Face Depixelizer faces storm for turning Barack Obama white

Occurred: June 2020

Face Depixelizer, a tool that generates high resolution, de-pixelated photos from low-resolution, pixelated ones, generated white faces from coloured people, notably Barack Obama.

Based on the PULSE image facialiser developed by Duke University researchers using NVIDIA's StyleGAN generative adversarial network (GAN), Face Depixelizer was primarily to upscale pixelated portraits of characters from a number of video game franchises. But it was found to struggle consistently with non-white faces such as those of US politician and Congresswoman Alexandria-Ocasio Cortez and actress Lucy Liu.

The incident called into question the tool's reliability and led to accusations of racism. It also resulted in a heated public spat over the nature of algorithmic bias between Facebook chief AI scientist Yann LeCun, who appeared to blame the quality of the data on which the tool was trained, and AI ethics researcher Timnit Gebru, who insisted it reflected structural issues in the technology industry. LeCun later apologised for his words.

Developer: Denis Malimonov
Country: USA
Sector: Politics
Purpose: Improve image quality
Technology: Computer vision; Pattern recognition
Issue: Robustness; Bias/discrimination - race, ethnicity

Page info
Type: Incident
Published: September 2023