Google Photos developer apologizes for incorrectly identifying black couple as ‘gorillas’



In what can only be described as one hell of an awkward experience, Google Photos could be accidentally racist. Well, as much as a computer algorithm can be. In what appears to be a pretty big oversight by its developers, Google Photos — which recently added a new feature that can identify faces, objects, or even animals from stored photos — seems to have incorrectly tagged a black couple as gorillas. Yikes.

The person who made the discovery was quickly contacted by a Google developer on Twitter who sincerely apologized for the mix up, removing the “gorillas” tag from the service entirely until they can sort things out. As far as avoiding this mess in the future, Google developer Yonatan Zunger had this to say:

“We’re also working on longer-term fixes around both linguistics (words to be careful about in photos of people [lang-dependent] and image recognition itself. (e.g., better recognition of dark-skinned faces). Lots of work being done, and lots still to be done. But we’re very much on it.”

This isn’t the first time computers have been accused of semi “racist” mistakes. Not too long ago HP came under fire after their computer webcams couldn’t identify black people, and there was even a camera that asked if Asians were blinking.

It’s clear Google’s recognition software still needs some fine tuning. It’s only in the situation above that things get weird. Nobody really gets offended when Google Photos incorrectly tags your cat as a dog. Well, not unless you’re a cat.

[Twitter | via Ars Technica]

Chris Chavez
I've been obsessed with consumer technology for about as long as I can remember, be it video games, photography, or mobile devices. If you can plug it in, I have to own it. Preparing for the day when Android finally becomes self-aware and I get to welcome our new robot overlords.

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  1. Oh gosh.. everybody and their endless overly sensitive fake hyped up outrage. It just must be a conspiracy against black people, it just must, right? People get tagged by these types of system wrong ALL OF THE TIME: males tagged as females, old as young, Japanese an as Thai, good looking as ugly, dark tropic skin as hispanic, blah blah blah. But this, it just must be some purposeful racists hatred by the white guy slipping out into the world. I mean, that is the implication with all of this nonsense, right?

    1. I don’t know what’s worse. Conspiracy theorists, or you, someone who denies a person’s right to be offended by something racist, WHICH ISN’T EVEN THE CASE IN THIS SITUATION. You just wildly flew off the handle for absolutely no reason. I bet you only read the headline. Regardless, if you’re going to act like you don’t know why specifically a black person would take offense to being labeled any type of species of monkey, then you are absolutely not at liberty to discuss anything on the matter.

      1. Deny a person’s right to be offended?

        I sincerely hope your entire rant is meant to be sarcastic.

        1. Its the 1rd amendment. Or maybe the 2th? I never remember where in the Constitution all of our fictional rights are listed.

      2. You must be knew to the phandroid comment section… This is how they get down lol.

      3. Offense? Sure, I get the offense. Start crying about it all over the web like people do all the time now when they feel biased against, no. When the age ratings app rated me 9 years older than I was, I didn’t start socially tirading against ageism. But you are exactly the kind of person I steer clear of as you already have it solved, categorized, judged, tried, found guilty and summarily executed and chalked up to planned and carried out attack of racism – since, as you say, it is “racist”. And, in point of fact, I have EVERY LIBERTY to talk about EVERYTHING on this matter.

        ps – it is not ‘racism’ man, it is a friggen hiccup in a vastly complicated computer algorithm.

        1. Man lol do you purposely come to your own conclusions about things or is it a comprehension thing? I said myself that it wasn’t racist. I said that isn’t the case, even though *you* were the one to shoot off on a tangent about sensitivity and conspiracies. I never said that this “hiccup,” as you call it, was racist. What I said was your obvious problem with someone who might have been offended racially, is wrong.

          1. Its all kind of races of people that resemble animals. if you take offense, you only hurting yourself. every culture has ugly/strange looking people.

          2. That’s not my point man. It’s that black people in America are specifically referred to as monkeys, by racists. That’s why this whole article exists.

          3. as a black person myself, i get that, i use to call people monkeys all the time, let it go. why? cause it can easily go both ways.
            you MAKE them see you as a monkey when you give this stuff shine.

