Skip to main content

Data used to build algorithms detecting skin disease is too white

Data used to build algorithms detecting skin disease is too white

/

Most images don’t have good information about skin tone

Share this story

Illustration by Ana Kova

Public skin image datasets that are used to train algorithms to detect skin problems don’t include enough information about skin tone, according to a new analysis. And within the datasets where skin tone information is available, only a very small number of images are of darker skin — so algorithms built using these datasets might not be as accurate for people who aren’t white.

The study, published today in The Lancet Digital Health, examined 21 freely accessible datasets of images of skin conditions. Combined, they contained over 100,000 images. Just over 1,400 of those images had information attached about the ethnicity of the patient, and only 2,236 had information about skin color. This lack of data limits researchers’ ability to spot biases in algorithms trained on the images. And such algorithms could very well be biased: Of the images with skin tone information, only 11 were from patients with the darkest two categories on the Fitzpatrick scale, which classifies skin color. There were no images from patients with an African, Afro-Caribbean, or South Asian background.

The conclusions are similar to those from a study published in September, which also found that most datasets used for training dermatology algorithms don’t have information about ethnicity or skin tone. That study examined the data behind 70 studies that developed or tested algorithms and found that only seven described the skin types in the images used.

“What we see from the small number of papers that do report out skin tone distributions, is that those do show an underrepresentation of darker skin tones,” says Roxana Daneshjou, a clinical scholar in dermatology at Stanford University and author on the September paper. Her paper analyzed many of the same datasets as the new Lancet research and came to similar conclusions.

When images in a dataset are publicly available, researchers can go through and review what skin tones appear to be present. But that can be difficult, because photos may not exactly match what the skin tone looks like in real life. “The most ideal situation is that skin tone is noted at the time of the clinical visit,” Daneshjou says. Then, the image of that patient’s skin problem could be labeled before it goes into a database.

Without labels on images, researchers can’t check algorithms to see if they’re built using datasets with enough examples of people with different skin types.

It’s important to scrutinize these image sets because they’re often used to build algorithms that help doctors diagnose patients with skin conditions, some of which — like skin cancers — are more dangerous if they’re not caught early. If the algorithms have only been trained or tested on light skin, they won’t be as accurate for everyone else. “Research has shown that programs trained on images taken from people with lighter skin types only might not be as accurate for people with darker skin, and vice versa,” says David Wen, a co-author on the new paper and a researcher at the University of Oxford.

New images can always be added to public datasets, and researchers want to see more examples of conditions on darker skin. And improving the transparency and clarity of the datasets will help researchers track progress toward more diverse image sets that could lead to more equitable AI tools. “I would like to see more open data and more well-labeled data,” Daneshjou says.

Today’s Storystream

Feed refreshed Sep 23 10 minutes in the clouds

J
Twitter
Jay PetersSep 23
Twitch’s creators SVP is leaving the company.

Constance Knight, Twitch’s senior vice president of global creators, is leaving for a new opportunity, according to Bloomberg’s Cecilia D’Anastasio. Knight shared her departure with staff on the same day Twitch announced impending cuts to how much its biggest streamers will earn from subscriptions.


T
Twitter
Tom WarrenSep 23
Has the Windows 11 2022 Update made your gaming PC stutter?

Nvidia GPU owners have been complaining of stuttering and poor frame rates with the latest Windows 11 update, but thankfully there’s a fix. Nvidia has identified an issue with its GeForce Experience overlay and the Windows 11 2022 Update (22H2). A fix is available in beta from Nvidia’s website.


A
External Link
If you’re using crash detection on the iPhone 14, invest in a really good phone mount.

Motorcycle owner Douglas Sonders has a cautionary tale in Jalopnik today about the iPhone 14’s new crash detection feature. He was riding his LiveWire One motorcycle down the West Side Highway at about 60 mph when he hit a bump, causing his iPhone 14 Pro Max to fly off its handlebar mount. Soon after, his girlfriend and parents received text messages that he had been in a horrible accident, causing several hours of panic. The phone even called the police, all because it fell off the handlebars. All thanks to crash detection.

