What does your face say about you? - ADface is here to explore digital trust and AI ethics

Jessica Espinosa  May 2022

Have you ever wondered if your decisions have been influenced or made by an Artificial Intelligence (AI) algorithm? Or how much of your online content has been specially filtered and targeted just for you by AI? Maybe an AI even decided whether you get a job, a loan, or just access to some service solely based on your appearance?

Within our digital era, artificial intelligence has become an essential tool for technology, but also for economic and societal processes that take place inside and outside of the digital sphere. Indeed, AI has become the big buzzword of digitalization, but as users and organisations offering the services, do we really understand what it entails? Its benefits and challenges? Do we really know the impact it has on our day to day life?

To help raise awareness about ethical questions related to AI, the Swiss Digital Initiative partnered with HEAD Genève (Haute école d’art et de design) to create the interactive art experience “ADface”. This tool uses a computer’s webcam to take a picture of the user (always with their consent) and then analyses the face image with artificial intelligence. The analysis generates a user profile with characteristics such as age, emotional state and social status and based on this displays different advertisements that supposedly match the profile.

The tool shares the profile created by the algorithm with the user to reveal how AI is making assumptions about them just based on their facial features and expressions. As humans we have learned over time to derive certain information from facial expressions, although these can vary wildly by culture. When AI systems try to imitate this and try to distinguish our gender, race, emotions and societal status just by having one look at our face, the results can be interesting to say the least. ADface shows us how AI systems profile people’s features and, also, how the profiles may vary depending on our face position, hairstyle and lighting.


Try ADface to see what an AI algorithm thinks of you

But now that we know this about AI, what can we do? It shouldn’t only be up to users to take action. On our project site we outline some first simple steps for users but also organisations offering digital services that they can take to work towards a more responsible and ethical digital world. For users it’s all about becoming curious, finding help e.g. with digital society NGOs and becoming empowered to demand transparency and accountability from digital providers.

As for organisations, they need to facilitate the empowerment of their users by being transparent about what services and technologies they use, how they use them and for what ends. Since digital services mostly originate from organisations they should also bear responsibility for making sure their digital services are not harmful and instead abide up to certain standards in terms of security and privacy. This is exactly why we have developed the Digital Trust Label, to help organisations put into practice vague commitments about digital responsibility. Lastly, organisations would also do well to collaborate with other actors, e.g. digital researchers or NGOs trying to understand the impact of algorithms.

Building trust and safeguarding digital ethics

Putting humans at the centre of technological progress, the Swiss Digital Initiative is actively working on building more trustworthy digital platforms and on safeguarding the highest ethical standards in the digital world. Aligned with SDI’s work, ADface is just the first step into broader awareness and discussion about the way technology and society interact but most importantly about the ethics, safety and trust of this interaction.