How a half-educated tech elite delivered us into evil | John Naughton

If our supersmart tech leaders knew a bit more about history or philosophy we wouldnt be in the mess were in now

One of the biggest puzzles about our current predicament with fake news and the weaponisation of social media is why the folks who built this technology are so taken aback by what has happened. Exhibit A is the founder of Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg, whose political education I recently chronicled. But hes not alone. In fact Id say he is quite representative of many of the biggest movers and shakers in the tech world. We have a burgeoning genre of OMG, what have we done? angst coming from former Facebook and Google employees who have begun to realise that the cool stuff they worked on might have had, well, antisocial consequences.

Put simply, what Google and Facebook have built is a pair of amazingly sophisticated, computer-driven engines for extracting users personal information and data trails, refining them for sale to advertisers in high-speed data-trading auctions that are entirely unregulated and opaque to everyone except the companies themselves.

The purpose of this infrastructure was to enable companies to target people with carefully customised commercial messages and, as far as we know, they are pretty good at that. (Though some advertisers are beginning to wonder if these systems are quite as good as Google and Facebook claim.) And in doing this, Zuckerberg, Google co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin and co wrote themselves licences to print money and build insanely profitable companies.

It never seems to have occurred to them that their advertising engines could also be used to deliver precisely targeted ideological and political messages to voters. Hence the obvious question: how could such smart people be so stupid? The cynical answer is they knew about the potential dark side all along and didnt care, because to acknowledge it might have undermined the aforementioned licences to print money. Which is another way of saying that most tech leaders are sociopaths. Personally I think thats unlikely, although among their number are some very peculiar characters: one thinks, for example, of Paypal co-founder Peter Thiel Trumps favourite techie; and Travis Kalanick, the founder of Uber.

So what else could explain the astonishing naivety of the tech crowd? My hunch is it has something to do with their educational backgrounds. Take the Google co-founders. Sergey Brin studied mathematics and computer science. His partner, Larry Page, studied engineering and computer science. Zuckerberg dropped out of Harvard, where he was studying psychology and computer science, but seems to have been more interested in the latter.

Now mathematics, engineering and computer science are wonderful disciplines intellectually demanding and fulfilling. And they are economically vital for any advanced society. But mastering them teaches students very little about society or history or indeed about human nature. As a consequence, the new masters of our universe are people who are essentially only half-educated. They have had no exposure to the humanities or the social sciences, the academic disciplines that aim to provide some understanding of how society works, of history and of the roles that beliefs, philosophies, laws, norms, religion and customs play in the evolution of human culture.

We are now beginning to see the consequences of the dominance of this half-educated elite. As one perceptive observer Bob ODonnell puts it, a liberal arts major familiar with works like Alexis de Tocquevilles Democracy in America, John Stuart Mills On Liberty, or even the work of ancient Greek historians, might have been able to recognise much sooner the potential for the tyranny of the majority or other disconcerting sociological phenomena that are embedded into the very nature of todays social media platforms. While seemingly democratic at a superficial level, a system in which the lack of structure means that all voices carry equal weight, and yet popularity, not experience or intelligence, actually drives influence, is clearly in need of more refinement and thought than it was first given.

All of which brings to mind CP Snows famous Two Cultures lecture, delivered in Cambridge in 1959, in which he lamented the fact that the intellectual life of the whole of western society was scarred by the gap between the opposing cultures of science and engineering on the one hand, and the humanities on the other with the latter holding the upper hand among contemporary ruling elites. Snow thought that this perverse dominance would deprive Britain of the intellectual capacity to thrive in the postwar world and he clearly longed to reverse it.

Snow passed away in 1980, but one wonders what he would have made of the new masters of our universe. One hopes that he might see it as a reminder of the old adage: be careful what you wish for you might just get it.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/nov/19/how-tech-leaders-delivered-us-into-evil-john-naughton

‘I see things differently’: James Damore on his autism and the Google memo

He was fired from Google for arguing that men may be more suited to working in tech than women. Now James Damore opens up about his regrets and how autism may have shaped his experience of the world

James Damore conforms to the stereotype. Hes happy to admit he fits the mould of an awkward computer nerd and the moment we meet in a Silicon Valley coffee shop, he knocks a display stand of metal flasks that fall clattering to the floor. The commotion draws curious glances at the 6ft 3in software engineer, but Damore is used to strangers identifying him; hes the guy who was fired by Google this summer after he argued that men are more psychologically suited to working in technology than women.

No one recognises the woman standing beside him. She is Damores girlfriend: a feminist and a data scientist who works in tech.

The couple make a surprising pair, as I discovered when we sat down and talked about some of the issues they usually avoid: the gender pay gap, whether boys are more suited to board games than girls, and the 10-page memo that turned Damore, almost overnight, into a pariah in their industry.

The document he circulated, titled Googles Ideological Echo Chamber, argued that psychological gender differences could explain why 80% of Googles engineers, and most of the companys leaders, are men. In one of the most inflammatory sections, Damore wrote that women, on average, have higher levels of neuroticism, something that may contribute to the lower number of women in high stress jobs. The purpose of the memo, he said, was to question Googles approach to improving diversity, and to argue that the companys leftwing bias silences alternative views.

On 7 August, two days after his memo was leaked, Damore was fired for advancing harmful gender stereotypes. I definitely didnt think that it would explode like it did, the 28-year-old says now. I lost a lot of sleep and didnt eat much.

We are in Mountain View, home to Googles headquarters. Damores girlfriend has agreed to meet only after being assured that, like her, I disagree with her boyfriends views. She does not want to be identified or directly quoted: she is keen to remain in the shadows. Damore, meanwhile, has appeared to bask in the attention; in the months since he left Google, he has become a commentator on political issues that extend well beyond the tech industry, becoming one of the most polarising figures in Silicon Valley.

