Xerox technology responds to 'colorful' language

Prototype lets users change colors by issuing verbal or type-written commands

Xerox researchers are developing a way to change the colors in a computer document using natural language commands such as “make the background carnation pink” or “make the blues slightly less purple.”

Xerox researchers are developing a way to change the colors in a computer document using natural language commands such as “make the background carnation pink” or “make the blues slightly less purple.”

Color control systems tend to be complex, so most consumers who need color images and documents have trouble making adjustments, Xerox Innovation Group research scientist Geoff Woolfe notes in a paper that describes prototype “natural language color editing” technology and will be presented Sunday at the annual meeting of the Inter-Society Color Council in Kansas City, Mo.

“Today, especially in the office environment, there are many non-experts who know how they would like color to appear but have no idea how to manipulate the color to get what they want,” Woolfe says in a press release. “You shouldn’t have to be a color expert to make the sky a deeper blue or add a bit of yellow to a sunset.”

Xerox has made prototypes of natural language devices that would let users change colors by giving voice commands or typing words and phrases like “slightly less yellow,” “much darker,” “more saturated,” “greener,” “significantly punchier,” or a “smidge lighter.”

These expressions are less precise than numerical color encodings used in color image-processing and device-control applications, but more useful to typical consumers, Woolfe writes. Facilitating the use of natural language is not easy: Xerox researchers have faced complications while developing a mapping structure that translates natural language color specifications into the more precise numerical descriptions.

“First, there is no uniquely defined natural color language,” Woolfe writes. “The words and grammar used to describe color can vary based on culture, geographical location, professional affiliation and individual preference. Second, the boundaries between named colors are not precisely defined – indeed; they are somewhat fuzzy and can vary, to some extent, between individuals.”

Current technology often requires specialized training to effectively adjust colors, according to Woolfe. The new methods being developed by Xerox could allow more people to manipulate colors without having to hire a graphics professional or printer.

“Color graphics professionals require extensive training and experience to successfully and efficiently manipulate controls in such applications to achieve an aesthetic effect that can be stated simply and concisely in verbal terms,” Woolfe writes. “It is advantageous therefore to provide a natural language interface for color adjustment and image processing applications to address this usability issue.”

The Xerox application uses a dictionary of 267 color names composed of one to three words each. This includes simple names like red and green, names with hue-modifiers like yellowish-green or reddish-blue, and color names that utilize modifiers distinguishing levels of lightness and colorfulness, such as dark, light, pale or vivid.

The research paper does not say when this technology might be made available to consumers.

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