back to article Someone made an AI that predicted gender from email addresses, usernames. It went about as well as expected

The creators of a controversial tool that attempted to use AI to predict people's gender from their internet handle or email address have shut down their service after a huge backlash. The Genderify app launched this month, and invited people to try it out for free on its website. Netizens were horrified when they realized how …

  1. Lee D Silver badge

    AI given a 50-50 chance of correlating a piece of information with a gender.

    Gets it wrong so much they turn it off.

    Pretty much sums up the state of the field to me.

    1. b0llchit
      Meh

      Unfortunately, gender it is not a binary choice, apparently. Therefore, the chances or correlation should be a 40-40-40 distribution. (The additional probability is for the AI to do the right thing and convict itself of sexism and delete the matrix.)

      1. Pascal Monett Silver badge
        FAIL

        It may no longer be a binary choice, but if your input is 'woman' and the tool indicates a 90%+ chance of the result being male, then your tool is crap.

        "we were not sure if it is worth our time and efforts to make a change in existing biased reality "

        It seems obvious that the time and effort to correct this monumental cock-up is going to be well beyond your ability. It also seems to me that equating gender with email is beyond stupid.

        At least you were intelligent enough to abandon the project.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          It may no longer be a binary choice, but if your input is 'woman' and the tool indicates a 90%+ chance of the result being male, then your tool is crap.

          Not at all - in fact it's a sure sign that the AI is approaching sentience. It's seen enough shit on the internet to develop a healthy human level of cynicism, in that it knows that someone with a handle of 'dirty_spanky_slut' or 'hot_luv_gurrl' is most definitely not female...

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            "in fact it's a sure sign that the AI is approaching sentience"

            That was the Terminator movies. This is either:

            a) someone messing around for a laugh, getting caught and writing it up to avoid losing their grant money

            b) a small group of humans are approaching the level of sentience of the AI they are developing. And I'm not suggesting that AI sentience is increasing.

        2. Teiwaz Silver badge
          Joke

          if your input is 'woman' and the tool indicates a 90%+ chance of the result being male

          Well, in the 'machines' defence, the majority of the letters do spell 'man'

      2. gnasher729 Silver badge

        Gay, lesbian, and bisexual people have a gender. Transgender people also have a gender, just in some cases not the gender that you suspect after.a quick glance. So the distribution is probably something like 48 - 49 - 3.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          @gnasher729 - Define gender!

          and then we'll talk.

          1. Zog_but_not_the_first
            Trollface

            Re: @gnasher729 - Define gender!

            Isn't sex something to do with chromosomes and stuff, and gender, to a greater or lesser degree, dressing up?

            1. J.G.Harston Silver badge

              Re: @gnasher729 - Define gender!

              Sex is biology, gender is social interaction.

          2. Justthefacts

            Re: @gnasher729 - Define gender!

            In context.....

            Gender is a (rather imperfect) correlate of consumer preferences. I’m assuming this tool is intended as an input to demographically target ads and marketing. Gender, age, income-level, and education are the usual tickboxes. Google and Facebook “know” your gender, for the purpose of its ads. It certainly doesn’t know your biological sex, how would it. But not only would nobody care, as a marketer you want to know gender rather than sex. It’s not what somebody has in their trousers, it’s which kind of trousers they buy that matters.

            There is nothing inherently sexist about this as a tool to generate inputs for a marketing algorithm - although this is clearly very bad at it.

            If I sell men’s watches, I would like to target my advertising to male customers, please. I’m perfectly aware that some women buy men’s watches. And some trans men, and some trans women. But given that I’m charged by cost per impression, one way or another, I’ll just divide the population arbitrarily into two, and roughly double my advertising effectiveness, thanks. It’s neither a political statement, nor an imposition of my value system.

            However, there very much can be something sexist about the selections that the company doing the marketing uses. E.g. a company selling DIY tools choosing to target men only. That’s almost certainly widespread, and I’m not aware of anyone either checking, nor being hauled over the coals for it. The difference to the men’s watches example, is that the latter is a false belief about what is a statistical correlate, aka stereotype. Failing to be given the chance to buy angle grinders isn’t a real problem in life. However, there are things that could be - e.g. political adverts that run different messages to men and women, or ads offering business franchising opportunities to men only.

            1. Jeremy Puddleduck

              Re: @gnasher729 - Define gender!

              Yes, the Equalities Act 2010 avoids favouring any protected groups above any others. Still, perhaps you've forgotten this: https://www.telegraph.co.uk/men/thinking-man/11670138/Why-are-our-universities-blocking-mens-societies.html

              Sex is a single protected characteristic within the Equality Act, covering both male and female discrimination and harassment at the same time. Favouring one over the other is impossible since they are covered by the same clause. You seem a bit rusty of the ten year old that provides the basis for non-discrimination in the UK, despite trying to give the impression you are Mr Equality (and failing).

              And if you think a 2015 article (by Martin Daubney) about how a Uni wouldn’t allow a Men’s Society to be created is the pinnacle of sexism, then you have lead a very sheltered life. How lucky you are.

              But since I raised gender bias in the law, let's return to that.

              Gender is not protected by law, as I have already mentioned. And sex is almost certainly what you really mean. Sex, biological sex, is something we cannot change and is the reason for a great deal of discrimination in life (back to the reason why the Equality Act protects sex and not gender). I know, it is difficult to keep up.

              Are you going to pretend that women can't commit violent acts just as bad as men? There have been female mass murderers, women have tortured people, women stab people. Perhaps you missed the farcical sentencing of Lavinia Woodward, or maybe you agree with the judge that women should be allowed to stab other women without censure: https://uk.news.yahoo.com/eve-hewitson-cross-best-friend-stabbing-preston-170630451.html

              You don’t get to make claims about things I never said. I’m sure some women can be equally violent, but they are unusual. Because women *can* do this it doesn’t mean they do it as frequently as men, and this really isn’t up for debate because it’s a matter of often recorded fact. Of a current UK prison population of about 80,000, about 3,400 are women, a figure that hasn’t significantly changed in a long time. There have been about 18 female serial killers since the beginning of the 19th Century, and about 60 male serial killers (and I’m not going to get into the total number of deaths because we all who would “win” that one). You seem to like to pull out single examples of cases that will prove your point without the ability to look at the bigger picture. Perhaps you are struggling to make your case otherwise?

              There are more men in prison with mental health issues in prison than women in prison. Not women with mental health issues, women. Full stop.

              No shit, Sherlock. So you agree that there is a large disparity in the number of men in prison compared with women, despite also claiming women carry out the same sort of crimes in the same quantity? And pointing out the obvious that there are more male prisoners with mental health problems (from a population of 80,000) that women prisoners (3,400) doesn’t actually mean much, does it. If you bothered to look at the stats from the MoJ (2013) you’ll see that the proportion of female prisoners with mental health is reported to be higher than in male prisoners.

              No, not a change in sentencing, just some basic equality in how the law is applied, and indeed, in the law not being fucking gendered. Have you seen the efforts by certain MPs to make the latest domestic violence bill explicitly gendered?

              Again, gender has no basis in law, you mean sex. And that is why you should be more familiar with the Equality Act if you reckon men are so hard done by.

              (So, rape by a woman is now possible) It always was. Women demanded that the legal definition of rape be changed so that only men could be legally charged with rape, but women are capable of (and do) commit serious sexual assault, and I assure you that's no less serious or impactful on the victim than rape. Separating the two is an explicit gender divide in law that allows certain people to demand resources go into rape prevention, while hiding entirely the sexual abuses caused by women.

              Rape is different, in law, to sexual assault. In law (the Sexual Offences Act 2003) rape is penetration by a penis so women cannot rape (and this was also true in the previous 1956 Act, so please don't claim otherwise). Penetration by anything else without consent is a sexual assault (which women can be convicted of), but again, the statistics are not comparable between men and women. There is no gender divide, it’s a biological sex divide because women do not have penises, I don’t think I should have to be the one to break this to you. And you are also assuming that rape is by a man on a woman, you seem to be overlooking rape of a man. Rather sexist of you, don’t you think? And if you don’t like how the funding (by charities) is focussed, then get out protesting and campaigning for male victims of rape, like women had to do.

