Sunday, September 17, 2017

Artificial Intelligence is Lesbian

thenewyorker |  “The face is an observable proxy for a wide range of factors, like your life history, your development factors, whether you’re healthy,” Michal Kosinski, an organizational psychologist at the Stanford Graduate School of Business, told the Guardian earlier this week. The photo of Kosinski accompanying the interview showed the face of a man beleaguered. Several days earlier, Kosinski and a colleague, Yilun Wang, had reported the results of a study, to be published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, suggesting that facial-recognition software could correctly identify an individual’s sexuality with uncanny accuracy. The researchers culled tens of thousands of photos from an online-dating site, then used an off-the-shelf computer model to extract users’ facial characteristics—both transient ones, like eye makeup and hair color, and more fixed ones, like jaw shape. Then they fed the data into their own model, which classified users by their apparent sexuality. When shown two photos, one of a gay man and one of a straight man, Kosinski and Wang’s model could distinguish between them eighty-one per cent of the time; for women, its accuracy dropped slightly, to seventy-one per cent. Human viewers fared substantially worse. They correctly picked the gay man sixty-one per cent of the time and the gay woman fifty-four per cent of the time. “Gaydar,” it appeared, was little better than a random guess.

The study immediately drew fire from two leading L.G.B.T.Q. groups, the Human Rights Campaign and GLAAD, for “wrongfully suggesting that artificial intelligence (AI) can be used to detect sexual orientation.” They offered a list of complaints, which the researchers rebutted point by point. Yes, the study was in fact peer-reviewed. No, contrary to criticism, the study did not assume that there was no difference between a person’s sexual orientation and his or her sexual identity; some people might indeed identify as straight but act on same-sex attraction. “We assumed that there was a correlation . . . in that people who said they were looking for partners of the same gender were homosexual,” Kosinski and Wang wrote. True, the study consisted entirely of white faces, but only because the dating site had served up too few faces of color to provide for meaningful analysis. And that didn’t diminish the point they were making—that existing, easily obtainable technology could effectively out a sizable portion of society. To the extent that Kosinski and Wang had an agenda, it appeared to be on the side of their critics. As they wrote in the paper’s abstract, “Given that companies and governments are increasingly using computer vision algorithms to detect people’s intimate traits, our findings expose a threat to the privacy and safety of gay men and women.”