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Handwriting Recognition
Jan 12, 2023
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Handwriting Recognition Powered by Artificial Intelligence

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Chief AI for Everyone Officer

Handwriting recognition is the process of converting handwritten text into digital text that a computer can understand and process. This is done using specialized software and optical character recognition (OCR) tools that use algorithms to analyze the shapes of the letters in a handwritten document and match them to the corresponding digital characters. 

Handwriting recognition can be used for a variety of purposes, including converting handwritten notes into searchable digital text and automatically filling out forms based on handwritten input. This technology has become increasingly popular in recent years as it allows users to input text into computers and other devices simply by writing by hand. Handwriting recognition is also used in security applications, such as using handwritten signatures for authentication. 

According to Credence Research, the global Handwriting Recognition market was valued at over 1,340.37 million in 2020 and is expected to generate a cumulative growth opportunity valued at over USD 4,291.27 million during the forecast period, with a lucrative CAGR of over 16.97%.

How is handwriting recognized by machines? 

Handwriting recognition by machines is typically done using machine learning algorithms and pattern recognition techniques. These algorithms are trained on large datasets of handwriting samples in order to identify common patterns and features that can be used to accurately recognize handwriting.

Handwriting recognition can be of two types of handwriting recognition, viz., online and offline.

  • Online handwriting recognition, also known as real-time handwriting recognition, involves the recognition of handwritten text as it is being written. This is typically done using a special digitizing tablet or a touchscreen device. The handwriting is converted into digital text in real-time as the user writes, allowing the user to see the recognized text on the screen as they write.
  • Offline handwriting recognition, on the other hand, involves the recognition of text from a pre-existing document or image. In this case, the handwriting must first be scanned or captured using a device such as a scanner or a camera. The handwriting recognition software then processes the scanned image, which converts the handwritten text into digital text.

Both online and offline handwriting recognition methods have their advantages and disadvantages. Online handwriting recognition allows for the recognition of text in real-time, but it requires specialized hardware such as a digitizing tablet. On the other hand, offline handwriting recognition allows for the recognition of text from pre-existing documents, but it can be slower and less accurate than online recognition.

Several techniques, such as optical character recognition (OCR) and intelligent character recognition (ICR) algorithms, are used for handwriting recognition. These algorithms use advanced pattern recognition techniques to interpret the shapes of individual letters and words to accurately transcribe handwritten text. More recently, AI tools are being incorporated into OCR systems for intelligent extraction of text from handwritten documents.

Challenges to handwriting recognition

Recognizing handwriting is a challenging task for machines because handwriting can vary greatly from person to person. Handwriting can also be affected by factors such as the speed at which it is written, the pen or pencil used, and the surface on which it is written.  Additionally, handwriting often includes unique flourishes and idiosyncrasies, making it difficult for machines to interpret accurately.

Some possible challenges that machines may encounter when trying to recognize handwriting include:

  • Variability: As mentioned earlier, handwriting can vary between individuals, even from one writing sample to the next for the same person.  Handwriting is also dynamically affected by an individual's physical condition, age, and cultural background. This can make it difficult for machines to identify common patterns and features that can be used for recognition.
  • Noise: Handwritten text can be difficult to read, even for human beings, due to factors such as smudging, blurring, and poor penmanship. This can make it difficult for machines to accurately process and interpret handwriting.
  • Context: Handwriting often includes additional information that can be useful for recognition, such as the overall shape of the written text, the spacing between letters and words, and the use of punctuation and other symbols. Such information can be difficult for machines to interpret and use effectively.

The use of AI tools in handwriting recognition

AI tools such as machine learning and computer vision are commonly used in handwriting recognition to enable computers to accurately and effectively process and interpret handwritten text.

Machine learning algorithms are used to train the AI system on large datasets of handwritten text, allowing it to learn the various features and patterns that are present in handwriting. During the training process, the machine learning algorithm is typically fed a large number of handwriting samples, along with the corresponding text for each sample. The algorithm then uses this training data to learn the common patterns and features that are present in the handwriting samples.

Once the training process is complete, the algorithm can be used to recognize handwriting by analyzing new samples of handwriting and identifying the patterns and features that it learned during the training process. This allows the algorithm to accurately interpret and transcribe the handwritten text.

Some common AI tools used for handwriting recognition are:

  • Neural networks are a type of machine learning algorithm designed to mimic the structure and function of the human brain. It is composed of a large number of interconnected processing nodes, which are used to analyze data and make predictions or decisions based on that data. In the context of handwriting recognition, a neural network is trained on a large dataset of handwritten text, allowing it to learn the various features and patterns present in handwriting. This enables the neural network to accurately analyze new handwriting samples and convert them into digital text.
  • Deep learning is an extension of the neural network-based ML in which many layers of interconnected nodes help in learning complex patterns and features in data, and are particularly well-suited for tasks such as handwriting recognition. By using deep learning, handwriting recognition systems can achieve even higher levels of accuracy and performance.
  • Multi-dimensional recurrent neural networks (RNNs) are a type of deep learning model that is designed to process data with a temporal or sequential structure, such as time series data or natural language. These networks can be applied to tasks such as handwriting recognition, where the input is a sequence of hand-written characters and the output is the corresponding text.
  • Encoder-decoder is a type of RNN that is commonly used for handwriting recognition. An encoder-decoder network typically consists of two RNNs, one that processes the input sequence and encodes it into a fixed-length vector, and another that decodes the vector and produces the output sequence. 
  • Attention networks, another type of RNN, allow the decoder to focus on different parts of the input sequence at different times, weighting them according to their relevance to the current output.
  • Transformer models are state-of-art deep learning models that have been applied to a variety of natural language processing tasks, including handwriting recognition. These models use self-attention mechanisms to process the input sequence, allowing them to capture long-range dependencies and relationships between different elements of the input. This makes them well-suited for tasks where the input sequence has a complex structure and long-term dependencies, such as handwriting recognition.
  • Computer vision tools are also used to analyze the physical characteristics of the handwriting itself, such as the shape and size of the letters and the spacing between them. This information is then used by the AI system to accurately interpret the handwritten text.
  • Natural Language Processing (NLP) algorithms are also used to interpret the meaning and context of handwritten text, rather than just recognizing the individual letters and words. This allows the handwriting recognition system to provide a more complete and accurate interpretation of the handwritten text, including its meaning and intended use. For example, an NLP algorithm could be used to determine whether a handwritten document is a letter, an essay, or a list of instructions. It could also be used to identify specific entities and concepts mentioned in the text, such as names, dates, and locations. This information could then be used to improve the accuracy and usefulness of the handwriting recognition system.

