Heather Murphy in The New York Times:
Michal Kosinski felt he had good reason to teach a machine to detect sexual orientation. An Israeli start-up had started hawking a service that predicted terrorist proclivities based on facial analysis. Chinese companies were developing facial recognition software not only to catch known criminals — but also to help the government predict who might break the law next. And all around Silicon Valley, where Dr. Kosinski works as a professor at Stanford Graduate School of Business, entrepreneurs were talking about faces as if they were gold waiting to be mined. Few seemed concerned. So to call attention to the privacy risks, he decided to show that it was possible to use facial recognition analysis to detect something intimate, something “people should have full rights to keep private.” After considering atheism, he settled on sexual orientation. Whether he has now created “A.I. gaydar,” and whether that’s even an ethical line of inquiry, has been hotly debated over the past several weeks, ever since a draft of his study was posted online. resented with photos of gay men and straight men, a computer program was able to determine which of the two was gay with 81 percent accuracy, according to Dr. Kosinski and co-author Yilun Wang’s paper.
The backlash has been fierce.
“I imagined I’d raise the alarm,” Dr. Kosinski said in an interview. “Now I’m paying the price.” He’d just had a meeting with campus police “because of the number of death threats.” Advocacy groups like Glaad and the Human Rights Campaign denounced the study as “junk science” that “threatens the safety and privacy of LGBTQ and non-LGBTQ people alike.” The authors have “invented the algorithmic equivalent of a 13-year-old bully,” wrote Greggor Mattson, the director of the Gender, Sexuality and Feminist Studies Program at Oberlin College. He was one of dozens of academics, scientists and others who picked apart the study in blog posts and Tweet storms. Some argued that the study is just the latest example of a disturbing technology-fueled revival of physiognomy, the long discredited notion that personality traits can be revealed by measuring the size and shape of a person’s eyes, nose and face.