April 18, 2018 – Face-Off: Facial Recognition Technologies and Humanity in an Era of Big Data

About the Event

As facial recognition technology becomes increasingly sophisticated, and the presence of such devices proves ubiquitous in both public and private spheres, it is critical for researchers to examine the potential effects on both individuals and society as a whole. To this end, the Division of Emerging Media Studies of Boston University’s College of Communication is holding an international symposium to bring together diverse perspectives from social scientists, philosophers, policy-makers, and computer scientists to explore the social, behavioral, and psychological dimensions of this new technological terrain. This unique collection of voices intends to illuminate the various and often competing dimensions of a challenging, complex area of research. Ultimately, it hopes to trace out the implications for society, and the choices that we must collectively and individually make.

Organized and chaired by:
James E. Katz, Boston University

Speakers & Abstracts

Speaker Biographies

Lora Appel is an assistant professor of Health Informatics at the Faculty of Health at York University, and a Research Scientist at OpenLab, and innovation Centre housed at University Health Network, the largest medical research organization in Canada. She leads “Prescribing Virtual Reality (VRx)” a collection of studies that introduce and evaluate AR/VR/MR interventions for patients, caregivers, and healthcare providers. Lora has received several grants from the Centre for Aging in Brain Health innovation (CABHI) to pursue this work in aging and dementia care. She is also involved in the design of a new curriculum incorporating VR for the School of Nursing at York University. Lora received her PhD from the School of Communication and Information at Rutgers University and was awarded the Gerald R. Miller Outstanding Doctoral Dissertation Award in 2017 for her work defining clinician anonymity and designing “Face2Name” a tool to improve interprofessional communication in clinical settings. Her expertise is in applying design thinking and science methodologies to healthcare innovation; she is passionate about designing new technological interventions that provide care in the pursuit of a cure. www.PrescribingVR.com

Alvaro M. Bedoya is the founding executive director of the Center on Privacy and Technology at Georgetown Law, where he teaches a joint privacy course with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Prior to joining Georgetown Law, he served as Chief Counsel to the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Privacy, Technology and the Law. In 2016, he co-authored the Center’s year-long investigation into police use of face recognition, The Perpetual Line-Up: Unregulated Police Face Recognition in America. He is a graduate of Harvard College and Yale Law School, where he received the Paul & Daisy Soros Fellowship for New Americans and was an editor of the Yale Law Journal. You can follow him on Twitter @alvarombedoya.

Margrit Betke is a Professor in the Department of Computer Science and a Co-Director of the Artificial Intelligence Research (AIR) Initiative at Boston University. Her research interests include video-based human-computer interfaces, facial expressivity and gesture analysis, and assistive technology.

Derek Christensen is the Innovation Lead at Accenture’s Boston Liquid Studio, a rapid prototyping group focused on new and emerging technologies. In this role he facilitates conversations and workshops with companies to discuss how their business problems could be addressed with current or future-state technology, as well as exploring non-technical innovative solutions. Derek brings a unique blend of functional knowledge and technical capabilities. His work experience includes virtual agent delivery, API design, mobile application development, and extensive program and project management. He has a BS and MS in Information Systems from Brigham Young University and joined Accenture in 2008.

Mark G. Frank received his Ph.D. in Social Psychology from Cornell University, followed by a National Research Service Award postdoc in the Psychiatry Department at the University of California at San Francisco Medical School. From there he joined the School of Psychology at the University of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia, where he worked for 4 years until he joined the Communication Department at Rutgers University. In 2005 he accepted a position at the University of Buffalo. He has published numerous papers on facial expressions, emotion, interpersonal deception, and violence in extremist groups, and has recently won the SUNY Chancellor’s Award for Excellence in Scholarship and Creative Activities. He has had research funding from The National Science Foundation, US Department of Homeland Security, and the US Department of Defense to examine deception and hidden emotion behaviors in checkpoint, law enforcement, and counter-terrorism situations, as well as aggression in extremist groups. He is also the co-developer of a patented automated computer system to read facial expressions, for which he won a Visionary Innovator Award. He has used these findings to lecture, consult with and train virtually all US Federal Law Enforcement/Intelligence Agencies, as well as local/state and select foreign countries such as Canada, Australian and The UK. He has also done briefings on deception and counter-terrorism to the US Congress as well as the US National Academies of Sciences. He was also an original member of the FBI Behavioral Science Unit’s Terrorism Research and Analysis Project.

