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Google fixed ‘racist algorithm’ by blocking Gorillas from image recognition

Google Photos cannot see “gorillas.” Here’s why.

tech Updated: Jan 14, 2018 16:27 IST
Kul Bhushan
Kul Bhushan
Hindustan Times
Google,Google Photos,Google Photos Algorith
Representative image. An endangered high mountain gorilla from the Sabyinyo family is seen inside the forest within the Volcanoes National Park near Kinigi, northwestern Rwanda, January 9, 2018. (REUTERS)

Google takes immense pride in showing off the advancements it has made in the field of machine learning and artificial intelligence. Its Google Photos is a great example where it offers advance image recognition-based filtering. But the photo service still seems to be archaic when it comes to sensitive issues such as racism.

According to a report in Wired, Google rendered no results when photos searched for terms like “gorilla,” “chimp,” “chimpanzee,” and “monkey.” The website claims to have tested the issue with 40,000 photos.

The website said that it could find photos featuring people with darker skin tone with search terms like ““afro” and “African,” but points out that the results were mixed.

The search engine company told Wired that the ban was in place for last two years. Google Photos also doesn’t render results for most of the offensive search terms.

Google’s blanket ban on such terms is an aftermath of an incident in 2015 where the photo service labelled a black person and his friends under the search for gorilla.

The flaw was spotted by a black software developer, prompting Google to say it was “appalled and genuinely sorry.” This led Google to impose a blanket ban on such terms.

Wired claims that Google Photos did identify some primates using search terms like “baboon,” “gibbon,” “marmoset,” and “orangutan.” One can also look them up using terms like “forest,” “jungle,” or “zoo.”

The website further reveals that Google systems do allow detection of gorillas in public. For instance, the company’s cloud-based service called Cloud Vision API allows one to integrate photo recognition tech in their projects. Wired says the API helped correctly find images of chimp and gorillas.

This isn’t the first time when Google has come under scanner for its flawed algorithm. Back in 2015, the company drew fire when its image search results showed Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s photos under “Top 10 criminals in India.”

Apart from Google, several tech companies have faced similar problems. Last year, Facebook sparked a controversy when its algorithm said “jew hunter” was a valid employment form. WeChat drew flak for translating the n-word as a black woman who is late for work.

First Published: Jan 14, 2018 13:02 IST