It’s Worse Than You Think: Robo-Profiling


Tangential to: [stderr] and [stderr]

This is one of those “it’s worse than you think” things that won’t really hurt much. It’ll just cost money. And a few lives.

As the police state division of the military/industrial complex rockets out of control, there are a lot of con-artists attracted to the sweet sweet smell of that great big trough of poorly overseen spending. In its simplest form, this fraud/waste/abuse shows itself as buying expensive tactical rifles for urban cops (who will virtually never need to sniper-kill anyone) or buying landmine resistant trucks for them to drive around in.

Iraqi Police officer with bomb dowsing rod

Iraqi Police officer with bomb dowsing rod

You’ve probably already heard about the jerks who were selling dowsing rods for explosive detection, at $16,000 – $50,000 apiece, knowing they didn’t actually do anything at all. [nyt]  Fortunately, at least one of them is in jail, now, and not running around enjoying the canapes and champagne.

I can imagine how it’s useful for detecting mines: you just walk around and when your existence goes blank and everyone else hears a catastrophic explosion: you’ve successfully found a mine. It’s called the ADE651 and it uses the same principles of operation as its manufacturer’s previous product: a dowsing rod for finding lost golf balls. [1]

But that’s not the pernicious stupidity we’re here to talk about today. Since we were just talking about facial recognition, [stderr] it’s depressing to see that someone is trying to implement Sam Harris’ profiling system[sh] in software.

We should profile Muslims, or anyone who looks like he or she could conceivably be Muslim, and we should be honest about it.

That’s actually a realistic recommendation, because “he or she could conceivably be Muslim” covers all humans. Which is, actually, the typical recommendation of security experts. But there’s a company that’s trying to use facial features to profile personalities: [faception]

faception-1

It’s ironic to see a company founded by israelis re-implementing the failed ideas of eugenicists and nazis. Actually, it’s not: it’s just disgusting and sad.

There are twin studies that show that some parts of human behavior appear to be genetic. But genetic determinism remains a shibboleth, in spite of nazis and racists best effort to support it with cherry-picked statistics.

faception-2

The face that I’m reading this with is shaped by my DNA, but it’s also shaped by an accident that occurred in 2013 in which my jaw was badly broken and my bite was changed so I tend to do most of my chewing on the right side. My face also changes rather dramatically as a result of the weight I put on and shed thanks to the metabolic problems I had after starving for two months with my jaw wired shut (food obsession, binge dieting, lather rinse repeat)  The face I am reading this with sometimes has glasses on it and other times contacts. Right now, my face has got a tremendously grumpy-looking frown on it as I contemplate the stupidity that is Faception.com [1]

I’m not sure whether they were pandering to Sam Harris by making “High IQ” look like him, although “High IQ” also looks suspiciously like Faception’s “Chief Profiler” …

The self-inflicted thrashing of their credibility continues:

faception-4

Your average billionaire [source]

Your average billionaire [source]

Their own “Thecnologist”  Tal Alufi, looks a lot like a “terrorist” perhaps they’re just trolling themselves. By the way, this is what a pedophile looks like:

The problem is, of course, that they’re promoting this garbage for security applications including border control.

Since the types of analysis that are performed on law enforcement image databases are kept largely secret, it is entirely possible that this sort of garbage will find its way into use.

You’ll notice that the people in the examples are all displayed in white against a baby-shit yellow background. That should give you pause to think, too: what’s one of the primary things that face recognition software is going to key off of? If you guessed skin color, you’re a winner! Other things that will be prominent are facial hair, hair texture, and glasses/non-glasses.

To understand how these systems – all of these systems, including the ones in our heads – work, you need to realize that they’re just pattern-matching rules. Those rules are adaptive based on our experience (and the experience of the software as it’s trained) so, for example, if you have important childhood memories of a person with a beard that was angry a lot, you’re going to be more likely to interpret people with beards as “angry” than someone who doesn’t. That’s not DNA, that’s experience and memory. When a human programs an AI, they program their experiences into it, as well, in the form of the training sets. If you train an AI using stereotypical imagery – let’s say pedophiles from Hollywood and television – you’re actually getting a distillation of Hollywood’s stereotype. Hollywood character designers deliberately play on stereotypes as part of dramatic characterization: the picture of Epstein above might work fine for a stereotype of a wealthy playboy, but it’d be a surprise character reveal if the plot twists had him turn out to be a pedophile. In fact, if you look at mug shots, you’ll notice that character stereotypes such as the ones this AI is trying to apply – simply do not apply.

