Technology

iPhone X Face ID Has Trouble Recognizing Chinese Faces

Apple’s new iPhone X has made the news time and again as an innovative product and the top dog in smartphone sales this holiday season. The iPhone X face ID technology is unprecedented and offers a unique and convenient way to unlock your phone. While Apple states that the Face ID is intelligent and secure as it reacts to changing appearances — such as with beard growth or a new pair of glasses — it seems the software may have trouble when it comes to recognizing Chinese faces.

Recognizing Chinese Faces
Image Source: Apple.com (screenshot)

Many media outlets are calling the iPhone X Face ID “racist,” due to the recent news of a Chinese boy unlocking his mother’s phone using facial recognition software. Apple, however, insists that it’s a rare and isolated case that occurred simply due to the striking similarity between the appearance of the mother and son — with no connection to their race.

Whether iPhone X Face ID is “racist” or not, it’s clear that the technology isn’t flawless if a young boy was able to unlock his mother’s phone. According to Asiaone, other users have reported issues with the feature failing to detect Chinese faces as well, seeming to suggest that this widely reported problem is not an “extremely rare” occurrence.

iPhone X Face ID

The iPhone X Face ID works using a signature TrueDepth front-facing camera that uses multiple components to unlock your phone simply using your face.

The main part of the technology is a dot projector which places more than 30000 invisible dots on your face to determine its structure. The dot map is then read by an infrared camera, which transmits the information to the A11 Bionic chip. The chip is where the actual image processing happens, with the information turned into a mathematical model that adjusts naturally as your appearance changes.

It’s a relatively high tech feature, but it obviously seems to have some significant issues with Chinese faces. The reasons why are not known, but it’s easy to see why the technology could be accused of prejudice.

Is iPhone X Face ID Racist?

The fact that the iPhone X Face ID struggles with faces is a real issue that can alienate a huge customer base. With more than a billion people living in China, the market is rapidly growing and has major sales potential for Apple. With how popular the iPhone X is worldwide, it’s unfortunate that it seems to be struggling with Chinese faces — a potentially major portion of their customer base.

Calling any sort of technology “racist” may be pushing it a little bit, but it’s clear that Chinese faces aren’t all the same — and an update is clearly needed if these reports are true and not just random flukes. With Apple being a primarily North American country, it’s definitely possible that the research team didn’t have access to a large number of Chinese faces with which to test their product. Failing to detect these faces is a major problem, but it’s probably an unfortunate product flaw rather than intentional racism.

Whether iPhone X Face ID is “racist” is up for debate, but failing to detect Chinese faces is a flaw that should be addressed sooner rather than later if Apple wants to avoid a potential PR disaster.