"The Racist History Behind Facial Recognition"
July 12, 2019, 09:05 AM
Print Friendly and PDF

Just five years ago, everybody who was anybody, like Obama, was explaining that we need lots more video cameras everywhere to catch all the white racists in action. Now we have lots more video cameras … but we’re mostly getting to see family brawls in Toon Town, and so we are being endlessly warned that seeing shouldn’t be believing because seeing is racist. It’s all the fault, when you really think about it, of Francis Galton. For example, from the New York Times:

The Racist History Behind Facial Recognition
When will we finally learn we cannot predict people’s character from their appearance?

By Sahil Chinoy
Mr. Chinoy is a graphics editor for The New York Times Opinion section.

Here’s a picture of Mr. Chinoy.

Excessive self-confidence in his own intelligence is not a problem for Mr. Chinoy. That’s just a pseudo-scientific myth!

July 10, 2019

… Artificial intelligence and modern computing are giving new life and a veneer of objectivity to these debunked theories, which were once used to legitimize slavery and perpetuate Nazi race “science.” Those who wish to spread essentialist theories of racial hierarchy are paying attention. In one blog, for example, a contemporary white nationalist claimed that “physiognomy is real” and “needs to come back as a legitimate field of scientific inquiry.”

No link is given. But it would appear to track to Luke Ford in 2016, perhaps citing Chateau Heartiste.

Harvard social scientists James Q. Wilson and Richard Herrnstein’s 1985 book Crime and Human Nature has a lot on the common looks of criminals. Here’s a lengthy New York Times review of the book.

Personally, I try not to spend a lot of time around criminals, so I don’t have a large enough sample size of lived experience to have much of an opinion on the topic. I have noticed that Hollywood has strong opinions on the subject: much of the expertise of casting directors’ is in knowing which actors look Good and which look Bad.

More broadly, new applications of facial recognition — not just in academic research, but also in commercial products that try to guess emotions from facial expressions — echo the same biological essentialism behind physiognomy. Apparently, we still haven’t learned that faces do not contain some deeper truth about the people they belong to.

After all, as we are learning from leading scientists such as Amy Harmon, Angela Saini, and the like: Science Is Ignorance! Only evil pseudoscientists such as Francis Galton believed that science could increase knowledge.

One of the pioneers of 19th-century facial analysis, Francis Galton, was a prominent British eugenicist. He superimposed images of men convicted of crimes, attempting to find through “pictorial statistics” the essence of the criminal face.

Galton was disappointed with the results: He was unable to discern a criminal “type” from his composite photographs.

It’s almost as if Galton were a real scientist … It’s like how at at 85 he discovered the concept of the Wisdom of Crowds. He went to a country fair where there was a contest to guess the weight of a prize bull. Galton said to himself, here’s a great data source on how bad people are at guessing! But then it turned out the mean guess was almost exactly right, so he had to sit down and figure out what was really going on. He was, as I said, 85.

Anyway, I’d guess that superimposing photos was precisely the wrong methodology, because criminals tend to have a lot of idiosyncratic flaws, such as asymmetries, which averaging through superimposition washes away. Superimposing pictures leads to better looking pictures, on average. Averaging faces leads to pleasant looking faces (although you never quite get to Audrey Hepburn level beauty that way).

This is because physiognomy is junk science — criminality is written neither in one’s genes nor on one’s face. He also tried to use composite portraits to determine the ideal “type” of each race, and his research was cited by Hans F.K. Günther, a Nazi eugenicist who wrote a book that was required reading in German schools during the Third Reich.

Galton’s tools and ideas have proved surprisingly durable, and modern researchers are again contemplating whether criminality can be read from one’s face.

… The paper echoes many of the fallacies in Galton’s research: that people convicted of crimes are representative of those who commit them (the justice system exhibits profound bias),

After all, Science proves that the real criminals are all cruelly handsome Haven Monahan-types. Never pay any attention to video like the following:

Meanwhile, from the BBC (via MEH 0910):

Facial recognition tool tackles illegal chimp trade
By Beth Timmins
BBC News
22 January 2019

Seven-year-old Manno was captured as an infant in 2011 and smuggled to Syria

That’s really unlucky. Here you are sitting in the bush in 2011 and then you get kidnapped and sent to … Syria, and just in time for the Syrian Civil War to break out.

Wildlife criminals had better watch out! The same software that recognises you in a friend’s social media post is being adapted to tackle the illegal trade in chimpanzees.

The amber eyes in the image above belong to Manno, who was trafficked from Africa to Syria before being rescued.

Pictures of Mano are now being used to train the algorithm that could help save members of his endangered species from the same experience. It’s a first for chimpanzee conservation.

The algorithm will search through photo posts on social media looking for the faces of rescued apes.

If the technology recognises a trafficked animal, the owners of the accounts featuring the chimp can then be targeted by the authorities.

These might be the smugglers who originally advertised the ape or a foolish buyer who subsequently showed off their purchase.

Folks, I have four words of advice for you: “Never buy a chimp.

[Comment at Unz.com]

Print Friendly and PDF