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Heetch sends Midjourney developers postcards to remove banlieue bias from generative AI

Ride-hailing app Heetch started off in the outer suburbs of Paris. It's now one of France's leading on-demand transport providers, operating in a handful of other countries, too. But the company remains connected to its banlieue roots. So it was shocked to discover the images Midjourney's generative AI serves up if a text prompt includes the word 'banlieue.'

A prompt for a wedding in France leads to an image depicting joy, but adding 'banlieue' elicits a grim scene. The same thing happens when users ask for a picture of children, a classroom or young people — adding the world banlieue causes Midjourney to respond with dark, depressing and near-apocalyptic imagery.

As Heetch points out, just 11 engineers developed Midjourney. So, the app decided to reach out to them. Heetch took thousands of photographs of the banlieues, showing regular people in regular settings entirely unrelated to Midjourney's nightmarish fabrications. It turned a selection of those images into Greetings From La Banlieue postcards, which were distributed in neighborhood bakeries, cafes and barbershops earlier this month, as well as in cars driving for Heetch. 

Local folks are encouraged to express their feelings on one of the pre-addressed cards and send it to those 11 Midjourney developers. Meanwhile, a QR code on the back leads to a corrective database of all the photos Heetch took, which Midjourney and others can use to remove the banlieue bias from their generative AI.

 

Trend Bite

Bias in generative AI is an unintentional skewing of outputs based on the data a model is trained on — since stereotypes and unfairness are pervasive, they seamlessly infiltrate AI algorithms. Drawing attention to those biases and offering a solution in the form of a corrective image database, Heetch's 'Greetings From La Banlieue' is more than a marketing ploy; it shows how innovative thinking can address complex issues at the intersection of technology and society.

By encouraging residents to send postcards and add personal messages, Heetch transformed a simple campaign into a collaborative effort. The initiative not only tackles AI bias head-on but also empowers a community that's often misrepresented.

Acknowledging and addressing the shortcomings of AI enables brands to demonstrate they're empathetic and human-centric, fostering a deeper connection with their user base. Which members of your company's audience are unfairly portrayed or treated by generative AI? And how could you involve them in reshaping the narrative?

Innovation of the day

Spotted by: Liesbeth den Toom