What Happens When Robots Judge Your Beauty?

07/11/2016 Leave a comment

Can you imagine a beauty contest in which the participants did not put on any make up, did not have a swimsuit round and did not give answers to the judges’ questions? Well, then you probably haven’t heard about Beauty.AI, which was a beauty contest judged by ROBOTS. Yes, robots are now judging people according to pre-determined parameters. A thing that was unimaginable until a few years ago had come true this year, in 2016, when a beauty contest was held where the contestants had to just upload selfies with conditions like they should not have any makeup on, there should be no facial hair and no glasses. After this the baton was handed over to the robots or actually Artificial Intelligence (AI).

Artificial Intelligence is basically the intelligence exhibited by a machine. That is the ability of the machines to respond to humans. An ideal example of one such AI would be the chess games that we play online against a virtual opponent. Colloquially, the term “artificial intelligence” is applied when a machine does those functions that humans associate with other human minds, such as “learning” and “problem solving”.

So, back to our beauty contest that was judged by AI. The contest was organized by a company from Russia called Youth Laboratories who designed an AI and it was fed with algorithms for multiple functions of judging the contest. There were separate algorithms designed to look at wrinkles, facial symmetry, the amount of pimples and blemishes, race, and perceived age. The system was fed photos of celebrities with supposed beautiful and perfect faces to set a bar and then the contestants were judged according to that. To understand how the system worked, we need to understand the way the AI was built. For example, one of the parameters for judging the contest was symmetry of face and to judge that the system was fed hundreds of images of people with symmetrical and asymmetrical faces. Over time, the algorithm learnt how to identify a symmetrical face and when the participants sent their photos, the AI could accurately judge the symmetry of their faces. The idea of the contest was to find the people who are naturally beautiful, which is why no make-up was allowed for the photos the participants sent to the system.

The contest seems fair and unbiased right? But actually when the winners were announced, robots surprised everyone with the results. The robots were perceived as racist because out of the 44 winners, 36 were white and only a handful were Asian and only one of the winners had dark skin. Why was that so? Was AI neutral or biased while analysing? Find out with Samanth Subramanian on The Intersection.

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