Michal Kosinski’s work makes many feel uncomfortable. That’s exactly the point.
In September, Stanford researcher Michal Kosinski published a preprint of a paper that made an outlandish claim: The profile pictures we upload to social media and dating websites can be used to predict our sexual orientation.
Kosinski, a Polish psychologist who studies human behavior from the footprints we leave online, has a track record of eyebrow-raising results. In 2013, he co-authored a paper that found that people’s Facebook “likes” could be used to predict personal characteristics like personality traits (a finding that reportedly inspired the conservative data firm Cambridge Analytica).
For the new paper, Kosinski built a program with his co-author Yilun Wang using a common artificial intelligence program to scan more than 30,000 photos uploaded to an unnamed dating site. The software’s job? To figure out a pattern about what could distinguish a gay person’s face from a straight person’s.
When choosing between a pair of photos, the resulting program accurately identified a gay man 81 percent of the time and a gay woman 71 percent of the time. The researchers also asked humans to do the same task — and they fared worse, guessing correctly 54 to 61 percent of the time.
More controversially, Kosinski and Wang’s paper claimed that the program based its decision on differences in facial structure; that gay men’s faces were more feminine and lesbian women’s faces were more masculine. They suggested this finding was in line with the prenatal hormone theory of sexual orientation, which suggests our sexuality is, in part, determined by hormone exposure in the womb. This conclusion is hotly contested by some of their colleagues, who say the research is confounded by the fact that the photos were uploaded by the users themselves and not taken in Read More Here