Uh-oh. Some early reports are surfacing that Kinect, the controller-free experience for Microsoft's XBox 360, is having trouble recognizing dark-skinned players.
A post on GameSpot's blog this week reported that at least "two dark-skinned GameSpot employees" had trouble getting the facial recognition feature to work. Sure, you could maybe blame it on lighting or webcam calibration or something else - but that's really something that should have been tested, re-tested and resolved before the release of Kinect today.
The system reportedly had no trouble recognizing light-skinned people.
It's unclear how widespread the problem is - if, in fact, it's a problem at all. For all we know, this was an isolated incident. But it does cause some eyebrow-raising after an embarrassing YouTube video (below) surfaced last year of a white woman and an African-American man putting the facial recognition technology on an HP Media Smart computer to the test.
The technology had no problem recognizing the woman - but the system would not respond to the man.
It's too early to start labeling Kinect as racist - but it will be interesting to see if this becomes a widespread problem as consumers start to buy it. Microsoft has said it expects to ship about 5 million units by the end of the year.
update: Consumer Reports, in its own blog post today, debunks this problem. It writes:
Here's what we found: The log-in problem is related to low-level lighting and not directly to players' skin color. Like the HP webcam, the Kinect camera needs enough light and contrast to determine features in a person's face before it can perform software recognition and log someone into the game console automatically.
Essentially, the Kinect recognized both players at light levels typically used in living rooms at night and failed to recognize both players when the lights were turned down lower. So far, we did not experience any instance where one player was recognized and the other wasn't under the same lighting conditions.
This problem didn't prevent anyone who was affected from playing Kinect games, since it can "see" and track players' bodies and motions using a built-in infrared lighting system.