Been thinking about machine bias again recently

Amazon AR haircut

Yesterday I met up with some friends to celebrate a birthday. We went to the Wharf in Castlefield, Manchester. Nice outdoor space with a massive teepee to help with Manchester’s typical rainfall.

I had a few drinks so visited the toilet a few times and of course washed my hands well so needed to dry them. A few times I tried the hand dryer but there was a red light, so assumed it wasn’t working from a fault or due to the spread of germs? Once I noticed the paper towels were refilled and used that.

However the last time I went in there was white man using the hand dryer, I was surprised and naturally thought it must be fixed now. So afterwards attempted to use it. Did it work, did it heck!

This doesn’t come as too much of a shock as its not the first time and there are many examples on youtube. However with a lot more knowledge now, I’m pretty peed off about it. I wanted to record it but needed a white hand to trigger it and at the end of the night, very few people would join my video experiment. I can tell you I moved, flipped, waved, even touched the sensor with my hand. Nothing would trigger it.

After returning to the table, I asked if the men had used the hand dryer but didn’t get a clear yes or no. So I’ll have to go back to the Wharf soon to film this I think.

Another interesting point also came up after the hand dryer discussion.

Amazon opens its first hair salon, where customers can use augmented reality to experiment with hair colors

I instantly wanted to know if Amazon’s AR app will actually work on non-white people? From all the press pictures, its all pictures of white skin women. If it doesn’t work on non-white skin, expect an explosion of coverage, but it would speak volumes about the total bias of this whole industry. Something many have covered but watching Coded Bias during Mozfest made super clear.

Author: Ianforrester

Senior firestarter at BBC R&D, emergent technology expert and serial social geek event organiser.