Skin tone scale: what is Google’s new find?

Photo credit, Google

Google has unveiled a more diverse skin tone scale to develop its artificial intelligence systems.

The new Monk Skin Tone Scale, named after Harvard University professor Dr. Ellis Monk, has ten skin tones.

To read especially on BBC Africa:

Google says it will replace outdated skin tone scales, which favor paler skin tones.

The tech company says it will be used to improve products like search and photos.

What is a skin scale?

Photo credit, Getty Images

image caption,

This skin tone scale appears to represent the Fitzpatrick scale, which has six different shades

Machine learning, a type of AI, is used by many technologies, including cameras that recognize a face to unlock a phone or when your photos are automatically categorized.

But to get there, researchers need to train the technology so that it can recognize a wide range of people.

To do this, they use what is called a skin scale. One of the most popular skin scales is the Fitzpatrick scale.

The Fitzpatrick scale was developed in 1975. It was originally used to classify the response of different skin types to ultraviolet rays. It divided the skin into six tones.

Tech companies now use the Fitzpatrick scale to classify people in images and determine whether things like facial recognition systems or smartwatch heart rate sensors work equally well for all skin colors.

But many people feel that the Fitzpatrick scale, which has four different categories for “white” skin out of six, is not diverse enough.

“If you say, I tested my fairness model to make sure it works well for darker skin tones, but you’re using a scale that doesn’t represent most people with those skin tones , you don’t know how well it actually works,” says Google AI expert Xango Eyeé.

What will the Monk Skin Tone Scale be used for?

Photo credit, Google

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Google is also working on a standardized way to label web content, which will also help improve its search results.

The Monk Scale, which was announced in early May, has ten skin tones, which the company says represents a wider range of people.

It’s already used to filter Google search results – for example, searches for makeup images will show more diverse images. There are also “real tone” photo filters which Google says are designed to work best when used on images with darker skin tones.

Google says that eventually the new scale will be used for all of its products.

The Monk scale could also be used elsewhere if other developers choose to adopt it.

Google has made the Monk Skin Tone Scale classification system freely available — meaning other companies can use it — in hopes that it could eventually replace the most popular skin tone scales in use today.

Why is this important?

Photo credit, Crayola

If the technology is not developed from diverse data, it will not work effectively for everyone, regardless of skin color.

But the problem is not only in the field of technology.

Recently, it has been recognized that many products do not represent different skin colors very well.

In the past, many companies only had a very limited option, or even only one, for skin-colored products, and this one was usually designed for white skin tones.

Colored pencils, plasters and tights are just some of the products that have become more inclusive in recent years.

Many find it frustrating that it has taken so long for these changes to occur.

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