At the same time, the experience has prompted some introspection. In the course of several weeks of conversation using Googles instant messaging service, which Damore prefers to face-to-face communication, he opened up about an autism diagnosis that may in part explain the difficulties he experienced with his memo.

He believes he has a problem understanding how his words will be interpreted by other people. Even now, still out of work and coming to the conclusion he has in effect been blacklisted from any major tech company, Damore finds it hard to comprehend how his opinions sparked such intense controversy. My biggest flaw and strength may be that I see things very differently than normal, he tells me. Im not necessarily the best at predicting what would be controversial.

Words were never James Damores strong suit. As a child growing up in Romeoville, a suburb of Chicago, he took longer than usual to speak in complete sentences. His parents were concerned; it was several years before they discovered that their sons verbal difficulties were accompanied by some extraordinary talents.

By the age of about 11, Damore was coding adventure games on his TI-83 calculator. He also discovered chess. Within a year he was able to compete in four games of chess simultaneously while wearing a blindfold. He came second in a national chess tournament at 14, and in his teens became the worlds highest-ranking player in Rise of Nations, a computer strategy game.

It wasnt until his mid-20s, after completing research in computational biology at Princeton and MIT, and starting a PhD at Harvard, that Damore was diagnosed with autism, although he was told he had a milder version of the condition known as high-functioning autism.

Psychiatrists, he says, assured him it didnt matter. Yet one incident around that time suggests otherwise. Damore was on a two-day retreat for PhD students, which involved an annual tradition of inviting students to perform skits that lightly poked fun at professors. Damores performance included an awkwardly delivered masturbation joke that offended some female students. Two professors later wrote to students apologising for the uneasiness, embarrassment or offense he had caused. Damore still finds it hard to see why his skit was objectionable, but accepts he may view it differently, because Im on the spectrum.

I ask if he finds interacting with people difficult. He replies: Its hard for me to say whats difficult because I dont know what the average is. But he finds small talk tiring and can see behavioural traits in himself that may be linked to the condition, such as having fewer friends due to maybe social awkwardness.

It was Damores outstanding performance in coding puzzles that attracted Google recruiters. He was offered a summer internship on a salary of more than $100,000 and, in December 2013, dropped out of Harvard to join the tech giants army of 25,000 mostly male engineers.

Damore excelled at Google. His performance reviews were excellent, and he was promoted twice in two years. By early 2017, he was a senior engineer at the company, helping lead projects related to Googles search engine. It is a role that, once stock is taken into account, can come with a salary of as much as $300,000. Then in June, on a work flight to China, Damore opened his laptop and started typing. Google has several biases and honest discussion about these biases is being silenced by the dominant ideology, he wrote. What follows is by no means the complete story, but its a perspective that desperately needs to be told.

The idea that any employee can challenge company orthodoxy is important in Silicon Valley, which eschews the hierarchies that dominate in other parts of corporate America. Nowhere is this more the case than Google, which cultivates open debate on thousands of internal discussion groups and online forums. Google also vigorously promotes a culture of psychological safety among its staff, believing it imperative that employees feel empowered to voice ideas without feeling embarrassed or judged.

Company insiders say most employees are savvy enough to know it is unwise to take that mantra too literally. But when the organisers of internal meetings about Googles policies on diversity and inclusion invited feedback, Damore decided to relay his thoughts.

For some months, he had been harbouring grievances over the way Google was seeking to increase the number of minority and women employees, with mentoring schemes and hiring practices that Damore felt could be tantamount to reverse discrimination.

Sundar
Sundar Pichai, Googles chief executive, said Damores memo violated the companys code of conduct. Photograph: Akintunde Akinleye/Reuters

He had also been doing a lot of personal research about politics. He knew he was a centrist with libertarian inclinations but, he tells me, he wanted to understand the world and why people seem to have such different perspectives and opinions.

He had been reading writers such as Jonathan Haidt, the psychologist who argues peoples political beliefs derive not from reason but from their instincts and intuitions, and says more effort should be put into understanding opposing views. Damore also read more about evolutionary perspectives in psychology and anthropology, in books by academics including Steven Pinker and Avi Tuschman.

The Google engineer bought a copy of William Farrells controversial 1992 book, The Myth of Male Power, known as the bible of the mens rights movement. He watched The Red Pill, a documentary released last year in which the presenter Cassie Jaye abandons her attachment to feminism after being persuaded by Farrell and other mens rights activists.

But it was Jordan Peterson, a psychologist at the University of Toronto, who seems to have been particularly influential. Notorious in Canada for refusing to use gender-neutral pronouns for students who dont identify as male or female, Peterson has acquired a huge following online by railing against political correctness. Damore watched his YouTube lectures and admired the professor. Hes very good at articulating his thoughts, he says. Which I need to improve at.

Damores memo was a jumble of ideas and proposals for Google, which he argued should de-emphasize empathy and be more accepting of conservative viewpoints. The document contained citations that led to Wikipedia entries and opinion articles, as well as several peer-reviewed psychological papers. His principal argument was about gender. He did not argue that men were better at maths or coding than women, as others have done. Instead, he wrote that men and women on average have different psychological traits, and these might explain why so few women choose engineering, and why so many men rise to the top of Google.

Women, Damore argued, are generally more interested in people rather than things and have more openness directed towards feelings and aesthetics. Both of those factors, he said, could account for why women prefer jobs in social or artistic areas rather than, say, coding software.

