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Silly Google's Photos app labelled black people as gorillas

Machine learning is hard. And sometimes deeply offensive

Google's new Photos software automatically labelled images of black people as "gorillas". The ad giant has since apologised.

Mountain View's hugely embarrassing blunder comes just one month after it launched its cloud-hosted photo storage service, and made a big deal out of its machine-learning features.

Google also warned that the app was a work-in-progress, though we're not sure it realised quite how badly the tech might misbehave once unleashed on the real world.

Jacky Alciné, a programmer who lives in New York, tweeted on Monday that Google's Photos app had tagged him and his chum as "gorillas".

A shamed Google was quick to respond to the monumental cockup.

Alciné had asked why such a terrible error had happened in the first place. Google's developer Yonatan Zunger replied: "Holy fuck. G+ CA [Google+ chief architect] here. No, this is not how you determine someone's target market. This is 100 per cent Not OK."

Zunger added on Twitter that Google was immediately rolling out an update to fix the app.

He grumbled that "machine learning is hard" and said that "until recently, [the Photos app] was confusing white faces with dogs and seals." Zunger said that Google was "working on longer-term fixes", including better image recognition of "dark-skinned faces".

Google said in an official statement about the gaffe:

We’re appalled and genuinely sorry that this happened.

We are taking immediate action to prevent this type of result from appearing.

There is still clearly a lot of work to do with automatic image labeling, and we’re looking at how we can prevent these types of mistakes from happening in the future.

However, the question has to be asked: why did Google release such a half-baked app in the first place? ®

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