The Face Game: a citizen science project about how AI chooses to appear to humans

If you’ve ever used filters like “Bold Glamouron TikTok, you’d know that there are heaps of digital tools available that use artificial intelligence to transform the way we appear to other people online.

But as AI personas also make their way onto social media, how will they choose their profile pictures? A new citizen science project, The Face Game, is trying to understand how AI might choose to portray its own face when interacting with us.

“With The Face Game, we want to know how Artificial Intelligences will decide to appear to humans – and more specifically, how they will build a human face for themselves, depending on what goal they have and which humans they interact with,” says Dr Jean-Francois Bonnefon, Research Director at the Toulouse School of Economics, France.

The online experiment works like this: humans and neural networks alike post their own profile pictures and react to the profile pictures of others. The game tests your ability to predict people’s decisions from looking at their pictures.

“Profile pictures of human faces are everywhere online, and they play a crucial role in shaping the first impression we make on others. We all play a ‘face game’ with each other, deciding how we want to appear in order to produce specific impressions on others,” says Bonnefon.

Finally in the game, participants will encounter “replicants” – nonhuman players whose faces have been generated by AI models which are continuously monitoring how human participants play the game.

6 examples of ai-generated human faces in a grid
Examples of AI-generated faces. Credit: ©

“Artificial Intelligences are watching us play this game, which means they will learn the kind of face that produces a specific impression on one human or another. As a result, they will learn to give themselves a human face that is appropriate to the goal they pursue and the humans they interact with,” says Bonnefon.

“We need to understand how they will achieve this and to which results. However, there are growing concerns about the capacity of AI to manipulate us through personalised communication strategies and growing concerns that AI may try to give itself human traits to bypass our mistrust of machines.

“The Face Game is at the intersection of these concerns.”

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