SWEDISH ML ENGINEER DEVELOPS AI TOOL TO COLOURISE BLACK-AND-WHITE PHOTOS AUTOMATICALLY

Black and white photos have a retro charm that most color photographs lack. Tons of iconic pictures were taken initially in black and white, which has often made us wonder how they would look, had they been shot in color.

A Swedish machine learning researcher and developer called Emil Wallner has released a free web tool called ‘Palette.fm’ that automatically colorizes black-and-white photos using machine learning and Artificial Intelligence.

All you need to do is upload a digital copy of the black-and-white image that they want to convert and get the image converted. After you upload a photo, the site’s sleek interface provides an estimated caption or a description of what it thinks it sees in the picture. If you don’t like any of the preset color filters, you can click the pencil icon to edit the caption, which guides the colorization model using a text prompt.

To test this out, we used one of Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose’s most iconic portraits. The AI tool behind the scenes at ‘Palette.fm’ did a pretty spot-on job of converting the black and white image into color. Moreover, it captured what color photos from a long-gone era would look like – the converted image has a haze, plus some grain, which would be typical of film from the 1900s.

‘Palette.fm’ uses a deep learning model to classify images, which guides its initial guesses for the colors of objects in a photo or illustration. Wallner said he did not want to get into the details when asked how exactly the AI tool knows which colors to pick. “I’ve made a custom AI model that uses the image and text to generate a colorization,” Wallner added. One model creates the text, and the other takes the image and the text to generate the colorization.”

We also used one of Shah Rukh Khan’s most iconic black-and-white portraits from recent years and had it converted to see how it would deal with more modern and contemporary photographs. This colorization also helped us figure out just how much accuracy the AI-based tool picks the initial set of colors.

‘Palette.fm’ is available as a free service, but Wallner plans to add a paid option. The site processes the images online, in the cloud.

The process of colorizing old black-and-white or sepia-toned photos into color isn’t new. Professional photographers and restorers have used several photoshop plug-ins which claim to do just that. Moreover, Wallner himself has been working on AI-powered colorization for five years.

What stands out, though, is the realism of the photos that get converted. Most images that have been colorized using primitive filters are horrible. Such prints look like bad watercolor paintings. The AI tool’s colorized photos, however, look very realistic.

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