Saturday, February 8, 2014

What should a 101 level course contain?

Early last year, I wrote about Image Analysis Domains. I noted: "In terms of the domains of analysis, there are four agreed upon domains for forensic video/image analysis:

  • Photogrammetry
  • Comparison
  • Content analysis
  • Authentication

One common mistake made across the news reports I watched is that clarification/enhancement is analysis. To be sure, clarification/enhancement help observation and make it easier to form initial conclusions. To be part of a scientific method, they need to be reliable and repeatable. But they are not, of themselves, analysis."

In the American university system, a 101 level course is generally an introductory educational course. Thus, if you are taking a course entitled Image Analysis 101, it should contain a solid introduction to the domains of image analysis. As video can be considered a series of images, Video Analysis 101 should also contain these domains.

Now, add the word "forensic" to the title. Forensic Image (or video) Analysis 101 should contain introductory education in the analysis domains plus an introduction to "forensics." In this context, we mean using image/video analysis in legal matters. Thus, FVA 101 (or FIVA 101) should contain an introduction to the above domains within the context of the legal system for which the course is offered.

I find myself writing this in my hotel room in Tshwane, Gauteng, South Africa. South Africa's Magistrate Courts have no jury to sway our story telling. The story telling aspect of forensics is irrelevant here. The work here is almost pure image/video analysis in that the work has to stand on its own. The analyst may be called upon by the court to explain a few technical things, but largely the evidence is simply submitted for inclusion in the trial. You don't see the type of long, drawn out testimony by experts that we see in the US. To me, that's refreshing.

The domains of image/video analysis are sciences in and of themselves. As students of the craft of analysis, it's up to us to assure that we're educated and proficient in what they are and not what some vendors would like them to be. Photogrammetry, as an example, obeys certain agreed upon rules. If you are working in photogrammetry, you should understand the science behind the tools that you are using. The same is true for all of the domains.

So what does this all mean? Where am I going with this?

  • 101 = an introduction to the domains of image/video analysis
  • 201 = intermediate topics in the domains of image/video analysis
  • 301/401 = advanced topics in the domains of image/video analysis
None of these should be exclusive to a certain toolset or manufacturer. They should equip the analyst with the knowledge of the science behind the techniques and the tools. Not just an explanation of a given tool's options for JPEG DCT examination in authentication of an image, but a deeper look at the way JPEG files work, how they are created, their history, and etc. In this way, the DCT examination will make more sense, and the American/Canadian analyst will have an easier time explaining his/her work.

If you take this approach, you may end up where I am - dissatisfied with your old tools. Try enquiring about the science behind the tools offered by the big three (Adobe, Avid, Sony). You won't get a straight answer. Their answers are trade secrets. You'll find yourself investigating the more purpose built offerings from Amped Software, Cognitech, MotionDSP, Noritsu, Salient Sciences, and Signal Scape. From there, you'll want to know which company offers both qualitative and quantitative tools. This will narrow the list significantly. You'll ask about cost, training, and general acceptance. If you want to do actual quantitative  image / video analysis, there are only a few manufacturers in this space - and they aren't the big three.

To pull all of this together, a course on FIVA 101 should be an introductory course on concepts of image and video analysis in a legal setting. It should introduce the domains and their role in the legal process. This is an entirely different course than an introduction to image/video processing with a specific tool or manufacturer. The former is considered education, the latter is considered training. Both are important. But, they are entirely different. When spending your precious funds to upgrade your knowledge, be sure to ask specific questions. Do you want training on a set of tools, or do you want education on the domains of analysis - or both.

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