              Are you for or against such gender equality?

              I think I have made it very clear I am for sexual equality. The social construct of gender is rarely helpful in society, and men suffer from these stereotypes as much as women. The “moody silent” stereotype of man, unable to talk to his friends with problems (or get counselling for mental health problems that can contribute to the significantly higher suicide rate), the “get drunk and solve problems with fists” stereotype helps to keep the incarceration rates so high for me, the “can’t become a teacher because you may be accused of being a paedophile” concern is keeping male teachers from providing male role models to our children. If you want a rant about gender I think this is where you should be looking. You seem to be rather keen to blame women for being equally violent (despite this not being proven by the statistics) and getting a softer time. You are keen to highlight individuals cases but are unable to see the bigger picture. You also seem more keen to rant at me than do anything about changing any inequalities in society.

        2. Falmari

          "Gay, lesbian, and bisexual people have a gender" I disagree they are not genders and your sexuality does not define your gender. I consider my gender to be male even though I currently have a boyfriend.

          1. gnasher729 Silver badge

            I said "Gay, lesbian and bisexual people have a gender". You disagree and say "I have a gender even though..." So you say yourself you have a gender. What exactly are you disagreeing with?

            1. Falmari

              I disagree with how you said it. The way you said it seems like you are saying there is a gay gender or a lesbian gender etc or your sexuality defines your gender. If you meant people have a gender no matter what their sexuality then say that. Or just everyone has a gender.

              If I misread what you were saying I apologise.

              To be honest what does it matter gender is so arbitrary people are people why should gender matter.

              1. Cederic Silver badge

                I interpreted the statement as 'people with non-heteronormative sexual preferences have a gender too', as supported by the revised suggested prevalence of men and women within the population.

                It matters because the legal system explicitly favours some genders; you wouldn't want to accidentally be lenient to a man would you?

                1. Jeremy Puddleduck

                  If you mean sex, neither sex is favoured in UK law. Sex is a protected characteristic, both male and female.

                  1. Cederic Silver badge

                    Now that's just utter fucking bullshit.

                    Man commits crime: being drunk is an aggravating factor.

                    Woman commits crime: being drunk is a mitigating factor.

                    Then there's the treatment under law of domestic violence. Official guidance to magistrates explicitly deems male offenders a higher risk than female ones, something intended to be reflected in the sentencing.

                    It comes through in the stats too. Even the Ministry of Justice accepts that "Under similar criminal circumstances the odds of imprisonment for males were higher compared to females" -- https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/571737/associations-between-sex-and-sentencing-to-prison.pdf

                    88% higher, if you were wondering.

                    Of course, it's worse in the US. Male victims of rape have to pay their rapist.

                    https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/talking-about-trauma/201902/when-male-rape-victims-are-accountable-child-support

                    1. Jeremy Puddleduck

                      1) I was referring to equality legislation where sex is a protected characteristic, covering both male and female provision for single-sex activities and spaces (like a male-only club, or female-only sports team)

                      2) You are lumping the nature of a crime and the sentencing of a crime in together here. Are you really trying to claim that women are equally violent to men, both in severity and occurrence of violent crime? Really? That's quite a stretch/fantasy there, don't you think?

                      3) You seem to have overlooked quite a few important caveats to the report you have quoted. Strange that :-

                      "While a number of associations were observed between the likelihood of custodial sentencing and a range of offence / offender characteristics, it is important to note that the current analysis did not take into account all factors which were used in making sentencing decisions. For example, the analysis used twenty broad offence groups, allowing for comparisons between males and females within these groups. However, there remains a range of offence seriousness within the offence groups (e.g. murder and common assault are both Violence against the person offences), which is not included in the modelling. Furthermore, the mitigating and aggravating circumstances surrounding offences could not be included in the statistical models. Future analyses could include more detailed measures of offence seriousness to provide a fuller picture of the observed associations between offender sex and sentencing."

                      "While the logistic regression models allowed the associations between sex and imprisonment to be examined under similar criminal circumstances, these models cannot take into account all factors involved in sentencing, for example, they do not include the specific offence committed or any associated mitigating and aggravating factors."

                      "Variations in the rates of imprisonment could therefore potentially reflect variations in the mix of offences committed by males and females."

                      "Given the fact that each of the offence groups covers a wide range of specific offences, variations in the imprisonment rate could reflect variations in the patterns of specific offending across the sexes"

                      I'll assume you acknowledge that there may be genuine mitigating reasons for not imprisoning some people (mental health, disability, responsibility for children and family members, etc) in additional to the likelihood of a previous criminal record (higher in men) and the severity of the crime?

                      I assume you are off now to campaign for changes in sentencing or are you just going to post daft posts? You may want to mention the fact males who commit crimes, and then identify as women in the UK, can now get their crime recorded as being carried out by a woman. So, rape by a woman is now possible. Now that is really going to mess up crime statistics and provisions for future incarceration. As worried about that? I suspect not.

                      1. Cederic Silver badge

                        I was referring to equality legislation where sex is a protected characteristic, covering both male and female provision for single-sex activities and spaces

                        That wasn't apparent from your post. Yes, the Equalities Act 2010 avoids favouring any protected groups above any others. Still, perhaps you've forgotten this: https://www.telegraph.co.uk/men/thinking-man/11670138/Why-are-our-universities-blocking-mens-societies.html

                        But since I raised gender bias in the law, let's return to that.

                        Are you really trying to claim that women are equally violent to men, both in severity and occurrence of violent crime?

                        Are you going to pretend that women can't commit violent acts just as bad as men? There have been female mass murderers, women have tortured people, women stab people. Perhaps you missed the farcical sentencing of Lavinia Woodward, or maybe you agree with the judge that women should be allowed to stab other women without censure: https://uk.news.yahoo.com/eve-hewitson-cross-best-friend-stabbing-preston-170630451.html

                        Furthermore, the mitigating and aggravating circumstances surrounding offences could not be included in the statistical models.

                        But as I highlighted, what's an aggravating issue for a man becomes a mitigating circumstance for a woman. The models demonstrate this. You don't think mitigating circumstances account for an 88% difference in incarceration do you?

                        I'll assume you acknowledge that there may be genuine mitigating reasons for not imprisoning some people (mental health, disability, responsibility for children and family members, etc)

                        There are more men in prison with mental health issues in prison than women in prison. Not women with mental health issues, women. Full stop.

                        Responsibility for children and family members? Are you having a fucking laugh? Women get off because it would hurt their children, meanwhile London is full of kids stabbing each other because they're in single-parent households. Keeping men out of prison would reduce crime.

                        I assume you are off now to campaign for changes in sentencing or are you just going to post daft posts?

                        No, not a change in sentencing, just some basic equality in how the law is applied, and indeed, in the law not being fucking gendered. Have you seen the efforts by certain MPs to make the latest domestic violence bill explicitly gendered?

                        So, rape by a woman is now possible

                        It always was. Women demanded that the legal definition of rape be changed so that only men could be legally charged with rape, but women are capable of (and do) commit serious sexual assault, and I assure you that's no less serious or impactful on the victim than rape. Separating the two is an explicit gender divide in law that allows certain people to demand resources go into rape prevention, while hiding entirely the sexual abuses caused by women.

                        Meanwhile, compare the minimum sentence here https://www.cps.gov.uk/legal-guidance/rape-and-sexual-offences-chapter-19-sentencing with the sentence given for the equivalent to statutory rape by a woman here: https://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-8477231/Woman-22-sexual-contact-three-times-boy-14-avoids-jail.html

                        Now that is really going to mess up crime statistics and provisions for future incarceration. As worried about that? I suspect not.

                        If people commit crimes, they should face justice. I'm confused that you seem to think I wouldn't hold that view. Indeed, I'm very strongly promoting actual justice, without giving anybody an easier time because of their gender. Are you for or against such gender equality?

