Head­less on Zoom, prof haunts Twit­ter, too

Daily Tribune (Philippines) - - TECHTALKS - BY SUNDY LO­CUS @tri­bunephl_s­ndy

Now you see it, now you don’t.

Zoom has con­tacted a black grad­u­ate school pro­fes­sor whose head is be­ing cropped by the app when he used the video con­fer­enc­ing ser­vice’s vir­tual back­ground.

In both prob­lems with Zoom and Twit­ter, al­go­rith­mic bias was blamed like when Google misiden­ti­fied Africans as ‘go­ril­las’ in its photo ser­vice.

A Ph.D. stu­dent, Colin Mad­land, brought to Zoom’s at­ten­tion the tech­ni­cal glitch through Twit­ter.

“We have reached out di­rectly to the user to in­ves­ti­gate this is­sue. We’re com­mit­ted to pro­vid­ing a plat­form that is in­clu­sive for all,” a Zoom spokesper­son said.

The is­sue took a mys­te­ri­ous turn when in dis­cussing the is­sue via Twit­ter’s mo­bile app, only the im­age of Mad­land, a white guy, ap­peared in the pre­view.

In both prob­lems with Zoom and Twit­ter, al­go­rith­mic bias was blamed al­though the lat­ter did not subscribe to the the­ory.

“Our team did tests for bias be­fore ship­ping the model and did not find ev­i­dence of racial or gen­der bias in our test­ing,” said a Twit­ter spokesper­son.

“But it’s clear from these ex­am­ples that we’ve got more anal­y­sis to do. We’ll con­tinue to share what we learn, what ac­tions we take, and will open-source our anal­y­sis so oth­ers can re­view and repli­cate.”

Twit­ter’s chief de­sign of­fi­cer vowed to fix the is­sue as he was “as ir­ri­tated about this as ev­ery­one else,” re­fer­ring to the app crop­ping out peo­ple with African lin­eage.

It may be re­called that Google’s own al­go­rithms had been slammed in the past for la­bel­ing pho­tos of

Africans as go­ril­las.

Google’s own glitch be­came pub­lic in 2015 when soft­ware en­gi­neer Jacky Al­ciné showed that the Google Pho­tos al­go­rithms were clas­si­fy­ing his black friends as “go­ril­las,” prompt­ing an apol­ogy from the search en­gine com­pany.

In 2018, the same is­sue was res­ur­rected as Google was ac­cused of not do­ing any­thing to stop the mis­la­belling of col­ored peo­ple as go­ril­las. How­ever, it was made known that Google, sup­pos­edly un­will­ing to re­ally find a solution, sim­ply stopped iden­ti­fy­ing go­ril­las, chim­panzees and mon­keys al­to­gether to stop the mis­la­belling. Ac­cord­ing to the tech web­site Wired, it con­ducted tests on Google Pho­tos’ sys­tem by up­load­ing nu­mer­ous pho­tos of pri­mates like ba­boons, gib­bons and mar­mosets that were all cor­rectly iden­ti­fied. “But go­ril­las and chim­panzees were not,” it said, lend­ing cre­dence to the re­port that go­ril­las were just re­moved from the al­go­rithm to stop mis­la­belling.

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