A really quaint idea from the ‘90s

You’d think this was satire but apparently it isn’t. Hold the presses: facial recognition technology “misgenders” trans and nonbinary people. You don’t say! How very shocking!

Yet, for all its advances, facial recognition technology—created by training computer vision algorithms on massive datasets of photographs of faces—might have a critical shortcoming: only being able to “see” two genders.

Sexes, you mean. The average differences in male and female faces aren’t a matter of gender but of sex. They’re physical. Vision algorithms don’t know from people’s inner feeling.

New research by Jed Brubaker, Jacob Paul, and Morgan Klaus Scheuerman (lead author) in the University of Colorado Boulder’s Information Science department reveals that many major facial recognition services misclassify the gender of trans and non-binary people.

Because they can’t see the magic gender, they can see only the sex. If you asked them to classify people’s politics or taste in food they would get that wrong too. If you want to check people’s invisible attributes, you don’t send facial recognition technology to do the job.

“We found that facial analysis services performed consistently worse on transgender individuals, and were universally unable to classify non-binary genders,” said Scheuerman, who is also a PhD student in Information Science at CU Boulder, in a statement.

Oh for god’s sake! How would they be able to? How would anyone? Do you feel confident that you can pick the non-binary people out of a crowd? Of course not! It’s a self-applied label, not a concrete recognizable specifiable category.

At a minimum, this miscategorization has the potential to result in social discomfort and exclusion, reinforcing stereotypes that serve to “other” those who do not identify with the traditional gender binary.

“When you walk down the street you might look at someone and presume that you know what their gender is, but that is a really quaint idea from the ‘90s and it is not what the world is like anymore,” Brubaker said. “As our vision and our cultural understanding of what gender is has evolved, the algorithms driving our technological future have not. That’s deeply problematic.”

Oh yes, so quaint, from those stupid ’90s, which might as well be the 4th century. It’s like corsets, or crucifying rebels, or living in a pleasant villa in Pompeii.

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