December 22, 2009
Video of “racist HP computers” reinforces race in America is a black and white issueHere's a video that's gone viral and forced Hewlett-Packard to respond quickly to try and minimize any damage to its brand from people who think that HP is manufacturing racist computers. Like most people who see this video, which pretty much proves that HP computers' wiz-bang video tracking-facial recognition feature can't distinguish dark-skinned faces, I'm both amused and appalled. The video, which was shot by two employees of a computer or electronics store (it's never mentioned and you can't tell from the background, though it seems to have been made at work), a white woman and a black man, who show that the software will follow a white person's face while she moves from side to side and back and forth, but not a black person. HP's response was posted Sunday, Dec. 13.
Some of you may have seen or heard of a YouTube video in which the facial-tracking software didnâ€™t work for a customer. We thank Desi, and the people who have seen and commented on his video, for bringing this subject to our attention. We are working with our partners to learn more. The technology we use is built on standard algorithms that measure the difference in intensity of contrast between the eyes and the upper cheek and nose. We believe that the camera might have difficulty â€œseeingâ€ contrast in conditions where there is insufficient foreground lighting.HP deserves some kudos for dealing with the issue quickly, and for acknowledging the two who made the video. And the company's reasoning for the technical flaw is believable -- the tests below conducted by Laptop Magazine support the theory that darker complexions need better lighting for the tracking feature to work. But As Ken Wheaton asks in an AdAge blog:
That said, HOW DOES THIS HAPPEN?!?