Google apologises after Photos tagging algorithm makes racist blunder

Google’s powerful image-archiving app, Photos, has come under fire after it categorised computer programmer Jacky Alciné and his friend as “gorillas”. Thankfully Google+ chief architect Yonatan Zunger was on hand to quickly resolve the situation.

Google apologises after Photos tagging algorithm makes racist blunder

Alciné initially tweeted out a screenshot of his Photos account showing how him and his friend had been tagged as “gorillas”. His initial confusion turned to anger over the issue, before becoming curious about the images Google must be using to teach its algorithm facial-recognition techniques for black faces.

Zunger quickly jumped on the situation, apologising for the blunder and working on a fix with the Google+ team.

As this is the wonderful world of Twitter, you can see their entire conversation and how Google went about resolving the issue. After having initially worked on a fix for the problem, Google decided it was best to completely pull the “gorilla” category from the Photos tagging system in case similar issues cropped up in the future.

Google Photos has a powerful image-recognition algorithm, automatically categorising photos by their most prominent feature. Embarrassingly, Google had said its facial-recognition system was “the best one ever”. It’s worth noting that this isn’t an issue exclusive to race, with Zunger revealing that at one point in time Google Photos had a “problem with people (of all races) being tagged as dogs” due to failed processing of obscured faces, lighting and contrast processing for different skin tones.

Automatic tagging has always been a dangerous area to dabble in, with Flickr’s own system also tagging people as various animals.

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