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Computers can now tell if you’re gay, just from studying a photograph

Although a ‘Yes’ vote looks incredibly likely in the upcoming marriage equality plebiscite, the campaign has brought out debate and expressions of prejudice not seen in Australia since the 1980s.

New Artificial Intelligence technology has added to these concerns

We’ve all got that friend who thinks they have a flawless ‘gaydar’, being able to tell gay from straight from a mile away based completely on how someone looks.

While the notion of a gaydar is as ridiculous as the stereotypes it is based on, new AI technology has suggested that telling someone’s sexual orientation purely from how they look may indeed be possible.

A Stanford University study into facial features showed that a computer could determine sexual orientation in men 81 per cent of the time and 74 per cent of the time in women – based purely on viewing one image.

When the program was given more than one image, the success rate increased to 91 and 84 per cent, respectively.

Comparatively, people who took part in the study only guessed correctly 61 per cent of the time for men, and 54 per cent of the time for women.

The computer was programmed to look at bone structure and facial features, noting that gay men had more feminine features and gay women had a more masculine appearance.

The study took into account jawlines, hairlines, nose length and other features. As noted by The Guardian, “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 study raised a number of concerns, particularly regarding privacy. If the technology should fall into the hands of churches, particular businesses or One Nation supporters, it could be used to discriminate against LGBTI people.

The study also raised a range of questions, i.e. regarding the extent to which people could be ‘born gay’ and how homosexuality may come from exposure to particular hormones.

The lower success rate for women than men also indicates that sexuality may indeed be more fluid among women – although researchers have been careful to reassert that all findings remain preliminary and require further research.

About the author

Originally from Cairns, Australia, Daniel currently resides in Berlin, Germany.

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