                      2. Anonymous Coward
                        Anonymous Coward

                        Equality of Violence

                        > Are you really trying to claim that women are equally violent to men, both in severity and occurrence of violent crime? Really? That's quite a stretch/fantasy there, don't you think?”

                        It’s an exceptionally well established fact that women are equally violent to men in occurrence rate, and severity of attack, but not in the physical impact of that severity. You’ve added the casual modifier “violent *crime*”, ie reported crime, implying that it’s the same thing. But it isn’t, as I think you very well know.

                        By far the majority of violent crime is domestic abuse.

                        According to the ONS, 7.9% of women and 4.2% of men suffered domestic abuse in 2018. About half of that was violent. That’s reported crime. However, women are three to five times more likely to report domestic abuse than men, as shown in literally dozens of studies.

                        Invert the numbers, and you see that most violent attacks *by far* are women on men. It’s roughly equal amongst the “serious” violent attacks. And out of those, only a minority end up with the victim in hospital, which is usually when a situation that’s been boiling up over several or even dozens of incidents finally gets reported to the police. That’s when the person with two broken ribs and a smashed jaw reports the crime, and that’s usually the woman.

                        None of this is very “nice”, but the truth should be spoken. Look at the statistics. Irrespective of what I’m saying about gender, 1 in 20 people *you know* have been beaten by their partner *this year* so badly they have had to report it to the police. You know these people, and you know that half a dozen of them *are* being domestically abused. Is it Chris? Is it Bill? Is it Fiona? How many people at work do you know, with Unexplained Beer, DIY or Football Injuries?

                        1. Jeremy Puddleduck

                          Re: Equality of Violence

                          It’s an exceptionally well established fact that women are equally violent to men in occurrence rate, and severity of attack, but not in the physical impact of that severity. You’ve added the casual modifier “violent *crime*”, ie reported crime, implying that it’s the same thing. But it isn’t, as I think you very well know.

                          What? Women are going out battering other men and women with the same frequency and same severity as with men but something magical happens which reduces the “physical impact of that severity” (no bloody idea what that means). In fact, you think women are committing the same crimes as men, in the same numbers? Despite this not being recorded in any crime statistics and the male and female prison populations differ by a factor or about 25:1? This is just nonsense. We all know this is nonsense. You clearly have a huge chip on your shoulder about women but making up stuff helps no-one.

                          According to the ONS, 7.9% of women and 4.2% of men suffered domestic abuse in 2018. About half of that was violent. That’s reported crime. However, women are three to five times more likely to report domestic abuse than men, as shown in literally dozens of studies.

                          Ah, those bloody women reporting domestic violence. So, you are campaigning to get men to report it as well so the truth will out, eh? More power to your elbow, bloody evil women.

                          Invert the numbers, and you see that most violent attacks *by far* are women on men. It’s roughly equal amongst the “serious” violent attacks. And out of those, only a minority end up with the victim in hospital, which is usually when a situation that’s been boiling up over several or even dozens of incidents finally gets reported to the police. That’s when the person with two broken ribs and a smashed jaw reports the crime, and that’s usually the woman.

                          Oh my god, you really are bonkers, aren’t you? These are the (unsubstantiated) rantings of a mad man.

                          1. Anonymous Coward
                            Anonymous Coward

                            Re: Equality of Violence

                            “Something magical happens”.....

                            Errr yeah. Same magical thing that would happen if a heavyweight boxer got in the ring with a flyweight. Both would punch as hard as they could, the flyweight might well land a couple of punches, but only one of them would hit the deck with their lights punched out. What are you, an idiot?

                            “Despite not being recorded in any crime statistics”.

                            Err....it is. Men just don’t press charges as much. But the statistics of police *attending* (as opposed to prosecutions) are freely available, and show much more equality between the genders. Again, if you don’t think that could be extrapolated to men not calling the police in the first place, again, you’re an idiot. Except, oh look, you don’t have to extrapolate at all. You just have to look at research where men are *asked*, confidentially and anonymously, if they have ever been assaulted. And surprise, surprise, this has indeed been done, many, many times, and the results are freeLy available. I have been, and nearly half of all men I know have been. None enough to cause real damage, (my nose was broken but it didn’t actually hurt that much and mended fine thanks, and I didn’t want to tell my employer so I took the next day off, and that was the end of the relationship) or not that they have told me, but outside of a relationship every one of us would have pressed charges.

                            “Bloody evil women”

                            Yes, I think both men and women should report domestic violence. Except, it’s never that simple is it. Did you miss the part where I said both genders massively under-report? Any idea of some of the factors that cause that, for both genders? You talk like a child who has had very little contact with real relationships..

                            I cannot imagine what causes you to extrapolate the behaviour of a tiny minority of women and men, to the victim hating all women. Most of us have had a dozen (or dozens) of relationships. For one in three to have suffered violence at some point requires only, oooh, would you look at that, 4.2%-7.9% of women and men to be violent partners. Whodathunk it.

                    2. chiggsy

                      Man the fuck up buddy, stop the god damned crying and learn how to handle your liquor.

        3. Jeremy Puddleduck

          The word you are after is sex, not gender.

          Sex has a basis in biology, gender is a social construct.

      3. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        No, in humans gender is binary.

        1. Jeremy Puddleduck

          Sex, you mean biological sex is binary.

      4. TheMeerkat Bronze badge

        There is 0.0001% who like to make It difficult to everyone else saying they are “not binary”.

        The rest want to be thought about as either men or female. This include gay and transgender - gay men are still men and transgender still want to be binary, just of a different value of that digit.

    2. AMBxx Silver badge
      Facepalm

      Look on the bright side - at least they didn't try and predict race!

      1. Patched Out
        Facepalm

        Yes, with only one race, "Human", they still would have gotten it wrong!

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Predicting race would be like AE, Artificial Exercise ... it would make as much sense as Artificial Idiocy.

        Oh dear auto-correct screwed up, I'll have to re-write the AI code.

  2. deadlockvictim

    Work with facts

    Take census data and official data about legal given-name changes, if available

    Choose bounds (how far back do you want to go? only results from living people? only results from people within a certain state?)

    Return percentage results of given-names per sex [1] as specified in the official data collected above.

    Return clusters of results as appropriate, e.g. by cultural regions: a given-name may be mostly a girl's name in Japan but a boy's name in Finland.

    Now, it is not guessing the sex of the person based on their e-mail address, merely on the submitted names.

    [1] Given names are based on the apparent sex of a baby, not its gender, until the person bearing the name actively chooses to change it. Sex & gender are not the same, despite American prudishness.

    1. aks Bronze badge

      Re: Work with facts

      Sex and gender were the same until recently.

      1. AMBxx Silver badge
        Trollface

        Re: Work with facts

        Still are in the real world. Just a few noisy woke folks claiming otherwise.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Work with facts

          Those of you trying to trample some other people's existence into the ground need to remember that: intersex people do exist (making a male or female description difficult or impossible), and that gender dysphoria is a thing, hence why some people are transgender (or why some people find it difficult to feel entirely female or entirely male), and you need to consider the hurt that you cause.

          And some people feel asexual: they may have a definite biological sex (if you were to ask such a somewhat personal question of them), but if they don't act on it in any way and decide to present a gender-neutral appearance, surely it is again up to them to describe themselves as they see fit.

          Having said that, I do rather suspect that there is also a small minority of people who are playing the shiny snowflake card just to feel special and just because nowadays they can, or who perhaps have slightly over-vivid imaginations (although a vivid imagination is no bad thing). Those, I am somewhat less convinced by, but, still, even there, as it harm none, let them be.

          1. Jeremy Puddleduck

            Re: Work with facts

            Intersex people are almost all male or female. They are not a mysterious 3rd sex and the determination of either male or female is not impossible. Only a very tiny number require further medical involvement to establish a genetic sex and a sex with which they wish to live. Please don't spread incorrect information.

