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In the twenty-first century, the face is a database, a dynamic bank of information points—muscle configurations, childhood scars, barely perceptible flares of the nostril—that together speak to what you feel and who you are.
Facial-recognition technology is being tested in airports around the world, matching camera footage against visa photos. China has gone all in on the technology, employing it to identify jaywalkers, offer menu suggestions at KFC, and prevent the theft of toilet paper from public restrooms.“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 earlier this week.
Regardless of the accuracy of the method, past schemesto identify gay people have typically ended in cruel fashion—pogroms, imprisonment, conversion therapy.
The fact is, though, that nowadays a computer model can probably already do a decent job of ascertaining your sexual orientation, even better than facial-recognition technology can, simply by scraping and analyzing the reams of data that marketing firms are continuously compiling about you. Somewhere, though, a bot is poring over your data points, grasping for ways to connect any two of them. Last week, Equifax, the giant credit-reporting agency, disclosed that a security breach had exposed the personal data of more than a hundred and forty-three million Americans; company executives had been aware of the security flaw since late July but had failed to disclose it.
To begin with, they argued, Kosinski and Wang had used a flawed data set.A viewer instinctively knows the difference between a real smile and a fake one.In July, a Canadian study reported that college students can reliably tell if people are richer or poorer than average simply by looking at their expressionless faces.Scotland Yard employs a team of “super-recognizers” who can, from a pixelated photo, identify a suspect they may have seen briefly years earlier or come across in a mug shot.But, being human, we are also inventing machines that read faces as well as or better than we can.
Carl Bergstrom and Jevin West, a pair of professors at the University of Washington, in Seattle, who run the blog Calling Bullshit, also took issue with Kosinski and Wang’s most ambitious conclusion—that their study provides “strong support” for the prenatal-hormone theory of sexuality, which predicts that exposure to testosterone in the womb shapes a person’s gender identity and sexual orientation in later life.