Osservatorio Fondazione Prada – Milan
12 / 09 / 2019 - 24 / 02 / 2020

Fondazione Prada presents Training Humans, a landmark exhibition conceived by Kate Crawford, Al researcher, artist and professor, and Trevor Paglen, artist and researcher at its Osservatorio venue in Milan. Training Humans is the first major photography exhibition devoted to training images: the collections of photos used to train artificial intelligence (Al) systems in how to “see” and categorize the world.

In this exhibition, Crawford and Paglen reveal the evolution of training image sets from the 1960s to today. Their work highlights how vernacular and functional images are being harvested as the raw material for facial recognition and human tracking by both the government and commercial sectors.

As stated by the artists, «when we first started conceptualizing this exhibition over two years ago, we wanted to tell a story about the history of images used to “recognize” humans in computer vision and Al systems. We weren’t interested in either the hyped, marketing version of Al nor the tales of dystopian robot futures.

Rather, we wanted to engage with the materiality of Al and to take those everyday images seriously as a part of a rapidly evolving machinic visual culture. That required us to open up the black boxes and look at how these engines of seeing currently operate».

The project questions the present status of the image in artificial intelligence and algorithmic systems, from education and healthcare to military surveillance, from law enforcement and hiring, to the criminal justice system.

Training Humans explores two fundamental issues in particular: how humans are represented, interpreted and codified through training datasets, and how technological systems harvest, label and use this material. As the classifications of humans by Al systems becomes more invasive and complex, their biases and politics become apparent. Within computer vision and Al systems, forms of measurement easily -but surreptitiously- turn into moral judgments.

The exhibition is structured as an historical interrogation that begins with the images that were used in the first computerized facial recognition lab experiments funded by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) in the U.S. from 1963 onward. In the 1990s, a more advanced generation of computer vision systems was developed by the U.S. Department of Defense Counterdrug Technology Development Program Office.

For a database known as Face Recognition Technology (FERET), they created a collection of portraits of 1,199 people, for a total of 14,126 images, in order to have a “standard benchmark” – which allows researchers to develop algorithms on a common database of images.