Scientists launched a robot-judged beauty contest. What could go wrong? A lot.

"Computer computer, on my screen — what's the fairest face you've ever seen?"

Presumably, that's what the folks at Youth Laboratories were thinking when they launched Beauty.AI, the world's first international beauty contest judged entirely by an advanced artificial intelligence system.

More than 600,000 people from across the world entered the contest, which was open to anyone willing to submit a selfie taken in neutral lighting without any makeup.


According to the scientists, their system would use algorithms based on facial symmetry, wrinkles, and perceived age to define "objective beauty" — whatever that means.

This murderous robot understands my feelings. GIF via CNBC/YouTube.

It's a pretty cool idea, right?

Removing all the personal taste and prejudice from physical judgment and allowing an algorithm to become the sole arbiter and beholder of beauty would be awesome.

What could possibly go wrong?

"Did I do that?" — These researchers, probably. GIF from "Family Matters."

Of the 44 "winners" the computer selected, seven of them were Asian, and one was black. The rest were white.

This is obviously proof that white people are the most objectively attractive race, right? Hahaha. NO.

Instead, it proves (once again) that human beings have unconscious biases, and that it's possible to pass those same biases on to machines.

Basically, if your algorithm is based mostly on white faces and 75% of the people who enter your contest are white Europeans, the white faces are going to win based on probability, even if the computer is told to ignore skin tone.

Plus, most cameras are literally optimized for light skin, so that probably didn't help the problem, either. In fact, the AI actually discarded some entries that it deemed to be "too dim."

So, because of shoddy recruitment, a non-diverse team, internal biases, and a whole slew of other reasons, these results were ... more than a little skewed.

Thankfully, Youth Laboratories acknowledged this oversight in a press release. They're delaying the next stage in their robotic beauty pageant until they iron out the kinks in the system.

Ironically, Alex Zhavoronkov, their chief science officer, told The Guardian, "The algorithm ... chose people who I may not have selected myself."

Basically, their accidentally racist and not-actually-objective robot also had lousy taste. Whoops.

Ooooh baby, racist robots! Yeah! GIF from Ruptly TV/YouTube.

This begs an important question: As cool as it would be to create an "objective" robot or algorithm, is it really even possible?

The short answer is: probably not. But that's because people aren't actually working on it yet — at least, not in the way they claim to be.

As cool and revelatory as these cold computer calculations could potentially be, getting people to acknowledge and compensate for their unconscious biases when they build the machines could be the biggest hurdle. Because what you put in determines what you get out.

"While many AI safety activists are concerned about machines wiping us out, there are very few initiatives focused on ensuring diversity, balance, and equal opportunity for humans in the eyes of AI," said Youth Laboratories Chief Technology Officer Konstantin Kiselev.

Of course you like that one. GIF from "Ex Machina."

This is the same issue we've seen with predictive policing, too.

If you tell a computer that blacks and Hispanics are more likely to be criminals, for example, it's going to provide you with an excuse for profiling that appears on the surface to be objective.

But in actuality, it just perpetuates the same racist system that already exists — except now, the police can blame the computer instead of not taking responsibility for themselves.

"There is no justice. There is ... just us." GIF from "Justice League."

Of course, even if the Beauty.AI programmers did find a way to compensate for their unconscious biases, they'd still have to deal with the fact that, well, there's just no clear definition for "beauty."

People have been trying to unlock that "ultimate secret key" to attractiveness since the beginning of time. And all kinds of theories abound: Is attractiveness all about the baby-makin', or is it some other evolutionary advantage? Is it like Youth Laboratories suggests, that "healthy people look more attractive despite their age and nationality"?

Also, how much of beauty is strictly physical, as opposed to physiological? Is it all just some icky and inescapable Freudian slip? How much is our taste influenced by what we're told is attractive, as opposed to our own unbiased feelings?

