Media Understanding Mini Workshop I

Anonymous Identity



This talk previews some findings from a book in progress, which is based on a synthesis of findings in several fields and five years’ worth of survey data from tens of thousands of American respondents. The name of the book, and its motivating question, is “Who are we now?”. The point of departure is the observation that humans combine individual recognition, common to all large-brained animals, with “anonymous identity”, a set of properties or tags denoting membership in anonymous groups (“identities”), analogous to the caste and colony markers of eusocial insects (though of course based on totally different neural mechanisms). We’ll speculate on how these identities emerge and propagate, as well as on their neural substrates in humans. We’ll also look at data showing how urbanization and social contagion are resulting in some interesting large-scale trends in anonymous identity, including an observation regarding the growing political polarization between cities and the countryside.

Speaker Bio

Blaise Agüera y Arcas is a VP and Fellow at Google Research, where he leads an organization working on both basic research and new products in AI. His focus is on augmentative, privacy-first, and collectively beneficial applications, including on-device ML for Android phones, wearables, and the Internet of Things. One of the team’s technical contributions is Federated Learning, an approach to training neural networks in a distributed setting that avoids sharing user data. Blaise also founded the Artists and Machine Intelligence program, and has been an active participant in cross-disciplinary dialogs about AI and ethics, fairness and bias, policy, and risk. Until 2014 he was a Distinguished Engineer at Microsoft.

Outside the tech world, Blaise has worked on computational humanities projects including the digital reconstruction of Sergei Prokudin-Gorskii’s color photography at the Library of Congress, and the use of computer vision techniques to shed new light on Gutenberg’s printing technology. Blaise has given TED talks on Sead­ragon and Pho­to­synth (2007, 2012), Bing Maps (2010), and machine creativity (2016), and gave a keynote at NeurIPS on social intelligence (2019). In 2008, he was awarded MIT’s TR35 prize. In 2018 and 2019 he taught the course “Intelligent Machinery, Identity, and Ethics” at the University of Washington, placing computing and AI in a broader historical and philosophical context.