Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Beauty, still not in the eye of the beholder.

Swiftian title aside, interesting stuff.  Maybe it’s because white people are more beautiful?: "When Russian and Hong Kong coders, supported by Microsoft and Nvidia held a beauty contest judged entirely by an algorithm, 600 000 people from around the world sent in selfies and waited for judgement day. Oh boy. It did not go quite as planned...

Both MotherBoard and the Guardian are scrambling to explain how this might have happened, arguing that even though people did send in selfies from Africa, India, China and  all over the US, the sample sizes skewed white, and because the AI was using a deep learning technique, this affected the outcomes.  Another term for deep learning is reinforcement learning, so this explanation does kind of make sense. If the largest set of base images the algorithm is using features white faces, then whiteness will become a criteria for ‘beauty’, in addition to things like facial symmetry and skin wrinkling. When you consider a totally separate study that showed a machine learning to associate Black sounding names (Jamal,  Ebony) with unpleasantness and white sounding names (Matt, Emily) with pleasantry, the case seems quite solid that seemingly neutral machines do indeed pick up and replicate our prejudices...
Is the Golden Ratio racist? If it’s a universal expression of beauty, how can it be? Consider, too, that markers of youth and fertility, such as blushing or lip color are easier to detect the lighter the skin. Beauty is a rough synonym for fertility and health. The desire for health and fertility is hardly unique to any one race. These may be uncomfortable conversations to have, precisely because we do indeed live in a world where many Black people are treated unfairly and discriminated against because they are Black. Racism is a thing, but that doesn’t mean everything is racist. It might be superficially satisfying to scream racism when algorithms prefer white names and white faces, but the issues are far more complex than that and quite frankly, interesting. Truth must always be our guide. If we stop caring about, seeking out and valuing truth above all else, we cannot progress.  

Personally, I would rather live in a world where people feel uncomfortable handling truth but still do it, and I’ll spend my time advocating that we pay attention to truths that cast our own groups in poor light, and not just others. Sure, ‘white’ features might be more beautiful, but why are our kids so dumb compared to Asians? Why are Black people so astonishingly innovative in music? And given that musical ability is so strongly correlated with mathematical ability, why aren’t the majority of PhD holders in mathematics and Field’s Medal winners Black? These are interesting questions, worth exploring."

Pic via

No comments:

Post a Comment