New Google photo software designed to see more skin tones
Less than a year after Alphabet said it was working on a better way to accurately photograph dark skin, it announced improved tuning models and algorithms to better capture a greater spectrum of skin tones. An ad featuring Grammy Award-winning Lizzo showcasing the technology during the Super Bowl last month has brought it into public focus.
The improvement is being marketed under Real Tone featured in its Pixel 6 smartphone range last October and is being seen as an initial payment on equal representation of people in and by the U.S. technology industry.
If successful, the move could help Alphabet in a number of areas, not the least of which would be biometrics. While training data imbalances and their effects on algorithms are known to be behind bias seen in some facial recognition systems, image quality is also known to be a major factor in biometric accuracy.
It does not take a professional photographer to know that chemical film and light sensors have, as an intended trait, better recorded the faces of people born in the Northern Hemisphere than points south.
The traditional way of measuring skin tones, the Fitzpatrick Skin Type gradient, was identified as a problem by Google last June.
Real Tone, in Google’s Android Pixel 6 phone, is supposed to be better at detecting the faces of Black and Brown individuals. It also is designed to better at white balancing, a photographer term for adjusting the overall color casts of images being recorded.
Auto-exposure reportedly has been improved as well to prevent bright and dark elements in a photo from disappearing in extremes. The software also is designed to prevent glare and stray light from causing the camera to artificially darken an exposure.
Changes have also been made to Google’s Photo application that enables users to, among other things, have software make a given photograph better. As with the camera software, the Photo app was not doing right for images of people with darker complexions.
Google also warned API developers for Android camera software against altering facial skin tone, as well as facial geometry, in 2020, presumably to protect biometric functionality.
CBC dug into the issue to find a photographer and historian to explain the photography industry’s absurd history and unnecessary practice of optimizing equipment and supplies in ways that left people of color lost in the background, often literally.