Facial recognition has quickly shifted from techno-novelty to fact of life for many, with millions around the world at least willing to put up with their faces scanned by software at the airport, their iPhones, or Facebook’s server farms. But researchers at New York University’s AI Now Institute have issued a strong warning against not only ubiquitous facial recognition, but its more sinister cousin: so-called affect recognition, technology that claims it can find hidden meaning in the shape of your nose, the contours of your mouth, and the way you smile. If that sounds like something dredged up from the 19th century, that’s because it sort of is.
AI Now’s 2018 report is a 56-page record of how “artificial intelligence” — an umbrella term that includes a myriad of both scientific attempts to simulate human judgment and marketing nonsense — continues to spread without oversight, regulation, or meaningful ethical scrutiny. The report covers a wide expanse of uses and abuses, including instances of racial discrimination, police surveillance, and how trade secrecy laws can hide biased code from an AI-surveilled public. But AI Now, which was established last year to grapple with the social implications of artificial intelligence, expresses in the document particular dread over affect recognition, “a subclass of facial recognition that claims to detect things such as personality, inner feelings, mental health, and ‘worker engagement’ based on images or video of faces.” The thought of your boss watching you through a camera that uses machine learning to constantly assess your mental state is bad enough, while the prospect of police using “affect recognition” to deduce your future criminality based on “micro-expressions” is exponentially worse.
“The ability to use machine