Artificial intelligence can be racist too, just ask Facebook

In September, Facebook issued an apology following an incident where its AI labelled a video of Black men as content about “primates”. The company swore that it was working to avoid the issue in the future.

According to the New York Times users who watched a June 27th video posted by the UK publication Daily Mail were asked whether they wanted to “keep seeing videos about Primates.”

The Verge, who was contacted directly via email by a Facebook spokesperson, reports that the company disabled the topic recommendation upon realizing what had happened.

The email read, “This was clearly an unacceptable error. As we have said, while we have made improvements to our AI we know it’s not perfect and we have more progress to make. We apologize to anyone who may have seen these offensive recommendations.”

Unsurprisingly, this is not the first time AI displayed gender or racial discrimination. Facial recognition tools have reportedly had issues with misidentifying non-white users. In 2015, Google issued an apology after its Photos app tagged photos of black people as “gorillas”.

The US Federal Trade Commission has since warned that AI tools that have displayed gender and racial biases may be in violation of consumer protection laws, notably if these tools are used in decision-making for credit, housing or employment.