That people have a penchant for vanity is not news. For already in the Roman Catholic Church, among the seven deadly sins, “Superbia,” that is, pride, arrogance, and vanity, is named as the first. So far, however, this has not prevented anyone from occasionally presenting themselves as better and more beautiful than they actually were. Dating websites and social media make that clear. A few centimeters shorter than indicated on Tinder? Somehow “beauty challenged”?
But the pandemic, in which we all had to sit at home in one fell swoop and dressing well and making ourselves beautiful took a back seat, didn’t put a stop to that either. Zoom, Snapchat, Teams or Tik Tok suddenly all had beauty filters in their portfolio. Some overlaid their own face in the video with makeup, while others went so far as to suddenly make the person unrecognizable. It was a digital plastic surgery.
We know from countless studies that more attractive people, and for men, height, contributes to career success. This fact is so great that he also received its own name. The Halo effect. More attractive people receive an advance that can help them. They are seen as more likeable, smarter, more successful and one tends to behave accordingly towards an attractive person.
This does not stop at politics either. After all, people may find more attractive candidates more likeable and forgive them some inconsistencies in their political positions. In other words, beauty pays off in elections. And each generation has new technologies at its disposal to help it make the halo effect work for it. Whereas in the past good makeup, clever lighting and a talented photographer could work wonders when a portrait photo was needed for the election campaign, today artificial intelligence can do the trick.
In particular, Bold Glamour, a beauty filter introduced by Tik Tok in early 2023, drew debate. Unrealistic expectations of beauty would be awakened if suddenly every gray mouse could look like a Hollywood movie star, critics said. An opponent could not recognize the manipulation, so good was this AI-based manipulation.
Politicians have also discovered this for themselves. Or, more precisely, at least a candidate for the French Senate. Juliette de Causans, who is running for a splinter group of President Emmanuel Macron in the Ardennes, no longer really resembled her true self on campaign posters. Not only did the 40-something appear much younger, but her complexion, hair, and actually her whole face looked completely different. Here is a comparison of the posters for your own judgment:
The reactions were quick and merciless. One commenter on Instagram said:
You are misleading voters with your campaign photo. This is pathetic, I will not vote for you again. Return to the Ardennes, we deserve better.
Another was a bit more cynical:
In fact, you look very different from your campaign photo, you start right off with lies, that’s beautiful.
De Causans herself responded defiantly to criticism of her retouched images:
It is my right as a candidate to have a beautiful photo. Hair, makeup and lighting, they are not the same.
And she is right. It is not the same if a digital twin campaigns for you as a representative. We always send a digital body and face double to our dates. We have a right to it! And above all: if everyone does it, why not De Causans? For she had not been alone; other candidates from her political splinter group had used KI for themselves.
And the pressure to be beautiful is great. It is almost seen as a right to be surrounded only by beautiful people. Two years ago, the French public was preoccupied with the statements of writer and publicist Fabien Lecoeuvre, who was outraged by the appearance of French singer Hoshi and spoke of France needing fewer ugly and more beautiful people in radio and film.
That’s all he needed. For the slam poet Grand Corps Malade, this was a perfect fit, and he immediately composed and wrote a song with the title “Des gens beaux” (“The beautiful people”).
We are now waiting to hear something similar to Juliette De Causans. A song composed by an AI that addresses beauty filters in politics would certainly be fitting. And if we’re already using AI to manipulate images of real politicians, why not replace politicians entirely with AI? Our politics cannot get any worse – but they are certainly more beautiful.
I have now written my second book on artificial intelligence, and it will be published in November 2023. In it, I also address such beauty filters and deep fakes, and what ChatGPT and autonomous cars will mean for us as a society and humanity. Title: Kreative Intelligenz: Wie ChatGPT und Co. die Welt verändern werden.