back to article Facebook apologises after its AI system branded Black people as primates

Facebook has apologized for an "an unacceptable error" after its AI systems asked folks who watched a British video about a Black man if they wanted to view more content on "primates." A former Facebook employee spotted the prompt and reported it, and the biz said it was "looking into the root cause." "As we have said, while …

  1. Potemkine! Silver badge

    Shame to feckbook!

    We humans are all primates!

    1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

      Re: Shame to feckbook!

      Presumably Facebook, or the person complaining, doesn't believe black people are human.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Shame to feckbook!

        Well, even mentioning the subject (or any subject, in fact / in shame) in any shameful context is shameful. As a matter of fact, even mentioning how shameful it is is shameful (and shocking)! Shame on you then, and shame on myself too! Shame, shame, shame!

        There, have I shamed myself enough, or should I keep shaming, just in case, to safely overshoot the ultimate shame frontier of any shameless human on earth (and not forgetting those in spaaaace) by a sufficiently shameful margin? What next? Shameful to say women have titties, and men are stupid? Shame on me and my children! And my children's children!

        1. Robert Carnegie Silver badge

          Re: Shame to feckbook!

          Someone was on radio the other day talking about online trolls who told her she is an animal. Since the trolls didn't mean it in the "technically, correct" sense, I do recognise it as a problem.

    2. jake Silver badge

      Re: Shame to feckbook!

      Presumably the people who are shocked over this would give up Facebook entirely if the AI had used "hominids" instead of primates ... and would have declared open war if it had instead chosen "Great Apes".

      1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

        Re: Shame to feckbook!

        Or even worse us, gorillas and chimps are African apes

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Shame to feckbook!

      You and me baby ain't nothing but mammals

      So let's do it like they do on the discover channel

  2. ComputerSays_noAbsolutelyNo Silver badge

    Groudhog Day at Fakebook

    They screw something up, because they moved fast,

    they apologize and promise to do better,

    repeat from Line 1

    1. jake Silver badge

      Re: Groudhog Day at Fakebook

      That's how DevOps works, isn't it?

      1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

        Re: Groudhog Day at Fakebook

        Except for the apology

  3. Wellyboot Silver badge

    No "I" in this AI

    >>>we have made improvements to our AI, we know it's not perfect<<<

    Spectacular understatement of the day :)

    1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

      Re: No "I" in this AI

      But it only has to be smarter than the users.

      1. Jimmy2Cows Silver badge

        Re: No "I" in this AI

        Mission complete, then.

        [This is joke. Kinda like Facebook.]

    2. Jimmy2Cows Silver badge

      Re: No "I" in this AI

      Artificial [blank]...

      • Ignorance
      • Intolerance
      • Incompetence
      • Inanity
      • Ineptitude
      • Indolence
      • Inneficacy
      • Insanity
      • ...

      1. Al fazed

        Re: No "I" in this AI

        many more are suitable, my favourite being:



        1. Jimmy2Cows Silver badge

          Re: No "I" in this AI

          I was thinking to hard, went down an "In[something]" rabbit hole. The simplest ones can be easiest to miss.

      2. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

        Re: No "I" in this AI

        Artificial? Some of those are genuine.

      3. jake Silver badge

        Re: No "I" in this AI


        About four years ago my large animal Vet came in with a funny bit of advertising. This guy's in his second career, he became a Vet after 25 years as a DBA working for IBM. He knows I'm a computer guy, and thought I'd be amused. The ad was for a large animal veterinary practice management software package "NOW WITH AI!!!"

        The Vet was laughing, and wondered how many times the company in question got Vets inquiring about their new Artificial Insemination package. Without a pause, I dialed the 800 number ... the answer was over 80% of calls! The guy on the other end wasn't amused when I suggested they fire their marketing genius and hire an AI expert ...

    3. Dan 55 Silver badge

      Re: No "I" in this AI

      ML programmed by brogrammers is biased. No QA to speak of. Just another day at Facebook.

  4. Howard Sway Silver badge

    Staples insists that these algorithms don't have racial biases baked into them

    Isn't the point that the algorithms might not have bias explicitly coded into them, but the huge amounts of data they operate on will certainly show existing biases within society, and the algorithms will just then "learn" those biases and automatically adopt them?

    Very convenient that you then can blame the AI : if you start from the assumption that "neutral = good" then you are erroneously thinking that the training data contains just data goodness to be extracted, rather than realising that there can be a reinforcement effect of learning very undesirable behaviour for a computer system that is meant to be unbiased.

