Google Photos Mistakenly Labels Black People As Gorillas


Programming a computer program to recognize faces and places is tricky, it can come up with some errors that are funny, ridiculous, or just plain rude.  You may have posted a picture and have it identify your mother, for example, which can be funny and a little sad, but for Brooklyn resident Jacky Alcine, Google’s software was on the rude end.


The ability of Google’s software to sort and tag itself is a big selling point, then Alcine had uploaded several photos, most of which sorted themselves into the proper categories, but pictures of himself and a friend, who both happen to be black, the software identified as gorillas.

Google Photo App Mistakenly labels black people as gorillas

As many people do when they have something to say, Alcine posted on Twitter, “Google, y’all f%&ked up.” To their credit, Google responded quickly, by way of their chief architect of social Yonatan Zunger, who tweeted back, “This is 100% not OK.” and immediately took steps to fix it. The fix was not immediately effective, so the next step was to stop the software from tagging a gorilla anything until this is figured out.

Often technology is moving faster than a person can keep up with, until recent fixes white faces were often tagged as dogs or seals. Nikon cameras, when taking pictures of Asian faces, at one point would ask, “Did someone blink?” because the software did not recognize the shape of their eyes. Native Americans in traditional dance regalia were labeled as “costumes,” which is not fair to their heritage, on Flickr, Flickr also had a problem with both black and white faces being labeled as animals or apes.


The problem, it seems, is a lack of proper programming for the software. A Google representative stated they test their software on people of all races and colors, which is a formidable task. Whether your skin is white, brown, yellow, or red, there are noticeable variations in color, for example some white people are very pale, some are a creamy tan, some have a red or yellow tint, even in one small family unit there are variations of color and tint. Black people can range from a creamy tan to an ebony shade, in cultures from the Middle East, Europe, Mexico, and Asia there is a wide range of colors. Then there are people who are mixed race, another wealth of colors. Illness can change a person’s skin tone, as can sun exposure or lack thereof. There are many variables.

With all this wondrous variety of color, programmers who work in facial recognition should be able to find work for a long time to come. In the meantime, software may be accidentally rude, and rudeness, accidental or not, is hurtful. No one has learned how to teach a computer to be sensitive to humans thus far.


Photos: Getty Images