Facial recognition technology is great, albeit a little creepy at times. Sometimes it works flawlessly, while other times it may confuse you with your brother, or your mother, or a… gorilla.
Brooklyn-based computer programmer Jacky Alciné looked over a set of images that he had uploaded to Google Photos on Sunday and found that Google’s image service had attempted to organize them according to their contents.
The much-talked about organization feature lets users “search by what you remember about a photo, no description needed.” For the majority of Alciné’s photos, the service worked. A photograph of an airplane wing had been filed under “Airplanes,” one of two tall buildings under “Skyscrapers” and so on.
And then it came time for the program to organize photos of Alciné and his friend, who are both black. Google Photos grouped the photos under the label “Gorillas.”
And it’s only photos I have with her it’s doing this with (results truncated b/c personal): pic.twitter.com/h7MTXd3wgo
“Google,” Alciné tweeted, “y’all fucked up.” To their credit, Google employees responded quickly. Yonatan Zunger, who works as the company’s chief architect of social, responded to Alciné’s tweet, writing, “This is 100% Not OK.” In subsequent tweets, Zunger explained that he had reached out to the Photos team and that it was working on a fix that evening.
According to Alciné’s Twitter feed, the problem remained in place even after the supposed fix had been implemented. Ultimately, Google applied a secondary solution, reworking the system so that it wouldn’t tie photos to the “Gorilla” tag at all. Zunger writes that it is also working to develop a number of “longer-term fixes,” including identifying “words to be careful about in photos of people” and “better recognition of dark skinned faces.”
While Google’s efforts to solve this problem are admirable, it’s still troubling that it happened at all. As Alciné wrote on Twitter, “I understand HOW this happens; the problem is moreso on the WHY.”
Yikes. This is definitely not the kind of tech problem Google wants to have.