Google has released an update to its Google Home Assistant to stop the AI from saying the n-word aloud. Previously, the voice assistant was recorded reciting the uncensored racial slur when asked to play songs with the word in the title.
Specifically, a TikTok video posted on Tuesday by user @ohgustie, whose first name is Shay, demonstrated a Home Mini speaker censoring the words “shit” and “fuckin” by using a beep and reciting “f-astersik-k-n” when the expletives were present in Doja Cat and A$AP Rocky song titles. However, asked to play the Kanye and JAY-Z song “Ni**as in Paris,” the device said the full, uncensored word aloud. It repeated the same slur again twice when asked to play another JAY-Z song, “Ni**a What, Ni**a Who.”
“So ‘shit’ is a bad word to Google? Okay,” Shay says in the video. After the AI pronounces every syllable of the JAY-Z song title, she adds, grimacing, “Someone come get this woman. Someone come get this white woman in my house saying ‘ni**a’!”
Shay told Gizmodo in a phone call that it seemed to her like there was nobody at Google to “look around and say, ‘Hey, maybe we should stop and discuss this.’ People who look like me just aren’t in those spaces, and that’s a problem.”
Gizmodo reached out to Google, asking the company to explain what determines Homes’ language censorship and why some expletives appeared to be censored while other—arguably much more offensive—language was not. The company did not directly respond to those questions.
A Google spokesperson did, however, apologize for the issue and say that the company had since fixed the problem.
“We are deeply sorry for the pain caused by Assistant’s use of this word. Every day we’re working to build an Assistant for everyone – one that is representative of all our users. We’ve implemented an immediate update and remain committed to providing users with an experience that is inclusive and safe,” a Google spokesperson said.
To which Gizmodo says: Sure. Google Assistant and Home devices have been around in one form or another since 2016, and Google employs more than 100,000 people.
Shay initially discovered the unsettling Google quirk by accident. “I wasn’t thinking, ‘I’m gonna get Google good for this one,’” she said. Instead, a few years back, she had noted that her Google device recited the n-word censored with asterisks. More recently, she observed that a different expletive was censored with a beeping sound, so she tested a song with the N-word in the title again, to see if it was now beeped.
Instead of a beeped version or the old, familiar “asterisk” version, the Google Home Mini recited the full slur uncensored, and she was a little shocked. “I was under the impression she was not going to say that back to me,” she said, referencing her device. In response, Shay decided to record and post two videos—an original and a TikTok Duet—documenting the smart speaker snafu.
“So many people find it funny, and it’s pretty hilarious, but a lot of other people were pretty bothered,” she said. And, though Shay found the initial problem entertaining, some of the subsequent comments and responses were definitely not. “A lot of people were pretty upset with me for making it a big deal, which I wasn’t,” she said, explaining that she was just pointing out something she found odd.
Then, there were other commenters that tried to preemptively deflect blame away from Google, or express that they didn’t think the N-word needed censoring. “A lot of white people came out and exposed themselves,” in the comments, Shay observed.
But, at least on Shay’s speaker, the immediate issue appears to be resolved. Before we hung up, the TikToker walked over to her Google device and prompted it to play the Kanye and JAY-Z song again. The Assistant said its classic “Ok, playing...” This time though, there was a clear beep over the racial slur. Both of us let out a little involuntary gasp, amazed that any alteration had been instituted so quickly.
“The fact that they changed it, that’s great,” Shay said. “But it’s still surprising it was an issue at all.”