Damore also described women as more agreeable and less assertive than men, which he said results in women generally having a harder time negotiating salary, asking for raises, speaking up, and leading. Men, on the other hand, care less about work-life balance, he wrote, and are more likely to be motivated by status, driving them toward higher-paying, less satisfying jobs. Damore said these differences were exactly what we would predict from an evolutionary psychology perspective and played down the idea that they were the result of cultural or social influences.

He seemed at least somewhat aware he was entering a minefield, stressing he was only talking about average psychological differences: So you cant say anything about an individual I hope its clear that Im not saying that diversity is bad, that Google or society is 100% fair, that we shouldnt try to correct for existing biases, or that minorities have the same experience of those in the majority, he wrote. My larger point is that we have an intolerance for ideas and evidence that dont fit a certain ideology.

Damore emailed his memo to the organisers of Googles diversity meetings in early July. When there was no response, he started sending the document to Googles internal mailing lists and forums, eager for a reaction.

The document spread like wildfire. Some Google employees supported Damores ideas, and some defended his right to voice them. But many staff were simply aghast. Youre a misogynist and a terrible human, one colleague emailed him. I will keep hounding you until one of us is fired. Fuck you.

Leaked posts from Googles internal message boards show that some of Damores most vocal critics were mid-ranking managers. It has cost me at least two days of productivity and anger, and I am not even the target of its bigoted attacks, said one manager, declaring he would never work with Damore again. Another said: I intend to silence these views. They are violently offensive.

Many women who work elsewhere in tech were appalled by Damores memo, written from the heart of an industry that is notoriously male dominated. It came amid a cascade of reports about sexual harassment in Silicon Valley and a class-action lawsuit brought by women employed at Google alleging the company systematically pays women less than men for similar work.

Damores girlfriend was overseas on 5 August, the day she received text messages from friends urging her to click on a link to the tech website Gizmodo, where the memo had been leaked under the headline Heres The Full 10-Page Anti-Diversity Screed Circulating Internally at Google.

Damore had not told her about his document, and her initial impression was that it was horrible. But after reading it a few times, and discussing it with him, her position mellowed; she even came to agree with one or two of his points. She maintains Damore was, for the most part, naive and wrong, but in the process of defending him she lost friends. She believes there was no need for Google to fire him; they could just as easily have taken corrective action.

Google
Google employees and visitors walk through the companys headquarters in Mountain View. Damores memo angered colleagues at the company and beyond. Photograph: Smith Collection/Gado/Getty Images

Damore is pursuing legal action against Google and has filed a complaint with the National Labor Relations Board. He points out his document was circulating for weeks, but he was only fired after the leak caused a public relations crisis.

Googles chief executive, Sundar Pichai, told staff that Damore was dismissed because parts of his memo violated the companys code of conduct. Our job is to build great products for users that make a difference in their lives, he said. To suggest a group of our colleagues have traits that make them less biologically suited to that work is offensive and not OK.

What do psychologists make of the memo? Richard Lippa of California State University, whose work the engineer cited, tells me it contained a reasonably accurate summary of the research on psychological differences between men and women. I think there are ways of arguing against James Damore, from political viewpoints, for ideological reasons, and you can criticise the science, too, he says. But the immediate response This is fake science I dont think that is doing any of us justice.

Lippa argues there is compelling evidence that women on average tend to be more people-oriented, whereas men are more things-oriented, a difference he believes could be highly relevant to career decisions.

His research is similar to the empathising-systemising theory created by Simon Baron-Cohen, professor of developmental psychopathology at Cambridge University. He argues the female brain is predominantly hard-wired for empathy, whereas the male brain is predominantly hard-wired for understanding and building systems.

These differences, he says, may explain why more men choose professions in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. Baron-Cohen also proposes people on the autism spectrum have an extreme male brain.

However, the methodologies and assumptions underlying these claims have proven highly controversial. Many psychologists would take issue with Damores interpretation of personality traits he associates with women, such as agreeableness and neuroticism.

Part of the issue is, hes a software engineer, says Janet Hyde, a psychologist at the University of Wisconsin. He attached himself to what is actually a relatively small chunk of the psychological research literature and was unduly influenced by it.

Hyde is the author of a widely cited review of 46 meta-analyses of gender differences, which found that men and women are in fact similar on most, but not all, psychological variables, and concluded overinflated claims of gender differences carry substantial costs in areas such as the workplace. She adds: Theres every reason to think these gender differences in interests are caused by socialisation factors.

Unfortunately for Damore, even some of the academics cited in his memo take issue with the context in which he used their research. Catherine Hakim, a British sociologist based at the thinktank Civitas, says that while her research on gender preference theory was correctly referenced, she feels his attempt to link career outcomes to psychological sex differences was nonsense.

The
Google is known for promoting a culture of psychological safety among its staff. Photograph: Jeff Chiu/AP

Jri Allik, an experimental psychologist from Estonias University of Tartu, says Damore went too far in making extrapolations from his own study into personality variations across countries; it is risky, he says, to link average personality traits to issues like career choices. Besides, Allik adds, the gender differences in his research were very, very small, if not microscopic.

Damore also applied arguments in evolutionary psychology to explain why men outnumber women in senior roles at Google. He cited a paper arguing that men place more importance on the physical attractiveness of a potential mate, while women value a potential partners earning capacity. Hence, he wrote, men may be motivated to seek higher-paying jobs.

Michael Wiederman, a psychologist at the University of South Carolina School of Medicine who conducted that research, tells me that Damore made a reasoned argument about why men could be more attuned to climbing the hierarchy: The idea for evolutionary psychologists is that this is in our cognitive software.

