Google calls Chinese criminal face recognition research ‘deeply problematic’
12 May 2017 15:12 GMT

Google researchers have criticised face recognition research by a Chinese university that used criminals as a dataset, saying it raises ethical issues.

In a new research paper, Shanghai Jiao Tong University computer science Professor Wu Xiaolin described machines that could figure out if someone was a criminal, basing on the analysis on nearly 2,000 Chinese state ID pictures of criminals and non-criminals.

The Chinese researchers based their research on “race, gender and age,” and noted that “the faces of law-abiding members of the public have a greater degree of resemblance compared with the faces of criminals.” For example, criminals tended to have eyes that were closer together, they added: “the distance between two eye inner corners for criminals is slightly narrower (5.6%) than for non-criminals.”

Google researchers reacted last week, saying they found the Chinese scientists’ findings “deeply problematic, both ethically and scientifically.”

They likened Wu's study to physiognomy, the practice of judging a person's character by their facial features, which is considered a pseudoscience by modern scholars.

“In one sense, it’s nothing new. However, the use of modern machine learning (which is both powerful and, to many, mysterious) can lend these old claims new credibility,” Google researchers Blaise Aguera y Arcas and Margaret Mitchell, and Princeton University Psychology Professor Alexander Todorov, wrote in the paper published online.

Shanghai Jiao Tong University computer science Professor Wu Xiaolin has said that the Google scientists read something into the research that simply isn’t there and started their “name-calling,” the South China Morning Post reported.