Researchers to Talk at SIGGRAPH on Racial Bias in Computer Animation

Departments: Computer Science

Next week, computer science professors Theodore Kim and Holly Rushmeier will speak at SIGGRAPH 2021 about the need for work against racism in computer graphics.  

SIGGRAPH 2021, hosted by the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM), is a prestigious conference for computer graphics and interactive techniques worldwide. It takes place virtually from Aug. 9 to Aug. 13. 

Kim will kick off the event’s Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) Summit on Monday with a one-hour talk, “Anti-Racist Graphics Research.”

“That’s where I’m going to lay out exactly how bias appears in our research formulations, and how it’s really our inheritance from the analog era,” he said. For example, much of the lighting techniques used today derive from manuals on film lighting from the 1940s, which were designed specifically for white skin.

“These techniques were developed more than 100 years ago - before the modern computer - and we really need to re-examine their assumptions,” Kim said.

He also notes that multiple technical papers continue to be published that treat white skin as the default color of human skin, including studies focused on shading human skin. 

“We don’t talk about racial bias in technical formulations ever at SIGGRAPH - so this is just going to be a forum where we start talking about it - that, yes, it is possible for technical formulations to contain racial bias, gender bias, age bias, and that sort of thing.” 

On the second day of the conference, Kim and Rushmeier will lead a town hall-style gathering, otherwise known as a Birds of a Feather, titled “Countering Racial Bias in Computer Graphics Requires Structural Change.” Kim said their goal is to get others interested in joining them in submitting extended abstracts for SIGGRAPH 2022. It was prompted by an experience that he and a few other scholars had when they submitted an extended abstract on racial bias in computer graphics earlier this year. Although the paper received overwhelmingly positive reviews from the anonymous panel of jurors, a lone negative review containing “highly prejudiced comments” forced its rejection from the conference, Kim said.  

“It made us realize that this is a numbers game. Next year, if we want to discuss the problem of racial bias from within the technical program, we as a community are going to have to submit lots of proposals,” Kim said.

To register, or for more information about the event, go to the SIGGRAPH 2021 website