Jonathan Frankle is a PhD student in the Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory at MIT, where he is a member of the Internet Policy Research Initiative. He studies the basic science of neural networks, applications of homomorphic encryption, and connections between the two. Prior to arriving at MIT, he served as the first staff technologist at Georgetown Law’s Center on Privacy and Technology, where he worked on The Perpetual Lineup and taught the inaugural offering of Computer Programming for Lawyers. He earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in computer science at Princeton. He has spent summers at Google (encryption key management, cryptography research) and Microsoft; he will spend this summer at Google Brain.

Clare Garvie is an associate with the Center on Privacy & Technology at Georgetown Law. Her current research focuses on how government use of face recognition impacts the average citizen, and the ways citizens, public defenders, and policymakers can ensure that the technology is under control. She is a co-author of The Perpetual Line-Up: Unregulated Police Face Recognition in America. She received her J.D. from Georgetown Law and her B.A. from Barnard College. Prior to her current position she worked on human rights issues and international criminal law with the International Center for Transitional Justice. You can follow her on Twitter @clareangelyn.

Daniel Halpern is an associate professor in the School of Communications at the Catholic University of Chile and Director of TrenDigital (www.tren-digital.cl), a think tank where he studies, teaches and does consulting work on social media and online behavior. His research focuses on the social consequences of the use of Information and Communication Technologies. He has published several books and articles on journals such as Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, International Journal of Communication, Computers in Human Behavior, Personality and Individual Differences and Behaviour & Information Technology.

Vanessa Nurock is associate professor in Political Theory and Ethics at Paris 8 University and visiting associate researcher in philosophy at EPIDAPO (CNRS-UCLA) in 2016-2018. Her research stands at the interface between ethics, politics and emerging science. Her books and articles address issues concerning bioethics, nanoethics, neuroethics, environmental and animal ethics, robots ethics, as well as ethics and politics of care and justice. Selected books : Sommes-nous naturellement moraux (In French PUF 2012) and Rawls, pour une société juste (in French : Michalon 2008, in Spanish : Jusbaires 2015). Selected articles on new and emergent technologies (nanotechnologies) in English : ‘Nanoethics: ethics for, from or with nanotechnologies?’ Hylé 2010 16-1, p.31-42, S. Pellé, V. Nurock, ‘Of nanochips and persons: toward an ethics of diagnostic technology in personalized medicine’, Nanoethics 2012, 6(3), p. 155-165, Nurock, V & Panissal N., ‘Teaching a care approach to Nanotechnologies’ In From Nanotechnologies to Emerging Technologies: Towards a Global Responsibility,D. M. Bowman et al. (ed.) AKA Verlag, 2016, p. 125-137.

Pierre Piazza is a lecturer in political science at Cergy-Pontoise (CESDIP-LEJEP- CLAMOR), University near Paris. He is a specialist of the social history of state identification systems and techniques. He has published several papers and books on the Bertillon system (anthropometry), finger-printing (dactyloscopy), identity cards, police files and biometrics.

Laura Specker Sullivan PhD, a specialist in interdisciplinary and cross-cultural ethics, is a research fellow at the Center for Bioethics, Harvard Medical School. From 2015-2017 she was a postdoctoral fellow at the Center for Sensorimotor Neural Engineering, University of Washington and the National Core for Neuroethics, University of British Columbia. She received her PhD in philosophy from the University of Hawaii at Manoa in 2015, after spending two years as an international researcher at the Kokoro Research Center, Kyoto University. She is currently the chair of the Neuroethics Affinity Group for the American Society for Bioethics and Humanities and a member of the Philosophy and Medicine committee of the American Philosophical Association. She has published articles in the Journal of Neural Engineering, Science, Science and Engineering Ethics, the American Journal of Bioethics – Neuroscience, the Journal of Medical Ethics, the Kennedy Institute of Ethics Journal, the International Journal of Philosophical Studies, and Social Science and Medicine.

