Will We Win the First Beauty Contest with Robot Judges?

Jan 19, 2016

Probably the cringe-worthiest moment in television last year goes to talk show host Steve Harvey.

It was his duty, as host of the 2015 Miss Universe Beauty Pageant to crown the winner, which he did. But 1:55 later, Harvey was forced to backtrack - and admit that he had mis-read the cue-card.  

Even without epic bungles like that one, beauty contests can be a messy and divisive business, drudging up questions about sexism, patriarchy, and exploitation. 

Perhaps they would feel a little less antiquated, and the shows themselves be a little smoother if they were run by robots.    

Screenshot from beauty.ai
Credit Screenshot from beauty.ai

Enter the Beauty A.I. contest. A contest like no other - one where human contestants will be judged by not by a panel of their peers, but by an algorithm - a program designed to measure things like symmetry, how wrinkly you are, etc. 

When we found out about this contest, we at Word of Mouth were a little weirded out - but curious.  So producers Taylor QuimbyMaureen Mc MurrayMegan Tan and Logan Shannon downloaded the app. To enter the contest, you've got to sign in on Facebook or Gmail, you fill out some personal information - your age, your height, your weight, and your ethnicity.

Then the app gives you a few guidelines about how to submit your selfie.

From there, everyone knows the drill - hold camera out at arms length - adjust hair, smile - or  pout - and take the shot. No need to glue on your swimsuit to enter this contest, all you have to take a pic and press submit.  

But just because there's no makeup required, no flashy gowns or talent shows, doesn't mean this contest is somehow more authentic than the beauty pageants we're used to.

When people post things on Instagram who are model-esque or who have a bazillion followers they take so many photos before they submit them.

We found the whole idea of this contest endlessly fascinating - so we got in touch with Alex Zhavoronkov, a biogerontologist and anti-aging expert, and one of the human brains behind the first A.I.-based beauty contest to find out how the contest works. 

In order to train an algorithm to recognize—so to speak—beauty or any other pattern, you need a very large collection of standardized data. And in our case, through this competition, we’ve managed to collect a very large number of faces linked to biometric parameters, like weight, height, age and also the social profile.

But isn't beauty in the eye of the beholder? And in this case is the beholder the scientists tweaking the algorithm?

Initially you will have a jury, so there’s going to be a panel of robots, supervised by a human. However in the future, the intention is to lose the humans. Just like you see very similar trends in the automotive industry for example, soon we will see driverless cars, so initially we’re going to train the system, and then let it go so the robots can manage themselves.

So will someone from the Word of Mouth team win the contest? The winners will be announced on January 28th, we'll keep you posted.