What’s That? HP Computers Are Racist?

December 23rd, 20092:30 pm @ Angela Odom


Desi and Wanda talk about the HP Webcam

Oh no, not another manufacturer who missed the boat on who can use their equipment. I will never forget my awful experience trying to find voice recognition software only to discover the software was meant for men, men only, not the voices of women. Like Desi in the following video, I hooked up my premium, super duper, high recommended, voice recognition software only to find it could not decipher my words. However, when a male friend of mine used the software, bingo, it worked beautifully for him. Not good and I ended up scraping the whole notion of using such software because it was not meant for the voices of women. Arrrgh!!

Well, it seems HP’s webcams don’t track African American Faces.

Oh, how horrible and the embarrassment. As Desi and Wanda note in the above video, the tracking software for the webcam only works for Desi’s White co-worker Wanda. As soon as Desi enters the picture, webcam goes to sleep, as if he wasn’t there. Desi places his face close to the camera in hopes of getting some recognition but no. No such luck for Desi. So, Desi then says it: “HP computers are racist?”

He does this little experiment in a humorous way and, while watching it, I was reminded of my own experiences, as a woman, using some very expensive voice recognition software that did not work. Worked for men but not women. I laughed and thought, in 2009, companies still don’t get diversity.

Hewlett Packard, in their defense, responded quickly to the YouTube video that went viral over the weekend. In a blog post entitled “Customer Feedback is Important to Us“, HP’s Tony “Frosty” Welch, Community Manager : Lead Social Media Strategist, did a beautiful job addressing the issue. Thank God for companies with a few good, caring employees who can address issues without going deep into their egos, firing off unbelievable text having nothing to do with the concerns of customers, or bringing up issues that are childish and immature at best — which is what was left by some who commented on this blog post.

“Frosty” addresses the issue by explaining the problem with their webcams:

Everything we do is focused on ensuring that we provide a high-quality experience for all our customers, who are ethnically diverse and live and work around the world. That’s why when issues surface, we take them seriously and work hard to understand the root causes.

* * * *

We are working with our partners to learn more. The technology we use is built on standard algorithms that measure the difference in intensity of contrast between the eyes and the upper cheek and nose. We believe that the camera might have difficulty “seeing” contrast in conditions where there is insufficient foreground lighting. While we work on this, take a look here for more information on the impact of lighting on facial tracking software, and how to optimize your webcam experience: http://bit.ly/7HsZHD

Some of those who commented complained of the lighting and how the scene was poorly lit. However, some of these childish comments forget that “White Wanda” was seen by the camera, under the same poor lighting, while Black Desi was not. Truly, there is a problem here and when Desi placed his face closer to the camera, more tones were seen in his face and still the camera did not recognize him. This is clearly a problem for HP. As a sidenote, my Logitech QuickCam Pro 9000 does not have this problem.

I do hope Desi and HP work this out. I loved how Desi and Wanda did their little experiment and I also loved HP’s response. More companies should take a few notes from HP. In this age of social media, social networking and oh my God, Twitter, news, often bad news, can travel quickly. Having someone on team who can douse a few Twitter fires will soon become a staffing necessity lest you find yourself down and out within six minutes, the time it takes for bad news to fly across Twitter, Facebook, MySpace and God knows where else. Those six minutes could cost you a boat load of money.

Oh, and Desi, I’m sure your wife has seen the video now.