In an article entitled “Neural Network Learns to Identify Criminals by Their Faces” by the Emerging Technology from the arXiv and the MIT Review, the authors describe an Artificial Intelligence application that could identify criminals from analyzing a pool of pictures 89.5% of the time:

The results are unsettling. Xiaolin and Xi found that the neural network could correctly identify criminals and noncriminals with an accuracy of 89.5 percent. “These highly consistent results are evidences for the validity of automated face-induced inference on criminality, despite the historical controversy surrounding the topic,” they say.

The research was led by Xiaolin Wu and Xi Zhang.

In the popular movie Minority Report and less popular book this concept of identifying crime by behavioral and/or physiological analysis is dramatically explored with such consequences as citizens being arrested for crimes they had no yet committed.

Outside the realm of film, Cesare Lombroso, an Italian criminologist and founder of criminology, used ideas from physiognomy and theories of physical and social evolution to form the belief that criminality was inherited, and that someone “born criminal could be identified by physical (congenital) defects, which confirmed a criminal as savage or atavistic.” Ultimately though his ideas were considered too extreme for the time and was not fully embraced by scientific community nor the public at large.

Some in Victorian England also dabbled in physiognomy. “Believed to have originated in antiquity, it was promoted in the 18th century by a Swiss pastor, Johann Caspar Lavater. As less expensive editions of his work became more widely available in the 19th century, physiognomy really took off. ”

If Johann Caspar Lavater believed physiognomy had its roots in the antiquities, he might ultimately be referring all the way back to Guo Pu, the Book of Burial and the Five Arts of Chinese Metaphysics Rooted in Taoism, and the source of Feng Shui, the Five Arts of Chinese Metaphysics are:

  • Mountain
  • Medicine
  • Life
  • Divination
  • Appearance*

*Appearance “refers to the study of forms. It includes between others, Yin (burial) and Yang Feng Shui (form of the living environment), Palmistry (form of the hand) and Face Reading (form of the face) and Naming”

It would be worth further investigation to determine how the characteristics, methods and results of the Ancient Chinese compare with the modern, computer-driven practice.