Ground Truths Are Human Constructions

Article by Florian Jaton: “Artificial intelligence algorithms are human-made, cultural constructs, something I saw first-hand as a scholar and technician embedded with AI teams for 30 months. Among the many concrete practices and materials these algorithms need in order to come into existence are sets of numerical values that enable machine learning. These referential repositories are often called “ground truths,” and when computer scientists construct or use these datasets to design new algorithms and attest to their efficiency, the process is called “ground-truthing.”

Understanding how ground-truthing works can reveal inherent limitations of algorithms—how they enable the spread of false information, pass biased judgments, or otherwise erode society’s agency—and this could also catalyze more thoughtful regulation. As long as ground-truthing remains clouded and abstract, society will struggle to prevent algorithms from causing harm and to optimize algorithms for the greater good.

Ground-truth datasets define AI algorithms’ fundamental goal of reliably predicting and generating a specific output—say, an image with requested specifications that resembles other input, such as web-crawled images. In other words, ground-truth datasets are deliberately constructed. As such, they, along with their resultant algorithms, are limited and arbitrary and bear the sociocultural fingerprints of the teams that made them…(More)”.