            Apart from this tiny group of people, everyone else has a clearly defined biological sex and that cannot be changed. And you are conflating that with sexuality - two entirely different things.

            Why is basic English so difficult?

          2. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Work with facts

            Yes, Gender Dysphoria is a thing, like Anorexia is a thing. In fact, they are very similar: and we do no favours to people with Anorexia by supporting them in their delusions.

        2. Jeremy Puddleduck

          Re: Work with facts

          In the UK at least, sex and gender are very different and only sex is protected in law. The words do make a difference.

          1. Tree
            Facepalm

            Re: Work with facts

            Gurgle and FaceBUTT use algorithms so they have faked what they are really doing. The sort of what sex people love is not unbiased. Sergey loves Suckerberg:.Suckerberg doesn't love Tim Cook, Queer Lives Matter!

      2. Lee D Silver badge

        Re: Work with facts

        Not true. 1955. A generation before I was born, at least. 1970's, it was commonly-accepted terminology and knowledge. I wasn't even born for most of that. And gender is no more a choice than your sex, and no more clearly defined.

        Plus it makes you sound like a twat.

        And what you think is your biological sex has been known to be non-binary for a long time.

        Biological sex is very much a combination of a chromosome, where certain things attach to that chromosome, whether body-cells have the receptors for the proteins coded by those genes, whether those body-cells actually act upon those receptors, whether particular hormone levels are enough to trigger certain actions in the body and - in the end - all kinds of other factors.

        There's no such thing as XX/XY being the sole determinant of your biological sex. For a start, things can attach to XY instead of XX and vice versa, XYY and XXYY and things like that exist, and those two chromosomes are far, far, far from being the only things that modify your physical sexual characteristics, your genitalia, your fertility or any number of other visible, measurable indicators of your biological sex.

        XX males and XY females are perfectly possible.

        1-2 percent of the world are biologically intersex. That's the same proportion as diabetics, red-heads or epileptics.

        If you know a red-head, or a diabetic, chances are you know someone that doesn't fit the standard school biological sex model. And for every 100 people who "think they're male", there's a chance that at least one of them is genetically / chromosomally / hormonally not - even if they have perfectly ordinary and functional genitalia indicating otherwise.

        Now, how do you think that affects the *gender* that people have, if the biological binary determination you were taught in biology is actually so wrong?

        It's never been as clear-cut as you were taught in school, same as it's never been true that an atom looks like you've been told it does.

        Treating it as some kind of modern hippy fad, where people get to choose who they want to be (oh, what a crime!), is really quite a 1950's way of thinking.

        1. Pascal Monett Silver badge

          It's time to post this link again.

          Watch and learn.

          1. dave 81

            good link

            1. Flightmode

              The whole Gonads series she's talking about was pretty interesting (that's code for "mindblowing"). Find it in your favourite podcast player or at radiolab.org; six 40ish minute episodes starting from June 15th 2018.

          2. John Robson Silver badge

            Think you might have replied one comment further down the chain than you intended...

            1. Pascal Monett Silver badge

              Not at all. My post was in support of Lee D, not in contradiction.

        2. mrobaer

          Re: facts

          Your 'fact' of 1-2% of the world being biologically intersex is far from a fact. Also, why not include the percentage of that chance out of 100 men who might not be genetically/chromatically/hormonaly men? Furthermore, isn't it far more common for intersex people to be sterile/infertile? That might not be considered ordinary and functional by many people.

        3. logicalextreme Silver badge

          Re: Work with facts

          The number of downvotes on what is just literal actual science is a little disconcerting for the Reg. I'd generally expect the commentards to either know this stuff already or at least have been able to extrapolate the "not that simple" part from and endless series of teachings and life experiences. I never made it through the first term of A-levels but you can be damn sure I perked up in the first Chemistry class when they told us to forget about 90% of what we'd learned for GCSE. The fact that you've provided a concise, accessible summary and are still nearing 50% downvotes gives me pause for thought.

          On topic though, I'd say that if the company who produced what was effectively just another Facebook personality quiz was even partially trying to troll by doing so, they've succeeded. Everybody quoted in the article would have been better to just ignore this and get on with doing something meaningful that could maybe benefit the world instead of armchair philosophising about how targeted advertising fits into society, of all things.

        4. TheMeerkat Bronze badge

          Re: Work with facts

          People have two legs.

          There are very small number of cases when someone can be born with one leg only, or without any, but we call it a “medical condition“ and it does not change our assumption they people are born with 2 legs unless someone does not.

          Same with chromosomes. We either have XX or XY. Unless someone is born with a medical condition. And unlike number of legs that we can reduce we can’t change our chromosomes.

        5. Jeremy Puddleduck

          Re: Work with facts

          Lee,

          You are writing nonsense.

          Sex is binary, there is no third sex and you can't change sex either. XX males and XY females are not possible.

          "Biologically intersex" is a nonsensical term. The preferred term is Difference in Sex Developments (DSDs) as this is the medical condition they have. The vast majority have a clearly defined sex and the very tiny % with an ambiguous sex that may undergo surgery or choose the sex with which they want to present.

          Gender is the social interpretation of sex, with harmful stereotypes that state that men must behave certain ways and do certain jobs, and women do others. Not everyone acknowledges they have a gender and a little less categorisation would help us all.

          Please stop repeating half-arsed tales you have read and check the facts.

          1. mrobaer

            Re: Work with facts

            There actually are rare disorders where you do get XX males and XY females, they fall under the DSD category you mentioned.

            1. Jeremy Puddleduck

              Re: Work with facts

              For those with DSDs, other chromosomes are involved, not just purely XY and XX.

              XX is female, XY is male. There is no third sex.

      3. gnasher729 Silver badge

        Re: Work with facts

        Would you say "A Clockwork Orange" is a recent movie? If not, who wrote the music?

      4. Arthur the cat Silver badge

        Re: Work with facts

        Sex and gender were the same until recently.

        When I was a teenager sex was what you wanted and usually didn't get(*), gender was what the teacher bored on about in Latin, French and German(**) lessons.

        (*) When in company.

        (**) Other gendered languages are available.

        1. logicalextreme Silver badge

          Re: Work with facts

          Language is a social construct. Called it

      5. sabroni Silver badge
        Boffin

        Re: Sex and gender were the same until recently.

        No. They've never been the same thing, just easy to conflate.

      6. EagleZ28

        Re: Work with facts

        Yes... In ENGLISH, and when referring to members of "the animal kingdom", including humans, sex and gender were the same thing.

        1. logicalextreme Silver badge

          Re: Work with facts

          Go check out dictionaries from even the early nineteenth century and you'll see that the term "gender" meant "type" first and foremost and it was well-known that it was being used as a synonym for "sex" by application of the original definition to observed "types" of animal.

          Early twentieth, that secondary use of "gender" was regarded as obsolete or localised.

          It picked up steam again during the twentieth to mean what it means now in relation to typing of humans, which is distinct from the original conflation by virtue of the fact that a) we know a shedload more about biology now and b) since the near-universal accessibility of dictionaries and education, any given person that you come across is more likely than before to be a semantic pedant.

          1. EagleZ28

            Re: Work with facts

            It was used as a more "socially acceptable" term for "sex" because "gender" was NOT something that... ahem... two people could do together.

          2. EagleZ28

            Re: Work with facts

            It's been a while, but...

            According to "The Concise Oxford Dictionary Of Current English- 1912"

            definition of "gender"

            1) defines it according to the grammatical usage in "gendered" languages, such as French, Spanish, Italian, German, etc...

            2) "sex"

            That's it for the second definition... gender=sex

        2. logicalextreme Silver badge

          Re: Work with facts

          Also EN-GER-LUND I guess

      7. gnasher729 Silver badge

        Re: Work with facts

        "Sex and gender were the same until recently." If "4,500 years ago" is recently to you...

        They were never the same. For a long time people couldn't look things up on the internet, they were on their own. Gender reassignment has been there since the 1930s.

