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12.9.16

Pride And Prejudice

This week, one story caused a lot of buzz if you could get past all the rubbish regarding the US presidential elections.  In fact, the story nearly made me fall out of my chair laughing.  Granted, I'm a bit strange, but I think you'll see why.

The story involved something called Beauty AI, in which carefully parsed algorithms sampled hundreds of photos of women with the goal of "objectively" selecting the most beautiful woman in the world.  The problem is, the "objective" computer programs selected nearly all white winners.

There are so many things wrong with this story, I hardly know where to begin.

To begin with, this "beauty" contest was motivated by something called 'social justice,' which is the new code term for 'political correctness run amok.'    This new social justice thing is basically led by adult versions of those whiny little twits in grade school that ran crying to teacher when someone cut in line.  These annoying little jerks have now set themselves up as arbiters of what is and isn't fair and equitable in life, based on the wildly mistaken assumption that anything is fair and equitable in life.  There are even UNIVERSITY DEGREES in this inane and useless 'subject.'  Imagine the pride you would feel at holding a shiny new degree in 'tattle-telling.'

The premise of this computer-judged beauty contest was that a group of whiners would create an algorithm that would use "objective" criteria to determine whom among the contestants were the most beautiful women.

Let's begin with the utter irony and inconsistency of a 'politically correct' contest judging women objectively.  Now, being the slug-like subhuman white male that I am, I may have misunderstood the argument, but wasn't objectifying women one of the no-nos of political correctness?  In fact, weren't beauty contests supposed to reduce women to commodities?  Maybe I'm just getting old and not keeping up with the times here in the jungles of Borneo.

The next major error in logic was to assume that 'beauty' is capable of being objectified.  Beauty is one of the most subjective standards ever defined by human beings.  It borders on fetish, and is so individualized as to be almost incapable of definition.  What has been and is considered beautiful has changed constantly over the centuries, and varies according to culture, society, the times, and a hundred other arbitrary standards.

The Chinese thought bound feet were beautiful.  Some societies in South America thought pointy heads were beautiful.  Some cultures go gaw-gaw over filed or blackened teeth.  Some cultures think the male of the species defines beauty.

In the West alone, the female form has been wildly manipulated throughout history.  It used to be that women with tans were considered low class.  In some eras, small breasts were desirable, in others it was large.  Europeans used to think American women were prostitutes because they shaved their body hair.  At one time, pooched bellies were all the rage, now it's the neo-starved look.  Piled hair or long and natural?  Clara Bow lips or Angelina Jolie?

The gist of this is that there is no such thing as objective beauty.  It is impossible to describe one 'look' that is universally desirable.  Any attempt to write an algorithm to select beauty on a set of criteria will inevitably be biased towards the aesthetics of the writers.  The symetry of the features, the prominence of the cheekbones, the width of the eyes are all completely subjective markers and will always be selected based on the cultural prejudices of the observer.  To even attempt to divorce beauty from its cultural roots is either hopelessly ignorant or profoundly stupid.  In the case of Beauty AI, I suspect a little of both.

What had me so amused, of course, was all the hand-wringing and gnashing of teeth over the built-in prejudices of the supposedly objective machines.  The pure hubris of these numbnuts thinking they could write a program that wouldn't simply spit back at them what they put into it tickles me to no end.

When combined with efforts such as Microsoft's Tay and similar programs, what we find is that no matter what we do, our creations will always be reflections of ourselves.  Even deeper is that fact that we are all wired at the most basic levels by Nature and culture.  We cannot purge ourselves of something that is fundamental to our personalities.

What we should be learning from all this, but apparently are not, is that humans are prejudiced, opinionated and highly complex creatures that have and will continue to defy efforts to create Homo Politicus Correctus.  Even if we were to eradicate living being and replace them with robots, they would still contain within them the pride and prejudice of their creators.

The question becomes, what kind of spectacular failure will it take for us to realize that we are who we are?  No amount of social engineering, or worse social justice leagues, will change human nature.  It's like spanking a child for hitting his playmate.  What exactly have you taught him?

If we truly want peace on Earth, then let everyone alone and revel in the incredible differences that make up our species.

As the Old Sage so rightly said, "Beauty is in the eye of the beholder."

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