This Program Will Make You Invisible (to Your Webcam)

Disappearing People is a browser plug-in that will make you vanish from your webcam stream.
February 21, 2020, 1:00pm
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Image: Matthew Gault

Have you ever fantasized about pulling a vanishing act? One minute you’re there, the next you’re not. It’s a fantasy that comes on especially strong, for me, when I’m stuck in a remote meeting. I’m sitting on my webcam, waiting for everyone to say their piece, and wishing I could just remove myself from the picture. Now, there’s a program that will let you do just that.

It’s called Disappearing People and it’s the work of Google web engineer Jason Mayes. “This code attempts to learn over time the makeup of the background of a video such that I can attempt to remove any humans from the scene,” Mayes wrote on his GitHub. “This is all happening in real time, in the browser, using TensorFlow.”

TensorFlow is a Google-developed open source program used for machine learning and neural network applications. Disappearing People works by pulling the frames from a webcam, copying them, then scanning the copy for human features. If it sees something it identifies as human, it covers it up with a block of footage of the empty room it pulled from previous frames. Then it serves the humanless stream back to your browser.

It’s not perfect. When playing with it, I’d often see the bricked outline of my body moving across my room. It didn’t remove me from the picture so much as cover me over with glitchy looking copies of my room. But it happens in real time, and that’s still impressive.

Go here if you’d like to try removing yourself from the equation.