Kurt Luther, Virginia Tech assistant professor of computer science, has developed a free software platform that uses crowdsourcing to significantly increase the ability of algorithms to identify faces in photos.

Through the software platform, called Photo Sleuth, Luther seeks to uncover the mysteries of the nearly 4 million photographs of Civil War-era images that may exist in the historical record.

Luther will present his research surrounding the Photo Sleuth platform on March 19 at the Association for Computing Machinery's Intelligent User Interfaces conference in Los Angeles, California. He will also demonstrate Photo Sleuth at the grand opening of the expanded American Civil War Museum, in Richmond, Virginia, on May 4, 2019. 

Luther, a history buff himself, was inspired to develop the software for Civil War Photo Sleuth in 2013 while visiting the Heinz History Center's exhibit called "Pennsylvania’s Civil War" in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. There he stumbled upon a Civil War-era portrait of Oliver Croxton, his great-great-great uncle who served in Company E of the 134th Pennsylvania, clad in a corporal’s uniform.

“Seeing my distant relative staring back at me was like traveling through time,” said Luther.  “Historical photos can tell us a lot about not only our own familial history but also inform the historical record of the time more broadly than just reading about the event in a history book.”