There are a plenty of scientific theories on how to predict future criminal behavior: Gender, low resting heart rate, and the name Ernest (hence the cinematic classic Ernest Goes To Jail). But a controversial paper out of China’s Shanghai Jiao Tong University claims that computers could tell if your kid is destined for a life of crime simply by looking at their face. And since that face is dictated by yours, it would make sense to take this personally.
According to researchers Xiaolin Wu and Xi Zhang, since algorithms can match and exceed human facial recognition capabilities, they should also be able to compare and contrast the faces of criminals and non-criminals to determine which mugs will get mugshots. If that seems like a roundabout way to blame racial profiling on the robot overlords, they note that the data sets were controlled for race, gender, age, and facial expressions. Of course, all of the subjects tested were Chinese men. So there’s that.
Xiaolin and Xi used the standard ID photos of 1,856 Chinese men between the ages 18 and 55 — 1126 non-criminals and 730 criminals, 235 of which were convicted of violent crimes — to test if any of their 4 classifiers could infer criminality. The classifiers (logistic regression, KNN, SVM, CNN) each used a different method of facial analysis, and were mostly accurate in predicting criminal behavior. The best classifier, known as the Convolutional Neural Network, was nearly 90 percent accurate.“The variation among criminal faces is significantly greater than that of the non-criminal faces,” the pair concluded.
So what are these variations to look out for? “Some discriminating structural features for predicting criminality, such as lip curvature, eye inner corner distance, and the so-called nose-mouth angle,” they wrote. Still, Hacker News, Motherboard, anyone who doesn’t believe in Blade Runner are as skeptical as you might be. For one, machine learning can pick up on human biases and act on them, and no one is going to unjustly profile your youngster if you have anything to say about it. Not even this second coming of Robocop.