Google Partners With Black Harvard Professor To Improve Skin Tone Representation In Technology


Google is taking steps toward improving skin tone representation across its products, including Real Tone for Pixel. And now, they’ve released a new skin tone scale designed to be more inclusive of the wide spectrum of skin tones we see in our society.

According to a company blog, in partnership with Harvard professor and sociologist Dr. Ellis Monk, Alphabet Inc’s Google unveiled a palette of 10 skin tones for anyone to use for research and product development.

The 10 shades of the Monk Skin Tone Scale
(Courtesy of Google)

Monk has been researching and studying how skin tone and colorism affect people’s lives for more than 10 years. He especially focuses on colorism as it relates to artificial intelligence, machine learning, and computer vision.

An expert researcher, Monk, was tapped to curate Google’s new Monk Skin Tone (MST) Scale executed through Photoshop and other digital art tools.

According to Reuters, Monk and Google found that a significant number of people—out of around 3,000—said a 10-point scale matched their skin as well as a 40-shade palette did.

Courtesy of Google

“In our research, we found that a lot of the time, people feel they’re lumped into racial categories, but there’s all this heterogeneity with ethnic and racial categories,” Dr. Monk said, as per the blog.

“And many methods of categorization, including past skin tone scales, don’t pay attention to this diversity. That’s where a lack of representation can happen…we need to fine-tune the way we measure things, so people feel represented.”

The company said the Monk Skin Tone Scale replaces the flawed current tech industry standard of six colors, Fitzpatrick Skin Type (FST). Tech companies have often used it to test whether products like facial recognition systems or smartwatch heart-rate sensors perform equally well for various skin tones. On the other hand, the new skin scale aims to better serve those with darker skin tones.

“The MST Scale will help us and the tech industry at large build more representative datasets so we can train and evaluate AI models for fairness, resulting in features and products that work better for everyone — of all skin tones,” the company blog stated.

Google has already begun applying the new skin tone scale. There is now an option to further refine your results by skin tone for beauty and makeup injuries. Images for “everyday eyeshadow” or “bridal makeup looks” can be found more easily to serve people of color better.

 

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