Can a website determine how attractive you are?

Swiss developers claim they have developed an algorithm that does exactly that.

Scientists from one of Switzerland's most prestigious universities, ETH Zuerich, teamed up with the developers of the dating app Blinq to create howhot.io, a website that judges how attractive  you are -- with scores ranging from "Hmm.." to "Godlike." It also estimates how old you are. The computer system uses data from Blinq to examine which facial features are generally considered attractive, and which ones are not. All you have to do is upload a photo of yourself.

The app is used worldwide, but it has its origins in Switzerland. Alex Zimmermann, who is responsible for the company's strategy, explained that the algorithm was based on more than 100,000 images and 20 million hot or not ratings from Blinq. There is a certain geographical bias, though. About 40 percent of the app's users are from Europe, about 30 percent from Asia, 20 percent from Northern Africa and the rest from other areas.

Zimmermann  emphasized that the team of developers was not involved in the actual process of determining what is generally considered to be attractive. Instead, a series of linked computer components -- also often referred to as an "artificial neural network" due to its similarities with human thinking -- took over. The site's concept has been the focus of two academic studies that analyzed artificial intelligence, as well as social behavior, in dating apps.

"The neural network itself then learns what parts of the face to look at. Visualizations showed that the neural network tends to focus on parts of the face that are "non-standard," i.e. if you have beautiful eyes, a large nose, no hair, a sexy beard," Zimmermann said. A similar strategy was used to guess people's ages -- wrinkles, for example.

In other words: The software is supposedly unbiased, and its analysis does not depend on the likes or dislikes of a few programmers.

But is it reliable? Some users don't think so.

Others, however, seemed positively surprised.

The scientists behind the idea say their algorithm can correctly predict 76 percent of the ratings solely based on an image. They also came to a conclusion that might not be totally surprising: Using filters might be a good idea sometimes. "We observed that the filters lead to an increase in predicted hotness," the scientists concluded.

But doesn't a website that rates people solely based on their physical attributes contribute to exclusion, stigmatization and self-doubts, particularly among younger users?

"We discussed that aspect before we launched the website and decided not to show result of people who are under 18," Zimmermann said. "If the algorithm predicts the age of a person to be under 18, we do not show a result."

Zimmermann says that users should not take the results too seriously. Even those who are ranked in the lowest possible category ("Hmm..") should consider it just a tool that's "fun playing around with."

A lot of people seem to agree: Since the website launched about two weeks ago, more than 5 million visitors have tried the tool out.

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