Digital Civil Society Speaker Series: Shifting the Frame: The Labors of ImageNet and AI Data

February 1st, 2024 - 4:00 pm to 5:15 pm PT

Encina Commons 119 615 Crothers Way
Stanford, CA 94305

Register here to join in-person or register here to join the event virtually.

Join us for a monthly gathering that explores critical insights on the intersections and implications of digital dependencies with democratic norms and civil society values and actors. The Digital Civil Society Speaker Series is a thought-provoking forum that brings together leading experts and scholars to discuss pressing issues shaping our digital world.

The Digital Civil Society Lab is delighted to be joined by Dr. Alex Hanna who will discuss, Shifting the Frame: The Labors of ImageNet and AI Data.

Artificial intelligence (AI) technologies like ChatGPT, Stable Diffusion, and LaMDA have led a multi-billion dollar industry in generative AI, and a potentially much larger industry in AI more generally. However, these technologies would not exist were it not for the immense amount of data mined to make them run, low-paid and exploited annotation labor required for labeling and content moderation, and questionable arrangements around consent to use these data. Although datasets used to train and evaluate commercial models are often obscured from view under the shroud of trade secrecy, we can learn a great deal about these systems by interrogating certain publicly available datasets which are considered foundational in academic AI research.

In this talk, Dr. Hanna investigates a single dataset, ImageNet. It is not an understatement to say that without ImageNet, we may not have the current wave of deep learning techniques which power nearly all modern AI technologies. She begins from three vantage points: the histories of ImageNet from the perspective of its curators and its linguistic predecessor WordNet, the testimony of the data annotators which labeled millions of ImageNet images, and the data subjects and the creators of the images within ImageNet. Academically, she situates this analysis within a larger theory and practice of infrastructure studies. Practically, she points to a vision for technology which is not based on practices of unrestricted data mining, exploited labor, and the use of images without meaningful consent.

The speaker series is open to anyone who wishes to engage with critical insights on the intersections and implications of digital dependencies with democratic norms and civil society values and actors. 


  • Dr. Alex Hanna - Dr. Alex Hanna is Director of Research at the Distributed AI Research Institute. A sociologist by training, her work centers on the data used in new computational technologies, and the ways in which these data exacerbate racial, gender, and class inequality. She also works in the area of social movements, focusing on the dynamics of anti-racist campus protest in the US and Canada. Dr. Hanna has published widely in top-tier venues across the social sciences, including the journals Mobilization, American Behavioral Scientist, and Big Data & Society, and top-tier computer science conferences such as CSCW, FAccT, and NeurIPS. Dr. Hanna serves chair of Sociologists for Trans Justice and as a Senior Fellow at the Center for Applied Transgender Studies. FastCompany included Dr. Hanna as part of their 2021 Queer 50, and she has been featured in the Cal Academy of Sciences New Science exhibit, which highlights queer and trans scientists of color.