HP Insists Its Webcams are not Racists

Is HP racist?

A YouTube video has been circulating around the Web, criticizing how HP‘s facial-tracking technology for its webcams does not recognize dark faces, particularly those of African descent.  The video shows Desi, an African-American, trying to move around in front of an HP model webcam while the frame remains still.  He then lets his Caucasian co-worker, Wanda, sit in front of the webcam and as she moves around, the frame follows her face.

"I think my blackness is interfering with the computer’s ability to follow me," Desi said.  "I’m going on record and I’m saying it:  Hewlett-Packard computers are racist."

The video is presented in a mild sarcastic tone and some viewers could not help but to respond, either jokingly or otherwise. 

"That’s easy, dude," one commenter posted as he tries to offer an advice.  "Go to the control panel, webcam, settings, advanced, and uncheck the box ‘I hate Black people.’"

"I don’t think it’s really funny," another viewer commented.  "It shows who HP is targeting and who they are not hiring during development testing."

Nevertheless, HP acknowledges the problem as purely technical in nature.  In HP’s community site, Tony Welch of the company’s Personal System Group, blogged that HP is currently investigating the issue.

"The technology we use is built on standard algorithms that measure the difference in intensity of contrast between the eyes and the upper cheek and nose.  We believe that the camera might have difficulty ‘seeing’ contrast in conditions where there is insufficient foreground lighting."

Just in case you have not realized yet, people with darker skin would reflect less light compared to those with whiter skin.

Welch adds that users should consider visiting HP’s Webcam optimization center as the manufacturer seeks a solution to this problem.

Image source:  Wikipedia, licensed as public domain

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