The truth is powerful

Facial recognition reveals political party in troubling new research

Researchers have created a machine learning system that they claim can determine a person’s political party, with reasonable accuracy, based only on their face.

The study, from a group that also showed that sexual preference can seemingly be inferred this way, candidly addresses and carefully avoids the pitfalls of “modern phrenology,” leading to the uncomfortable conclusion that our appearance may express more personal information that we think.

The study, which appeared this week in the Nature journal Scientific Reports , was conducted by Stanford University’s Michal Kosinski. Kosinski made headlines in 2017 with work that found that a person’s sexual preference could be predicted from facial data.

The study drew criticism not so much for its methods but for the very idea that something that’s notionally non-physical could be detected this way. But Kosinski’s work, as he explained then and afterwards, was done specifically to challenge those assumptions and was as surprising and disturbing to him as it was to others.

The idea was not to build a kind of AI gaydar — quite the opposite, in fact. As the team wrote at the time, it was necessary to publish in order to warn others that such a […]

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