Trump disrupts the Valley, AI is a myth, Google goes hard for hardware
I wasn’t going to do a Money Quote today, because, well, for whatever reason, when I do these daily posts rounding up the news, nearly no one reads them. But when I write a column, lots of folks do. The market has spoken, so to speak. But the process of writing these does help me make sense of the major stories of the day (at least the ones that relate to my work), so I am keeping at it. Maybe more folks will eventually find this worthy. I’m not counting on it though.
Pew has another study on the intersection of tech and culture, and the most interesting tidbit is the public’s distrust of automated automobiles. Money quote: “A sizable share of the public expresses reservations about personally using each of the technological concepts examined in the survey. Nearly six-in-ten Americans say they would not want to ride in a driverless vehicle or use a robot caregiver for themselves or a family member, while roughly three-quarters would not want to apply for a job that used a computer program to evaluate and select applicants.”
Is the United States coming to terms with social media? It’s complicated.
It was an extraordinary weekend for news, but then again, they all seem to be these days. Beyond the unimaginable shooting in Las Vegas, the facts around which are still unfolding, the past two days have brought an avalanche of news around the role of social media in our culture.
Let’s start with Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s brief but powerful post this past Friday, on Judaism’s holiest night (the end of Yom Kippur). “For those I hurt this year, I ask forgiveness and I will try to be better…For the ways my work was used to divide people rather than bring us together, I ask for forgiveness and I will work to do better.”
This was yet another example of Zuckerberg being Zuckerberg — failing fast(ish), acknowledging his mistakes, moving forward (Facebook delivers 3,000 ads to Congress today, by the way). But the test in front of him and his outsized company is unique: Americans seem to have finally woken up to the power his company and others like it marshal, and to the fact that not even the Lords of Tech truly comprehend how to contain it.
Houston’s tragedy is still unfolding, but its lessons can already be drawn. When an area the size of fifteen Manhattans floods, there’s plenty of blame to throw around. But in the end, it all comes down to money, in particular, the kind of money one can make by encouraging short term thinking.
Many are claiming Hurricane Harvey’s wrath proves climate change is real — and that our current administration’s steadfast ignorance of that fact should be called out. It’s hard to disagree, but also hard to believe anything will change. After all, we already knew Houston had a major weather problem: Journalists and academics had pointed that fact out repeatedly, and repeatedly, society has ignored that fact. Why?
So as to be clear, what’s going on here is this: AccuWeather was sharing its users’ anonymized data with a third-party company for profit, even after those same users seemingly opted out of location-based data collection.
Our industry’s lofty principles just met Charlottesville. It’s time for American CEOs to make a statement, just as Merck has done.
In the early days of the Civil War, when it seemed the rebellion was an immature prank soon to be put down, emboldened Washingtonian spectators converged on nearby Manassas, eager to watch the Union Army prevail over a rag tag army of southern rebels.
The Union army, it turns out, was summarily routed.
A small group of social terrorists have hijacked the rational discourse led by society’s most accomplished, intelligent, and promising organizations.
Let’s start with this: Google is not a perfect company. It’s easy to cast it as an omniscient and evil villain, the leader of a millennium-spanning illuminati hellbent on world subjugation. Google the oppressor. Google the silencer of debate. Google, satanic overlord predicted by the holy text!
But that narrative is bullshit, and all rational humans know it. Yes, we have to pay close attention — and keep our powder dry — when a company with the power and reach of Google (or Facebook, or Amazon, or Apple…) finds itself a leader in the dominant cultural conversation of our times.
Why did the all-male leadership at Google fail to make a statement over the weekend?
One of the country’s largest companies had a very rough weekend, and it had nothing to do with its products or services. Instead, Google joined Amazon, Uber, and many other tech giants experiencing a self-inflicted string of massive workplace culture breakdowns.
Google’s current sh*tshow came via an inarguably sexist 3,000-word memo written by a relatively junior engineer. The memo, which covered its misogyny with sophomoric sops to diversity of intellectual discourse, was posted to Google’s internal network, a version of the company’s Google+ service used only by employees. When Vice’s Motherboard got wind of the post Saturday and wrote about it, all hell broke loose. Then Gizmodo got a copy of the actual screed, and Techmeme lit up with follow-ons from just about every outlet imaginable.
Everyone agrees the rant author is a scoundrel. The real question is: how can you avoid having his type in your startup? There are ways.
Sexism is a big tent. It includes sexual harassment like overt unwanted contact, inappropriate comments, sexual advances, and withholding promotions for unreturned affection; it also includes gender-based bias — far more common and far more difficult to label and identify. Each of these two extremes deserve significant attention from companies, but this article is devoted to the latter. Gender-based bias, or ‘Dude-bro’ism’ is a culture of bias that proliferates in tech. Like all outbreaks, prevention is cheaper and easier than treatment within work environments and corporate culture. Prevention begins at the first job interview, but also requires steady maintenance to keep away. This is a guide for prevention.
It’s still uncertain exactly what they have implemented since Google tends to not tell people how their algorithm works, but they did make an announcement back in April that they would be taking measures to punish “low quality content” such as misleading information, offensive results, hoaxes and conspiracy theories.