Stanford Researchers Defend Sexuality-Predicting Algorithm From Fierce Backlash

This month, researchers from Stanford claimed they had created an algorithm that could predict sexual orientation with incredibly high accuracy using facial detection technology.

The study, titled “Deep neural networks are more accurate than humans at detecting sexual orientation from facial images”, was published last week.

Since being released, the study has faced backlash from researchers and sociologists, as well as advocacy organisation GLAAD, who criticised the authors’ methodology and conclusions.

Jim Halloran, GLAAD’s Chief Digital Officer said: “Technology cannot identify someone’s sexual orientation. What their technology can recognize is a pattern that found a small subset of out white gay and lesbian people on dating sites who look similar. Those two findings should not be conflated.

“This research isn’t science or news, but it’s a description of beauty standards on dating sites that ignores huge segments of the LGBTQ community, including people of color, transgender people, older individuals, and other LGBTQ people who don’t want to post photos on dating sites.

“At a time where minority groups are being targeted, these reckless findings could serve as weapon to harm both heterosexuals who are inaccurately outed, as well as gay and lesbian people who are in situations where coming out is dangerous.”

The study used an algorithm to try and discern people’s sexuality based on their facial features.

The researchers analysed 35,326 facial images, using deep neural networks to extract features from the images, which were taken from a popular online dating site.

These features were then entered into a “logistic regression” tool designed to classify the images by sexual orientation.

Researchers Michal Kosinski and Yilun Wang claimed the algorithm could correctly distinguish between gay and heterosexual men in 81% of cases, and in 74% of cases for women.

Kosinski and Wang have defended their work on social media, saying negative comments were from people who hadn’t read the paper properly or wanted to ignore harsh truths.

In a statement, the researchers said: “It really saddens us that the LGBTQ rights groups, HRC and GLAAD, who strived for so many years to protect the rights of the oppressed, are now engaged in a smear campaign against us with a real gusto.

“They dismissed our paper as “junk science” based on the opinion of a lawyer and a marketer, who don’t have training in science. They spend their donors’ money on a PR firm that calls journalists who covered this story, to bully them into including untruthful allegations against the paper. They lie to people that “Stanford has distanced itself from our results.” They sent a press release full of counterfactual statements.

“They assured people that “Technology cannot identify someone’s sexual orientation,” but did not explain how they arrived at this conclusion. In the very next paragraph, they contradict themselves by demanding that this technology could be used to “support a brutal regime’s efforts to identify and/or persecute people they believed to be gay.” Both statements cannot be true at the same time.

“Let’s be clear: Our paper can be wrong. In fact, despite evidence to the contrary, we hope that it is wrong. But only replication and science can debunk it—not spin doctors.

“If our paper is indeed wrong, we sounded a false alarm. In good faith. But what if our findings are right? Then GLAAD and HRC representatives’ knee-jerk dismissal of the scientific findings puts at risk the very people for whom their organizations strive to advocate.”

Read more here.