But it is not hard to dismantle this line of argument. Cordelia Fine, a professor of psychology at the University of Melbourne, tells me these ideas fall into the common bias of assuming that whatever we tend to see more often in males is what the job needs. And while it is true, she says, that women tend to attach more importance to a partners resources, there are obvious reasons why. Given that, not so long ago, women could be legally fired when they got married or became pregnant, its hardly surprising that women have historically cared more about a partners wealth. Neither is it clear, Fine says, that any such psychological traits will be set in stone for the rest of time.

Despite authoring two acclaimed books on gender, Fine, a leading feminist science writer, feels torn in many different directions by Damore. She believes his memo made many dubious assumptions and ignored vast swaths of research that show pervasive discrimination against women. But his summary of the differences between the sexes, she says, was more accurate and nuanced than what you sometimes find in the popular literature.

Some of Damores ideas, she adds, are very familiar to me as part of my day-to-day research, and are not seen as especially controversial. So there was something quite extraordinary about someone losing their job for putting forward a view that is part of the scientific debate. And then to be so publicly shamed as well. I felt pretty sorry for him.

I tell Damore what the psychologists told me about his memo: that there is no agreement among the experts about the extent to which men and women have different psychological profiles; nor is there any consensus about whether any differences can be attributed to nature, nurture or a complex mix of the two. The psychologists do not agree on what, if any, impact these differences might have on career outcomes.

Damore bristles when I accuse him of cherry-picking studies that support his view and ignoring the mountains of evidence that contradict it. Even if I presented both sides equally, the very fact that I presented the evil side would have caused controversy. He still stands by the empirical claims in his memo, but regrets using the word neuroticism, a personality measure often used in psychological research but a term he now realizes has derogatory connotations. The psychologists critiques of his memo have definitely added nuance to his views, he adds.

If he could go back in time, would he write the memo differently? Yeah, he replies. Probably.

Damore also seems to question some of the decisions he took in the weeks after he was fired. One of his first moves was to take part in a YouTube interview with Jordan Peterson, the controversial Canadian psychologist who informed much of his thinking. Peterson dominates the conversation in the video, which mostly consists of long monologues from the professor punctuated by nods and short answers from Damore. Peterson urges Damore to take on a public profile to become a spokesperson for the cause. Stick to your damn guns, Peterson tells him. Youre well-spoken, youre quiet, youre convincing, youre rational, you come across as a decent guy. He adds: Theres no reason not to let people see who you are.

Jordan
Jordan Peterson, a Canadian psychologist, talks with James Damore during a YouTube interview. Photograph: screengrab from youtube/screengrab/youtube

Two days later, Damore went to meet Peter Duke, a photographer who had offered him a free professional shoot to replace the poor-quality images being used by the media. Duke brought a T-shirt on which Googles logo had been rearranged to form the word Goolag, which Damore put on; he also posed with a cardboard sign Duke gave him, with the slogan Fired for truth.

It was only later, Damore says, that he discovered Duke is known as the Annie Leibovitz of the alt-right for his sympathetic portraits of far-right activists and conspiracy theorists. Duke circulated the photos on social media under the caption not all heroes wear capes, fuelling a cascade of far-right memes and favourable Breitbart stories. Within a matter of days, the Washington Post had anointed Damore one of the biggest celebrities on the conservative internet. That reputation was compounded when, taking Petersons advice, Damore took part in interviews with several other YouTube stars, variously associated with contrarian, anti-feminist and alt-right movements.

Watching these videos, I notice that Damore has a strange habit: when he disagrees with something an interviewer says, he does not interject but instead moves his head silently from side to side. His girlfriend noticed the same thing, and feels Damores interviewers were often using him to project their own opinions.

Damore concedes now that he wasnt really skilled enough to push back on anything in some interviews. Its frustrating, he adds, that hes now associated with the alt-right when hes more of a centrist. He admits he did not look too deeply into Dukes background when the photos were taken, and asks me not to publish the image of him in a Goolag T-shirt with this article. I can definitely see how it was damaging, but it was a free professional photo shoot and I wasnt really familiar with politics then, he says. I was pretty busy and ignorant.

Was his interview with the alt-right personality Milo Yiannopoulos an error? Its hard to say, he replies. I dont really know what the long-term consequences of any of my actions are.

In September, Damore tweeted: The KKK is horrible and I dont support them in any way, but can we admit that their internal title names are cool, e.g. Grand Wizard? The tweet was accompanied by an online poll in which Damore invited other users to express their views.

There was an immediate outcry amid headlines such as Fired Google Memo Guy Also Has Bad Opinions About KKK. Damore deleted the tweet and acknowledges he badly misjudged how it would be viewed but has not stopped tweeting about controversial issues such as race relations and cultural appropriation. Wary of making another mistake, he now keeps a document of draft tweets that he refines before posting. His girlfriend implores him to show her these drafts, but he does not like to be told what to do and values using his 91,000 followers as a sounding board: I try to leverage my Twitter following to hear other perspectives and correct me when Im wrong.

His tweets are not always provocative; sometimes they are more reflective. Recently, he posted: Laughter is often used to show that even though a norm was broken, things are OK. Another declared: Like a bird, society needs a functional left and right wing. If one is too dominant, our trajectory will be biased and well inevitably fall.

Like many people in technology, and like technology itself, Damore explains a complex social world through seemingly logical systems, patterns and numbers. It can seem like a rational way of thinking but it can also lead to conclusions that lack subtlety or sophistication. The same cognitive patterns underlie the algorithms that power social media, where complicated issues around gender and psychology are reduced to simple shorthand.

Damore believes technology shaped the way he was judged. Journalists and commentators were incentivised to distort facts to generate outrage, he says. Meanwhile, on social media, Damore believes users wanted to hear certainty, causing the most extreme voices to be the loudest.

