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Margaret Hillenbrand – Read Your Mind: Facial Recognition Technology and Contemporary Chinese Portraiture

November 16, 2023 @ 1:30 pm 3:00 pm

Speaker: Margaret Hillenbrand, Professor of Modern Chinese Literature and Culture, University of Oxford

Margaret Hillenbrand’s paper probes the links between facial recognition technology and contemporary Chinese portraiture. Its point of departure is a recent paper published by two AI researchers based in China. The paper introduces a facial recognition algorithm apparently capable of predicting the status of an individual as a convicted criminal with almost 90% accuracy using only a driver’s license-style photograph. Unsurprisingly, the paper attracted a furious backlash, as commentators around the world pointed out its unabashed parallels with the long-discredited pseudosciences of physiognomy and phrenology. Less obvious, though equally intriguing, is the relationship between this branch of facial recognition technology and the practices of art-making. To explore this submerged linkage, Hillenbrand turns to the work of contemporary painters Fang Lijun and Yue Minjun, whose experiments in the domain of portraiture mirror in inverted, mocking ways the operations of machine learning software which attempts to read the human mind and predict behavior. These parallels matter because they show that many facial recognition technologies are brazen forms of visual media, interventions in the seeable world which borrow outrageously from pictorial traditions of portraiture, old and new. This recourse to art, the disdained domain of subjectivity, within the professedly impartial, ideologically scientized field of facial algorithms shakes the latter’s foundational myth: namely, that individual identity is genomically predetermined in ways which only the most objective methods can disclose.

Presented via Zoom.
Register: https://harvard.zoom.us/j/97027197260?pwd=MnJzR3JKUjR0Vlk2WU1VdjRxcURodz09


November 16, 2023
1:30 pm – 3:00 pm
Event Category:


Department of East Asian Languages and Civilizations


Presented via Zoom

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