Computer program writes like famous people – or even like you

The software creates new text (top) after analyzing a provided handwriting sample (bottom)(Credit: UCL)

Is it possible to receive a newly hand-written letter from Abraham Lincoln? Of course not, but thanks to research being carried out at University College London, you could now get a reasonable facsimile of one. Utilizing a unique computer program, users can create new documents that are written in a given person's handwriting.

The "My Text in Your Handwriting" software initially requires a sample of the person's actual handwriting – about one paragraph will do.

Using machine learning algorithms, that sample is then analyzed. More specifically, the computer looks at how each individual letter of the alphabet is formed, along with factors like vertical and horizontal spacing, pen-line color and texture, and the manner in which cursive letters are linked together.

Users can then stipulate what they would like the finished product to say, and the computer will create it accordingly. So far, using historical documents as samples, the handwriting of not only Lincoln but also Frida Kahlo and Arthur Conan Doyle have been replicated. That said, the technology can also be used to copy the handwriting of everyday folks – in fact, that's where it's most likely to be useful.

"Our software has lots of valuable applications," says UCL's Dr. Tom Haines. "Stroke victims, for example, may be able to formulate letters without the concern of illegibility, or someone sending flowers as a gift could include a handwritten note without even going into the florist. It could also be used in comic books where a piece of handwritten text can be translated into different languages without losing the author's original style."

In these ways, My Text in Your Handwriting sounds a lot like the existing Bond service. It likewise replicates clients' handwriting, but uses a pen-wielding robotic arm to actually write the words down on paper.

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