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Biometrics and their calculative logics 
Michelle Spektor (MIT College of Computing)
Ranjit Singh (Data Society Research Institute)
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Traditional Open Panel

Short Abstract:

Biometrics create a correspondence between people and data by encoding their bodies and expressions into discrete measurements. This panel unpacks the social and political stakes of biometric measurements, and their calculative logics, across technological, geographic, and temporal contexts.

Long Abstract:

Biometrics create a correspondence between a person and a dataset by encoding human bodies and expressions into discrete measurements. Governments, private sector companies, forensic scientists, and even smartphone apps use representations of the measured person as a stand-in for their likeness, and to certify that they are who they say they are. However, these same measurements have also been used to draw conclusions about a person’s social characteristics, physical attributes, and emotional states — efforts that defined biometrics’ origins in eugenics, global policing, and colonial expansion in the 19th and early 20th centuries. Today, digital and automated biometric systems are underwritten by body measurements that are similarly encoded with classifications related to criminality, race, class, gender, age, and disability. These calculative logics of biometric measurement are imbricated into past and present biometric technologies, the data they produce, and the forms of identification and surveillance that they enable. They also profoundly shape individual and collective encounters with borders, access to services, citizenship, and discrimination.

This open panel invites submissions that unpack biomerics’ calculative logics, and explore how they mutually shape the design of technological systems; state, institutional, and corporate power; and the lived experiences of people subjected to biometric measurement. Taking an expansive view of what counts as biometrics, this panel welcomes papers on techniques ranging from anthropometry to multi-modal generative AI, and their deployment across geographic contexts in the past and present. Together, panelists will critically examine the social and political stakes of measuring the human body and expression.

Key words: biometrics; identification; calculation; quantification; measurement; the body

Accepted papers:

Session 1
Session 2
Session 3