Google says it is “appalled” that its new Photos
app mistakenly labelled a black couple as
being “gorillas”. Its product automatically tags uploaded pictures
using its own artificial intelligence software. The error was brought to its attention by a New
York-based software developer who was one of
the people pictured in the photos involved. Google was later criticised on social media because
of the label’s racist connotations. “This is 100% not OK,” acknowledged Google
executive Yonatan Zunger after being contacted by
Jacky Alcine via Twitter.
“[It was] high on my list of bugs you ‘never’ want to
see happen.” Mr Zunger said Google had already taken steps to
avoid others experiencing a similar mistake.
He added it was “also working on longer-term
fixes around both linguistics – words to be careful
about in photos of people – and image recognition
itself – eg better recognition of dark-skinned faces”.
This is not the first time Google Photos has
mislabelled one species as another.
The news site iTech Post noted that the app was tagging pictures of dogs as horses in May.
Users are able to remove badly identified photo
classifications within the app, which should help it
improve its accuracy over time – a technology
known as machine learning.
However, Google has acknowledged the sensitivity
of the latest mistake.
“We’re appalled and genuinely sorry that this
happened,” a spokeswoman told the BBC. “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 labelling, and we’re looking at
how we can prevent these types of mistakes from
happening in the future.” But Mr Alcine told the BBC that he still had concerns.
“I do have a few questions, like what kind of
images and people were used in their initial priming
that led to results like these,” he said. “[Google has] mentioned a more intensified search
into getting person of colour candidates through
the door, but only time will tell if that’ll happen and
help correct the image Silicon Valley companies
have with intersectional diversity –
the act of unifying multiple fronts of disadvantaged people so that their voices are heard and not muted.”