Google’s automatic photos recognition software mislabelled photographs of two black friends as gorillas.
Jacky Alcine was looking through his pictures on a mobile telephone when he suddenly noticed that he and his a female friend had been grouped into
an album titled ‘Gorillas’. Jacky immediately took to his Twitter to express his anger and dissapointment with the application and its creators.
Google official Yonatan Zunger, quickly
apologised on Twitter, saying they are now working on fixing the problem and already turned off the ability for photographs to be grouped under the ‘gorilla’ term.In a statement, Google spokeswoman Katie Watson said: “We’re appalled and genuinely sorry that this happened. We are taking immediate action to prevent this type of result from appearing. There is still clearly a lot of work to do
with automatic image labeling, and we’re looking at how we can prevent these types of mistakes from happening in the future.”
Alciné responded on Twitter: “I understand HOW this happens; the problem is moreso on the
WHY.”The gaffes point to the chronic lack of diversity in Silicon Valley technology companies,writes
Charles Pulliam-Moore, a reporter for the media outlet Fusion.“It’s hardly the first time that we’ve seen software
show an implicit bias against people of color,” he wrote.
Last month Flickr also rolled out new technology to help tag photos. It identified a black man and a white woman as apes on two occasions.“The mistakes are made because algorithms, smart as they are, are terrible at making actual sense of pictures they analyze. Instead of “seeing” a face, algorithms identify shapes, colors, and patterns to make educated guesses as to what the
picture might actually be. This works wonderfully for inanimate objects or iconic things like landmarks, but it’s proven to be a sticking point for people of color time and time again.”
At Google, seven out of 10 employees are men. Most employees are white (60%) and Asian (31%). Latinos made up just 3% of the work force and
African Americans just 2% — a far cry from fulfilling the mission of Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin to have their company reflect the racial and ethnic diversity of its users in the USA and around the world.
“Perhaps if the titans of Silicon Valley hired more engineers of color, things like this wouldn’t happen so often,” Pulliam-Moore wrote “Or, you know, ever.”Joelle Emerson, founder and CEO of Paradigm, a strategy firm that consults with tech companies on diversity and inclusion, says the incident should be a wake-up call for Silicon Valley.“How much more evidence do we need that the lack of diversity in tech companies has a real, and sometimes very serious, impact on how products are designed and developed?” Emerson said.
“Every single tech leader should read this and worry. And after that, they should go have a meeting to figure out what they’re going to do to make sure nothing like this ever happens again.”