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Microsoft's AI journalists mix up multiracial Little Mix singers

Microsoft News
Microsoft News (Image credit: Windows Central)

What you need to know

  • Microsoft's AI software confused two stars of the singing group Little Mix.
  • The mix up led to frustration because both stars are multiracial.
  • Little Mix's Jade Thirlwall, who was confused for Leigh-Anne Pinnock has experienced 'horrific' racism at school, which she discussed recently.

Microsoft's AI made a mistake this week that's created quite a bit of tension. The AI software, which now selects images for MSN, confused Little Mix singers Jade Thirlwall and Leigh-Anne Pinnock. On a story which ran on MSN.com, a picture of Pinnock was used instead of Thirlwall. The mix up led to criticism as both stars are multiracial, leading to accusations of racism by MSN (via The Guardian). The misused image is particularly inflammatory as the article that had the incorrect image was about Thirlwall experiencing 'horrific' racism while at school.

Thirlwall expressed her frustration on her Instagram story, stating, "@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 also stated, "This shit happens to @leighannepinnock and I ALL THE TIME that it's become a running joke," adding, "It offends me that you couldn't differentiate the two women of colour out of four members of a group … DO BETTER!"

Sources at Microsoft spoke with The Guardian regarding the post, stating that the incorrect image was selected by Microsoft AI software, which is used to edit parts of Microsoft's news site.

Little Mix Racism

Source: Jade Thirlwall (via The Guardian) (Image credit: Source: Jade Thirlwall (via The Guardian))

Microsoft recently decided to fire several human journalists and to replace them with AI. The incorrect image in the article comes at a particularly bad time, as racial tensions flair up in the United States and around the world. Thirlwall recently attended a Black Lives Matter protest in London and shared her experiences with racism at school.

When asked about the incorrect image use, a Microsoft spokesperson said, "As soon as we became aware of this issue, we immediately took action to resolve it and have replaced the incorrect image."

One Microsoft member of staff shared their thoughts on the incident with The Guardian, stating, "With all the anti-racism protests at the moment, now is not the time to be making mistakes."

The unfortunate error could have been caused by a wide range of factors. As pointed out by The Verge, the mistake could be caused by mislabeled pictures provided by wire services.

According to The Guardian, the human staff members at MSN have been warned that coverage critical of the incident could be pushed to the MSN homepage by the AI. Reportedly, the staff have been told to remove the stories covering the AI mix up if the AI does this.

Sean Endicott
News Writer and apps editor

Sean Endicott brings nearly a decade of experience covering Microsoft and Windows news to Windows Central. He joined our team in 2017 as an app reviewer and now heads up our day-to-day news coverage. If you have a news tip or an app to review, hit him up at sean.endicott@futurenet.com (opens in new tab).

7 Comments
  • Such an important news...
  • Microsoft AI coverage on a site focused on Microsoft news seems important to me. Add in the fact that it's related to the largest news story in the world right now, racial tensions and racism, and it seems especially relevant.
  • I think this is pretty far from racist. The simple fact the AI worked out that this was a story about a member of Little Mix and Racism and looked for a picture to accompany it. Jade's complexion is very light, so the AI didn't identify her as the subject of the story. The worst that can be said here I think is something stated before: AI needs to be exposed to a greater range of subjects for face recognition.
  • Sounds about right for MS lately. It's probably the same "AI" that does W10 quality and feature updates QA...
  • Who? No seriously, I have never heard of any of these people and why are people being offended by a freaking computer program? I live in the South. My wife has been deaf since birth but hears with the help of a cochlear implant. As a result, she speaks with what I call a "deaf Southern" accent. Alexa, mostly programmed out West, generally cannot understand her. Do I accuse Amazon of anti-deaf or anti-Southern sentiments as a result? No. Because it is a freaking machine and it is not possible for Amazon to be able to program it for everything possible voice out there. Racism exists, but Microsoft having buggy software ain't it.
  • Little Mix is a pretty famous music group on the pop charts. They get over 17 million listens per month on Spotify. That being said, I don't think there was racist intent with the MSN AI. It's a mistake and should be corrected but it's not like a human said "all multiracial people look alike."
  • It happens again. It's not the AI fault but what was fed to it. This will be hard thing for AI to overcome.