Platforms such as YouTube, Facebook and Twitter can be perilous places for anyone wanting to express a view on a sensitive topic. Damores experience suggests they may involve particular challenges for some people on the autism spectrum.

He does not once, however, use his autism to excuse his actions. He is fiercely resistant to portraying himself as any kind of victim, and says he never informed Google of his autism diagnosis. Im not sure youre expected to, he says, or how I would even do that.

James
James Damore in San Francisco. My biggest flaw and strength may be that I see things very differently than normal, he says. Photograph: Winni Wintermeyer for the Guardian

One in 68 children in the US has autism spectrum disorder, according to federal estimates. And while there are no reliable figures on the prevalence of autism in Silicon Valley, anecdotally, people in the industry say it is common.

Experts are wary of the harmful myth that all people on the spectrum are geniuses, not least when research in the UK indicates only 16% of autistic people are in full-time paid work. But there is no doubt that some autistic people have exceptional abilities and strengths that can attract companies like Google, Facebook and Microsoft.

Bryna Siegel, a psychiatrist who runs the not-for-profit Autism Center of Northern California, says she has come across many engineers who have been fired by big tech companies after misunderstanding social cues or unwritten norms in an office.

Employers need to be accommodating when they hire people who are on the autism spectrum, she says. That includes, Siegel says, being more forgiving of autistic employees who inadvertently offend people. Company-wide debates of the kind Google encourages, she adds, can be especially difficult for some autistic people to navigate.

One such discussion appears to have contributed to the downfall of another autistic Google engineer who does not want to be identified because, like Damore, he is still looking for work.

He was fired last year in the wake of a dispute with a female colleague and unrelated comments he made at a company-wide gathering themed around LGBT rights.

The engineer queried the use of non-binary pronouns during the meeting and bluntly questioned whether gender is on a spectrum. After complaints from several employees, the engineer was given a disciplinary warning and banned from future gatherings. He alleges his dismissal is explained by Googles failure to understand how autism causes him to talk or act in ways that others misinterpret. Google declined to comment on his dismissal.

Fellow employees need to be educated that being on the spectrum means well occasionally step on peoples toes, the engineer tells me. Being on the spectrum gives some of us unique experiences that lead us in unusual directions, ideologically. If Google cant handle that, it needs to depoliticise itself.

Damore argues that Googles focus on avoiding micro-aggressions is much harder for someone with autism to follow. But he stops short of saying autistic employees should be given more leniency if they unintentionally offend people at work. I wouldnt necessarily treat someone differently, he explains. But it definitely helps to understand where theyre coming from.

I ask Damore if, looking back over the last few months, he feels that his difficult experience with the memo and social media may be related to being on the spectrum.

Yeah, theres definitely been some self-reflection, he says. Predicting controversies requires predicting what emotional reaction people will have to something. And thats not something that I excel at although Im working on it.

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Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2017/nov/16/james-damore-google-memo-interview-autism-regrets

What does a sexist google engineer teach us about women in science? | John Abraham

John Abraham: The Google engineers infamous sexist manifesto is contradicted by the brilliance of women in science.

What does a sexist Google engineer teach us about women in science?

Nothing.

Thats the short answer, but it deserves some commentary. In early August, a young Google computer engineer made lots of news in the US when he penned a manifesto that many described as sexist and which led to his firing. The memo was written as a backlash against efforts to improve diversity in the workplace. However, the arguments articulated by the manifesto were rightly described as offensive by Google executives.

The explosive part in the memo involved comments about how biological differences explain the paucity of women in technology and leadership fields. While there are certainly both physical and mental differences between men and women, the comments about both genders are, in my opinion, misguided and offensive.

This article is not going to focus much on the content of this so-called manifesto. It also wont focus on the author of this document, except to question the basis for how a very young engineer has the experience, training, or education to make such broad-brush generalizations. I mean, has he for instance managed scores of male and female engineers and been able to assess their quality of work and intellectual capacity? I doubt it. Has he studied this in any detail or published on the topic? I doubt it.

I found this manifesto so ironic because I give a lot of thought to differences between male and female scientists. I am not an expert in the area, certainly not in evolutionary biology. But I am a Full Professor with many years of instructing both undergraduate and graduate students in engineering. I am often struck by how small the female population is in my discipline (perhaps 20%), yet it is higher in other technical fields (biology, mathematics, chemistry, etc.). I am also impressed by how well female students do in technical courses and degree programs. I note a statistically significant performance gap between male and female students in courses; females consistently outperform their male peers.

I also have had the fortune to be a consultant for many different engineering companies from industries such as biomedical, aerospace, manufacturing, clean energy and other fields. In my work, I notice that women team members easily hold their own with male co-workers. I also believe (but I have no evidence) that women think differently than men.

In my anecdotal experience, women are able to consider problems from a wider range of perspectives. This perspective has real value to design teams, it encourages companies to pay more for female employees (yes, our female engineering graduates tend to make more than their male counterparts). Diverse teams make effective teams. That includes gender diversity. So, in my 15 or so years as a professor, and in my perhaps 50 consulting positions, I have lived an experience very different from the one this young Google engineer articulated.

With all that said, I thought this event provided an excellent opportunity to showcase some female scientists who are either world-known or becoming world-known in the field of climate science. So, here are some short bios of brilliant women climate scientists.

Dr. Magdalena Balmaseda

Magdalena A. Balmaseda has been working at ECMWF since 1995. She currently leads the Earth System Predictability Section in the Research Department.

