Solon Barocas

Cornell University, Microsoft

Date: 12th of July, 2021

Time: 16:00 (CET)

Title: Computer Vision and Conflicting Values: Describing People with Automated Alt Text

Abstract: Scholars have recently drawn attention to a range of controversial issues posed by the use of computer vision for automatically generating descriptions of people in images. Despite these concerns, automated image description has become an important tool to ensure equitable access to information for blind and low vision people. In this paper, we investigate the ethical dilemmas faced by companies that have adopted the use of computer vision for producing alt text: textual descriptions of images for blind and low vision people, We use Facebook's automatic alt text tool as our primary case study. First, we analyze the policies that Facebook has adopted with respect to identity categories, such as race, gender, age, etc., and the company's decisions about whether to present these terms in alt text. We then describe an alternative -- and manual -- approach practiced in the museum community, focusing on how museums determine what to include in alt text descriptions of cultural artifacts. We compare these policies, using notable points of contrast to develop an analytic framework that characterizes the particular apprehensions behind these policy choices. We conclude by considering two strategies that seem to sidestep some of these concerns, finding that there are no easy ways to avoid the normative dilemmas posed by the use of computer vision to automate alt text.

Speaker Biography: Solon Barocas is a Principal Researcher in the New York City lab of Microsoft Research and an Adjunct Assistant Professor in the Department of Information Science at Cornell University. He is also a Faculty Associate at the Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University. His research explores ethical and policy issues in artificial intelligence, particularly fairness in machine learning, methods for bringing accountability to automated decision-making, and the privacy implications of inference. He co-founded the ACM conference on Fairness, Accountability, and Transparency (FAccT).


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