Discriminator: an interactive documentary about facial recognition algorithms trained on Flickr’s facial database

Webcam on!

Discriminator is an interactive doc split into chapters, directed by Brett Gaylor who also acts as the co-subject (with you being the other) and it looks at the ways Flickr’s photo database was used to train facial recognition algorithms. The dataset was then downloaded by hundreds of companies including Microsoft and Panasonic.

The documentary was a wild trip and while I know about how harmful facial recognition technology can be, I didn’t realise that Flickr/Yahoo! had created a Creative Commons-licenced corpus of millions of faces to help.I’ve used Flickr for featured images on this site (all CC, mostly CC0 or public domain) but haven’t had my own account on there for years. Then I remembered, I had one with images of my face around the time the database was built. So who knows if/when/how they used some of my holiday pics from Barcelona in 2007.

Stream it on the official Discriminator website.

Would you let algorithms run your life for a week?

One Wired journalist tried and it wasn’t as dystopian as you might think.

I found this 2019 Wired article by Victoria Turk whilst surfing the Web™️:

For one week, I decided I would try to take a more conscious look at the kind of mundane algorithms I use everyday. From scrolling social media when I first wake up in the morning to route-planning my way home in the evening, I wanted to make myself more aware of the algorithms that have become routine in my daily life, how they affect my choices, and what they reveal about me.

I would attempt to live my life “by algorithm” – using algorithm in the broad, colloquial sense here to mean any set of computer calculations that results in a solution, including recommendation engines, filtering systems, prioritisation or personalisation algorithms and so on. I would track my interactions with algorithms and let them make my choices for me.

The week was 5 days so more of a working week and the result was kinda surprising from a general perspective. A lot is said about the way algorithms have taken over how we live but what is an algorithm really? It’s “a process or set of rules to be followed”. Don’t we do that every day with the various traditions and routines we go through? We may wake up in the morning, get out of bed, have a shower, brush our teeth, have breakfast (or not), go to work (from home or outside), travel by some form of transport, we do small talk, we eat lunch, we deal with microaggressions (or create them for others) and so on. There are processes to all of them and they’re almost algorithmic thanks to capitalism and social norms. And there’s the catch—they’re social norms.

Look at how everyone wants to go back to “normal”, post-pandemic. But for many disabled people, nothing has ever been normal and it might get worse than it already is right now. Tech has the power to change this but instead, it has added to the crap with things like NFTs killing the ecosystem or the growing inaccessibility of apps like Clubhouse.

So would you let algorithms run your life for a week? The answer is yes, whether you know it or not.