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Microsoft’s AI Mixes Up Mixed-Race Singers, Earns Backlash

The AI program that helps to curate Microsoft’s news aggregator, MSN.com, confused one mixed-race singer for another in a recent post, resulting in a backlash from one of the singers. Microsoft’s AI used a picture of singer Leigh-Anne Pinnock for an article about her bandmate, Jade Thirwall, causing Thirwall to criticize MSN. Thirwall said in an Instagram post that the website “might want to make sure [it’s] using an image of the correct mixed race member of the group.”

Microsoft's AI editor mixed up one mixed-raced singer for another and there has been backlash.

Leigh-Anne Pinnock (left) and Jade Thirwall. Harley Quinn

The Guardian reported on the error and reaction from Thirwall, noting that the mix-up came soon after Microsoft ended contracts with roughly 50 employees in charge of curating MSN. The employees, referred to as “news production contractors” according to The Seattle Times, were contracted through staffing agencies. The news contractors performed tasks such as identifying trending news stories, rewriting headlines, and finding optimal images.

Thirlwall and Pinnock are both members of Little Mix, a British “girl group” formed in 2011 during the eighth season of Britain’s version of The X Factor. According to The Guardian, the article with the incorrect picture discussed Thirwall’s personal reflections on racism.

“Like all companies, we evaluate our business on a regular basis,” a Microsoft spokesman said in a statement according to the Times. (We could not find the statement.) The Microsoft spokesman added that “This can result in increased investment in some places and, from time to time, re-deployment in others.”

MSN is technically a web portal, and the site offers a collection of internet services and apps for Windows and mobile devices. Instead of publishing its own content, MSN relies on partnerships with other news sources. The site redistributes articles from partner outlets and splits the resultant revenue. According to similarweb.com, MSN has had nearly 800 million unique visitors since December of 2019.

“[MSN has] been semi-automated for a few months but now it’s full speed ahead,’’ one of the terminated contractors told the Times under the agreement of anonymity. “It’s demoralizing to think machines can replace us but there you go.”

Feature image: Harley Quinn