Kate Crawford

Research Professor of Communication and STS, Senior Principal Researcher
USC Annenberg, Microsoft Research

Excavating “Ground Truth” in AI: Epistemologies and Politics in Training Data

Public Lecture: Excavating “Ground Truth” in AI
Thursday, March 3, 2022 (Virtual)*
4:10 p.m. – 6:15 p.m.

Public Seminar Discussion: Art, Activism and AI

With commentary by Marion Fourcade, Sonia Katyal and Trevor Paglen
Friday, March 4, 2022 (Virtual)*
4:10 p.m. – 6:15 p.m.

*This event is free and open to the public.

About Kate Crawford

Professor Kate Crawford is a leading international scholar of the social and political implications of artificial intelligence. Her work focuses on understanding large-scale data systems in the wider contexts of history, politics, labor, and the environment. She is a Research Professor of Communication and STS at USC Annenberg, a Senior Principal Researcher at Microsoft Research New York, and an Honorary Professor at the University of Sydney. She is the inaugural Visiting Chair for AI and Justice at the École Normale Supérieure in Paris, where she co-leads the international working group on the Foundations of Machine Learning. Over her twenty-year research career, she has also produced groundbreaking creative collaborations and visual investigations.

Her project Anatomy of an AI System with Vladan Joler won the Beazley Design of the Year Award, and is in the permanent collection of the Museum of Modern Art in New York and the V&A in London. Her collaboration with the artist Trevor Paglen produced Training Humans – the first major exhibition of the images used to train AI systems. Their investigative project, Excavating AI, won the Ayrton Prize from the British Society for the History of Science. Crawford’s latest book, Atlas of AI: Power, Politics, and the Planetary Costs of Artificial Intelligence (Yale University Press) has been described as “a fascinating history of data” by the New Yorker, a “timely and urgent contribution” by Science. and named one of the best books on technology in 2021 by the Financial Times.

About the Lecture

The last decade has seen a dramatic capture of digital material for machine learning production. This data is the basis for sense-making in AI, not as classical representations of the world with individual meaning, but as mass collections: ground truth for machine abstractions and operations. OpenAI’s GPT-3 language model is trained on a corpus of 1 billion words, ImageNet contains over 14 million images, and Tencent’s ML Images contains more than 17.5 million annotated images – predominantly scraped from the internet. Training datasets shape the epistemic boundaries governing how machine learning operates, and thus are an essential part of understanding socially significant questions about AI. But when we closely investigate the benchmark training sets widely used in NLP and computer vision systems, we find complex social, political, and epistemological challenges. What happens when data is seen as an aggregate, stripped of context, meaning, and specificity? In what ways does training data limit what and how machine learning systems interpret the world? And most importantly, what forms of power do these approaches enhance and enable? In this lecture, Kate Crawford will share new work that reflects on what’s at stake in the architecture and contents of training sets, and how they are increasingly part of our urban, legal, logistical, and commercial infrastructures.

About the Obert C. Tanner Lecture Series on Artificial Intelligence and Human Values

Professor Crawford’s lecture is one of seven special Obert C. Tanner Lectures on Artificial Intelligence and Human Values. The six other participating universities in this series are Stanford University, University of Utah, University of Michigan, Yale University, Oxford University, and Cambridge University.

About the Commentators

Marion Fourcade

Professor, Sociology, University of California, Berkeley

Marion Fourcade is Professor of Sociology and Director of Social Science Matrix at UC Berkeley. She received her PhD from Harvard University in 2000 and is an alumna of the Ecole Normale Supérieure in Paris, France. A comparative sociologist by training and taste, she is the author of Economists and Societies: Discipline and Profession in the United States, Britain and France, 1890s to 1990s (Princeton University Press, 2009). Other published works explore national variations in neoliberal transitions, political mores, and valuation cultures. More recently, her research focus has shifted to the rise, consolidation and social consequences of new classificatory regimes powered by digital data and algorithms. A book on this topic, The Ordinal Society (with Kieran Healy), is under contract with Harvard University Press. Fourcade is a recipient of the American Sociological Association’s Distinguished Book Award and the Society for the Social Studies of Science’s Ludwik Fleck prize for outstanding book in the area of science and technology studies, as well as of the Lewis Coser award for theoretical agenda setting

Sonia Katyal

Associate Dean, Faculty Development and Research, Co-Director, Berkeley Center for Law and Technology, University of California, Berkeley

Law Professor Sonia Katyal’s work focuses on the intersection of technology, intellectual property and civil rights (including privacy and freedom of speech). Her current projects focus on artificial intelligence and discrimination; and a variety of projects on the intersection between museums, cultural property and new media. She is the author of a forthcoming book on art, advertising and activism, and a previous book, Property Outlaws (coauthored with Eduardo Penalver), both from Yale University Press. 

Professor Katyal’s recent publications include Technoheritage, in the California Law Review; Rethinking Private Accountability in the Age of Artificial Intelligence, in the UCLA Law Review; The Gender Panopticon:AI, Gender and Design Justice in the UCLA Law Review (with Jessica Jung) and From Trade Secrecy to Seclusion in Georgetown Law Journal (with Tait Graves), and The Paradox of Source Code Secrecy, in the Cornell Law Review. She has also written for the New York Times, the Washington Post, Slate, and has been cited by the Supreme Court.


Trevor Paglen

Artist and Geographer

Trevor Paglen is an artist and geographer living and working in New York City. In addition to several books and numerous one-person exhibitions, Paglen has launched an artwork into distant orbit around Earth, contributed research and cinematography to the Academy Award-winning film Citizenfour, and created a radioactive public sculpture for the exclusion zone in Fukushima, Japan. Paglen holds a B.A. from U.C. Berkeley, an MFA from the Art Institute of Chicago, and a Ph.D. in Geography from U.C. Berkeley. In 2014, he received the Electronic Frontier Foundation Pioneer Award and in 2016, he won the Deutsche Börse Photography Prize. Paglen was named a MacArthur Fellow in 2017.