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Future JPEGs could use blockchain to flag fakes, and A.I. for smaller file sizes

Imagine if every JPEG image file had blockchain-protected data that would verify — or refute — a photograph’s origins. The concept may be more than just an idea. The same organization that created the JPEG wants to use blockchain to flag fake news and fight image theft.

The Joint Photographic Experts Group (JPEG) is organizing workshops to gain feedback into the possibility of creating a standard blockchain that could both help viewers quickly identify a faked photo and help photographers fight image theft. At the same meeting in Sydney, Australia, the committee began exploring the possibility of creating a new JPEG compression that uses artificial intelligence.

Blockchain uses multiple computers to save data to store information that can’t be altered. Most commonly associated with cryptocurrency, this isn’t the first time that saving data to multiple locations in an unalterable way has been suggested as an option to help photographers fight image theft. KodakOne is a system that uses web crawlers to spot image theft and license images, but the system is limited to payments in KodakCoin.

But, what JPEG wants to do is create a standardized system that uses encryption, hash signatures, watermarking or a combination inside a photograph’s metadata. The JPEG format is widely used, building a standardized system, in the same way, could create a widely-used system that anyone could access without signing up for a program. By creating a standard, any application could use the metadata built into the photo to protect images — perhaps, with such a standard, social media networks could even analyze the image’s metadata and recognize faked photos at upload.

The key word, though, is “could” — currently, the committee is just in the discussion phases and is speaking with industry leaders to determine what such a system could be used for and what should be part of the standardization. The group has stated, however, that they’ve identified “great potential” in the technology. The group has been running workshops on the topic since 2018, but held an open discussion at their latest meeting.

Besides identifying fake news and flagging copyright violations, JPEG suggests that such a system could be used for media forensics, along with applications in privacy and security. The latest discussion also suggested the possibility of using the technology for smart contracts.

During the meeting in Sydney, the group also explored creating a new standard JPEG compression using artificial intelligence. The organization is now asking for research to illustrate whether or not A.I. can do a better job at image compression, maintaining details while lowering file size.

“The efforts to find new and improved solutions in image compression have led JPEG to explore new opportunities relying on machine learning for coding,” professor Touradj Ebrahimi, the convenor of the JPEG Committee, said in a statement. “After rigorous analysis in form of explorations during the last 12 months, JPEG believes that it is time to formally initiate a standardization process, and consequently, has issued a call for evidence for image compression based on machine learning.”

Hillary K. Grigonis
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