AI Now Has “Gaydar”—A Controversial Claim, But Is It Unethical?

The internet is ablaze in controversy over the new AI "Gaydar" study. Did the researchers do anything wrong by pursuing this research?

We can tell a lot about a person by looking at their face. It turns out that AI can do it better.


Glad to see that our work inspired debate. Your opinion would be stronger, have you read the paper and our notes: https://t.co/dmXFuk6LU6 pic.twitter.com/0O0e2jZWMn

— Michal Kosinski (@michalkosinski) September 8, 2017


In a controversial new study that is setting the internet ablaze, researchers claim that artificial intelligence can be used to accurately detect someone's sexual orientation. The research, "Deep neural networks are more accurate than humans at detecting sexual orientation from facial images," utilized deep neural networks to examine over 35,000 publicly-available dating site photos where sexual orientation was indicated. The preliminary research was published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, authored by Michal Kosinski, a professor at Stanford University Graduate School of Business who is also a Computational Psychologist and Big Data Scientist.

Without AI assistance, humans alone could correctly guess whether someone identified as a gay or straight male 61% of the time, and females 54% of the time. AI could correctly guess straight-versus-gay male pictures 81%, and females 71%. To make this determination, the AI program not only looked at fixed facial features but also transient facial features such as grooming styles. 

Please read a summary of our findings https://t.co/a5AWEe7UwM before hiring the firing squad. pic.twitter.com/SzaEajhgty

— Michal Kosinski (@michalkosinski) September 10, 2017

Are We Shooting the Messenger?

This research has sparked controversy potentially because of a confluence of factors:

1. The research focuses on sexuality in binary terms (straight or gay), while much of the societal conversation has focused around a greater appreciation of gender fluidity that does not fit within a binary understanding.

2. Our sexual orientation is seen as something that we own. If AI is able to somewhat accurately determine our sexuality, this may make us feel incredibly vulnerable (similar to the x-ray glasses gag, that is supposed to make us feel naked and exposed). 

3. The potential for misuse seems obvious. What may seem a fun parlor trick, or perhaps a testament to advancing deep neural networks, can also be misused by governments to prosecute those living in countries where being gay (or non-straight) is a punishable offense. There are currently at least ten countries where being gay is punishable by death, and 74 where being gay is illegal.

With the release of Apple's iPhone X, facial recognition technology officially enters the mainstream. That brings with it concerns of abuse, though at least one surveillance watchdog—Edward Snowden—approves of the phone's "panic disable" function.

This controversy has to be viewed through a larger question: "What ethical responsibility do researchers have with the potential misuse of their findings or creations?" The heated debate around this research comes on the heels of another controversial study examining facial features--one in which an algorithm could determine one's identity even if their face was obscured by glasses or a scarf. 

Yes, we can & should nitpick this and all papers but the trend is clear. Ever-increasing new capability that will serve authoritarians well.

— Zeynep Tufekci (@zeynep) September 4, 2017

What may be getting lost in the cacophony of online comments is that the lead author of the AI/sexuality study, Michael Kosinski, was quite aware and direct about this potential for misuse. 

"Those findings advance our understanding of the origins of sexual orientation and the limits of human perception. Additionally, 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." -From Deep neural networks are more accurate than humans at detecting sexual orientation from facial images [introduction], Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

While the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology has since notified Kosinski about ethical concerns they have with the study (“In the process of preparing the [manuscript] for publication, some concerns have been raised about the ethical status of your project. At issue is the use of facial images in both your research and the paper we accepted for publication”), this runs counter to the initial response from the journal when accepting the research.

According to a new article in Inside Hire Ed, Koninksi received the following message from the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology: “Your work is very innovative, and carries far-reaching implications for social psychology and beyond. I am therefore very pleased to accept this version of the paper in [the journal]. Congratulations!”

A thorny question that this controversy brings up is how much attention we place on research that has the potential for misuse, versus the authoritarian leaders that may abuse the findings. While the aforementioned study has been dinged for its focus on Caucasian photos, there was clearly an overall awareness and consideration of potential misuse.

While we in no way want to perpetuate stereotypes or narrow-minded thinking, we also need to be careful to not suppress science and speech.

--

LinkedIn meets Tinder in this mindful networking app

Swipe right to make the connections that could change your career.

Getty Images
Sponsored
Swipe right. Match. Meet over coffee or set up a call.

No, we aren't talking about Tinder. Introducing Shapr, a free app that helps people with synergistic professional goals and skill sets easily meet and collaborate.

Keep reading Show less

15 surprising life lessons from a highly successful 80-year-old

You can use these to get ahead, no matter your age.

Personal Growth

Blackstone's Byron Wien, Vice Chairman of Private Wealth Solutions Group, gave a speech laying out the wisdom he learned during his 80 years. Here are 15 of Wien's best life lessons, which teach us about improving our productivity, sleep, burnout avoidance, and everything in between.

Keep reading Show less

Employees don't quit their job, they quit their boss

According to TwoFold CEO Alison McMahon, a leader who doesn't care (or can't pretend to care) about his or her employees isn't much of a leader at all.

Photo credit: Mantas Hesthaven on Unsplash
Technology & Innovation

Why do people quit their jobs? Surely, there are a ton of factors: money, hours, location, lack of interest, etc. For Alison McMahon, an HR specialist and the CEO of TwoFold, the biggest reason employees jump ship is that they're tired of working for lousy bosses.

By and large, she says, people are willing to put up with certain negatives as long as they enjoy who they're working for. When that's just not the case, there's no reason to stick around:

Nine times out of ten, when an employee says they're leaving for more money, it's simply not true. It's just too uncomfortable to tell the truth.

Whether that's true is certainly debatable, though it's not a stretch to say that an inconsiderate and/or incompetent boss isn't much of a leader. If you run an organization or company, your values and actions need to guide and inspire your team. When you fail to do that, you set the table for poor productivity and turnover.

McMahon offers a few suggestions for those who want to hone their leadership abilities, though it seems that these things are more innate qualities than acquired skills. For example, actually caring about your workers or not depending wholly on HR thinking they can do your job for you.

It's the nature of promotions that, inevitably, a good employee without leadership skills will get thrust into a supervisory position. McMahon says this is a chronic problem that many organizations need to avoid, or at least make the time to properly evaluate and assist with the transition.

But since they often don't, they end up with uninspired workers. And uninspired workers who don't have a reason to stay won't stick around for long.

Read more at LinkedIn.

Radical theory says our universe sits on an inflating bubble in an extra dimension

Cosmologists propose a groundbreaking model of the universe using string theory.

Getty Images/Suvendu Giri
Surprising Science
  • A new paper uses string theory to propose a new model of the universe.
  • The researchers think our universe may be riding a bubble expanded by dark energy.
  • All matter in the universe may exist in strings that reach into another dimension.
Keep reading Show less