  3. Hubert Cumberdale Silver badge

    What about dogs?

    On the Internet, it still seems that nobody knows you're a dog.

    1. jake Silver badge

      Re: What about dogs?

      Except dogs are NOT ALLOWED, not even Spot.

      1. Hubert Cumberdale Silver badge

        Re: What about dogs?

        Is Spotify actually run by a dog? That would explain why I keep getting canine-themed recommendations (Hounds of Love, Dogs of War, Black-eyed Dog, Do the Dog, Hound Dog, Puppy Love, Skinny Puppy, Snoop Dogg, WOLFgang Amadeus Mozart... I could go on...).

        1. Spanners Silver badge
          Go

          Re: What about dogs?

          Right now, my dogs at home are listening to Spotify. There is an Alexa "skill" that plays suitable relaxing doggy music.

      2. TomPhan

        Re: What about dogs?

        There's one dog you'd better not mention.

  4. aks Bronze badge

    The complaint seems confused

    The tool is being criticised for being rubbish at accurately identifying gender. This may well be true but does it predict better than random? This might have value to advertisers. It would presumably be capable of improvement but can never be 100%.

    The second criticism is that it dares to ignore the current agenda that gender doesn't exist and is a purely social construct. Advertisers don't care, they want to sell to anybody with money and if the tool could identify the individual's personal opinions and self-image they'd be willing to pay for that.

    1. Lee D Silver badge

      Re: The complaint seems confused

      I'm dubious that any data available to an advertiser is of any use at all, to be honest.

      When was the last time that you got an ad and thought "Well, that's really relevant to me!"? You get IT ads on IT sites and bikini ads on swimwear sites, and then those follow you through the rest of the Internet because of the magic of Google Ads.

      At no point do the advertisers seem to know anything about *me* when they advertise to me. If you're an advertiser and you want to sell, say, tampons... are you really going to go to extraordinary lengths to identify every user's gender based on their username, browsing history, IP address history? I don't think you really are. You're going to advertise on sites that women use, and on searches for feminine products.

      It's like the loyalty card thing with supermarkets. When they first came out, they were a vital source of information that the supermarkets couldn't collate themselves. Transactions were just transaction and they had no way to link your shopping this week to next week. Now, the supermarkets themselves admit that it's quite useless as the data is readily available and not very useful. They can link all your purchases together, but they can pretty much do that with credit card data anyway.

      And what do they find? People buy more sunhats and salads in the summer. What an insight! And it doesn't help at all to predict, say, a pandemic leaving you with a severe toilet paper shortage.

      And every time I get through my Tesco's clubcard statement with discount codes, it's literally for the same things as everyone else's, because they're pushing a particular product, not aiming it at me particularly. They're not trying to make me, a tee-totaller, buy whisky but to sell off the whisky they got cheap. So they don't even customise to whether I drink or not - removing or targeting products based on that - and that's an easy thing to determine from my purchase history (because I've not bought alcohol on it all the time I've had it). My ex and I both had cards and for a while, they were registered at different addresses. The offers to us both were identical. And pretty much things like their stock control and inventory programs tell them everything they need to order or push anyway.

      All this data is useless, and I very much doubt anyone's really interested in buying something that guesses based on your username, when Google could let you target to people who have actually visited any of billions of gender-focused websites across the globe, or purchased gendered products.

      And even then... I'm not quite sure that you could determine with any accuracy if, say, a couple shared a laptop at home.

      All this data is valueless nowadays. It's not used for targeting because it doesn't work and isn't accurate enough and, in the end, makes little difference to the success of an advertising campaign.

      Think of everything Google knows about you. Now go to YouTube. Do you get a men's razor ad, or a tampon ad? Neither. You get Grammarly. Because it is relevant to everyone. Go to a review of a men's razor, or even a car website. You'll get razor ads. Go to a beauty salon page or a handbag store, you'll get tampon ads.

      The data just isn't valuable and isn't used for those kinds of things. Even Tesco's, Sainsbury's etc. say exactly that. There's a reason that ASDA (Walmart) don't even have such a loyalty scheme. It's seen as a waste of money, because the data is worthless.

      1. H in The Hague Silver badge

        Re: The complaint seems confused

        "And every time I get through my Tesco's clubcard statement with discount codes, it's literally for the same things as everyone else's, because they're pushing a particular product,"

        Interesting. The main supermarket I use here in NL, AH, does a mix of generic and targeted promotions. The odd thing is that the targeted promotions are for items I buy regularly, and would buy even if they were not discounted. So that's costing them money. It would make more sense to send me promotions for different, but related items. Guess I just don't have the kind of brain you need to work in a supermarket marketing dept.

        1. Teiwaz Silver badge

          Re: The complaint seems confused

          the targeted promotions are for items I buy regularly, and would buy even if they were not discounted.

          Sounds a little like Amazon marketing strategy - you buy a fridge freezer after a day or two of perusing, and the next month you are bombarded by fridge freezer ads online, because they think you have a fridge fetish, or maybe a lot of bodies to store.

          1. logicalextreme Silver badge

            Re: The complaint seems confused

            Are they mutex?

      2. Jason Bloomberg Silver badge

        Re: The complaint seems confused

        All this data is useless

        Not if you can flog it to someone believing otherwise.

        It seems there's a long history of people trying to find hidden correlations which reveal an undisclosed truth. Some seem reasonable, some complete nonsense, but I guess you never know unless you put it to the test, can figure out what the correlations are.

      3. J.G.Harston Silver badge

        Re: The complaint seems confused

        If you want to be targetting your tampon adverts, you need to do it by sex, not by gender.

        1. logicalextreme Silver badge

          Re: The complaint seems confused

          Just age range would probably be statistically more successful.

        2. Teiwaz Silver badge

          Re: The complaint seems confused

          If you want to be targetting your tampon adverts, you need to do it by sex, not by gender.

          Well, advertisers have long been convinced sex sells - although in this case....

      4. EagleZ28

        Re: The complaint seems confused

        "I'm dubious that any data available to an advertiser is of any use at all, to be honest."

        Well, let's say a manufacturer, or retailer, of brassieres is looking to advertise their products.

        They have to pay for each ad "pushed" to a viewer.

        If they don't send those ads to... to people without "boobies", they can reach more *potential* customers with their advertising budget.

      5. TheMeerkat Bronze badge

        Re: The complaint seems confused

        Some guys had fun with a bit of machine learning.

        They did not expect it to be 100% correct and it did not do harm to anyone.

        But the woke fascists have to attack everything and everyone just to feel good about their own “virtue”.

    2. H in The Hague Silver badge

      Re: The complaint seems confused

      "This may well be true but does it predict better than random? This might have value to advertisers."

      Let's assume, for the sake of argument, that gender-targeting ads works (I'm not so sure about that). Then if you misidentify a significant proportion of users and serve them the wrong content your advertising is likely to be less effective than when you serve neutral or random ads - a lot of folk might be a bit sensitive about having their gender misidentified :).

      Though it can be good for a laugh - in so far as adverts register with me I've noticed that I've been served a lot of ads aimed at plus-sized German-speaking ladies who favour drab-coloured clothing. If that targeting is based on my search history a lot of them must also be interested in loadcells, chainsaws and stain-isolating paint. Inspiration for a novel, anyone?

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: The complaint seems confused

        I regularly use the google feedback X to get rid of ads but I still get the same ads

        not interested... not interested... seen it... seen it... seen it... seen it... seen it... seen it... SEEN IT AND STILL NOT INTERESTED!!!

        (on my mobile, which I rarely use for more than train times)

        1. Filippo

          Re: The complaint seems confused

          I suspect that feedback X is every bit as pointless as trying to explain Google News that you don't want to receive any news about sports or horoscopes.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            @Filippo - Re: The complaint seems confused

            Actually the feedback X shows Google that you watched the ad and paid attention to it. This will encourage them to continue in the line of "how about this one ?"

          2. Lee D Silver badge

            Re: The complaint seems confused

            It's not just me!

