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Computer vision research aims to identify overweight people from social media face photos

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In the Media

Researchers from MIT and the Qatar Computing Research Institute have developed a novel new facility in the current rush of interest towards computer vision – an algorithm that can identify overweight individuals based on their social media photos.

The paper Face-to-BMI: Using Computer Vision to Infer Body Mass Index on Social Media outlines how the team, led by Enes Kocabey, used a Reddit-derived image dataset developed by the Visual BMI Project to teach a computer how to understand facial topology that seems to indicated above-average Body Mass Index (BMI).

The dataset (consisting of 4206 faces in relatively arbitrary angles to camera) derives from a series of ‘before’ and ‘after’ pictures of people who have undertaken weight-loss regimes, isolating just the facial elements from the resulting photos, in order to establish some idea of baselines beyond which increased BMI might be indicated in the average person.

The researchers acknowledge the risk of perpetuating existing stereotypes when approaching this kind of qualitative assessment model, observing that “as African Americans have higher obesity rates in the US population, an automated system might learn a prior probability that increases the likelihood of a person to be labeled as obese simply based on their race.”

Nonetheless the tools developed are anticipated as more useful for studying blocks of populations rather than individuals – not only because of the ethical considerations that the scientists acknowledge, but because of the controversy around using BMI at a very granular level to assess individuals.

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