A couple of yuppies going through security 9/11

A couple of business types going through security 9/11

Worse, as Bruce Schneier pointed out when he was trying to school the stubbornly obtuse Harris on airport security[sch]: if someone knows your stereotypic profile, they can game it. In fact that is exactly why the 9/11 killers made a point of looking like typical professional office-workers as they went through airport security in Boston. You will notice the conspicuous lack of beards, lack of Saudi head-scarf and thawb, lack of sandals, etc.

The reason this is problematic is because AI is the new savior that the police state is looking towards to help it sort out the gigantic mountains of data that it’s collecting. IBM is coy about how Watson would certainly be worth the NSA having a look at, but – the best it can possibly be is an artificial intelligence which means that, just like a ‘real’ intelligence, it’s garbage in/garbage out. If you grew up after 9/11 you might see those two guys as “terrorists” but if you grew up in the 70s this is what a “terrorist” probably looks like:

patti

Facial recognition is not a panacea, nor are any automated rule-based matching systems, whether they are implemented in silicon or in a brain.

“We kill people based on metadata” – Michael Hayden, former Director of NSA

I guess it’s not “just metadata” if it’s being used to kill people. Michael Hayden (who, by the way, looks like the “pedophile” profile from Faception) [wikipedia] defended the NSA’s use of scoring systems to determine who to strike in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Last year, The Intercept published documents detailing the NSA’s SKYNET programme. According to the documents, SKYNET engages in mass surveillance of Pakistan’s mobile phone network, and then uses a machine learning algorithm on the cellular network metadata of 55 million people to try and rate each person’s likelihood of being a terrorist. [theintercept]

skynet-courier-detection-via-machine-learning-p3-normalI worry that, as the mountains of data pile up, and the police state is already unable to deal with all that they collect, they will resort to extremely inaccurate automated methods. This will be possible, for them, because there is no downside cost for them if they are wrong. The best way to rein the problem in, in fact, is to make it expensive for law enforcement to make a mistake with facial recognition. At present, the most plausible route for that is via lawsuits for wrongful detainment – which is why that is exactly the fulcrum-point of the current profiling debate: the police state wants to be indemnified from harm caused when it incorrectly or illegally detains, scares, or harms someone. If there’s one wish I have it’s that a billionaire or two would pay all the legal bills for anyone who has a gun pointed at them by a law enforcement officer, or who is detained and searched, to sue them personally and their state or government agency.

We must resist this dangerous bullshit, because it’s the root of the intellectual tree that allows cops to gun down black people and say “they looked scary.” The emphasis on appearance over fact and actual behavior is dangerous.

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wtffaceBy the way, isn’t it weird and self-defeating that Faception’s illustration includes someone wearing a mask? That’s sort of a tacit admission that their whole programme is trivially easy to defeat.

This is scary bullshit. But then it’s social psychology: a field that should be burned down and plowed with salt. I’ll spare you the details so you don’t have to watch it unless you need a purgative: people in pictures who are smiling or who have widened eyes are rated as more interested/friendly than people who aren’t. That’s an amazing discovery, I admit. But let’s not call in air strikes on everyone who’s frowning, because we frowners are threatening and look like “terrorists”!

Comments

  1. Dunc says

    Ha ha ha oh shit they’re serious.

    Congratulations, everybody, you’ve just re-invented phrenology.

    I particularly love how the “white collar offender” is clearly the bad guy from a ’90s straight-to-video cyberpunk movie. Only ’90s cyberpunk bad guys wear those stupid shades.

    SKYNET engages in mass surveillance of Pakistan’s mobile phone network, and then uses a machine learning algorithm on the cellular network metadata of 55 million people to try and rate each person’s likelihood of being a terrorist.

    Jesus fuck, you not only built this thing, but you actually called it “SKYNET”!? WHAT THE FUCK IS WRONG WITH YOU PEOPLE?

  2. Siobhan says

    But let’s not call in air strikes on everyone who’s frowning, because we frowners are threatening and look like “terrorists”!

    I think that measure will be saved for the frowning brown people, Marcus. Frowning white people just get sexually assaulted during the security strip search.

  3. says

    Dunc@#1:
    It’s worse than phrenology because your head is at least… um, attached to your head.
    These guys appear to be factoring temporary things like hats, glasses, and facial hair as indicators of personality, too. Presumably they have never seen the “glasses nose and mustache” disguises. Or perhaps their model correctly returns “intellectual artist terrorist renaissance man”

    I was hoping their site had a demo box where you could upload pictures and get a classification back. I wonder why it doesn’t? They’d have a fine collection of Donald Trump pictures I’m sure…

    you actually called it “SKYNET”!?

    It’s a little sacrifice to their god, authoritarianism.

  4. says

    Shiv@#2:
    Frowning white people just get sexually assaulted during the security strip search.