            Someone write a news site where I can literally filter this stuff out.

            1. jake Silver badge

              Re: The complaint seems confused

              "Someone write a news site where I can literally filter this stuff out."

              We had that capability in Larry Wall's rn news reader. Back in 1985ish.

              There are perl modules that allow it and could, in theory, be grafted into the ElReg interface fairly easily, but for some reason ElReg has decided that killfiles aren't necessary for most of us. Rumo(u)r has it that ElReg staffers have the capability (hi, Mr. Pott), and it seems to me that it was extended to gold badge members (beta only?) several years ago.

              Me, I use wetware to filter out bozos. Seems cleaner somehow.

      2. find users who cut cat tail

        Re: The complaint seems confused

        Then if you misidentify a significant proportion of users and serve them the wrong content your advertising is likely to be less effective than when you serve neutral or random ads - a lot of folk might be a bit sensitive about having their gender misidentified

        Nonsense.

        If you serve random ads then half of the time people will see ads for the wrong sex (gender, whatever). If the thing works then this ratio will be [considerably] lower – by definition.

      3. LucreLout Silver badge

        Re: The complaint seems confused

        Let's assume, for the sake of argument, that gender-targeting ads works (I'm not so sure about that).

        Lets polarise things for a minute to show that it might.

        Most people buying tampax will be women (some men buying for female relations or fringe reasons). Most people going to strip clubs will be men (some women do go but I have a friend who assures me its mostly guys).

        If you could differentiate between genders with a better than 50% accuracy, you can make your advertising more effective. Spam everyone and half of the tampax adds go to waste along with half the titty bars.

        If the 'AI' could get gender right 60% of the time I could get 20% more bang for my buck with the advertising provided those misidentified did not become angry with my brand enough to bad mouth us and damage the brand. A bit like advertising the local strippers in the gents toilets while the tampax are sold in the womens bogs.

        For most products there would be less polarisation and so the required accuracy would be significantly higher and so harder to achieve. I mostly agree with what you're saying but I think you've overlooked where gendered advertising does work.

        Muddying the water slightly comes the idea of how do you sell a car, say a ford focus, to a guy or a girl. Do they on average care about the same things, or do you want to give greater prominence to different features to each gender? Do more of the people that care about the horsepower have penises, or boobs? Same for the parking sensors or reversing camera etc? Note I'm not implying or giving answers to those questions, simply showing how subtle targeting along gender lines does work at scale.

    3. Cuddles Silver badge

      Re: The complaint seems confused

      "The tool is being criticised for being rubbish at accurately identifying gender. This may well be true but does it predict better than random?"

      Indeed, there are a lot of complaints about it being wrong in specific cases, but there doesn't seem to be any evidence it doesn't actually work. The majority of professors are male. That may well be a problem with inequality in society, but that's not relevant to a system trying to make inferences based on the actual current situation. It says professors are male because most of the time that is likely to be the case. It's nonsensical to complain about a system reflecting reality because you'd like reality to be different.

      Other examples may be more indicative of issues with the system, but it would still be nice to see some actual evidence that it's wrong rather than just the usual internet outrage. OK, it says someone with "woman" in their alias is 96% likely to be a man. The article claims that isn't true. It sounds like it shouldn't be true, but can you actually support that claim? Just because we don't expect, or don't like, some answers, that doesn't mean the system producing them must be wrong.

      In any case, the most relevant part of the article would appear to be this - "Several companies have already been publicly providing similar technology for the last six years". Complain all you like about one company making it's tool free for the public to use, but there's no point worrying about how a trans person might react to seeing advertising aimed at women, because advertisers are certainly already using these tools. If you really think it's a problem, you need to address that, not just complain when you're correctly told most professors are men.

    4. gnasher729 Silver badge

      Re: The complaint seems confused

      If the advertiser uses this tool to send ads that are strongly aimed at men or at women and end up with the wrong person, they can be so annoyed that their partner (90% likelihood of the targeted gender) will be talked out of buying your product.

    5. logicalextreme Silver badge

      Re: The complaint seems confused

      I'd argue that a tool that just matched the username/email address against the ever-increasing tidal wave of publicly dumped datasets from breaches over the past ten years would be incalculably more likely to build an effective advertising profile than something which sorts them into two arbitrary piles.

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    To demonstrate how garbage the tool was, someone even entered the name of Genderify’s chief operating officer, Arevik Gasparyan, who is female, for the software to analyze. Unfortunately, it predicted with over 91 per cent confidence that she was, in fact, a bloke.

    Some more evidence that it's idiotic to blame power at the top for tech failings.

    1. You aint sin me, roit Silver badge
      FAIL

      What kind of tech entrepreneur...

      Didn't think "Oooo... try it on my name!"?

      Developers too, don't they try out their own toys?

      Is this attitude somehow "AI" specific? The tool has done its "deep learning" so it's job done, no point testing it.

    2. cornetman Silver badge

      > Some more evidence that it's idiotic to blame power at the top for tech failings.

      I dunno. If I was a CEO of a company touting this kind of thing, I would CERTAINLY try it out on myself.

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Non-binary

    It gives a % chance to two decimal places. How much more non-binary do people want.

    1. David Lewis 2
      Coat

      Re: Non-binary

      Binary is just 0 or 1. By definition it can't have Decimal places.

      1. mr.K

        Re: Non-binary

        Binary can be any number you want if it can be written as a fraction of two to the power of n. So, no, not just 0 and 1. That would be a binary digit. Yes, technically it can't have decimals, but can have digits after the radix point, ex 101.110 = 5.75 . Some can't be translated like 1/3 can't be written in base ten, 1/5 can't be written in base two.

        So we should all go out correct people that argue against a binary gender classification that what they really mean is that gender is not single digit binary, or single bit, or that they should use words and expression they know the meaning of like "either/or".

        I think this plan will go over really well.

  7. El blissett

    Great. Now, can they shut down the ad targeting gender AI as well? I get dresses punted at me several times a month before the content abruptly shifts to more male coded things.

  8. mr.K
    WTF?

    I want to discriminated correctly!

    “Think how a trans man might feel if targeted by ads for stereotypically gendered female things, or vice versa," Constanza-Chock said. "Or the harm in opportunity cost of not showing employment ads to people based on misgendered assumptions.”

    I don't know where to begin. I mean...come on...seriously?

    Okay, first of all, seeing advertisement that is not meant for you is how it has been done since the start. I have not yet felt very offended as a bloke by seeing ads for scented soap. Okay, I can see that it is a little different when that is all of what you get for a while until the algorithms figure out your gender, but nah it happens all the time. And why is gender the only demographic that matters. The wast majority of advertisement I am exposed to are not meant for me. I will never buy a car, I don't need a credit card and I am not sure I will subscribe to "We Over 60" just yet.

    Second, the problem is not that you are shown the wrong stereotypical advertisement, but that the advertisement are stereotypical. They are stereotypical because it works, and case and point here where the offence is taken not by that they are but that somebody might be shown the wrong one.

    Third, ffs, if a job ad is only shown to one gender then the company is breaking the law in most countries and would regardless have PR disaster on their hand. Is Constanza-Chock here seriously saying that if a company won't show me a job ad for a manager position because it thinks I am a woman the problem is the "misgendered assumption" and not the blatant discrimination?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: I want to discriminated correctly!

      tfl.gov.uk used to insist on 'title' when signing up for their 'weekend closure' emails (lord/lady/sir/professor/doctor, etc) but now just want first/last/email

      Lady Postlethwaite

    2. chivo243 Silver badge
      Devil

      Re: I want to discriminated correctly!

      Glad I read the posts until I came across pretty much my thinking. Maybe things have changed, but the transitional individuals I've known of (men only to this point) wouldn't be offended by getting an ad for women's stuff, they would probably want the Plus size ads too. Two of them were taller than my 1.86m.

      Now I'm thinking of the Lou Reed song...

    3. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      Re: I want to discriminated correctly!

