Google open-sources skin tone research to improve inclusivity

The work will power more inclusive results in Search and new filters in Photos.


Google has been working with researchers to make its products and services more inclusive for people with darker skin tones. Now, the company is open sourcing a major part of that work. The company is making its skin tone research widely available as part of its effort at creating more ”responsible AI.” The research has so far resulted in the Monk Skin Tone Scale (MST), a scale “designed to be easy-to-use for development and evaluation of technology while representing a broader range of skin tones.”

The scale is meant to more accurately reflect the diversity of different skin tones, Google says, and was developed with Harvard professor Dr. Ellis Monk. The work will help AI more accurately “see” a wider range of skin tones, especially darker ones.

This research will be most apparent to users in Search results and in Google's Photos app to start. For Search, Google is using the MST scale to surface results that are more inclusive of darker skin tones. For example, makeup-related searches will come with a filter for adjusting for different skin tones so users can find results that are most relevant for them.

Google is making Search results more inclusive to different skin tones.

In Photos, Google is also using the MST scale to power a new set of “Real Tone filters.” According to Google, these filters are “designed to work well across skin tones” and “a wider assortment of looks.”

Eventually, Google says it will incorporate the MST scale into more of its products and services. It’s also working to make it easier for brands, creators and publishers to label content to adapt to the scale so Search will be better able to surface results for different hair textures and colors too.

Google isn't the first company to undertake this type of work. Pinterest has launched features to better detect diverse skin tones and different hair textures. Snapchat has also conducted research into making its camera more inclusive to darker skin tones. But with Google making its work open source, these kinds of advancements could become much more common.

Follow all of the news from Google I/O 2022 right here!