We can thank NASA for information about the world outside Planet Earth, like the moon and Mars. They also gave us Tang. And soon, we will be able to protect our children against the evils of online naked pictures.
An American educational company called Heartsoft Inc. is currently beta-testing software that hunts for porn on the Internet, based on artificial intelligence software developed by NASA in the 1980s. Unlike other filtering products that surf the texts of HTML looking for pornographic words, Heartsoft's new Internet Safari browser intercepts the actual images -- JPEG and GIF files -- and checks them to see if they're porn.
Heartsoft chairman and CEO Benjamin Shell told a reporter the software is programmed to hunt for "tones of flesh and curves." The search is instantaneous, boasts Shell: "Obviously when you have very advanced 'Star Wars' technology it doesn't take those algorithms long."
Shell insists that his new software is capable of sussing out most porn images, with 90 to 95 percent accuracy. Heartsoft, based in Broken Arrow, Okla., has even applied for a patent on this image detection and analysis technology, called "Evaluating Graphic Image Files for Objectionable Content."
The Internet Safari will be able to be used by businesses as well as schools and at home. Shell points to a 1998 government report that says two-thirds of workplace sexual harassment claims that have been settled have been the result of online pornography. "One of the things that we're looking at is the possibility of having an algorithm put into a plug-in for Netscape or Explorer and eliminate full-frontal nudity viewed in the office."
Because Heartsoft hears so many complaints from school officials that students are adept at bypassing other porn detection filters, the company has chosen a group of teenagers to be beta testers for the Internet Safari software. (If high school kids can figure out how to create viruses, and hack into the Web sites of the CIA and FBI, the "flesh-and-curves" software should be a piece of cake.)
You can bet that porn producers and distributors will also find ways to get around the Heartsoft technology. Perhaps porn images will be tinted different colors other than flesh -- for instance, a hardcore image of two people having sex would be colored blue or green -- and users will download special filters to correct the colors once the image is downloaded.
Maybe Heartsoft will then have to obtain another patent on "Evaluating Graphic Image Files for Unnatural Coloration."