Skin Colour Under the Spotlight
Updated: May 21, 2020
Mirror, Mirror on the wall. Is it still, “Who’s the fairest of them all?”
The Met is one of my favorite places in New York. Every time I walk up the steps or sip a drink at the Cantor rooftop bar, I feel like a better version of myself. My better version however, still has not been invited to the Met Gala. The Met Gala is one of the most photographed events in the world. And the thousands of photos of well dressed, good looking people gave us a fascinating source to run our image recognition technology on.
As some of you know, Quilt.AI has indexed 28 million images across 110 countries to get a cultural sense of the world. With these images, we train machines on simple stuff like objects and complex stuff like emotion, context and culture. So an image with two people drinking coffee is not just coffee cup and table and two women (or men). It is “friends”, “togetherness”, even “inspiration”.
We wanted to find trends and see what would be discovered when we ran thousands of these images through our AI models. Outside of my own obsession with the Met Gala, our team selected it as a consistent venue with negligible lighting difference across the last 7 years. Also, to minimize confusing our machines (more in this space about how far we are from the Singularity), we tapped into Vogue’s annual coverage of the event as a single image source. This mitigated (or atleast, minimized) deviations in photographic style and location. We made some hard choices and debated which celebrities to profile. Finally, we landed on Beyonce, Rihanna, Solange, Naomi Campbell, Kerry Washington, Alicia Keys, Selena Gomez, Jennifer Lopez, Joan Smalls, and Janelle Monae.
And we found many interesting trends pop. The most statistically sound one was an overall increase in the diversity of skin tones represented between 2012 and 2018, and a corresponding trend towards representing darker skin tones! To double check, we went back and took digital single skin tone colour samples from five consistent spots on the faces of our chosen celebrities and mapped them onto L’Oreal’s skin colour chart for calculation consistency. Here is how they look over the years:
And for those of you who love bubbles on a chart….
We’re going to find other trends from this set of images. For those of you who want to understand other trends that can be deduced from the images at the Met Gala or elsewhere, ping me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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