Is Microsoft’s Kinect Racist?

Will all these kids be able to use the facial recognition features of Microsoft’s Xbox 360 Kinect accessory? Photo courtesy of Microsoft.

Early reviews of Microsoft's Kinect facial recognition feature suggest that the motion-sensing camera does not work properly with some darker-skinned users. GameSpot's U.K. site unsuccessfully tested Kinect's features with two dark-skinned employees, while white reviewers had no problem using facial recognition.

The reviewers say that even despite repeated calibration attempts of Kinect's facial recognition, they were unable to get it work with the dark-skinned users. A third dark-skinned reviewer had no problems getting his face recognized by Kinect's cameras, and the report says that several white employees also had no problems getting picked up by the cameras on the first try.

It's unclear what is causing the issue at this stage, but Microsoft has asked users with facial recognition problems to e-mail their reports to xaccess@microsoft.com.

Meanwhile, the facial recognition problems with Kinect won't prevent users from playing games, as the device uses skeletal tracking as a primary means of controlling games. Not having your face recognized by Kinect though, means that you will have to sign in manually into games, and some features, depending on the game, won't work properly.

If the facial recognition problem proves to be widespread, and not just a bug, Microsoft won't be alone in taking the slack. Last year, HP suffered a similar blow with its facial-tracking webcams, which wouldn't work properly with black people. At the time, HP blamed the problem on poor foreground lighting.

Microsoft started selling the Kinect accessory for Xbox 360 gaming consoles this morning for $150, and hopes to sell 5 million of them through this holiday season. See PCWorld's review of Microsoft Kinect.

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