A robot editor at MSN.com reportedly confused mixed-race band members Leigh-Anne Pinnock (middle right) and Jade Thirlwall (far right), of the British pop group Little Mix. 


Little Mix

Microsoft’s MSN.com is facing criticism after artificial intelligence software used to run some tasks on the news and search site reportedly had trouble distinguishing between two mixed-race band members of the British female pop group Little Mix. The reported mix-up comes after Microsoft last month replaced several human journalists with AI editors.  

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The Guardian spotted this Instagram Stories post by Thirlwall.


The Guardian

According to a Tuesday report in The Guardian, the AI software at MSN.com chose to republish and feature a story originally published by The Independent, about Little Mix singer Jade Thirlwall and her experience with racism. But instead of illustrating the story with a picture of Thirlwall, the AI software used an image of bandmate Leigh-Anne Pinnock. Both Thirlwall and Pinnock are women of color. 

“@MSN if you’re going to copy and paste articles from other accurate media outlets, you might want to make sure you’re using an image of the correct mixed race member of the group,” Thirlwall said in an Instagram Stories post spotted by The Guardian. “This shit happens to @leighannepinnock and I ALL THE TIME that it’s become a running joke … It offends me that you couldn’t differentiate the two women of color out of four members of a group … DO BETTER!”

A Microsoft spokesperson said the incorrect image was fixed as soon as the company became aware of the issue. The spokesperson wouldn’t say whether AI software was responsible for the error. 

The AI journalists reportedly do work similar to that of their human counterparts, including spotting trending news stories, changing headlines, finding photos to accompany stories and managing the website’s editorial calendar. 

CelebrityAgent, the talent agency that represents Thirlwall, didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

Studies have shown that facial recognition systems have a harder time identifying women and darker-skinned people, a situation that’s led to concern among rights groups, lawmakers and others.

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