Much to the consternation of liberals and most libertarians, I’ve long been a proponent of the development of facial recognition software when used responsibly by law enforcement agencies. The potential benefits in terms of quickly solving serious crimes and identifying suspects far outweigh any concerns over people’s “digital privacy” when out in the public square, at least in my opinion. But when that software is unleashed in the private sector, even I start getting a queasy feeling sometimes. That may be the case with a new development from Stanford University, where a research team claims that their AI algorithm is able to analyze pictures of people harvested from social media and identify their political persuasion (conservative versus liberal) in an impressively large percentage of cases. The possibilities are disturbing, to put it mildly. (The Debrief)
A Stanford University researcher claims facial recognition software can reasonably predict a person’s political affiliation based solely on facial features.
In the study published in the Nature journal Scientific Reports, Dr. Michal Kosinski says facial recognition algorithms could be used to reasonably predict people’s political views. Using over 1 million Facebook and dating site profiles from users based in Canada, the U.S., and the U.K., Kosinski says his algorithm could correctly identify one’s political orientation with 72% accuracy.
“Political orientation was correctly classified in 72% of liberal–conservative face pairs, remarkably better than chance (50%), human accuracy (55%), or one afforded by a 100-item personality questionnaire (66%),” Kosinski notes in the study.
As Tim McMillan (the reporter covering the story) points out, the author of the paper has a bit of a controversial past, leading to questions about these results. Dr. Kosinski published a different study in 2017 claiming that the facial recognition software he was using could correctly identify a person’s sexual orientation. That seems impossible to me, but then again, I’m not a scientist. Also, I have absolutely zero “gaydar” abilities, as my gay friends like to say. I was absolutely stunned when Anderson Cooper came out because I wouldn’t have guessed that in a million years, though those same friends assured me that “everyone had known it” for ages.