    Oh, that’s right. I forgot to check my privilege.

    In researching this post (I actually do research stuff! I swear!) I tried to find some online facial recognition systems so I could see if they could tell me apart from Donald Trump. I didn’t find much. I did some reverse image-searches of the Arkansas nazis and one database correctly identified the skinheads as “female” so I guess it’s OK to call in the airstrikes.

  5. says

    A twin study, right. So, we have Smartass, Academic, and then…poker and bingo? What in the Fuck? That makes no goddamn sense at all. Pretty sure none of these dudes has been in a bingo hall.

    So, if I’m at an airport wearing my ankle length, black velvet Gothic coat, 5 inch heel black leather boots, and a vintage black top hat, what handy classification does that land me in? (Outside of sarcastic smartass?)

  6. Dunc says

    So, if I’m at an airport wearing my ankle length, black velvet Gothic coat, 5 inch heel black leather boots, and a vintage black top hat, what handy classification does that land me in?

    Airship pirate captain. Duh.

  7. Owlmirror says

    Wikipedia: Physiognomonics

    Already in antiquity, physiognomy’s pretensions to a “scientific” foundation were questioned and debated. It had connections to medicine, but also to magic and divination.

    LOLSOB

  8. Owlmirror says

    Say, wasn’t there an experiment where they showed the pictures of actual serial killers to these sorts of bullshit artists, and got back bland and hilariously inaccurate responses? Or am I thinking of astrology (where they included the birth dates and times) rather than physiognomy?

  9. chigau (違う) says

    Cosmopolitan magazine used to have a quiz every month with titles like:
    “How to tell if your lover is cheating”
    “How to cheat on your lover without him finding out”
    Did these clowns get their start there?

  10. says

    chigau@#10:
    I looked on their website and you can tell by the faces of the executive team that they are a weird mixture of gullible and ruthless, and the CEO is into laser printer auto-erotic “frottage”

  11. says

    @Marcus I may have misunderstood you in #4, but have you seen google Photos?

    It will classify your Heap Of Pictures according to who is in them, and it’s freakishly accurate. Not 100%, but it has done a startling job of matching up pictures of my daughters from when they were essentially blobs into the present, when they actually appear to me to be unique people.

    It’s not perfect, by any means, but it’s pretty damned good. photos,google.com -> Albums -> People (after uploading a suitable pile of shit and waiting for the Google Brownies to do whatever it is they do). Presumably the “Criminality” and “Mental Illnesses” breakdown tabs are available only to LEOs, since I don’t see them.

  12. says

    Andrew Molitor@#12:
    Yeah, I’m familiar with the google photos thing – the problem is that to use it you have to download their app and give control of your phone to google. Strangely, reluctant.

  13. says

    Dunc:

    Airship pirate captain. Duh.

    Ah, that allows me to bypass the pesky airport altogether!

    Another thing – it’s hard to miss that they provide the image of two women in their profiling cartoons. So, an implicit and explicit bias towards men in the profiling biz of looking for terrorists. Because a woman would never, ever do anything bad. Nope. There isn’t enough eyeroll for these idiots.

  14. says

    You can actually use Photos entirely through the web interface, I think. It’s chewing on, mostly, my old picasa archive. I have it on my phone, but I don’t *think* that it’s a necessary portion of my usage. You never know, though. Possibly it’s doing all the processing on my phone and that’s why I think the battery is failing. You just never know with google.

  15. says

    Andrew Molitor@#15:
    Oh, you’re right. I guess the web interface doesn’t work for iOS but works for Windows.

    It appears google is being not incompetent today; I uploaded the picture of arizona nazis and it didn’t flag it as containing anyone. I wonder if they only do face recognition among friends or faces you’ve already defined elsewhere. That’d make sense…

  16. says

    Yeah, I should have clarified. What it does it it tries to sort YOUR pictures into an overlapping set of people. If you uploaded a bunch of photos of yourself, and of Trump, and of you WITH Trump, it should be able to give you a “pictures of Trump” and a “pictures of Marcus” set, which would mostly contain the right things. The pictures with both of you ought to appear in both sets.

    This is an easier problem than doing the global thing, and possibly I have missed your point entirely here anyways.

  17. Pierce R. Butler says

    Real terrorists® travel mostly by secret underground tunnel, anyhow.

    This reminds me of a piece I read back in the ’80s, when Larry Flynt reportedly made an offer to buy Mother Jones. The MoJo crew had a good laugh, then decided to send someone to “explore” the offer and get an inside peek at Hustler production. One of the publisher’s brainstorms facing the editors on that day involved a suggested article on reading women’s personalities by interpreting their vulvae: a luckless staffer told the editors he could barely find anything on analyzing character even through faces, the editors hoped their boss would forget about it, and the MJ reporter held back a howl about Flynt watching their meeting through the spycams visible throughout the office.

