Alphabet Inc’s Google told Reuters this week it is developing an alternative to the industry standard method for classifying skin tones, the Fitzpatrick Skin Type (FST) scale, which a growing chorus of technology researchers and dermatologists says is inadequate for assessing whether products are biased against people of color. Apple said it tests on humans across skin tones using various measures, FST among them, at times.
At issue is a six-color scale known as Fitzpatrick Skin Type (FST), which dermatologists have used since the 1970s. Tech companies now rely on it to categorize people and measure whether products such as facial recognition systems or smartwatch heart-rate sensors perform equally well across skin tones.
Critics say FST, which includes four categories for “white” skin and one apiece for “black” and “brown,” disregards diversity among people of color. Researchers at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, during a federal technology standards conference here last October, recommended abandoning FST for evaluating facial recognition because it poorly represents color range in diverse populations.
In response to Reuters’ questions about FST, Google, for the first time and ahead of peers, said that it has been quietly pursuing better measures…
Ensuring technology works well for all skin colors, as well different ages and genders, is assuming greater importance as new products, often powered by artificial intelligence (AI), extend into sensitive and regulated areas such as healthcare and law enforcement.
Companies know their products can be faulty for groups that are under-represented in research and testing data. The concern over FST is that its limited scale for darker skin could lead to technology that, for instance, works for golden brown skin but fails for espresso red tones.
Numerous types of products offer palettes far richer than FST. Crayola last year launched 24 skin tone crayons…
Technology companies, until recently, were unconcerned. Unicode, an industry association overseeing emojis, referred to FST in 2014 as its basis for adopting five skin tones beyond yellow, saying here the scale was “without negative associations.”
Microsoft Corp and smartwatch makers Apple Inc and Garmin Ltd reference FST when working on health-related sensors… Microsoft acknowledged FST’s imperfections. Apple said it tests on humans across skin tones using various measures, FST only at times among them. Garmin said due to wide-ranging testing it believes readings are reliable.
MacDailyNews Take: Just look at makeup. There are certainly more than 6 shades of foundation available. A wider, more varied scale will only help with accuracy in AI, wrist-borne and other sensors, etc. The FST was developed to assess how much sunburn or tan people develop after certain periods in sun, in order to personalize ultraviolet radiation treatment for psoriasis. A new, wider scale will benefit not only tech researchers, but dermatologists, skin cancer oncologists, etc.