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How can the Monk Skin Tone (MST) Scale help improve technologies?

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To improve technology’s ability to recognize a broader spectrum of skin tones, and to reduce biases that are inadvertently built into algorithms, Harvard University sociologist Dr. Ellis Monk created a 10-shade scale. Via The Harvard Gazette, the Monk Skin Tone (MST) Scale “is already making an impact.”

“It has been incorporated in Google’s online image searches and photo filters. The innovation will be particularly important for training artificial intelligence and machine learning applications, such as facial recognition and self-driving vehicle systems, which often have not performed as well with people with darker skin tones. And it could help reduce or eliminate some unintended algorithm bias in search engines and other products.”

Reducing bias in the tech industry
And Google has open-sourced the MST Scale so that any tech company can create more inclusive products. In an interview with Chicago’s WGN, Monk explains:

“There’s a lot of technology out here that uses different forms of computer vision. Anything that uses some kind of a sensor—like a hand sanitizer, like air dryers you see in a bathroom, self-driving cars—and if this technology does not use a scale… was not built with the intention to work well across the entire skin tone continuum, then we’ll have a lot of problems with these technologies not working well for everyone in society…”

monk skin tone

“We have to think about who was in the room when some of these forms of technology were designed. And, unfortunately, for most of the history in Silicon Valley, those rooms haven’t necessarily been that diverse, right? So when these forms of technology are designed and when they’re tested, some of these forms of technology we’re not really designed and tested to work well for everyone in society.”

ways that tech has failed people with darker skin tones
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