Simply put: Attractiveness serves as many different purposes as there are factors that define it. Even if this algorithm somehow managed to unlock every possible component of beauty, the project was flawed from the start. Humans can't even unanimously pick a single attractive quality that matters most to all of us.

GIF from "Gilligan's Island."

The takeaway here? Even our technology starts with our humanity.

Rather than creating algorithms to justify our prejudices or preferences, we should focus our energies on making institutional changes that bring in more diverse voices to help make decisions. Embracing more perspectives gives us a wider range of beauty — and that's better for everyone.

If your research team or board room or city council actually looks like the world it's supposed to represent, chances are they're going to produce results that look the same way, too.

Family

I'm staring at my screen watching the President of the United States speak before a stadium full of people in North Carolina. He launches into a lie-laced attack on Congresswoman Ilhan Omar, and the crowd boos. Soon they start chanting, "Send her back! Send her back! Send her back!"

The President does nothing. Says nothing. He just stands there and waits for the crowd to finish their outburst.

WATCH: Trump rally crowd chants 'send her back' after he criticizes Rep. Ilhan Omar www.youtube.com

My mind flashes to another President of the United States speaking to a stadium full of people in North Carolina in 2016. A heckler in the crowd—an old man in uniform holding up a TRUMP sign—starts shouting, disrupting the speech. The crowd boos. Soon they start chanting, "Hillary! Hillary! Hillary!"

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via EarthFix / Flickr

What will future generations never believe that we tolerated in 2019?

Dolphin and orca captivity, for sure. They'll probably shake their heads at how people died because they couldn't afford healthcare. And, they'll be completely mystified at the amount of food some people waste while others go starving.

According to Biological Diversity, "An estimated 40 percent of the food produced in the United States is wasted every year, costing households, businesses and farms about $218 billion annually."

There are so many things wrong with this.

First of all it's a waste of money for the households who throw out good food. Second, it's a waste of all of the resources that went into growing the food, including the animals who gave their lives for the meal. Third, there's something very wrong with throwing out food when one in eight Americans struggle with hunger.

Supermarkets are just as guilty of this unnecessary waste as consumers. About 10% of all food waste are supermarket products thrown out before they've reached their expiration date.

Three years ago, France took big steps to combat food waste by making a law that bans grocery stores from throwing away edible food.According to the new ordinance, stores can be fined for up to $4,500 for each infraction.

Previously, the French threw out 7.1 million tons of food. Sixty-seven percent of which was tossed by consumers, 15% by restaurants, and 11% by grocery stores.

This has created a network of over 5,000 charities that accept the food from supermarkets and donate them to charity. The law also struck down agreements between supermarkets and manufacturers that prohibited the stores from donating food to charities.

"There was one food manufacturer that was not authorized to donate the sandwiches it made for a particular supermarket brand. But now, we get 30,000 sandwiches a month from them — sandwiches that used to be thrown away," Jacques Bailet, head of the French network of food banks known as Banques Alimentaires, told NPR.

It's expected that similar laws may spread through Europe, but people are a lot less confident at it happening in the United States. The USDA believes that the biggest barrier to such a program would be cost to the charities and or supermarkets.

"The logistics of getting safe, wholesome, edible food from anywhere to people that can use it is really difficult," the organization said according to Gizmodo. "If you're having to set up a really expensive system to recover marginal amounts of food, that's not good for anybody."

Plus, the idea may seem a little too "socialist" for the average American's appetite.

"The French version is quite socialist, but I would say in a great way because you're providing a way where they [supermarkets] have to do the beneficial things not only for the environment, but from an ethical standpoint of getting healthy food to those who need it and minimizing some of the harmful greenhouse gas emissions that come when food ends up in a landfill," Jonathan Bloom, the author of American Wasteland, told NPR.

However, just because something may be socialist doesn't mean it's wrong. The greater wrong is the insane waste of money, damage to the environment, and devastation caused by hunger that can easily be avoided.

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