A computer program can tell if someone is gay or not with a high level of accuracy based on photos of their faces, a study claims.
The study from Stanford University found that a computer algorithm could correctly distinguish someone’s sexuality by scanning a photograph of a man or woman with up to 91 per cent accuracy
But the find has raised questions about the biological origins of sexual orientation, the ethics of facial-detection technology and the potential that artificial intelligence could be used to ‘out’ men and women currently in the closet.
Subtle differences in facial structure that the human eye struggles to detect can be detected by computers, the authors claim in the Economist.
The sudy was based on a sample of more than 35,000 facial images that men and women publicly posted on a US dating website, The users had all declared their sexuality on their profiles.
The researchers, Michal Kosinski and Yilun Wang, extracted features from the images using “deep neural networks”, meaning a sophisticated mathematical system that learns to analyze visuals based on a large dataset.
Digitally scanning contours of the face, cheekbones, nose and chin the computer made hosts of measurements of the ratios between the different facial features.
Once the patterns associated with homosexuality were learned, the system was shown faces it had not been shown before.
The system was tested by showing it a picture of two men, one gay and one straight.
When shown five photos of each man, it correctly selected the man’s sexuality 91 per cent of the time.
The research found that gay men and women tended to have “gender-atypical” features, expressions and “grooming styles”, essentially meaning gay men appeared more feminine and visa versa. The data also identified certain trends, including that gay men had narrower jaws, longer noses and larger foreheads than straight men, and that gay women had larger jaws and smaller foreheads compared to straight women.
The model performed worse with women, telling gay and straight apart with 71 per cent accuracy after looking at one photo, and 83 per cent accuracy after five.
So far the technology has not turned up in any app stores – but – it’s easy to imagine spouses using the technology on partners they suspect are secretly gay. After all, Google search results show that the term “is my husband gay?” is more common than “is my husband having an affair”.