Now having said that, it might be interesting to have some judgement that is not biased by cultural perceptions - one that treats Pulitzer and Goatse on an equal playing field, judging what they look like rather than what they represent. But it's unclear what meaning such an algorithm h

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by hey! ( 33014 )

        Symbolic appeal is very much different from aesthetic appeal.

        I think the problem with Iwo Jima is that it is in black and white and the system is designed to rank color images, according to TFA. However, I think we can see a certain ... similarity between the two pictures. One of the criteria for a composition is how the eye is drawn to a focal point in an image. In the Iwo Jima photo, the mound of the hill is sharpened by the triangular form of the squad and the flagpole, drawing the eye to the flag.

      • It's not about symbolic value, it's an extremely good photograph. If it was symbolic value, we'd all be looking at one of the shots of the first flag-raising (which exist). This was the second one, after they got a bigger flag. It got famous because it's absolutely wonderful composition, largely (I assume) by chance.

    • Am I missing something?

      I don't know, but putting those two pictures together, you've painted an image in my head where they're planting that flag somewhere else I priorly, innocently, assumed, outside of the picture.

      Also, you're missing the aspect of sentimental "beauty", or emotion a picture evoces, this picture calls up alot to the viewer, and more the US population as it plays on patriotism, which lives strong in the US.(not saying anything about that or judging, it's a common observation.). A computer c

    • Re: (Score:1, Insightful)

      by Threni ( 635302 )

      I don't give a shit about some yank grunts waving a flag about. You're surprised some system immune to patriotic flag waving bullshit doesn't think too much of it? Perhaps you should stick in an American girl and an Iranian girl and see if it marks down the Iranian for having a president who denies the holocaust happened?

    • Interestingly, Longcat [] got a perfect score of 100. It seems that while Acquine may not have a good sense for aesthetics, it certainly has a great sense of humor.
    • by Saba ( 308071 ) on Friday May 15, 2009 @07:56AM (#27964293)

      Am I missing something?


      The system learns the quality of photo, not the abstractions we place upon it.

      The photograph, in strict terms of quality alone, is rather poor and achieves an appropriate rating. It cannot measure the value of the image.

      • by mikerz ( 966720 )
        This may sound strange to you, but image is the least important part of art. Any aesthetic formula or method is crap, because it lacks soul and intention.
        • this may be surprising to you and vinylrecords,
          but this app isn't claiming to say squat about "art",
          it's claiming to simulate human aesthetic reactions.
          (and apparently doing a dubious job of it but at least it's trying)

          • by mikerz ( 966720 )
            Again, any aesthetic formula or method is crap. A person's aesthetic reaction is based in their consciousness and can change over time. The lowest common denominator of consciousness is an incredibly ignorant person, and that is what limits this system.
    • Re: (Score:1, Troll)

      If you think Iwo Jima deserves better, this [] photo is below-average according this software.
    • The fucking Goatse image with a construction crane photoshopped into it (don't ask) just got an 84.1 on the same ACQUINE system....and no I'm not going to provide a URL just test it yourself.

      Somewhere a Google engineer wonders why the sudden surge of image searches for "goatse crane".

    • maybe because it prefers color over grayscale?
    • Because from an aesthetic standpoint, that particular Iwo Jima flag raising photo has a lot of problems with it. It's very contrasty, the highlights are badly blown, the composition isn't ideal and so forth. The so-called "rules" of photography aren't rules because someone said so, they've demonstrated themselves over time to be things that most people, far more often than not, find appealing in a photograph or image. Things such as the rule of thirds, good exposure, contrasting or complementary elements an

  • I tried the system, using a high dynamic range pano that I'm very satisfied with, and which has received a bit of praise from other photographers: []

    According to the computer this image is worth 28.1 points.

    I guess this means that either the image is a lot worse than I believed, or the rating system has problems with it. :-)


    • by all204 ( 898409 )

      That's a great picture.

      • Thanks!

        To make that mirror panorama image I needed 3 landscape format photos. In each direction I used bracketing to take 5 photos with 0.7 f stops between them, i.e. the total range was about 3 full stops or a factor of 8.

        I then optimized a pano consisting of all 15 source images, merging each group of 3 with the same exposure into a separate layer.

        Finally I used gradient filters, blending all 5 fixed-exposure panos into a final HDR pano.


