That study on artificially intelligent gaydar is now under ethical review

Advances in AI are used to spot signs of sexuality

Advances in AI are used to spot signs of sexuality

Kosinski and Wang used "deep neural networks" to sample 35,326 facial images of men and women taken from a leading dating website. The researchers claim their software is able to determine correctly whether a man is gay 81% of the time after viewing one photo, and 91% of the time after viewing five photos of the same model. Human judges accurately determined a person's sexual orientation 61 percent of the time for men and 54 percent for women. When the chances were increased by allowing it to analyse five images per person, it had a guess success rate of 91% for men and 83% for women.

The study that the software was relied upon for, processed 130,741 images of 36,630 men and 170,360 images of 38,593 women downloaded from a popular American dating website (which has not been revealed for copyright purposes) which makes the profiles public.

While the findings have clear limits when it comes to gender and sexuality - people of color were not included in the study, and there was no consideration of transgender or bisexual people - the implications for artificial intelligence (AI) are vast and alarming. These features were entered into a logistic regression aimed at classifying sexual orientation.

The algorithm managed to correctly distinguish between gay and straight men 81% of the time, while that slightly decreased to 74% of the time for women.

Even the authors of the study are concerned about the potential for misuse of the technology.

The authors of the study, published in the Open Science Framework, warned their findings "expose a threat to the privacy and safety of gay men and women", in an age where companies and governments are increasingly using computer algorithms to detect people's intimate traits.

Previous studies found that sexual orientation can be detected from an individual's digital footprints, such as social network structure (Jernigan & Mistree, 2009) or Facebook Likes (Kosinski, Stillwell, & Graepel, 2013). PHT is generally considered just one of many possible factors that could determine a person's ultimate sexual orientation, and hinging an entire facial recognition system on it is questionable to say the least.

Last week research from Stanford hit the news, saying that the most advanced artificial intelligence could tell if somebody was gay or straight simply by analysing their face.

With billions of images of people's faces stored on social media sites and in government databases, it's not hard to imagine how something could go wrong. The research suggests that certain features characterize gay people; therefore, it could be proof that people are born gay and that they don't just choose their sexual orientation.

"First, the fact that the faces of gay men and lesbians are, on average gender atypical, does not imply that all gay men are more feminine than all heterosexual men, or that there are no gay men with extremely masculine facial features (and vice versa in the case of lesbians)", they write.

A joint statement from the two organisations not only called the study "factually inaccurate" but also "dangerous and flawed research that could cause harm to LGBTQ people around the world".

In the recent past, facial recognition technology is becoming speedy and accurate.

The researchers did find that the AI was less reliable outside the confines of the experiment, but when asked to pick people it was most confident were gay, nine out of 10 proved correct. Then GLAAD and HRC representatives' knee-jerk dismissal of the scientific findings puts at risk the very people for whom their organizations strive to advocate.

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