Google is looking for a new measure of skin tone to reduce product bias

Google, based in Mountain View, California, told Reuters this week that it is developing an alternative to the industry-standard method for classifying skin tones. At issue is a six-color scale known as the Fitzpatrick Skin Type (FST), which dermatologists have been using since the 1970s. Technology companies are now relying on products such as facial recognition systems and smartwatch heart rate sensors to measure whether they work equally well across skin tones.

Critics say the FST, which includes four categories for “white” skin and one for “black” and “brown”, ignores the diversity of people in color. US Department of Homeland Security researchers recommended abandoning FST to evaluate face recognition at the Federal Technical Standards Conference last October. This is because it does not adequately represent the color range of the different populations. In response to Reuters’ question about FST, Google said for the first time that it was quietly pursuing better measures ahead of other peers.

“We are working on more comprehensive alternatives that may help in product development and work with scientific and medical professionals and groups that work with the color community,” the company details. Refused to provide. The controversy is part of a greater consideration of racism and diversity in the technology industry, where the workforce is whiter than sectors such as finance. We ensure that the technology works well not only for all skin tones, but also for different ages and genders. In many cases, we assume that new products with artificial intelligence (AI) will be more important as they extend into sensitive and regulated areas such as healthcare and law enforcement.

Companies are aware that their products may be defective for groups that are underestimated in survey and test data. The concern with FST is that its limited scale for darker skin can lead to techniques that work for, for example, golden skin, but fail for espresso red tones. Many types of products offer a much richer palette than FST. Crayola launched 24 skin tone crayons last year, and Mattel’s Barbie Fashionista doll covers nine tones this year. This issue is far from academic for Google. When the company announced in February that some Android smartphone cameras could measure pulse rates at the fingertips, it said the measurements would average 1.8% error, regardless of whether the user’s skin was light or dark. ..

The company later said that skin type did not significantly affect the results of the ability to filter backgrounds in Meet video conferencing and the results of an upcoming web tool for identifying skin conditions informally called Derm Assist. Guarantee was given. These conclusions were drawn from testing with a 6-tone FST.

Starting point

Dr. Thomas Fitzpatrick, a late Harvard dermatologist, invented a scale for individual UV treatment of psoriasis, an itchy skin condition. He categorized the skin of “white” people into Roman numerals I to IV and asked how much sunburn and sunburn occurred in specific sunlight. Ten years later, Type V appeared on “brown” skin and VI appeared on “black”. It is part of the US regulation for testing sunscreen products and continues to be a popular dermatological standard for assessing patients’ cancer risk and more.

Some dermatologists say that this scale is an inadequate and worn-out scale for care and is often confused with race and ethnicity. Dr. Susan Taylor, a dermatologist at the University of Pennsylvania who founded the Skin of Color Society in 2004 to facilitate research in a community that has reached its limits, said: Look at my skin tone and say I’m Type V.

Until recently, tech companies were indifferent. Unicode, an industry group that oversees emoji, mentioned FST as the basis for adopting five skin colors other than yellow in 2014, stating that the scale is “negatively unrelated.” People with dark skin and poor gender who have become popular using FST to evaluate AI. The study described FST as a “starting point,” but scientists from a similar study, published later, told Reuters that they used scales for consistency.

“As a first step towards a relatively immature market, it serves the purpose of helping us identify danger signals,” said Inioluwa Deborah Raji, a Mozilla Fellow focused on AI auditing. I did.

In an April study testing AI to detect deepfake, Facebook researchers wrote that FST “clearly doesn’t include a variety of brown and black skin tones.” About the evaluation of eight human evaluators.

The judgment of the evaluator is the main focus. Last year, facial recognition software startup AnyVision provided evaluators with examples of celebrities. Former baseball great Derek Jeter as Type IV, model Tyra Banks a V, and rapper 50 Cent a VI.

AnyVision told Reuters that it agreed with Google’s decision to reconsider the use of FST, saying Facebook could accept better measures. Microsoft and smartwatch makers Apple and Garmin refer to FST when working on health-related sensors.

However, the use of FST can foster a “false guarantee” about reading heart rate from a dark-skinned smartwatch, clinicians at the University of California, San Diego said in a social equality movement at Black Lives Matter. Inspired by, I wrote in Sleep magazine last year.

Microsoft has acknowledged a flaw in FST. Apple said it uses a variety of means to test humans beyond skin color. Garmin said he believed the measurements were reliable for extensive testing.

Victor Casale, who founded the makeup company Mob Beauty and helped Crayola with a new crayon, developed 40 shades for the foundation, each about 3% different from the next shade, or so that most adults can distinguish it. I said that I did. The color accuracy of the electronics suggests that the technical standard should be 12 to 18 tones, he added, “you can’t have only six.”

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Google is looking for a new measure of skin tone to reduce product bias

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