For Over 10 Years, Dr. Ellis Monk Studied Skin Tone And Colorism Impacts — Now, Google's Introduced His New Scale
Photo Credit: Google

For Over 10 Years, Dr. Ellis Monk Studied Skin Tone And Colorism Impacts — Now, Google's Introduced His New Scale

People of color are oftentimes not considered as new technology emerges. However, Google is working to change this narrative with the help of Dr. Ellis Monk. The Harvard professor and sociologist has spent over a decade conducting research centered on skin tone and the effects of colorism in society.

New Plans Follows Google's Previous Work On "Real Tones"

As AfroTech previously you, Google integrated “Real Tones” into its Pixel 6 and Pixel 6 Pro to ensure those with darker skin tones were considered during the technological decision-making process. Nearly six months later, to further improve its products, Google has announced new plans with an array of skin tones in mind.

According to a press release sent to AfroTech, Google is proudly announcing a new industry standard backed by Dr. Monk’s findings. The Monk Skin Tone Scale has 10-shades and will be more advanced than the Fitzpatrick phototype — a six-shade scale based on skin pigmentation and the skin’s reaction to sun exposure. The scale will be integrated throughout Google’s products as it looks ahead.

Courtesy of Google

“The reality is, the Fitzpatrick scale really didn’t do a good job of differentiating, even toward the more middle or lighter end of the scale for a lot of people of color. The intention behind creating the Monk Skin Tone was to fix those issues, not just in terms of making sure that we can go out to the darkest end of the scale, but even that dynamic range of differences within the Black population, among Afro Latinos, or people who aren’t necessarily all the way at the darkest end of the scale. That’s one thing to keep in mind here that will improve these products if we’re able to test using a more dynamic range of all these different skin tones that we tend to see,” Dr. Monk said.

Google Encourages Industry To Adopt New Standard

What’s more, the Monk Skin Tone Scale will not be exclusive to the multinational technology company but will be encouraged to be used throughout the industry to ensure inclusion is a standard for current and emerging platforms. Research has already proven participants found the Monk Skin Tone Scale more accurately reflects their skin tone, surpassing current technology industry standards.

“My hope is that by partnering with Google, having them open-sourcing the scale for people, will help disseminate the scale that we have all this research that we’re doing,” Dr. Monk said. “We’ll have more use cases and more examples like the search refinements around skin tones…we’ll have more examples of how useful this technology is and other companies can just adopt the scale. They don’t have to go through this year-long process to test all these things and find experts. It’s ready, made for them to take it and run with it. So, my hope is that will ease the broader tech industry-wide adoption of the scale.”

How The Monk Skin Scale Will Advance Google's Technology

Putting pen to paper, Google will use the scale to will guide and teach those in the tech industry how to create representative datasets that will assess and ensure artificial intelligence models place fairness at the center point.

Leading the way, Google will use the Monk Skin Tone Scale for its search engine. Users will be able to narrow their selection with the option to choose skin tone during their search. The feature will permit more diverse image results to appear.

Courtesy of Google

In addition, Google will launch a new method to label online content, which will include options such as skin tone, hair color, and hair texture. With this addition, more creators and online businesses will be able to ensure their content is search engine friendly.

The work won’t stop there as Google will also work to continue improving Google Photos. More sets of Real Tone filters will be integrated allowing users to have access to a wider selection. The changes are expected to release in the coming week across Android and iOS.

What's Ahead

As the company looks ahead, it plans to drive more conversations with more partners within the industry to normalize the use of the Monk Skin Tone Scale. Google will continue to work closely with Dr. Monk as it integrates the scale throughout more regions and applications.