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Reviewers Notice Microsoft Kinect Doesn't Work With Dark-Skinned Gamers

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You're at a family get-together. Relatives you haven't seen in years are all gathered to celebrate four generations of familial unity. You whip out your Nikon Coolpix S630 digital camera to mark the occasion. Luckily, its facial-recognition software helps capture that perfectly poignant moment. You snap a photo and a notification pops up. "Did someone blink?" A helpful box appears over the offending party. She didn't blink. She's Asian.

You're working at a computer shop. Every week, new technology comes flooding in, replacing the old. Displays must be set up so that customers may test out the revolutionary products and decide if it's worth their time. Among the hands-on products is a Hewlett-Packard webcam with facial-recognition software which allows the lens to follow the user and keep centered in the frame. For your coworker, it performs perfectly -- panning and zooming when necessary. Unfortunately for you, it doesn't pan. It doesn't zoom. It can't recognize your face. Why? You're black.

And so it goes for the new Microsoft Kinect -- a motion-detecting peripheral for the Xbox 360 which allows players to control on-screen action via 3D motion capture, facial recognition, and voice commands. And like Nokia cameras and HP webcams, it doesn't work so well with dark-skinned gamers.

Gamespot noticed the issue during a product review when two of its employees had trouble being recognized by the camera sensors. One had "inconsistent" success, the other wasn't identified at all despite numerous recalibration attempts. Light-skinned employees had no difficulty with the facial-recognition system.

Gamespot's Brendan Sinclair had this to say about the device:

It's important to note that the problems were only experienced with the system's facial recognition feature, and don't prevent users from playing Kinect games. Skeletal tracking, a primary means of controlling games with Kinect, appeared to work the same for all GameSpot employees.

The system's inability to recognize a user only means that he or she would need to sign in manually, and some games' features may not work properly as a result. For example, when a second player joins in to Kinect Adventures during the title's drop-in, drop-out multiplayer, the system can't bring up that player's proper in-game avatar automatically if it can't identify the new user first.

While Kinect's lack of racial sensitivity is grabbing the headlines, another act of discrimination seems to be buried. In order for the peripheral to work properly, a minimum distance of six feet -- eight feet for multiplayer -- is necessary. Ever see a dorm or an efficiency apartment have that much free space?

Sorry college students and New Yorkers.
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