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Technology07 January 2020

Dutch Design Week: Botox Treatments and Face Recognition by Algorithms

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The use of Botox in aesthetic medicine has become very common, which also applies to a group of young people. Facial enhancement known as improving lips, forehead and cheeks, is also a big business, which according to forecasts by 2024 globally will be worth USD 19 billion per year. All supported by the advertising industry, wrapping aesthetic medicine treatments in marketing, promoting near-natural beauty and prolonged youth. However, little is said about how significantly aesthetic corrections affect facial expression, which is an essential, very personal tool for interpersonal communication and for expressing our feelings. Something that makes our behaviors and reactions one hundred percent human and natural. Excessive interference, caused by repeated medical treatments, can make the face unnatural and its expression illegible to people with whom we communicate.

In the era of rapid development of Facial Recognition technology, the abovementioned changes may adversely affect not only the effectiveness of communication with people, but also with… machines. With each subsequent year, we will increasingly turn our face towards robots or face recognition systems (the best example is China, which is leading in the use of Facial Recognition, alas, unfortunately also for controlling society and ethnic minorities), which even without the influence of aesthetic medicine often have a problem with the correct reading of a human face, determination of age and even sex, not to mention the effective recognition of expressed emotions.Although technically these tools can be excellent, they are still fallible when it comes to the precision of facial expression detection. Whoever underwent face verification at airports during passport control knows what I am talking about, and this is just a substitute for what this extremely dynamically developing field of using artificial intelligence to recognize faces and identify citizens is becoming.

To raise awareness, draw attention, and start a discussion on social and ethical issues regarding facial enhancement, Marsha Wichers, a doctor of aesthetic medicine, conducted a non-standard experiment to prove that facial aesthetic treatments affect facial expression not only in people but also in artificial intelligence algorithms. One of the conclusions of this project concerns the phenomenon of Uncanny Valley, referred to in the context of designing humanoid robots, extremely human-like. Seeing such a robot we feel strange and all-overish and our emotions towards him are negative. In the case of facial enhancement, Wichers noticed a similarity in a situation where a person’s face, as a result of an excessive number of treatments, is unnatural and does not visually reflect their behavior or reaction. In this case – according to the author of the experiment – the phenomenon of Uncanny Valley may also occur.

For the needs of the Face Design project, Wichers underwent botox injection procedures herself, and then, using FaceReader software to recognize emotions on the human face, compared the effectiveness of algorithms before and after the treatment. While the system had no problem recognizing happiness on Wichers’ face, in the case of disgust it was helpless – it is difficult to express this emotion when the corners of the mouth do not drop. Similarly, in the case of surprise, the system remained in neutral mode because it could not define any change in the face of the examined person.

I saw the effects of the project live in Eindhoven during this year’s Dutch Design Week, and I recommend you the following video, which presents the impact of the treatment on the readings of the FaceReader system. A very interesting, however, suggestive dystopian scenario – will we have the need to perform such procedures in the future so that our emotions are not correctly read by the ubiquitous face recognition systems? The best answer and recommendation should be Marsha Wichers’s warning, expressed in the words “Our search for a perfect appearance could eventually dehumanize us”

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