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Can Your Terrible Chicken Scratch Break This Handwriting Algorithm?

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I’m a writer, so I’ll always have a place in my heart for the handwritten page (partially because I believe in romantic ideas about writing, but also because there is no way I’m using my phone to type out anything beyond a few words).

If there’s a way to combine handwriting and computer typing, I’d be all for it, but certain avenues haven’t been worth it. I tried writing with a stylus on a tablet, but that wasn’t responsive and my writing looked even worse than usual. I’ve checked out a few of those convert handwriting into fonts programs, but the scan doesn’t always go from page to screen accurately, often including breaks in the lines where the ink isn’t picked up.


The newest addition that I’ll have to try someday comes from researchers at University College London, who’ve created an algorithm that analyzes handwritten text and is able to copy that style with any combination of words.

The machine is built around glyphs, or a specific instance of a character, and can recognize a person’s specific character choices, texture, the inter-character ligatures (the joining-up between letters), and vertical and spacing. Since everyone’s handwriting has slight differences within itself, it takes the average.


Tom Haines, the lead author on the project, said that “My Text in Your Handwriting” has the potential to help people who have trouble holding a pen, or if banks or other institutions want to send out sensitive documents and want to make them look like handwritten letters.

“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,” Haines said in a statement. “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.”

As someone who signs contracts online, I can also see the potential benefits of it to better register signatures.

Of course, it can also be used to write out words in a famous writer’s penmanship, which I’m sure will make looking up quotes on the internet even more confusing and hard to check. However, study author Dr Gabriel Brostow noted that the system can actually help in detecting forgeries, since the writing can be analyzed under a microscope.


“We can use our software to characterise handwriting to quantify the odds that something was forged,” he said. “For example, we could calculate what ratio of people start their ‘o’s’ at the bottom versus the top and this kind of detailed analysis could reduce the forensics service’s reliance on heuristics.”


Researchers had participants write out certain familiar, English-language passages from the top 100 books in the Project Gutenberg database. According to the code, which was partially posted over at Github, this was done to get the most accurate sample because familiar passages are easy to write and the participants wouldn’t pause.

People were also asked to distinguish between handwritten envelopes and ones created by the software. Researchers said that people were fooled around 40 percent of the time.


Not sure if any software can replicate my sloppy-ass handwriting, although I’m sure that’s what everyone says. Here’s hoping my cursive can break the algorithm (it probably won’t).