Twitter Photo Preview AI Suspected of Racial Bias

October 1, 2020

Is this yet another case of a misguided algorithm? BreakingNews.ie reports, “Twitter Investigating Photo Preview System After Racial Bias Claims.” Several Twitter users recently posted examples of the platform’s photo-preview function seeming to consider white people more important that black ones. Well that is not good. We’re told:

“The tech giant uses a system called neural network to automatically crop photo previews before you can click on them to view the full image. This focuses on the area identified as the ‘salient’ image region, where it is likely a person would look when freely viewing an entire photo. But tests by a number of people on the platform suggest that the technology may treat white faces as the focal point more frequently than black faces. One example posted online shows American politician Mitch McConnell and Barack Obama, with the system favoring Mr. McConnell in its preview over the former US president. Meanwhile, another person tried with Simpson cartoon characters Lenny and Carl – the latter who is black – with Lenny appearing to take preference. A third user even tried with dogs, resulting in a white dog in the prime preview position over a black dog.”

That last example suggests this may be an issue of highlight and shadow rather than biased training data, but either way is problematic. The company’s chief design officer posted one test he performed that seemed to counter the accusations, but acknowledges his experiment is far from conclusive. Twitter continues to investigate.

Cynthia Murrell, October 1, 2020

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