I Look Like Who?!

by Grace Handy

It is quite likely that during the first week of February 2010, you or someone you know changed their Facebook profile photo to a photo of a celebrity. This viral fad lasted all of one week, with social networkers all over the world ‘becoming’ luminaries they sort of or really or not so much physically resembled such as Heidi Klum, John Travolta, and Audrey Hepburn. Photo comments ran amok; “Oh my God, this is so accurate” and “you’re twins!” and “I really thought this was you.”

an old-school doppelganger for television host Jon Stewart

It is also quite likely that at some point in your life, while commiserating with a trusty friend, you have asked him (or her), “So…one to ten, what do you rate him (or her)?” It’s a simple way, albeit superficial, to judge attractiveness.

Let us flash back to December 2002. Mark Zuckerberg hasn’t invented Facebook yet (he is completing his first semester at Harvard), and the online doppelganger fad will catch on in about eight years. However, in Virginia, Amnart Kanarat has filed a patent for an “Automatic Celebrity Face Matching and Attractiveness Rating Machine”. Kanarat has combined the not-so-uncommon situations of “I saw you play Madison Square Garden in nineteen eighty-f…oh…sorry sir” and “I’d give her a seven, but that’s generous,” into one machine.

Here’s how the face-matching, rating machine works: you sit down at the machine, place some change in the coin slot, and smile as your picture is taken. Then, using a track pad connected to the screen, you choose a category of celebrity (movie stars, politicians), the image of your face is analyzed, and the machine searches for a celebrity’s face in its database of stored pictures to which yours most closely resembles. Alas, your celebrity doppelganger is revealed. Then, according to the patent, “the facial image is analyzed to establish a measure of the attractiveness of the individual,” with results ranging from a score of 1 to 100. Attractiveness rating is based upon geometric structuring and symmetry of an individual’s face.

Now, the question arises as to how attractiveness is really scaled, if it even can be. Isn’t everyone’s perception of attractiveness or beauty distinctive and subjective? Also, isn’t rating someone’s attractiveness somewhat cruel in that it could potentially cause emotional harm if the individual receives a low rating?

Kanarat doesn’t address the potentially damaging aftereffects in the patent’s claims and descriptions. He assures the machine is built for amusement and entertainment, and explains some beneficial (though somewhat misogynistic) applications. For example, estimating someone’s level of attractiveness could help in “prescreening applicants for job positions in which applicant appearances play an important role,” such as “models or receptionists.”

This machine may seem a bit dated, with its eye-doctor-exam-like appearance and our current computerized, fame-obsessed world of celebrity look-a-like websites such as findmydoppelganger.com, and several iPhone doppelganger applications (there would be an app for that).

But in 2002, as Kanarat assures in the patent claim, “none of these conventional automatic photograph booths has the capability of analyzing facial images and matching them against the facial images stored in a database as the present invention does.”

So, perhaps this invention that never really caught fire in amusement parks or home-gaming rooms set a small precedent for online doppelganger fads and celebrity look-a-like contests. But, for an “amusement machine,” one more question arises…how amusing is it receive, say, Roseanne Barr, as your doppelganger and receive a low attractiveness rating?

And there it is, 21st century technology at its finest.

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