So maybe “gay face” is an actual thing? A new study out of Stanford University found it’s possible to accurately guess whether people are gay or straight based on photos of their faces.
The study from Stanford University found that a computer algorithm could correctly distinguish between gay and straight men 81% of the time and 74% for women. Human judges achieved much lower accuracy: 61% for men and 54% for women. So, basically, the machines have significantly better “gaydar” than humans.
The study has raised questions about the biological origins of sexual orientation, the ethics of facial-detection technology and the potential for this kind of software to violate people’s privacy or be abused for anti-LGBT purposes. Given that companies and governments are increasingly using computer vision algorithms to detect people’s intimate traits, the study’s findings “expose a threat to the privacy and safety of gay men and women.”
“It’s certainly unsettling. Like any new tool, if it gets into the wrong hands, it can be used for ill purposes,” says Nick Rule, an associate professor of psychology at the University of Toronto, who has published research on the science of gaydar. “If you can start profiling people based on their appearance, then identifying them and doing horrible things to them, that’s really bad.”
The machine intelligence tested in the research was published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology and first reported in The Economist. It was based on a sample of more than 35,000 facial images that men and women publicly posted on a U.S. dating website.
The research found that gay men and lesbians tended to have “gender-atypical” features, expressions and “grooming styles,” essentially meaning gay men appeared more feminine and vice versa. The data also identified certain trends, including that gay men had narrower jaws, longer noses and larger foreheads than straight men, and that lesbians had larger jaws and smaller foreheads compared to straight women.
Kosinski is no stranger to controversial research. He invented psychometric profiling using Facebook data, which relies upon information in a person’s profile to model their personality. The Trump campaign used similar models during last year’s presidential campaign to target voters, an approach which has generated criticism.
Regarding his “gay face” computer, Kosinski claims he’s invented no new technology but has merely pieced together software and data readily available to anyone with an internet connection. He asked The Economist not to reveal the identity of the dating website he used in order to discourage copycats.
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