  • Great... (Score:2, Funny)

    by stms ( 1132653 )
    Now I don't Have to look at so much porn to find the pics I want to look at.
  • Right... so u can basically set up a botnet to skew the system...
  • Interesting (Score:3, Interesting)

    by jw3 ( 99683 ) on Friday May 15, 2009 @08:28AM (#27964569) Homepage

    One thing first. There *are* certain esthetic and technical rules / guidelines which are what we could call "objective" in the sense that they are very general. For example, a photograph usually looks better if the composition is balanced, if the 2/3rd (or golden mean) rule is used, the lines in the picture are coherent and lead the eye in the right direction (e.g. towards the subject), if the photograph is correctly exposed, colors matched etc. Of course, some of the greatest photographs break those rules; however, like in many things, you succeed in breaking the rules if you know what you are doing, and you cannot do it very often.

    I can imagine that you can come up with an engine that is able to detect how "rule conformant" a given picture is.

    However, pure formal esthetic judgement is what we rarely mean when talking about a "good photograph".
    There is one main issue that will make it very hard to match our "overall" esthetic sense. Firstly, we are unable to detach the image contents from the "pure form". That means, if we see a worried women holding a child, we cannot just look at that as a composition. Also, we are always considering what we know about the subject. E.g. if we have a photograph of a man standing in water, if the photograph ends just below the place that his legs go into the water, we will have the impression that his legs are cut off, and that there is something wrong about the photograph. Finally, facial expression is immensely important for the perceived esthetics of a photograph.

    I did some experimenting -- some of the truly great photographs of our times got rather lousy scores (e.g. Dorothea Lange's famous photograph, but also some color photographs as well), while at the same time rather random shots I did of my sons got even five out of five stars. Well. Maybe it will still be useful to someone to filter out the worse photographs.


    • by mikerz ( 966720 )
      I think that one of the greatest fallacies taught about art, is the existence of these "guidelines" and "rules." These things exist only within a very limited context. At the core of it, art is meant to convey truth or raise consciousness. Truth is something representative of the Universe, and the Universe has apparent laws. I think this is the origin of the fallacy. Every "law" in the Universe is the result of the nature of physical reality, as it happens to exist. Every rule or guideline of art is mea
  • Apparently, there is a skewed (high) rating for: white or black frame around the picture and black and white photographs esp. portraits.


  • Isn't this exactly the same as the matrix metering [] introduced in SLR cameras in the eighties? Just instead of calculating recommended exposure you get an estimation.

    The principle should be similar - get several thousands of really good pictures that anybody likes. The more, the better. Run analysis for patterns and store the results in a database. And when you need to evaluate a picture, just search for available patterns.

  • Being a recent Penn State grad, I am somewhat familiar with the application. One thing they didn't state is that this program has the ability to learn. You can teach the program so that it will change its rating system. The drawbrak... you have to take the time to teach this program which is never fun. And I'm far to lazy so I will never do it. It could be a useful application in some cameras, for the terms for red eye, lighting and clarity.
  • From what I can see, it's just a sunset detector. [] scores 50.5. [] scores 50. [] scores 19.1.
  • According to him, this picture [] sucks.
  • I wonder what scores it gives to porn?

  • I, for one, do not welcome our new aesthetically aware computer overlords. I get enough of that from the chicks at my uni.

  • and this isn't a computer research project at all but rather a sly psychological study trying to gather a collection of images which real humans are aesthetically interested in. ..perhaps correlated by IP / physical region or perhaps correlated to before and after being posted on slashdot.

  • try uploading this image [] (it's clean) several times. it generally gets a 98.9, but sometimes gets a 5.6. after mirroring the image [] it generally gets a slightly reduced 98.4 but occasionally gets a 35.4.

    • it would be interesting to hook this up in a feedback loop to something that randomly/genetically mutated images and used acquine's score as the fitness function.

  • Finally! Now I can look at pictures that other people think are amazing. At last, my personal preference for photography can fall in line with the consensus of strangers on the Internet. I'm so happy to have found this Acquine thing! Now I'll like all the same stuff everyone else likes, like a normal person. After all, having individual taste is treachery. Fall in line with the group, everyone!
  • I uploaded a picture of my wife; the computer's response was "I'd hit that!"
    Are we sure they are not using a Mechanical Turk []?
  • Beta testers noted that images of mares were particularly appealing to the software.

  • 1) Aesthetic according to what standard?

    2) Art is more than photos. Much art moved away from realism 150 years ago.

    Some short thoughts [] on the topic by a physicist.

Always leave room to add an explanation if it doesn't work out.