press release
Published: 21 June 2023

AI that uses sketches to detect objects within an image could boost tumour detection, and search for rare bird species

Teaching machine learning tools to detect specific objects in a specific image and discount others is a “game-changer” that could lead to advancements in cancer detection, according to leading researchers from the University of Surrey.

Professor Yi-Zhe Song, leads this research at the University of Surrey’s Institute for People-Centred AI. He commented: 

“An artist’s sketch is full of individual cues that words cannot convey concisely, reiterating the phrase ‘a picture paints a thousand words’. For newer AI systems, simple descriptive words help to generate images, but none can express the individualism of the user or the exact match the user is looking for.  

“This is where our sketch-based tool comes into play. AI is instructed by the artist via sketches to find an exact object and discount others. Which can be amazingly helpful in medicine, by finding more aggressive tumours, or helping to protect wildlife conservation by detecting rare animals.”

An example that researchers use in their paper to the conference is of the tool helping to search a picture full of zebras – with only a sketch of a single zebra eating to direct its search. The AI tool takes visual cues into account, such as pose and structure, but bases the decisions off the exact requirements given by the amateur artist.

Professor Song continued: 

“The ability for AI to detect objects based on individual amateur sketches introduces a significant leap in harnessing human creativity in Computer Vision. It allows humans to interact with AI from a whole different perspective, no longer letting AI dictate the decisions, but asking it to behave exactly as instructed, keeping necessary human intervention.”  

This research will be presented at the Computer Vision, Pattern, and Recognition Conference (CVPR) 2023 which showcases world-leading AI research on a global stage. The University of Surrey sees an exceptional number of papers accepted to the CVPR 2023, far above other educational institutions, with over 18 papers accepted and one nominated for the Best Paper Award.  

The University of Surrey is a research-intensive university, producing world-leading research and delivering innovation in teaching to transform lives and change the world for the better. The University of Surrey’s Institute for People-Centred AI combines over 30 years of technical excellence in the field of machine learning with multi-disciplinary research to answer the technical, ethical and governance questions that will enable the future of AI to be truly people-centred. A focus on research that makes a difference to the world has contributed to Surrey being ranked 55th in the world in the Times Higher Education (THE) University Impact Rankings 2022, which assesses more than 1,400 universities' performance against the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).


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