We get the algorithms of our ground truths: Designing referential databases in digital image processing

This article documents the practical efforts of a group of scientists designing an imageprocessing algorithm for saliency detection. By following the actors of this computer science project, the article shows that the problems often considered to be the starting points of computational models are in fact provisional results of time-consuming, collective and highly material processes that engage habits, desires, skills and values. In the project being studied, problematization processes lead to the constitution of referential databases called ‘ground truths’ that enable both the effective shaping of algorithms and the evaluation of their performances. Working as important common touchstones for research communities in image processing, the ground truths are inherited from prior problematization processes and may be imparted to subsequent ones. The ethnographic results of this study suggest two complementary analytical perspectives on algorithms: (1) an ‘axiomatic’ perspective that understands algorithms as sets of instructions designed to solve given problems computationally in the best possible way, and (2) a ‘problem-oriented’ perspective that understands algorithms as sets of instructions designed to computationally retrieve outputs designed and designated during specific problematization processes. If the axiomatic perspective on algorithms puts the emphasis on the numerical transformations of inputs into outputs, the problem-oriented perspective puts the emphasis on the definition of both inputs and outputs

Published in:
Social Studies of Science, 47, 6, 811-840
SAGE Publications

 Record created 2017-11-13, last modified 2019-06-04

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