Google developing alternative skin tone classification method

Google is developing an alternative to the industry standard method for classifying skin tones, according to sources reported by Reuters.

The news comes amid widespread concerns that facial recognition could open the door to racial bias.

In May, Twitter’s AI-powered cropping tool was found to have bias towards excluding black people, according to the social media platform’s own research.

Google told Reuters that it was searching for alternatives to the Fitzpatrick Skin Type (FST) scale, a six-colour classification method which dermatologists have used since the 1970s to assess skin tones.

The scale is used by technology companies when developing products which need to assess skin tone.

In February 2018, research from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology examining the facial analysis software of three large tech firms showed an error rate of 0.8 per cent for light-skinned men but a 34.7 per cent error rate for dark-skinned women.

Criticism of FST among BigTech firms is not limited to Google, in April AI researchers working at Facebook said: “the Fitzpatrick scale grouping system has limitations in capturing diversity because it’s biased toward lighter skin tones.”

A Google spokesperson told Reuters: "We are working on alternative, more inclusive, measures that could be useful in the development of our products, and will collaborate with scientific and medical experts, as well as groups working with communities of colour."

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