Many datasets are used for training and testing handwriting recognition models. Some examples include:

  • The MNIST database (Modified National Institute of Standards and Technology database) is a database of handwritten digits 
  • The IAM handwriting dataset is a database of handwritten words and sentences
  • The Handwritten Text Recognition (HTR) dataset is a database containing handwritten documents 

Other datasets commonly used for handwriting recognition datasets include the CENPARMI dataset, the UNIPEN dataset, and the NIST Special Database 19. These datasets are all widely used in the research community for training and evaluating handwriting recognition models.

Applications of handwriting recognition

Some uses of handwriting recognition are:

  • Text conversion: Handwriting recognition can be used to convert handwritten text into digital text that can be edited, searched, and stored on a computer. This can be useful for digitizing handwritten notes, letters, and other documents.
  • Document processing: Handwriting recognition can be used in combination with OCR technology to automatically process and classify handwritten documents. This can be useful in a variety of industries, including finance, healthcare, and government, where large volumes of documents need to be processed quickly and accurately.
  • Electronic signature verification: Handwriting recognition technology can be used to verify the authenticity of a signature by comparing it to a previously recorded sample. This can be useful for applications such as electronic document signing, where the authenticity of the signature needs to be verified. This can help prevent fraud and ensure the integrity of electronic transactions.
  • Educational tools: Handwriting recognition technology can be used in educational applications, such as handwriting tutoring software and assistive technology for students with learning disabilities.
  • Data entry: Handwriting recognition can be used to enter data into computer systems, such as filling out forms or entering notes into a database. This can be faster and more efficient than typing on a keyboard, particularly for users who are more comfortable writing by hand.

Other potential uses for handwriting recognition include the automatic translation of handwritten text into different languages, searching and retrieving handwritten documents, and identifying individual handwriting styles for forensic analysis.

Handwriting recognition technology can be useful in a variety of industries, including finance, healthcare, government, and education. Some specific examples of how handwriting recognition can be used in these industries include:

  • Finance: Handwriting recognition can be used to automatically process and classify handwritten financial documents, such as checks, invoices, and receipts. This can help reduce errors and improve the efficiency of financial processes.
  • Healthcare: Handwriting recognition can be used to automatically transcribe handwritten medical notes and records, such as doctor's notes, lab results, and patient histories. This can improve the accuracy and accessibility of medical information, and help reduce the time and effort required to process and manage large volumes of medical documents.
  • Public sector: Handwriting recognition can be used to automatically process and classify handwritten government documents, such as applications, forms, and permits. This can help improve the efficiency and accuracy of government processes and make it easier for citizens to interact with government agencies.
  • Security: Another potential use of handwriting recognition technology in security applications is in the creation of biometric authentication systems. In these systems, a person's unique handwriting style could be used as a form of identification, similar to how fingerprints or facial recognition technology is used. This could be used to secure access to sensitive information or physical locations, such as government buildings or military bases.
  • Education: Handwriting recognition technology can be used in educational applications, such as handwriting tutoring software and assistive technology for students with learning disabilities. This can help students improve their handwriting skills and access educational materials more easily.
  • The modern retail space and home delivery: Handwriting recognition technology is often used for digitizing signatures for delivery purposes. This technology allows handwritten signatures to be captured and converted into a digital format, which can then be easily stored and accessed electronically. This can be useful for a variety of reasons, such as reducing the need for physical paperwork and making it easier to track and manage deliveries. For example, a courier company might use handwriting recognition technology to capture the signatures of customers when they receive packages. The digital signature can then be stored electronically, along with other details about the delivery, such as the date and time of delivery and the recipient's address. This can make it easier for the courier company to manage its deliveries and provide proof of delivery to customers if necessary.
  • The Postal Service: By recognizing the handwriting on envelopes and other mailed documents, handwriting recognition technology can help postal workers quickly and accurately route mail to its destination. This can help speed up mail delivery and reduce the potential for errors in the sorting process. Handwriting recognition technology can also be used to automatically recognize and process stamps on envelopes, allowing for the automated calculation of postage fees. 

The future of handwriting recognition

The future of handwriting recognition technology will entail continued improvements in accuracy and performance. By incorporating AI and machine learning, handwriting recognition systems could become more adaptable and capable of learning from experience, thus improving their performance over time. This could lead to even higher levels of accuracy and the ability to handle a broader range of handwriting styles.

The use of handwriting recognition technology will continue expanding into new fields and applications. For example, it could be used more widely on mobile devices and tablets, allowing users to input text by writing on the screen with a stylus or their finger. It could also be used in advanced biometric authentication systems, allowing individuals to access sensitive information or locations using their unique handwriting style.

The future of handwriting recognition technology will likely involve continued improvements and the expansion of its use in new fields and applications.

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Handwriting Recognition
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