People Are Divided Over This Algorithm That Tells If A Person Is ‘Trustworthy’ Based On Their Face

French researcher Nicolas Baumard shared news about his and his colleagues’ latest research only to create a fierce storm of debate on social media. Now, Twitter users are divided about how to react to Baumard’s algorithm that automatically evaluates the ‘trustworthiness’ of faces in historic European portraits.

Some people marveled at how advanced the machine learning analyses have become and eagerly read Baumard’s insights about rising trustworthiness levels in paintings over time and how they correlated to the appearance of liberal values and better living standards. But others went on the warpath. Some Twitter users, among them academics, branded the algorithm as ‘racist’ and linked it to phrenology.

Meanwhile, others (including academics) said that critics may not have read or understood Baumard’s thread or paper fully and rushed to conclusions prematurely. Baumard himself said that the algorithm was susceptible to the same biases as humans, like rating “younger, feminine, and happy” faces as more trustworthy. Scroll down, read through Baumard’s and everyone else’s comments, and let everyone know what you think of the research and the algorithm, dear Pandas.

You can read the full research paper right here.

This tweet saying that the research and the algorithm were allegedly ‘racist’ went viral

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One of the study’s researchers put the algorithm into context and explained everything in detail

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While some Twitter users have said that the researchers are essentially conducting phrenology, this isn’t the case: it’s not about detecting personality traits from the shape of the skull but about detecting the facial expressions chosen by the painter or the subject. These expressions show what people choose to signal as their cultural environment changes.

Baumard’s research found that trustworthiness in portraits between the years 1500 and 2000 increased, alongside a drop in interpersonal violence, as well as the rise of democratic values in Western Europe. Among these liberal values are religious tolerance and political freedom.

What’s more, the research suggests that the rise of displays of trustworthiness is closely linked to increased living standards. These include better economic performance, lower crime rates, and more inclusive institutions.

So, in short, as people have more and more money, and their quality of life increases, they’re more likely to trust others and to display themselves in a trustworthy manner. And this is expressed more and more through the paintings that artists draw.

According to the researchers, their results were consistent with other research documenting the so-called ‘Smile Revolution’ and “a rise of prosocial displays in paintings and in novels.” Baumard also drew attention to their findings that those people who live in places where trust and cooperation are higher displayed higher levels of trustworthiness in their selfies.

People had a lot to say about the results and both criticized and defended the research

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