by Sylvain Comeau
Q: If a train station is where a train stops, what is a workstation?
A: Where work never stops.
"There are two ways of writing software. Only the third one works!"
This is "computer humour," as delivered by Professor C.Y. Suen, part-time stand-up comic and full-time director of CENPARMI (Centre for Pattern Recognition and Machine Intelligence). It tells Luddites a lot about the nature of computer R & D.
In a humorous and informative lecture in the Faculty Club last Thursday, Suen presented some of the history and challenges of pattern recognition and image processing, including some of his Centre's own work.
Suen said that digital cameras provided the key turning-point in pattern recognition and image processing.
"These are cameras that can digitize images," he said. "Once you have an image in a computer, you can do a variety of things with it. You can do manipulation of images; if you want to get even with someone, you can turn their picture into something very different." He displayed a computer image of a face being distorted into a fun-house mirror caricature.
Besides image manipulation, Suen displayed examples of pattern recognition technology that can turn a fuzzy image into a much clearer one, as computers extrapolate from a few visible features.
He also illustrated fingerprint recognition using computers, a common practice in law enforcement today. "Even identical twins don't have the same fingerprints, and people's prints remain the same throughout their lives. It was a natural area for pattern-recognition research."
Suen and CENPARMI are pioneers in the tricky field of handwriting recognition, which is especially important to financial institutions. Handwriting is scanned, digitized and then "preprocessed."
"This can include smoothing, filling some gaps, thinning the lines, eliminating noise (elements which interfere with a clear picture) and normalization." Normalization means bringing everything to the same size, to facilitate the matching of features in the handwriting.
To illustrate normalization, Suen said, "In Japan, they are talking about making use of robots to give haircuts. A visitor from America asked, 'How can you do that? Each head is of a different size and shape.' The researcher replied, 'It doesn't matter. At the end of the assembly line, all heads will be equal!'"
CENPARMI will demonstrate normalization and other techniques at an Open House tomorrow, November 20, from 10 a.m. - 2:30 p.m. at GM-606, 1550 de Maisonneuve Blvd. W.