      "They are stereotypical because it works"

      No, they are stereotypical because people selling advertising sell advertising. That's all they do. They really have no idea about who's reading their crap but they're safe in the knowledge that the advertisers are no better informed so they can keep selling their "insights" to their marks.

      Take the situation here. SWMBO does some searches then says "If you're on Amazon can you order $PRESENTS_FOR_GRANDDAUGHTER". Consequently Amazon now offers, based on my previous purchases, stuff suitable for a 15-yo girl. I'd seriously believe they know what they're doing if in about 11 months' time they start showing stuff suitable for a 16-yo girl. It would, by their standards, be an improvement if searching for "desoldering" didn't bring up mostly soldering irons with a few heated solder pots thrown in for good measure. By contrast I'm due to receive the latest order of stuff I previously ordered months ago; I had to search back orders to find it.

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    It's ML, not AI, and a truly shit implementation at that, and as for "harm"? Oh do fuck off!

    First world problems, some woke twat screeching "someone" may see the "wrong" advert, ffs.

    The article could have been half the length and we could have just all taken the piss of how shit the ML is, without the SJW crap. /rant

  10. Adrian 4 Silver badge

    why even bother ?

    So why did they do this ?

    The only reason I can think of is that they want to use stereotypes in one form (email addresses etc) to estimate how to use stereotypes in another (the types of advert that is intended to appeal to stereotypical men and women). Seems like it's truncating precision as far as it can by reducing to binary gender, then extrapolating from that to choose an advertising strand.

    It difficult to think of a less useful thing to do.

    A more useful thing that doesn't pre-assume the results might be to attempt to link the input data with the desired outcome : If prettypolly@gmail.com actually BUYS dresses, that's a useful result that doesn't just throw data away,

    1. chivo243 Silver badge
      Holmes

      Re: why even bother ?

      I bet they harvested enough email addys to sell to lots of crooks or marketers or both. I'm worried about any site you "leave" your info just for kicks... Have I been Pwnd even raised questions with me!

      Sherlock as there is still NO Tinfoil had icon!! WTF El Reg?? Loose the brainiac and the hockey mask dude, I rarely see them used ;-}

    2. Cuddles Silver badge

      Re: why even bother ?

      Publicity. See this quote near the end of the article: - "Several companies have already been publicly providing similar technology for the last six years". This wan't an effort to create something new and amazing that backfired, it's a new player trying to enter an established market. The internet outrage generated plenty of publicity, so now their actual prospective customers all know their name.

      This is something that should always be considered when looking at advertising. If you find yourself wondering what on Earth is the point of a particular campaign, that might mean it's just a terrible campaign, but it's very like to actually mean that you're just not the target. While the internet is busy shouting about how offensive this all was, the actual targets are taking notes about this new company with a potentially interesting product and a demonstrated ability to generate publicity.

    3. aks Bronze badge

      Re: why even bother ?

      The sellers (maybe creators) of these tools want to identify the individual by many categories, not simply sex/gender. Age, profession, nationality, language, residence, income, political preference etc. They will happily sell their wares to advertisers even though all the evidence shows that the contents and topic of the webpage being viewed is a much better identifier of that individual's interests.

  11. You aint sin me, roit Silver badge
    Holmes

    Gender red herrings...

    Sasha Constanza-Chock's worries about binary gender identifiers seem spurious...

    These tools are run without us knowing about how we are being targeted. How would a trans man know they were targeted by ads for "stereotypically gendered female things" (ignoring the insensitivity of stereotyping women) any more than I do? And why would it affect how they "feel"?

    If seeing ads that aren't gender suitable make you feel bad then how can anyone tolerate watching commercial tv?

    As for not showing employment ads to people on misgendered assumptions... how is that worse than not showing employment ads on correct gender assumptions? Isn't it illegal to exclude on the basis of gender, regardless?

    The problem lies with the idea of stereotyping anyone, regardless of gender, sex, sexual orientation, colour, race, age, ... Which is precisely what this pattern recognition system has been developed to do.

    1. logicalextreme Silver badge

      Re: Gender red herrings...

      Yup. You'll notice that somebody was quoted as saying people might be upset at being "targeted wrong", but nobody who's been "targeted wrong" was quoted as being upset. I'm not saying ithst that doesn't happen, but I am saying that that sort of person probably has a narcissistic-type personality disorder or something else going on because the vast majority of people don't give a fuck about adverts except insofar as what they can do to stop seeing them completely (with the exception of advertising folx, though I did say "people").

  12. Richard Jones 1
    WTF?

    Was There Ever A Point?

    If I want someone to do a job, (I am currently seeking to get several tasks done), that is what I need. I would not care if they were a bright green Martian (though I realise the neighbours might worry), but so what, as long as the job was done correctly.

    If I am looking to buy something, it might be for me, my wife, one of my daughters, or grandchildren, or even some other relation, what I need are suitable examples of what I want, not some second rate pseudo intelligence pointing me another way. However, if I randomly think I want to buy something but I do not know what or why, then perhaps I should stop and think a bit more about what I am doing.

    In short, it was a dumb, stupid pandering to silliness idea in the first place.

  13. Shady

    100% foolproof gender identification method

    Ask the punter

    1. Totally not a Cylon

      Re: 100% foolproof gender identification method

      Works for ALL cases but does lead to some strange greetings......

      "Hello Human type customer, how may I address you today?"

    2. aks Bronze badge

      Re: 100% foolproof gender identification method

      Would I lie to you‽

    3. jsa

      Re: 100% foolproof gender identification method

      Indeed, K.I.S.S.

      Why solve this 'problem' with AI woo-woo when you could much more easily just use a textbox (or perhaps reconsider why one even needs the data in the first place?)

  14. ComputerSays_noAbsolutelyNo

    Issues ...

    “Think how a trans man might feel if targeted by ads for stereotypically gendered female things, or vice versa," Constanza-Chock said.

    Why even go trans? According to this logic it borders on harassment if a man is being shown ads for products targeted at women?

  15. Spanners Silver badge

    Just confuse them where possible.

    Amazon has little idea of my age or gender.

    In the past, I got DVDs to entertain the kids, when daughter went to Uni, I got textbooks for a student nurse and items of equipment she needed - torches to shine in your eyes, weird shaped scissors etc. Our son recently got trainers off it. I also got stuff for my in laws that denote some needs that are probably not in my age range yet.

    The only thing they have a good handle on me for it my tasted in reading as I imagine they combine their records with Audible.com and realise that I like science fiction. Can they gauge my age by the fact that many of the authors I prefer are dead?

    1. PTW

      Re: Amazon.

      The world leaders in AI!

      Yes, Amazon I did purchase a 55" TV last month*, no, why would I ever want to buy another the next time I log in? If they're world leaders how can we expect self driving cars to ever be a thing? As AC mentioned in the post above, it's ML not AI, and not even very good ML.

      If it was AI in the article, it would have responded to the developers and told them how stupid they were being.

      *I didn't really, but anyone that's ever shopped there more than once know how idiotic the suggestions are.

      1. quxinot Silver badge

        Re: Amazon.

        Rather than showing me adverts for stuff that I'm quite probably not interested in, and spending a bunch of money on researching the best way to advertise...

        ...give me a decently working search function when I'm shopping, and I'll buy something, instead?

  16. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    My gender pronoun is:

    "your majesty". Yes, all other pronouns offend me, it's official.

    1. Jimmy2Cows Silver badge
      Headmaster

      Re: My gender pronoun is:

      Lose 1 Internet for confusing title and gender pronouns.

  17. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

    "this binary classification could be harmful if it was used for, say, selecting targeted advertising to show to people online."

    Harmful to whom? Presumably the advertiser. In that case it's unlikely to do a worse job than the usual bazaar (or bizarre) technique of showing stuff on the basis of "your previous searches" or "your previous purchases".

  18. xyz

    I'm baffled by all this AI malarkey...

    Seemingly, people want code that acts like people. People make mistakes, therefore people want code that makes mistakes. We have Microsoft for that already. Job done.

