Apple tests humans across skin tones using various measures to curb bias in products

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.

Crayola's "Colors of the World Skin Tone Crayons"
Crayola’s “Colors of the World Skin Tone Crayons”

Paresh Dave for Reuters:

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.

19 Comments

  1. I think is great! Developing their product for the world market. I assume they also test products across LGBTQIA+ people, too. As they are not including SWMs, then we are all safe.

  2. Since minority POC commit a disproportionate amount of crime, this should help AI cameras better identify perpetrators. I hadn’t realized that so much attention was being paid to “white” skin tones to the neglect of black and brown ones, glad we are on the right path now.

    1. If a nonwhite customer cannot reliably use face recognition to open his iPhone, access Apple Pay, or log in with Apple, he will return the device and make a fuss that will affect sales. Some 40% of the US population is either nonwhite or Hispanic. 30% are white females, who are also affected by faulty facial recognition algorithms. 60% of Apple revenue comes from outside the US, where nonwhites predominate. It is not “insanity” to serve the majority of your users. All users matter.

  3. 10 out of the 24 skin tones are almond shades.

    Fitting. Because, ‘Sometime you feel like a nut.’

    Wake me when American wokeness has passed.

  4. Juneteenth celebrates the victory of brave Republicans, many of whom gave their lives over the immoral, slave-owning Democrats, making a more perfect union.

    When you see a white, male Republican, thank him for freeing the Democrat-owned slaves.

    Happy Juneteenth!

    1. Black and female Republicans also played a part in freeing the slaves. It wasn’t all white guys.

      Of course, the descendants of the Republicans, white and black, who freed the slaves are mostly Democrats since 1932 or so, and the descendants of the slave-owners are mostly Republicans since the party realignment that began in the 1960s. Strom Thurmond ran on a blatantly racist platform as a Dixiecrat in 1948, but he served as a Republican senator from 1964 to 2003. All four of the states that gave Thurmond their electoral votes in 1948 are solidly Republican today.

          1. “Nobody who is still living, so nobody now living can take credit for it.“

            So no need for reparations, black colleges, and preferential treatment

            Can’t have it both ways or is that too complex of a concept for your simple brain?

            1. No individual now living can take credit for the abolition of chattel slavery or accept personal blame for its existence. That does not mean that any of us, of whatever color, are free from the consequences to us personally of slavery and its aftermath. I attended a nationally-ranked private university that had an original charter limiting enrollment to white students. When I arrived, there was not a single Black alumnus. When I graduated four years later (and seven years after the Civil Rights Act) there were only three.

              I got an incredible education, but it was provided by a intentionally biased institution. Everything I have accomplished since was facilitated by that education. Equally talented Black students in my generation who were unable to get into a first-class university have lived with the consequences of (at best) a degree from a second-class college for the last fifty years. Our children’s and grandchildren’s opportunities have been shaped by the educations we were allowed to receive. Their opportunities were affected by the neighborhoods where they and their ancestors were allowed to live, and shaped by laws passed by legislators for whom some folks could not vote.

              As I mentioned, I had a classmate who is worth $12 billion, which places him outside the 100 richest persons in the United States. The two richest people in the United States who attended HBCUs are worth about $3 billion each, and that is enough to put them among the top four wealthiest African-Americans.

              Actions have consequences, even if there is nobody living left to blame for those actions.

  5. It is so amusing to watch so many people here getting triggered by this decision.

    Clearly, Apple (and others) are trying to improve their own bottom line by making sure their products work correctly with all colours of people, a decision that could NOT be more business-driven and less political.

    And yet, the resident politicos are twisting their knickers in a bunch over it, as if Congress passed a low that makes being a white man illegal.

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