The Profiling Potential of Computer Vision and the Challenge of Computational Empiricism

Proceedings of the 2019 ACM FAT* Conference

26 Pages Posted: 10 Dec 2018 Last revised: 18 Jul 2019

See all articles by Jake Goldenfein

Jake Goldenfein

Swinburne Law School; Cornell Tech - Cornell University

Date Written: November 14, 2018


Computer vision and other biometrics data science applications have commenced a new project of profiling people. Rather than using 'transaction generated information', these systems measure the 'real world' and produce an assessment of the 'world state' - in this case an assessment of some individual trait. Instead of using proxies or scores to evaluate people, they increasingly deploy a logic of revealing the truth about reality and the people within it. While these profiling knowledge claims are sometimes tentative, they increasingly suggest that only through computation can these excesses of reality be captured and understood. This article explores the bases of those claims in the systems of measurement, representation, and classification deployed in computer vision. It asks if there is something new in this type of knowledge claim, sketches an account of a new form of computational empiricism being operationalised, and questions what kind of human subject is being constructed by these technological systems and practices. Finally, the article explores legal mechanisms for contesting the emergence of computational empiricism as the dominant knowledge platform for understanding the world and the people within it.

Keywords: Computer Vision, Machine Learning, Fairness, Privacy, Legal Theory

Suggested Citation

Goldenfein, Jake, The Profiling Potential of Computer Vision and the Challenge of Computational Empiricism (November 14, 2018). Proceedings of the 2019 ACM FAT* Conference. Available at SSRN:

Jake Goldenfein (Contact Author)

Swinburne Law School ( email )

Cnr Wakefield and William Streets, Hawthorn Victor
Melbourne, Victoria 3122

Cornell Tech - Cornell University ( email )

111 8th Avenue #302
New York, NY 10011
United States

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