    Uh-oh – surely the Faceptionists will read this article, and this comment, and realize they can expand their market to “officials” looking for more reasons to order strip searches and crotch shots. In the modern spirit of pandering to lecherous gay male securitycrats egalitarianism, Faception will have to invent comparable psychological scanning by cock-&-balls analysis (but that probably won’t take more than an afternoon). Sorry, y’all!

  18. springa73 says

    Bad ideas never seem to die. I first read about this a few days ago, and immediately thought of the 19th-early 20th century mania for “scientifically” determining peoples’ personalities based on facial features and head shapes.

  19. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    If there’s one wish I have it’s that a billionaire or two would pay all the legal bills for anyone who has a gun pointed at them by a law enforcement officer, or who is detained and searched, to sue them personally and their state or government agency.

    I wish, but the courts are against us here. Many federal courts have not only embraced statutory frameworks that grant special immunity to police for misdeeds, they’ve actually added their own court-invented doctrine of special immunity on top of that.

    The only thing that is going to fix this is a massive change in public culture, and then probably some constitutional amendments banning a standing army – I mean police – and guaranteeing equality before the law for all, no matter your employment in law enforcement and executive branch matters.

    PS:
    I still want government police. I just think that they shouldn’t have any special powers, privileges, or immunities, without a warrant compared to any other citizen, or that such special powers, privileges, and immunities should be drastically reduced. More and more as I think about it, it’s becoming harder and harder to think of special powers, privileges, and immunities that the police actually need to do their job beyond the classical executive immunity of “someone cannot be sued for properly and lawfully enforcing the law”.

  20. says

    EnlightenmentLiberal@#20:
    I still want government police. I just think that they shouldn’t have any special powers, privileges, or immunities, without a warrant compared to any other citizen, or that such special powers, privileges, and immunities should be drastically reduced.

    It seems to me that police and others are acting as agents of the state, in which case the way they are using the power of the state needs to be very carefully governed, with severe penalties for its abuse. A cop with a gun is doing violence on behalf of the state – if they do it sloppily or irresponsibly they are not only a personal failure, they are damaging the integrity and credibility of the state.

  21. EnlightenmentLiberal says

    Actually… I posted too soon. Let me qualify and equivocate.

    “Police” as you just defined them mostly did not exist when this country was founded, and when the constitution was ratified, and the federal bill of rights ratified. The founders would be horrified by our police, and they would say that our police are the standing army that they so feared, in every way that matters.

    For the sake of argument, let me channel the founders generation for a moment: There shouldn’t be police, in the sense that they are extensions of the state. Private criminal matters should be solved by private criminal investigations, and victims and interested parties should be able to seek indictments from grand juries when there is reasonable suspicion of a crime (where grand juries are operated by the government, but composed of peers of the person seeking indictment and not government lackeys), and these private prosecutors should then be able to prosecute the criminal matter in a court of law (also a thing that is operated by the government, but again the jury is composed of the prosecutor and defendant’s peers, not government lackeys). Why should we allow such a thing as “police” to exist? That’s the standing army. We just fought a war of rebellion for independence precisely because the English King imposed such a thing on us, and now you would impose such a thing on yourselves!? Didn’t you read the Declaration Of Independence? Half of that thing was complaining about the danger that “police” do to society! You threw away all of our hard work and deaths for nothing!

    Now, I differ with the founders on some details. For starters, I don’t fully subscribe to this notion of libertarian justice. I’ve seen where it leads, and it’s not pretty: Pinkertons. I know just enough about the horrors of the outright military battles between swarms of Pinkertons and union strikers to know that we need to avoid repeating that situation.

    However, there’s a happy middle ground between private security forces, and modern police. I want the police to be Pinkertons in the sense that they should have no special legal powers, but I also want the Pinkertons on the government dole in order to prevent the even greater corruption that happens when the Pinkertons are beholden directly to corporate interests by being on the corporate payroll.

    To put it provocatively, but honestly: I would rather be arrested by Dog The Bounty Hunter, or any other bounty hunter, than a cop, precisely because I know how short of a leash (pun intended) that these bounty hunters are kept on. I know that they know that they will be royally fucked if they fuck me, and I know that this knowledge will do wonders to make the bounty hunter obey the law. Personal responsibility, and especially personal liability, is where it’s at.

    In other words, I avoid your problem by denying that police should be seen as agents of the state at all. They should be seen as exactly what they are: hired goons, mere private citizens, and they should be treated accordingly.

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