Dr.
Dr. Magdalena Balmaseda. Photograph: ECMWF

Dr. Balmaseda has developed her career by helping us understand weather and climate. She has contributed to building bridges between the climate and weather sciences. Her expertise in ocean modelling in general, and in El Nio in particular, greatly contributed to ECMWFs first steps in seasonal forecasting back in 1995. Now seasonal forecasts are one of the pillars of the EU Copernicus Climate Change Service (C3S), and the ocean is included in all ECMWF probabilistic forecasting systems, contributing the provision of forecasts of atmospheric conditions from days to months and seasons ahead.

Equally important have been her contributions to the role of the ocean in a warming climate. The apparent slowing of the global rise in surface temperature in the first decade of the 21st century the so-called hiatus had puzzled the scientific community. In 2013 Dr. Balmaseda together with other colleagues demonstrated that a fair amount of energy trapped in the Earth system had actually been absorbed by deep ocean waters. This outcome was only possible thanks to a combination of information from ocean models, atmospheric winds, and ocean observations, using similar combination techniques as those employed for weather forecasting.

Dr. Karina von Schuckmann

Karina von Schuckmann is an oceanographer working in France at Mercator Ocean. She leads the ocean climate monitoring activities of the Copernicus Marine Environment Monitoring Service, which includes the development of a regular Ocean State Report with more than 100 authors. She is also a lead author of the upcoming Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Special report on ocean and cryosphere.

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Dr. Karina von Schuckmann.

Her research is focused on the oceans role in the Earth energy budget. This means she studies how much heat is stored in and how it flows throughout the ocean waters. Her studies particularly highlight the unique importance of measuring the global ocean as its global heat storage is the most fundamental metric defining the status of global climate change and expectations for continued global warming. With this topic she is also playing a leading role on international scientific collaborations under the framework of the World Climate Research Program.

Dr. von Schuckmanns rsum reads like a seasoned superstars; she has worked at some of the best research labs in France, the USA, Germany. I was so surprised to find she only recently received her PhD (in 2006). I want to know how she has become a leader in the field so quickly. I guess talent will do that. Her dissertation topic was on ocean climate variability in the tropical Atlantic Ocean.

Dr. Jessica Conroy

Dr Jessica Conroy is a faculty member at the University of Illinois Urbana Champaign. She holds a dual appointment in the departments of Geology and Plant Biology. Another young and upcoming research scientist, she has been at the forefront of connecting modern climate observations and climate model outputs with long-past climate measurements (paleoclimate data). Her work has helped improve our understanding of past Earth climate.

Dr.
Dr. Jessica Conroy. Photograph: Jessica Moerman

In addition, she has developed long paleoclimate records from regions that are very sensitive to climate change. For instance, remote islands across the tropical Pacific and the Tibetan Plateau. She goes where few scientists have gone to make measurements that even fewer can.

Part of her work relies upon lake sediment samples and on the use of stable isotopes (oxygen and hydrogen) to give clues about what past climate was like. Not only does this give information about past temperatures but these data also, perhaps more importantly, tell us what the water cycle was like in the past. She was recently selected as a National Academy of Sciences Kavli Fellow.

Dr. Sarah Myhre

Dr. Myhre is skilled in climate science as well as climate communication. Her area of research is in paleoceanography (the study of past climate and biology through the oceans). Her research requires her team to gather sediment cores from the seafloor, to analyze the chemical compositions and the shells of creatures that are contained within such cores, or to observe deep sea ecosystem using remotely operated submersibles. Her publications have appeared in some of the most prestigious scientific journals.

She may become even better known, however, for her work not only communicating about climate science to the general public but in training other scientists to be communicators. We scientists are often good at talking amongst ourselves, but we are less skilled at explaining why our research is important and how society can use our research to make informed decisions. This is where Dr. Myhre shines. She is a board member of the organization 500 Women Scientists and the Center for Women and Democracy, and is an uncompromising advocate for womens leadership in science and society.

Dr.
Dr. Myhre and her son at the North Cascades Institute.

Dr. Rita Colwell

World-renowned expert in infectious diseases and health, Dr. Colwell has degrees in bacteriology, genetics, and oceanography; her pioneering use of computational tools and DNA sequencing helped lay the foundation for the bioinformatics revolution. This unique background has allowed her to make connections across these disciplines and enhance our understanding of water availability, disease, safe drinking water, and the effects of climate change on waterborne pathogens.

Dr. Colwell has won numerous national and international awards, such as the 2006 National Medal of Science, the 2010 Stockholm Water Prize, and the 2017 International Prize for Biology, and has and been elected to multiple Halls of Fame. She served as the director of the NSF and has served on numerous advisory roles throughout her career. As with some of the other women discussed here, Dr. Colwell prioritizes scientific communication and engagement with the public, particularly children, and expanding participation of minorities and women in the STEM fields.

Dr. Cynthia Rosenzweig

Nasa Goddard Institute for Space Studies is fortunate to employ Dr. Cynthia Rosenzweig. Her technical focus is on climate change impacts how society will be affected by a changing climate. In addition to her technical research, she has been a tireless service worker in the field, serving as a Coordinating Lead Author on the Fourth IPCC report as well as numerous editing and directorship roles with various climate and adaptation organizations. She also has an appointment at the Center for Climate Systems Research and Columbia University.

Perhaps her most current area of research is on climate and crop productivity. She wants to know how agricultural outputs will change as the climate warms and changes to water availability occur.

Dr. Jane Lubchenco

Dr. Lubchenco is well known as a world leader in the field of environmental science. After decades of innovative research at the intersection of climate change and the ocean, President Obama tapped her to lead the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration the federal agency that keeps the nations climate records, produces much of the federal agency climate science, and leads the U.S. National Climate Assessment. She has focused squarely on the intersection between climate change and human well-being, and the opportunities to mitigate and adapt to climate change through smarter coastal and oceanic policies and practices.