          4. Let what go? Either people are ignoring what I’m saying or misinterpreting it completely.

          5. You’re saying they have a right to be offended by something that, by your own comments, shouldn’t be offensive?

          6. No, that isn’t what I said.

          7. It seems to me that your initial problem with Forti***’s comment was that he was “someone who denies a person’s right to be offended by something racist, WHICH ISN’T EVEN THE CASE IN THIS SITUATION”. If that isn’t the case in this situation, then what is he denying them of? If you agree that isn’t the case in this situation, then I’m not following where you’re coming from. I’m not saying his response was right either as I *do* agree he flew off the handle…

          8. My original reply to him still stands. Look at the tone in his language. I wasn’t addressing any hurt feelings by this fuckup, not necessarily, but he’s made it clear that if someone is offended by this or whatever the case may be, then deal with it, get over it, you’re making it bigger than it is. There are plenty of people like this, and it’s the reason why this society is a cesspool. Nobody cares. If someone takes offense to something, they’re being overly sensitive. How do we progress anywhere together, because we are together whether we want to accept it or not, if nobody cares about others around them?

          9. I agree that we won’t move forward if nobody cares about those around them. I think the sweet spot lies somewhere between his extreme comment and where you’re coming from (which isn’t extreme). Yes care about those around you. But for the love of God, Americans in general (all of us) need to stop being so easily offended and have some thicker skin.

          10. Yeah I give up.

          11. Do you think I said I’m offended by this Google fuckup?

          12. Haha, dafuc

          13. Bravo!

      4. At the end of the day, unless religion is real,were all apes. Or at least derive from them, black, white and everything in between. So its not racist. We’re all evolved from apes.

        1. Please don’t

          1. I’m definitely not trying to offend you, but If I did, I apologize.

      5. Racism happens all the time, and it’s bad. The takeaway here is that machine learning algorithms are imperfect, and mislabel all sorts of things, but they are incapable of being racist. What appears to be racist here is the result of cherry picking erroneous results that align with things that uncomfortably similar to things that absolutely are racist. A computer scientist or mathematician aware of the difficulties of image recognition sees this result as great, because the computer correctly identified a human as something that looks really similar to humans, instead of a toaster or a tree. The knowledge that calling black people gorillas is something that has been done by terrible people in the past, but doesn’t really mean anything to a computer. To the computer, dogs look like goats, which look like deer, etc. If there weren’t a history of people thinking that being called an ape is a bad thing, then a confusion between the two really isn’t that bad. We do look a loot like apes, objectively.

    2. If your skin was the color of an African American & had to deal with everything they go through then you’d understand. But since you don’t, why don’t you trouble us with a nice warm glass of shut the hell up! Thank you

      1. How do you know it isn’t?

      2. you get a high five

      3. You’re trying to tell people to understand, then you tell them to shut the hell up? Why should anyone listen to you?

        1. He didn’t tell him to understand, he told him that if he had a similar experience, he would.

          Otherwise, he’s right. The original guy is grinding his axe in a silly rant, with all caps in some cases, about people being overly sensitive…while he’s being overly sensitive.

          Looking at the actual twitter post covered in the story, it was pretty relaxed. Just some person saying “ya’ll messed up” (which they did), and they received a personal response promising to fix it. The exchange quite literally had no outrage, at all.

      4. What exactly are we going through? I felt like my life was perfectly fine, sir.

  2. I wish they had shown the pic so we could see how the computer could have made the mistake. Im sure there were similarities in some ways. We are all, after all, evolved from apes.

    1. And that’s really the whole point. To a human, it has become an insult to call another human an ape, and there is a history of white people doing it against blacks. People suck like that. This was clearly a case of supervised machine learning gone wrong, where wrong was determined through a lens that conveniently avoids looking at all of the other “funny” things that the computer identifies incorrectly. So we found a case where an upright mammal with a face that has two eyes, a nose, a mouth, and ears was recognized to be another very similar thing that could be described in essentially the same way.

      Google, and many others, have made tremendous progress in image recognition in the last couple years. But this is really hard stuff! We have yet to unravel the way brains work, especially as it works in regards to recognizing things in images. We certainly haven’t been able to reproduce in computers what processes we think we do understand, in any efficient or scalable way at least. We should (and do, for the most part) expect that there will be several errors in the results as we get better. This is one of those cases were we cherry pick a result and label it as something as terrible as “racist.”

      The computer was absolutely not racist. Racism requires intent, and the computer has no capacity for that. The closest you can come to racism here on the part of Google is that the training data used to help the computer distinguish between humans and gorillas may have suffered from some unconscious bias in that it didn’t include a wide enough range of human faces, especially where that might have led the computer to say that “these human and gorilla objects look like the same things, except for surface coloration…”

    2. Here you go.

      1. Haha (outloud)

        1. Don’t you mean “Lol”?

          1. El oh el

      2. Does it make me racist that I’m lmao at this?

        1. Nah man, it’s funny as. People are afraid to laugh at things that are politically incorrect. It doesn’t make you immature or racist, or a bigot. Just shows that you can find light in darker topics. Dark humour is usually the better,funnier, more creative type. Even if this one is pretty obvious.

