Google has apologised after the image recognition software in its new Photos app mistakenly labelled a black couple as “gorillas”, saying it is “appalled” at the gaffe and is taking immediate action to prevent such errors.
The internet giant was criticised on social media because of the label’s racist connotations after the offensive blunder was pointed out by a New York-based software developer who was one of the people pictured in the photos involved.
“Google Photos, y’all (messed) up,” Jacky Alcine said in a series of emphatic messages.
“My friend’s not a gorilla.”
Google acknowledged the sensitivity of the latest mistake and issued an apology.
“We’re appalled and genuinely sorry that this happened,” a spokeswoman told the BBC.
“We are taking immediate action to prevent this type of result from appearing.
“There is still clearly a lot of work to do with automatic image labelling, and we’re looking at how we can prevent these types of mistakes from happening in the future.”
This is not the first time Google Photos mislabelled one species as another. The news site iTech Post noted that the app was tagging pictures of dogs as horses in May.
And this was during the same month when Google released its overhauled photo app for smartphones, touting it as a major advancement in handling pictures.
“This is 100% not OK,” acknowledged Google executive Yonatan Zunger after being contacted by Alcine via Twitter.
“(It was) high on my list of bugs you ‘never’ want to see happen.”
Zunger said Google had already taken steps to avoid others experiencing a similar mistake.
He added it was “also working on longer-term fixes around both linguistics – words to be careful about in photos of people – and image recognition itself – eg better recognition of dark-skinned faces”.
But Alcine said he still had concerns.
“I do have a few questions, like what kind of images and people were used in their initial priming that led to results like these,” he said.
Google’s product automatically tags uploaded pictures using its own artificial intelligence software.