Shocker! It’s problematic
You’re only as valuable as your AI-generated classifiers, or that’s what artist Trevor Paglan’s latest project, ImageNet Roulette, wants you to believe. Like Paglan’s “From Apple to Anomaly” project at the Barbican’s AI: More Than Human exhibition, the site uses information taken from algorithm database ImageNet, which – for those of you not in the know-how – is basically the same machine-learning hub developed by Princeton and Stanford University, for fun things like ‘image classification’ and ‘object detention’. It’s a site that lets you upload an image of your face onto its database to be categorised in whichever ways the algorithm sees fit – and, as you can imagine, it’s pretty problematic.
“ImageNet Roulette uses a Caffe model trained on the ‘people’ categories from the popular ImageNet dataset,” reads a description on the site. What it means is this: when you upload a photo, your face is run through a face detector that cross-references its features with that of a 10-point Caffe model of person classification. The 14 million images are organised into over 20,000 categories with around 1,000 images per category – it has become the world's most-cited object recognition database. We're well aware of AI’s past history with reductive, offensive, and sometimes downright racist and-or misogynistic readings of people (anyone remember Taylor Swift’s racist chatbot?), and the results have leaned on the side of heavily-biased.
We had a go with some of our favourite celebrities so you can see for yourself.
LANA DEL REY – A MISSY
Let’s be real here. The word missy is basically synonymous with every old dude ever who gets that little too close to you on the Circle and District line at rush hour, or the street seller who tells you to “smile, young lady!” when you’re 40 minutes, three espressos, and at least two manspreads into your morning commute. Missy? Kindly STFU.
ARIANA GRANDE – ADULT FEMALE
This one’s pretty accurate, I suppose? In that sterile, highly-reductive computer kind of way. Thank U, Next.
CHARLI XCX – A MAIDEN
Charli, our fair internet maiden! Presumably it was the “Flash Pose” singer’s ‘feminine allure’ that dubbed her with the algorithmic title of ‘maiden’. I mean, really? The word alone conjures images of innocent ladies with long, blonde locks and plump bosoms, who yell “help me!” from the tops of a medieval castle, before riding side-saddle into the sunset with her sweet prince. Charli, this is not.
TROYE SIVAN – A YOUNG BUCK
Given that no-one under the age of 50 has ever used the term ‘young buck’ with even a morsel of seriousness, the term carries with it some serious Big Creep Energy. That being said, Sivan is a young adult male?
MARINA ABRAMOVIC – A SISTER
I mean, this image is giving me some serious Virgin Mary glow-up vibes. Sister Marina, we stan.
FKA TWIGS – A WEIRDO
Presumably it was the pink-tinged floral arrangement sitting in Twigs’ mouth that gave her the label of “looney” and “weirdo”, but considering this is taken from the artist’s summer 2014 cover shoot with Dazed, we’re all personally offended. Twigs, if you’re reading this, we got your back.