          1. THANK YOU!! Bruh!! I was dying before I clicked the article name!! I HAD to go read it!!

      3. I’m dying over here… lol

        1. Right!?

  3. This isn’t racist. It’s a mistake, they shouldn’t have apologized. I’m black.

    1. Agreed… an amazingly complicated and work in progress algorithm calculated by a computer… got…. it… wrong. Woopie. But ohhhh the outrage.

    2. It may not be racist, but who are you to say whether someone should feel offended by that, or not be apologized to because you feel it wasn’t racist? The fact you’re black doesn’t change anything.

      By the way, I’m black too.

      1. Cause they clearly do not look like gorillas. It was a computers mistake…so you make it a deal? Fine. Have fun with that. More important issues in our community.

        1. That’s a very good response +1000

      2. Does that mean your offended ?

    3. I don’t think it’s racist, but I think Google should have apologized and gave them like some free Google Photo storage.

      1. I really hope your kidding … Reparations from Google because the computer which had no intention one way or the other offended a group of people ? I’m glad you don’t see it as racist though .

        1. You do have a good point.

  4. How the heck has no one asked the most of important and obvious question!? What in Sam hell has this to do with Android phones and why is it even on this site?

    As to the dozens of comments about the right to get offended by the obvious non-racist racism of a computer program, for the love of God don’t Google “funny auto-correct mistakes” or I fear our cities will burn and streets run red with blood;)

    1. Google Photos is a Google app…
      Google owns Android…

      In essence, if this website only talked about Android phones, then like 80% of their articles need to go. But I love their top apps section.

  5. My friend got tagged as a dog by photos. It is pretty funny. This stuff happens though, people should relax.

  6. Adding a screen shot just for fun. Note the search at the top.

    1. I wanna go through and see all the photo recognition mistakes. LoL!! This’ll be a great laugh at parties!!

  7. This is why AI is some scary stuff. Just wait until the computers take over and we are all labeled as useless animals. Maybe I’ve watched to many movies.

  8. The race card in this country is used so often, soon it will no longer be effective. If you see something shocking over and over, it soon doesn’t bother you anymore.

    1. It hasnt been for a while. A few stories for a few days but neva any justice.

  9. The disgusting sensationalistic news media is behind all of the “racist” articles.

  10. This feature is a bad idea to begin with. Stop trying to guess what’s in the photos!

    1. This is in it’s infancy. Mistakes happen.

  11. Did anyone else just laugh at this article and the things other computers have been racist for?! LOL, I was cracking up?!

  12. Eh. Folks who just plain don’t like black people are always looking for chances to express it. However, because expressing those feelings overtly isn’t socially acceptable anymore – a fact which they find quite regrettable – they need a cover for it so they can blame black people. To justify firing their bullets of racial resentment, they need a trigger. To cover up their racial explosions, they need a fuse.

    And this is an excellent example. Folks upset that they can’t scream racial slurs to intimidate black folks who don’t know their place and can’t take in minstrel shows anymore like the good ole days only have to scream “PC!” and “overly sensitive!” Never mind that in the good ole’ days, any black person who dared racially or verbally abuse a white person in public would have been fired from their jobs, thrown in jail, run out of town or even lynched in some areas. Just like folks who can’t get over having black managers to tell them what to do or black executives who make three times as much as they do at work – instead of blacks being relegated to janitors and such like the good old days – go online and rant about affirmative action advancing all these unqualified blacks over more deserving whites without even spending a second considering whether they were the most deserving for their own jobs. Like Abigail Fisher, the woman with mediocre grades who sued the University of Texas over affirmative action, never mind the fact that there were plenty of blacks and Hispanics with better test scores than hers that didn’t get in either. Which means that even if they end affirmative action in college admissions – which they should – folks like her would still get rejected by schools like Texas, yet they will still blame blacks for everything that goes wrong in their lives.

    Yes, there are more legitimate issues in this society than this to talk about and deal with. However, the feelings and agendas of the many white people who are angry because it is no longer the 1920s are not among them.

  13. Frankly, the girl looked just like a gorilla– Google did well—not Googles fault she looks just like a gorilla.

    1. And we have a winner! The prize goes to you!

  14. Wasn’t the camera thing Samsung?

  15. Bwahahahaaaa!! OMG!! I’m over here laughing loudly here at work!!

  16. I laughed when I saw it read gorillas for the two African Americans not gonna lie. Thought it was funny that the a computer system saw them as gorillas. At least it didn’t say monkeys

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