Google’s New App Blunders by Calling Black People ‘Gorillas’

Google's new image-recognition program misfired badly this week by identifying two black people as gorillas, delivering a mortifying reminder that even the most intelligent machines still have lot to learn about human sensitivity.

The blunder surfaced in a smartphone screen shot posted online Sunday by a New York man on his Twitter account, @jackyalcine. The images showed the recently released Google Photos app had sorted a picture of two black people into a category labeled as "gorillas."

The accountholder used a profanity while expressing his dismay about the app likening his friend to an ape, a comparison widely regarded as a racial slur when applied to a black person.

"We're appalled and genuinely sorry that this happened," Google spokeswoman Katie Watson said. "We are taking immediate action to prevent this type of result from appearing."

A tweet to @jackyalcine requesting an interview hadn't received a response several hours after it was sent Thursday.

Despite Google's apology, the gaffe threatens to cast the Internet company in an unflattering light at a time when it and its Silicon Valley peers have already been fending off accusations of discriminatory hiring practices. Those perceptions have been fed by the composition of most technology companies' workforces, which mostly consist of whites and Asians with a paltry few blacks and Hispanics sprinkled in.

The mix-up also surfaced amid rising U.S. racial tensions that have been fueled by recent police killings of blacks and last month's murder of nine black churchgoers in Charleston, South Carolina.

Google's error underscores the pitfalls of relying on machines to handle tedious tasks that people have typically handled in the past. In this case, the Google Photo app released in late May uses recognition software to analyze images in pictures to sort them into a variety of categories, including places, names, activities and animals.

When the app came out, Google...

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