LIVING VOGONS at the Home Office allowed a facial recognition system to enter service knowing it struggled with certain skin tones, according to a new report.
New Scientist claims that the Passport Checking Service, which is meant to speed up applications, struggles to identify features on particularly light or dark skin.
New documents released this week under the Freedom of Information (FoI) Act suggest that Home Office officials knew there was a problem and decided to carry on with the rollout regardless.
One cited example was a gentleman of colour whose passport photo was rejected after the software mistook his lips for an open mouth.
"User research was carried out with a wide range of ethnic groups and did identify that people with very light or very dark skin found it difficult to provide an acceptable passport photograph," says the gunsmoke covered document, "However; the overall performance was judged sufficient to deploy."
The Home Office has said that customers can override the system, but campaigners say that doing so is really missing the point - people shouldn't have to argue with a machine just because of the colour of their skin.
The Home Office says that it will "continue to conduct user research and usability testing with appropriate participants to ensure that users from different ethnicities can follow the photo guidance and provide a photo that passes the photo checks."
But the question remains on why the system struggled so much. After all, we're supposed to be a multi-cultural society. Either the system hasn't been trained with enough images, or it has, and somehow, bias has been allowed into the system.
Either way, it's another reminder that this is technology in its infancy, and as such, we need to learn to live with this particular genie, now he's out of the bottle. µ
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