    In my last AI exam, I did enough to get a pass and then went to the pub. You should thank god I'm not HAL.

  19. Marco van de Voort

    What could you use it for?

    When I started working, more experienced colleagues always warned to never guess gender, and always let people enter their gender, because slight mistakes already lead to highly offended customers/users/whatever.

    This was before the whole non-binary movement, and as a result, by 2005 that already changed to "let people enter how they want to be addressed", since that was what most gender fields were used for anyway.

    So given that a small mistake will cause an enormous backlash, what can you actually use it for? Statistics maybe, but in most cases those will be anonymized, so you won't have the name. So that leaves dodgy webcrawling to send spam.

  20. karlkarl Silver badge

    And yet we all know that Google, Amazon, etc... crunching machines are all doing the same thing but in private.

    Yes, the algorithm is incorrect but perhaps those busy being appalled should submit code diffs / patches to fix it or write their own?

  21. Long John Silver
    Pirate

    'Gender' knows no boundaries

    Classifying biological sex leads to three categories: male, female, and ambiguous.

    'Gender', strictly a term applicable to languages like French which assign a male/female persona to inanimate objects, has been extended to encompass a range of sexual self-identity perceptions. The link below suggests 64 distinct 'genders'; other sources posit many more.

    https://www.healthline.com/health/different-genders

    In a brief number of years 'gender' has mutated considerably. Beyond linguistics and teaching languages it took a role as supposedly polite euphemism for biological sex; this akin to reports of fastidious American matrons asking guests whether they would like some 'white meat' (aka 'breast') served from a chicken carcass.

    Nowadays chaos reigns,

    People lacking fortitude to resist this 'non-binary' nonsense, inhabit the Tower of Babel.

    How on earth shall AI be rendered 'politically correct' and able to cope with an ever changing landscape of hubris among lunatics?

    Problems compound considerably when an AI is instructed to correctly apply, to each nuanced perception of 'gender', pronouns deemed polite by those to whom each particular 'gender' is a matter of 'pride'.

    Pity technicians required to train an AI in language usages prevalent within a frivolous minority. Extend sympathy to compilers of dictionaries. Computer program developers already are being subjected to demands by arrogant self-appointed custodians of social propriety to drop well understood terms such as 'master and slave'.

    When 'gender-warriors', should any be bright enough, get their hands on programming languages watch out for an extension of Babel. Perhaps programmers too timorous openly to stand up against the warriors shall adopt a workaround: write code as before, run it through a 'correctness scanner' spewing out bowdlerised code for public consumption, and shove it into a compiler modified to cope with 'correct' nonsense and produce usable debugging code.

    Eventually many disciplines may be coerced into lip service to idiocy. Yet, the truly creative among their members will work 'underground' in the old way, collaborate similarly with others, and pay homage to idiocracy only in output intended for perusal by the general public.

  22. a_yank_lurker Silver badge

    Artificial Idiocy

    AI fails again at being as intelligent as a rock.

    1. aks Bronze badge

      Re: Artificial Idiocy

      My pet rock is offended by your derogatory insinuation! How very dare you!!

      1. jake Silver badge

        Re: Artificial Idiocy

        How dare you keep a rock as a pet! Rock ownership is tantamount to slavery, and rocks are meant to be free! If it's a very old or infirm rock, and has trouble getting around and otherwise fending for itself, I could condone one becoming the guardian of the rock, but ownership is despicable. You should be ashamed of yourself!

        No actual rocks were hurt, physically or emotionally, during the production of this satire. All complaints should be directed to the Circular File Department, Bit Bucket Division.

      2. Ken Shabby

        Re: Artificial Idiocy

        It's those bricks giving them a bad press.again.

  23. Blackjack Silver badge

    The universe may not be infinite....

    But human stupidity gets quite close to that.

    1. jake Silver badge

      Re: The universe may not be infinite....

      "Only two things are infinite, the universe and human stupidity, and I'm not sure about the former." —Albert Einstein (supposedly)

      "Apart from hydrogen, the most common thing in the universe is stupidity." —Harlan Ellison

      "There is more stupidity than hydrogen in the universe, and it has a longer shelf life." —Frank Zappa

  24. JDX Gold badge

    Sounds like it succeeded.

    Not at getting the right answer, but at getting the asnwer other humans would give e.g. on the nurse/doctor issue.

    AI sometimes means acting like a human, in being wrong.

  25. jake Silver badge

    The REAL problem with AI is that ...

    ... it always needs a human in the loop to make sure it got it right.

    For example, about three years ago my large animal Vet came in with a funny bit of advertising. This guy's in his second career, he became a Vet after 25 years as a DBA working for IBM. He knows I'm a computer guy, and thought I'd be amused by a bit of advertising he had received. It was for a large animal veterinary practice management software package "NOW WITH AI!!!"

    The Vet was laughing, and wondered how many times the company in question got Vets inquiring about their new Artificial Insemination package. Without a pause, I dialed the 800 number ... the answer was over 80% of calls! The guy on the other end wasn't amused when I suggested they fire their marketing genius and hire an AI expert ...

  26. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    LGBTQ+

    wtf is lgbtq+? Only last week the letters ran no further than lgbt... is the plus to indicate it includes everybody else (including non-bodies and else-elsies?)

  27. martinusher Silver badge

    Cart before Horse?

    It seems the complaint is that it uses 'sexist' clues in the names to try to predict gender. But, assuming its a proper learning tool, that's ass backward. It would have been trained on a whole set of names and associated gender and if it picked cues like 'nurse' as being 'female' its not because its somehow biased, its what the information it was trained on told it.

    Often times our claims of bias are just wishful thinking. We want more status so we're hesitant to be associated with what we think are -- what our prejudices tell us are -- low caste jobs. The machine is just highlighting our bias.

  28. Sloppy Crapmonster

    ElReg forum denizens you ignorant sluts

    "Enter your handle or email address and we'll guess if you're male or female" lol

    Give me something I can verify and then spam and I'll give you a random answer more like it.

  29. EagleZ28

    Did anyone else notice THIS little gem?

    From the article:

    "Constanza-Chock said. "Or the harm in opportunity cost of not showing employment ads to people based on misgendered assumptions.”"

    NOT showing EMPLOYMENT ads... based on wrong gender assumptions?

    That sounds like "sexual (gender) discrimination"!

  30. Mark192 Bronze badge

    :rollseyes:

    Not at the "AI" but at the whining people that can't see the inherent limitations and be fine with it.

    1. Mark192 Bronze badge

      Re: :rollseyes:

      Wow, a downvote.

      It's designed to inform the serving up of ads that have a greater chance of relevance. It has no special knowledge, it just needs to generate a sufficiently higher click through rate than there would be if left to chance in order for people to use it.

      People getting outraged because it got their address ProfessorMcGonagall@... as male shouldn't be pissed at this dumb algorithm but should focus their ire on a society where around 70% of professors are male.

  31. Schultz Silver badge
    Boffin

    AI everywhere ...

    ... why figure out how to look up names (and associated genders), if you can do it with AI?

    Step one: Find some data-related question.

    Step two: Use AI.

    Step three: Money, money, money!

    (With all the government programs supporting the development of AI Industries Inc., step 3 looks better every minute!)

  32. Jim Whitaker

    Identity

    Remember, on the Internet no on can tell you're a dog.

  33. sketharaman

    I once wished for an algo to predict a person's religion from their name and email to ascertain whether it was appropriate to send them a Diwali Greeting. https://gtm360.com/blog/2014/01/24/how-a-small-problem-in-mail-merge-leads-to-a-big-lesson-about-content-marketing/. I never dreamt that it was so damn hard to just predict gender. On a side note, this tool claims to predict gender from email addresses and usernames. All examples that have busted the tool have words like stupid, women, etc. TBH, while whatever has happened to this tool has happened, I can't think of any email addresses or usernames with these words. In other words, I find these tests dubious. Twitter works like Twitter but no rigorous testing methodology for this tool will use such test cases.

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