Luke Stark is a Postdoctoral Fellow in the Department of Sociology at Dartmouth College, and a Fellow at the Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University. Luke studies the historical and contemporary intersections of digital media and behavioral science, and how psychological techniques are incorporated into social media platforms, mobile apps, and artificial intelligence (AI) systems. His broader research interrogates how these behavioral technologies affect human privacy, emotional expression, and digital labor, and the social and political challenges that technologists, policymakers, and the wider public face as a result. Luke holds a PhD from the Department of Media, Culture, and Communication at New York University, and an Honours BA and MA from the University of Toronto; he has been a Fellow of the NYU School of Law’s Information Law Institute (ILI), and an inaugural Fellow with the University of California Berkeley’s Center for Technology, Society, and Policy (CTSP). He tweets @luke_stark; learn more at https://starkcontrast.co.


Efforts to understand facial expressions and determine identity through technological means has existed since at least the 1960s (Gates, 2011). Decades of technological advancement have amplified the capacity for machines to discern individual identities, and today, facial recognition technology offers promising opportunities in sundry domains; algorithmically- informed predictability can offer substantial benefits in policing and security (Ricanek & Boehnen, 2012), medicine (Tan, Gilani, Mayberry, Mian, Hunt, Walters, & Whitehouse, 2017), and commercial endeavors (Deng, Navarathna, Carr, Mandt, Yue, Matthews, & Mori, 2017). However, these opportunities are simultaneously met with several challenges, such as the lack of regulation (Garvie, Bedoya, & Frankle, 2016), potential for flawed data through algorithmic bias (Introna, 2005; Introna & Wood, 2004), and infringements on personal privacy, particularly with the influx of photo sharing via social media platforms and resultant access to big data (Gasser, 2016; Mohapatra, 2016; Nakar & Greenbaum, 2017; Shaw, 2012).

To more fully understand the complexities of facial recognition technology and its consequences, the Division of Emerging Media Studies at Boston University presents an international symposium, where scholars from a variety of fields will discuss the promises and perils. An interdisciplinary, cross-cutting approach will help to facilitate an in-depth examination of the topic through paper presentations, panel discussions, and a poster session. The symposium will encourage the audience, both in-person and via virtual livestream, to participate actively with questions and debate. The goal of the event is for participants to not only develop a deep understanding of the competing issues at play but also identify actionable next steps within their fields of study.

Agenda (Subject to Change)

  • April 17th: Welcome Reception for Speakers and Panelists, location TBD
  • April 18th: Hillel Center, 213 Bay State Rd., Boston, MA, USA
April 18 Schedule
Time Session
9:00 – 9:30 Coffee & Registration
9:30 – 9:40 Welcoming Remarks
9:40 – 10:40 Panel 1: Understanding Facial Recognition
10:40 – 10:50 Coffee Break
10:50 – 12:00pm Panel 2: Ethical Concerns and Practical Benefits
12pm – 12:40 Lunch
12:40 – 2:00 Panel 3: Historical and Contemporary Uses and Abuses
2:00 – 2:10 Coffee Break
2:10 – 3:10 Panel 4: Applications and Perceptions
3:10 – 3:15 Conclusions & Final Remarks
3:20 Adjournment
3:30 – 4:30 Attendees invited to DeFleur Distinguished Lectureship or the Computer Science Distinguished Lectureship

International Scientific Advisory Board

  • Appel, Lora – OpenLab, University Health Network, Toronto
  • Betke, Margrit – Boston University
  • Brito, Eliane P. Z. – Fundação Getulio Vargas, São Paulo
  • Caronia, Letizia – Università degli Studi di Bologna
  • Chen, Yi-Fan – Miami University
  • Cushman, Ellen – Northeastern University
  • Floyd, Juliet – Boston University
  • Laugier, Sandra – Sorbonne University
  • Lim, Sun Sun – Singapore University of Technology & Design
  • Neff, Gina – Oxford University
  • Poiger, Uta – Northeastern University
  • Soysal, Zeynep – Boston University
  • Takahashi, Toshie – Waseda University

Back to top