With a technical record extending back more than four decades, it is challenging to find anyone with a stronger pedigree. She has used her prestige to raise the importance of scientific communication amongst her colleagues. In the past, communicating science to the larger public was an afterthought. Dr. Lubchenco made it a critical measure of ones career. Most recently, she has issued a new call-to-arms for scientists to become more engaged with society to counter the post-truth mentality, enable citizens and leaders to have confidence in evidence and science and work together to solve climate and other urgent environmental changes.

None of these short biographies do the scientists justice, but hopefully they give a sense of how some of our top female scientists are contributing to our understanding of the world in which we live. I know they are making a sexist engineer formally employed at Google look a bit silly.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/climate-consensus-97-per-cent/2017/oct/25/what-does-a-sexist-google-engineer-teach-us-about-women-in-science

Google ‘segregates’ women into lower-paying jobs, stifling careers, lawsuit says

Exclusive: Women say Google denied them promotions, telling the Guardian they were forced into less prestigious jobs despite qualifications

Google systematically pays women less than men doing similar work, according to a class action-lawsuit accusing the technology company of denying promotions and career opportunities to qualified women who are segregated into lower-paying jobs.

The complaint, filed Thursday on behalf of all women employed by Google in California over the last four years, provided the most detailed formal accounts to date of gender discrimination and pay disparities at the company after months of criticisms and a growing chorus of women publicly speaking out.

Weve been talking about these issues for a long time, and it hasnt really changed, Kelly Ellis, a former Google employee and a lead plaintiff on the case, told the Guardian in her first interview about the suit. Theres been a lot of PR and lip service, but … this is going to be one of the only ways to get these companies to change how they hire and compensate women.

The claim that Google is violating labor laws by paying women less than men for substantially similar work comes at a time when the male-dominated tech sector is reeling from complaints about sexual harassment, discrimination and a glaring lack of diversity. The US Department of Labor (DoL) first accused the corporation of extreme pay discrimination in April as part of a lawsuit seeking to force Google to hand over salary records for a government audit.

The new lawsuit could have widespread ramifications, especially considering that Google has publicly insisted it has eliminated its gender pay gap and is a leader in the industry. Google also became ground zero for an international debate about diversity last month after it fired a male engineer who wrote a memo criticizing affirmative action and suggesting that white men have become victims of discrimination in tech.

Plaintiffs allege sexist culture at Google

The class-action complaint, filed in San Francisco, included three named plaintiffs who offered specific stories of Google assigning and keeping female employees in lower compensation levels than male employees with similar skills, experience, and duties.

Google disputed the central claims of lawsuit on Thursday, saying it had extensive systems in place to ensure that we pay fairly.

When Ellis was hired in 2010 as a software engineer for Google Photos, the company placed her into a Level 3 position typically assigned to new college graduates, according to the suit.

Several weeks later, Google hired a male software engineer, who graduated the same year as Ellis, into a Level 4 position on her team, the complaint said. Level 4 engineers receive substantially higher salary and opportunities for bonuses, raises, and equity, her lawyers wrote.

I was so excited just to be there. I really wanted to give Google the benefit of the doubt, Ellis said in an interview.

But other male software engineers who were less qualified than Ellis or at the same level were promoted into Level 4 and higher positions, according to the suit. Google initially denied Ellis a promotion, despite excellent performance reviews, claiming she hadnt been at the company long enough, the suit said. By the time she advanced, she said, she was far behind her male counterparts who had better opportunities from the start.

Echoing a broader complaint in the tech sector, Ellis said she also observed that male software engineers occupied most of the higher-paying back-end roles while female software engineers were assigned to front-end positions, which design what users see and are considered less prestigious.

Ellis, who has a degree in applied mathematics and a minor in computer science, had experience in back-end development. But Google assigned her to an occupationally-segregated frontend engineering role, the suit said. She quit in July 2014 due to the sexist culture at Google, according to the complaint. Ellis previously made headlines in 2015 when she tweeted about harassment at Google.

Another plaintiff, Holly Pease, was hired in 2005 and advanced to a senior manager role overseeing about 50 software engineers and product managers across multiple teams. Although she had more than 10 years of experience as a network engineer before Google, she was placed into a non-technical career track while the engineers she managed and the other senior manager in her group, a man, were all in technical roles, which come with higher compensation rates, the complaint said.

Pease later coached non-technical employees on how to pass interviews to transition to technical jobs, helping many get promotions, including a male manager a level below her who had performed poorly, according to the suit.

But Pease herself was denied a promotion to a technical position, the complaint said: Ms Peases two interviewers, both men, did not ask her any technical questions, and one interviewer did not even bother to take notes of the meeting with her.

Google claimed she lacked technical ability despite her technical background, according to the suit. She resigned in 2016 due to the lack of technical and engineering opportunities available to her and other women.

James Finberg, one of the civil rights attorneys who filed the suit, told the Guardian that more than 90 women who previously worked or currently work at Google have contacted him about the class action.

Weve heard from a lot of women about stereotypes and perceptions that women cant do coding, he said. Its frustrating and demoralizing.

Google
Google headquarters in Mountain View, California. The new lawsuit claims Google is violating labor laws by paying women less than men for substantially similar work. Photograph: JasonDoiy/Getty Images

The third plaintiff, Kelli Wisuri, joined in 2012 when Google acquired her company. Despite three years of sales experience, she was placed into a Level 2 role, considered the lowest level available to permanent, full-time employees, the suit said. Men with comparable qualifications started at Level 3 or higher, according to the complaint.

