Story at a glance
- Microsoft recently replaced some of its human editors with artificial intelligence software.
- A robot editor mixed up two mixed-race members of a British girl-group in an article published to MSN.
- The singers called out the mistake online, criticizing the company.
A week after laying off dozens of journalists and editorial workers and replacing them with artificial intelligence, Microsoft’s robot editor confused two members of the British singing group Little Mix, who are both mixed-race.
Singer Jade Thirlwall first called out the mistake on her Instagram story tagging MSN, where a story about her experience with racism was paired with a photo of singer Leigh-Anne Pinnock.
“@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," she wrote, adding, "This s--- 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 colour out of four members of a group...DO BETTER!”
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The article "Little Mix star Jade Thirlwall says she faced horrific racism at school" drew from an interview the 27-year-old gave on the BBC podcast "No Country for Young Women." Thirlwall, whose mother is Egyptian and Yemeni and father is English, spoke about being bullied for her heritage growing up.
Pinnock, who has Barbadian and Jamaican ancestry, later called out the mistake on her own social media.
It's really disrespectful. Is it so hard to remember 2 out of 4 members of the group ? I don't think so...— jade amelia thirlwall (@iamjadeamelia) June 6, 2020
We are worth more. If you want us to respect you, do the same. https://t.co/K91mUuCQKf
A spokesman for Microsoft, which owns MSN, told the Guardian, “As soon as we became aware of this issue, we immediately took action to resolve it and have replaced the incorrect image.”
In a previous story about the move to replace human editors with Microsoft’s artificial intelligence software, The Guardian reported former staff members’ concerns over potential mistakes like this one. A Guardian reporter later said on Twitter that unnamed staff members at MSN were ordered to remove The Guardian article on the mix-up once it was published.
As predicted: Soon after we published a story about Microsoft's misfiring artificial intelligence editor, the robot journalist copied the story about itself from the Guardian onto MSN's system. Human staff have now intervened to override the software and delete the article.— Jim Waterson (@jimwaterson) June 9, 2020
Microsoft, who has issued statements in support of the black and African American community at their company, has also come under fire for an email sent to an artist about commissioning a mural.
Microsoft chief marketing officer Chris Capossela responded to the Tweet, apologizing on behalf of the company.
“There is no excuse. We recognize it was wrong and I am sorry. I respect you may not want to discuss this further, but if you are open to it, I’d like to connect directly," he wrote.
Harris Diamond, the chief executive officer of advertising company McCann, which lists Microsoft as a client, also apologized in a response on Twitter.
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