Facial Voting

What if you could vote by making a quick facial expression? What if you voted anytime you made a face, but you didn’t even know you were voting? Anne Eisenberg reports in today’s New York Times regarding algorithms that will turn the most transient facial expressions into emotion metrics: When Algorithms Grow Accustomed to Your Face.

Eisenberg uncovers a fascinating rhetorical approach used by companies such as Affectiva, which markets emotion-reading to companies including Coca-Cola and Mars: we aren’t recording video frames, remarks one co-founder of the company, just the emotional responses that are coded automatically from the video feed! So privacy in this parochial sense extends to imagery but not to emotional response.  In New Mediocracy I argue that the ever-improving ability of computers to recognize human gestures and behavior will lead to ever more effective manipulation of consumers- and this power will only further emphasize inequity, deriving data from the masses for the economic gains of the few.  By considering emotional affect to be outside the bounds of privacy, companies like Affectiva simultaneously denature the personal significance of transient behavior while also enabling its collection on such a massive scale that, as a whole, the body of knowledge has extreme marketing value.

The marketing speak resulting from this: “…we can provide just-in-time information that will help individuals, moment to moment throughout their lives” once we can parse each facial gesture. This begs the question: who will be doing this helping- and for what purpose? Pure altruism? Profit maximization? Knowledge mined broadly will translate into the power to change group behavior, and this can only concentrate power, wealth and the ability to predict the pulse of group velocity. 

All of these computer vision systems will be imperfect: they won’t detect my every emotional state exactly correctly all of the time. But in the end that does not matter at all: they will collect information at such a large scale that, replete though they may be with imperfection, the newly derived knowledge will be game-changing.


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