    1. Warm Braw

      Re: Staples insists that these algorithms don't have racial biases baked into them

      If it's based on machine learning, it's not an algorithm and it's impossible to know what's "baked into" the process.

      We have a series of complex algorithms that basically look at a variety of vacuous potential responses when asked for a press statement and pick one that matches at least 3 keywords in the request said spokesdroid, Eliza Turingbot.

    2. Pascal Monett Silver badge

      Re: Staples insists that these algorithms don't have racial biases baked into them

      It's not because you don't know what they are that there are no biases in the code.

  5. Zebo-the-Fat

    Black people are primates, and so are white people

    1. DJO Silver badge

      So are Archbishops and Popes although they're a different sort of primate but with the same spelling.

      1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

        They're also the more general kind.

      2. jake Silver badge

        Both senses of the word are derived from the Latin "Primus", meaning "of the first rank, chief, or principal" ... The reasoning behind naming the Church boss is obvious. Ihe Human version comes from the rather Victorian concept that humans are the highest order of mammals.

        Presumably the people bitching about the Facebook AI are racists who don't think that black people can be first at anything, much less a higher order animal.

  6. WolfFan Silver badge


    And here I was, under the impression that a Primate was a kind of super Archbishop and tended to roam cathedrals. And that there’s at least one black one (in Nigeria, last I looked; he’s also a Cardinal, and was one of the candidates defeated by the current El Papa, possibly because he’s somewhere to the right of the previous El Papa, a.k.a. Der Panzerkardinal.

    1. Jimmy2Cows Silver badge

      Re: Hmm

      Devil's advocate for a sec...

      Without wishing to defend Facebook, this could put an entirely different slant on things.

      We're missing some key details:

      1) What kind of "primates" were being suggested, and...

      2) was the offended chap watching something specifically about prominent black religious figures, perhaps tagged correctly as "Primate", and...

      3) was the follow-up suggestion simply text "primates" or was it images of prominent religious figures?

      Say he doesn't know the eccumenical aspects of the term and, let's be realistic, I suspect many people don't; it is really easy to jump instantly to the wrong conclusion.

      On the other hand, this is Facebook, so Occam's Razor etc.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Hmm

        From the NY Times article:

        "The video, dated June 27, 2020, was by The Daily Mail and featured clips of Black men in altercations with white civilians and police officers. It had no connection to monkeys or primates."

        Of course it could be that Facebook's algorithms have worked out that viewers of Daily Mail videos have more in common with monkeys than the general populace. I'm not convinced that many of them aspire to be archbishops.

        1. Imhotep

          Re: Hmm

          But it DID have a connection with primates. They were the subjects in the video.

  7. DuncanLarge Silver badge


    Seems correct, we are primates last time I looked.

    So the computer correctly identified a human as a primate.

    Whats the problem?

    1. jake Silver badge

      Re: Erm

      "Whats the problem?"

      Gross ignorance on the part of the complainers would be my guess.

      1. heyrick Silver badge

        Re: Erm

        It makes for a good headline in the paper.

        Besides, if you've ever read that overpriced nappy filler, you'd be aware that "science" isn't their strength. They were going for the "big powerful corporate AI calls black people monkeys!". Don't question it, just be outraged over it. Manufactured outrage sells papers...

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Manufactured outrage sells papers...

          and 'sells' clicks :D

  8. Fruit and Nutcase Silver badge

    ...Facebook's AI systems asked folks who watched a speech by Mark Zuckerberg if they wanted to view more content on "alien visitors" and Roswell

  9. Boris the Cockroach Silver badge


    search algorithm?

    didnt know it had one apart from "look at what cookies it can on the users computer and then spam ads for whatever was searched for"

    Hence the likes of me getting 3 months of washing machine ads just after searching for and buying a new one.

    "He's just got 1 washing machine... hes bound to want 25 more... by different suppliers.... and spam those ads for washing powder/pods too"

    1. AMBxx Silver badge

      Re: Faceborks

      I'd love to see what adverts were then targetted at users identified as primates.

      Did they go for the hackneyed 'fried chicken' or all in with 'bananas'?

      1. I ain't Spartacus Gold badge

        Re: Faceborks

        I'd love to see what adverts were then targetted at users identified as primates.

        Tired of throwing your own excrement?

        Is flinging your poo at passing pedestrians getting you down?

        Well fret no more! With Robinson's new Hurl-o-matic!

        Automatically distribute your own faeces at speeds of up to 50mph, in any direction you choose!

        See this early demonstration model on Youtube.

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    It’s Facebook

    We’re just lucky it didn’t say anything worse.

  11. Sam Adams the Dog

    But black people ARE primates!

    ... as are white people.

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