Machine learning algorithm puts the words of George W. Bush in Barack Obama's mouth

What if you could sit down and interact with your favorite celebrity — without that person being present, either in real life or online? That seems the realm of science fiction, but a team of researchers from the University of Washington has moved it one step closer to reality.

Over the past five years a group led by assistant professor Ira Kemelmacher-Shlizerman has constructed a machine learning algorithm that can piece together a digital persona of anyone from just a few hundred photographs. Celebrities, being frequently photographed, are a perfect target for this treatment. They can be mimicked using only publicly available photos.

The team’s latest breakthrough makes it possible to manipulate the expressions of anyone scanned by the algorithm. It can even transfer expressions from one individual to another. This technique is demonstrated in a number of disturbing yet hilarious videos. One clip shows Daniel Craig speaking alongside virtual representations of Ian McKellen and Tom Hanks uttering the same words. Another clip puts the words of former president George W. Bush in the mouth of current president Barack Obama.

As you might expect, the juxtaposition isn’t entirely convincing. The team is working to prove the concept, so the models it uses to replicate various celebrities don’t have the resolution and texture detail you’d find in a cutting-edge game or movie CGI.

Still, the 3D puppets get the broad strokes right, which means facial expressions are transferred with remarkable accuracy. Seeing the smile of George W. Bush on Barack Obama’s face is a bit hair-raising, to say the least.

The work is part of an ongoing effort that the researchers hope will provide the ability to fully recreate a person, to a high degree of detail, using photos alone. It’s already possible to recreate celebrities using computer animation, of course, but the techniques involved require the person to be present and involve tens or hundreds of man-hours to properly capture, animate and detail the digital persona. A machine learning algorithm, on the other hand, might be able to generate similar results with a fraction of the effort.

It might also open privacy concerns. Most people have several hundred photos uploaded to Facebook. That’s potentially enough to create an avatar using this technique. But don’t fret just yet. The technology is still in the realm of academic research, with no timeline for its completion.

Mobile

Photograph your meal with the Foodvisor app for caloric, nutritional estimates

Many of us understand the importance of a healthy diet, but counting calories and diving into nutritional data is a lot of work. The Foodvisor app for Android or iOS gives you a calorific and nutritional breakdown of your food from a photo.
Computing

Ditch the backdrop from your photos with these handy tools

Need to know how to remove the background from an image? Here's how, whether you prefer to use a premium program like Photoshop or one of the many web-based alternatives currently in existence.
Movies & TV

Out of movies to binge? Our staff picks the best flicks on Hulu right now

From classics to blockbusters, Hulu offers some great films to its subscribers. Check out the best movies on Hulu, whether you're into charming adventure tales or gruesome horror stories.
Wearables

Alphabet’s health watch monitors your heart health, is approved by the FDA

A health monitoring watch being developed by Alphabet, Google's parent company, has received clearance from the FDA as a medical device. This means that the device has been found to be safe and can legally be sold in the U.S.
Product Review

The Digital Storm Aventum X is an unstoppable gaming PC. Trust us, we tried

Packed with dual-Nvidia RTX 2080 Ti graphics card and a 9th-generation Intel Core i9 processor, the Aventum X is an infinitely upgradeable gaming PC that’s capable of far more performance than you’ll ever need.
Computing

It took Dell years to fix 1 problem on its best laptop. Here’s how it did it

The new Dell XPS 13 moves the webcam from the below the screen to the top, finally vanquishing the one obstacle facing thin, sleek laptop displays. We have the exclusive story on how it was done.
Computing

‘Flexgate’ is the latest controversy plaguing some MacBook Pro owners

iFixit recently uncovered a new "Flexgate" issue with MacBook Pros after some consumers reported a "stage light" effect, where the backlighting on the device would fail and cause the bottom of the display to become slightly distorted.
Computing

Breeze through security with these checkpoint-friendly laptop bags

Getting through airport security is a drag, but your laptop bag shouldn’t be. Thankfully, these checkpoint-friendly laptop bags will get you and your gear to your destination with ease.
Computing

Think someone's leeching off your Wi-Fi connection? Here's how to find out

It's important to find out immediately if anyone is stealing your bandwidth. Here's how to tell if someone is stealing your Wi-Fi using a few simple tools, along with some suggestions on improving security.
Computing

Open RAR files with the greatest of ease using these awesome applications

Few things are more bothersome than not being able to open a file when you need it most. Check out our quick guide about how to open RAR files in Windows and MacOS. We will walk you through the process, step by step.
Web

Google Chrome’s latest decision could prevent most ad-blockers from functioning

Google Chrome's newest change is cited as a step forward for speed and security, but could profoundly alter how the majority of ad-blocking extensions operate. The move potentially gives Google more control over which ads can be blocked.
Computing

Samsung permits peek at an eye-popping, 15-inch 4K OLED laptop display

Samsung is now preparing for the new OLED laptop trend and is providing a look at an eye-popping 15.6-inch 4K OLED panel that is expected to power larger premium laptops in the new year.
Music

Here's our head-to-head comparison of Pandora and Spotify

Which music streaming platform is best for you? We pit Spotify versus Pandora, two mighty streaming services with on-demand music and massive catalogs, comparing every facet of the two services to help you decide which is best.
Computing

Latest ransomware targets gamers with a malicious sophistication

The latest piece of ransomware, Anatova, has been discovered by the security team at McAfee. Employing a smart tactic to confuse users and able to clean its tracks as it evolves, this is one tough piece of ransomware.