Riding a motorcycle is very dangerous, and the last thing anyone needs is to think their loved one was in a horrible crash when they weren’t. This is obviously an edge case, but it makes me wonder what other sort of false positives we see as more phones adopt this technology.


Welcome to the new Verge

Revolutionizing the media with blog posts

Nilay PatelSep 13
A
External Link
Ford is running out of its own Blue Oval badges.

Running out of semiconductors is one thing, but running out of your own iconic nameplates is just downright brutal. The Wall Street Journal reports badge and nameplate shortages are impacting the automaker's popular F-series pickup lineup, delaying deliveries and causing general chaos.

Some executives are even proposing a 3D printing workaround, but they didn’t feel like the substitutes would clear the bar. All in all, it's been a dreadful summer of supply chain setbacks for Ford, leading the company to reorganize its org chart to bring some sort of relief.


E
TikTok
Spain’s Transports Urbans de Sabadell has La Bussí.

Once again, the US has fallen behind in transportation — call it the Bussí gap. A hole in our infrastructure, if you will.


J
External Link
Jay PetersSep 23
Doing more with less (extravagant holiday parties).

Sundar Pichai addressed employees’ questions about Google’s spending changes at an all-hands this week, according to CNBC.

“Maybe you were planning on hiring six more people but maybe you are going to have to do with four and how are you going to make that happen?” Pichai sent a memo to workers in July about a hiring slowdown.

In the all-hands, Google’s head of finance also asked staff to try not to go “over the top” for holiday parties.


E
External Link
Insiders made the most money off of Helium’s “People’s Network.”

Remember Helium, which was touted by The New York Times in an article entitled “Maybe There’s a Use for Crypto After All?” Not only was the company misleading people about who used it — Salesforce and Lime weren’t using it, despite what Helium said on its site — Helium disproportionately enriched insiders, Forbes reports.


J
Youtube
James VincentSep 23
Nvidia’s latest AI model generates endless 3D models.

Need to fill your video game, VR world, or project render with 3D chaff? Nvidia’s latest AI model could help. Trained on 2D images, it can churn out customizable 3D objects ready to import and tweak.

The model seems rudimentary (the renders aren’t amazing quality and seem limited in their variety), but generative AI models like this are only going to improve, speeding up work for all sorts of creative types.


R
Richard LawlerSep 23
Green light.

This week Friday brings the debut of Apple’s other new hardware. We’ve reviewed both the new AirPods Pro and this chonky Apple Watch Ultra, and now you’ll decide if you’re picking them up, or not.

Otherwise, we’re preparing for Netflix’s Tudum event this weekend and slapping Dynamic Island onto Android phones.


The Apple Watch Ultra on a woman’s wrist
Photo by Amelia Holowaty Krales / The Verge
J
External Link
Jess WeatherbedSep 23
Japan will fully reopen to tourists in October following two and a half years of travel restrictions.

Good news for folks who have been waiting to book their dream Tokyo vacation: Japan will finally relax Covid border control measures for visa-free travel and individual travelers on October 11th.

Tourists will still need to be vaccinated three times or submit a negative COVID-19 test result ahead of their trip, but can take advantage of the weak yen and a ‘national travel discount’ launching on the same date. Sugoi!


T
External Link
Thomas RickerSep 23
Sony starts selling the Xperia 1 IV with continuous zoom lens.

What does it cost to buy a smartphone that does something no smartphone from Apple, Google, Samsung can? $1,599.99 is Sony’s answer: for a camera lens that can shift its focal length anywhere between 85mm and 125mm.

Here’s Allison’s take on Sony’s continuous-zoom lens when she tested a prototype Xperia 1 IV back in May: 

Sony put a good point-and-shoot zoom in a smartphone. That’s an impressive feat. In practical use, it’s a bit less impressive. It’s essentially two lenses that serve the same function: portrait photography. The fact that there’s optical zoom connecting them doesn’t make them much more versatile.

Still, it is a Sony, and like.no.other.


C
External Link
Corin FaifeSep 23
If God sees everything, so do these apps.

Some Churches are asking congregants to install so-called “accountability apps” to prevent sinful behavior. A Wired investigation found that they monitor almost everything a user does on their phone, including taking regular screenshots and flagging LGBT search terms.