Wisuri was also placed on a lower-paying career track, in which about 50% of employees were women, according to the suit. She said nearly all the sales employees she encountered in a higher sales track were men.

Despite doing very similar work to men in the higher tier, she was not promoted and resigned in 2015 due to lack of opportunities for advancement for women, the suit said.

Fears of retribution

Google did not respond to detailed inquiries about the plaintiffs, but a spokeswoman, Gina Scigliano, contested the allegations.

Job levels and promotions are determined through rigorous hiring and promotion committees, and must pass multiple levels of review, including checks to make sure there is no gender bias in these decisions, she said in a statement to the Guardian. But on all these topics, if we ever see individual discrepancies or problems, we work to fix them, because Google has always sought to be a great employer, for every one of our employees.

Finberg said that several current Google employees considered being named plaintiffs, but backed out due to concerns that they could face retribution from the company, which has repeatedly been accused of silencing critics and whistleblowers with strict confidentiality policies.

A US labor department official involved in the audit told the Guardian in April that the governments analysis at this point indicates that discrimination against women in Google is quite extreme, even in this industry. Currently, men occupy 80% of tech jobs at the company.

This month, the New York Times obtained an internal Google spreadsheetthat showed that women on average were paid less than men within the same job levels and tended to receive lower bonuses.

Google, which faced similar allegations in 2015,claimed to the Times that the spreadsheet was not representative and did not take into account factors like job performance and whether employees were in higher-paying technical roles.

Ellis recalled how disappointing it was to see no women making presentations at the first all-hands engineering meeting she attended at Google.

There definitely was a lack of role models, she said. It made me feel like I could never get to the level where these guys are.

Ellis added that she hoped the suit would put other tech firms on notice: They have to treat everyone fairly. Otherwise, we are going to take action.

Contact the author: sam.levin@theguardian.com

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2017/sep/14/google-women-promotions-lower-paying-jobs-lawsuit

Why are there so few women in tech? The truth behind the Google memo

An engineer at the company has suggested male domination of Silicon Valley is down to biological differences between the sexes. But the root causes are much more complicated

It is time to be open about the science of human nature. This was the assertion of software engineer James Damore to his colleagues at Google, in an internal memo that has since led to his sacking. Im simply stating, Damore wrote, that the distribution of preferences and abilities of men and women differ in part due to biological causes and that these differences may explain why we dont see equal representation of women in tech and leadership. He went on to imply that womens stronger interest in people and neuroticism might make them less naturally suited to being coders at Google.

The companys leadership viewed the matter differently, firing Damore and sparing his female colleagues the need to prove their biological aptitude for working with computers.

Sacking one errant employee doesnt alter an awkward fact, though. Only 20% of Google engineers are women a statistic that is matched roughly across big tech companies. So, does Damore have a point? Is there an underlying biological explanation for why so few women work at a company that prides itself on its progressive ideals and family-friendly ethos?

There are countless scientific studies that claim to identify differences between male and female cognitive aptitudes and, in the UK, far fewer girls choose to study computer science at GCSE level (20% of the total number of students), at degree level (16%) and beyond. There is something seductive about the idea that professional success springs from our innate abilities, rather than the degree to which society tips the odds in our favour.

After the contents of the memo became public, through a leak to tech site Gizmodo, the scientific argument for innate biological differences quickly found favour with some tech insiders, albeit those writing anonymously on sites such as Hacker News and the gossip app Blind.

Students
Students at the Indian Institute of Management Lucknow. Far more women study computing in India than in the UK. Photograph: Hindustan Times/Getty Images

On Blind which requires users to prove who they work for before posting one Google employee wrote: Can we go back to the time when Silicon Valley were [sic] about nerds and geeks, thats why I applied [to] Google and came to the US. I mean this industry used to be a safe place for people like us, why so fking complicated now. I used to dislike conservatives until I started working in tech, wrote another. Now I sympathise with them due to the hostility and groupthink, as well as the fact that they are the only ones standing up for classical liberal values.

While the biological hypothesis seems to appeal to some tech workers, the notion that Silicon Valleys gender gap can be explained away by such factors is questionable. Prof Dame Wendy Hall, a director of the Web Science Institute at the University of Southampton, points to the wide variation in gender ratios in computing internationally, which she argues would not be seen if there were a universal biological difference in ability between the sexes. While only 16% of computer science undergraduates in the UK and a similar proportion in the US are female, the balance is different in India, Malaysia and Nigeria.

I walk into a classroom in India and its more than 50% girls, the same in Malaysia, says Hall. They are so passionate about coding, Lots of women love coding. There just arent these gender differences there.

In fact, in the west, female participation in computer science has plunged since the mid-80s, while female participation in medicine and other scientific fields has increased steadily.

Over the past decade, even with a number of initiatives being set up to boost girls participation in coding and computer science, the proportion of female computer science undergraduates has continued to fall 10 years ago, the proportion was 19% of the UK total.

Hall believes that the gender gap and the male computer geek stereotype can be dated back to the advent of the home computer in the early 80s, when the machines were marketed heavily as gaming systems for men. She suspects this might be more culpable for womens low participation than men having evolved a mindset better suited to writing lines of code.

Women were turned off computing in the 80s, she says. Computers were sold as toys for the boys. Somehow that cultural stigma has stuck in the west in a way that we cant get rid of and its just getting worse. The skills gap is going to get huge.

Jane Margolis, a psychologist at the University of California, Los Angeles, agrees. Margolis interviewed hundreds of computer science students in the 90s at Carnegie Mellon University, which had one of the top programmes in the country at the time.

Many of the women at Carnegie Mellon talked about computers being in [their brothers] bedroom and there were a lot of father-son internships around the computer that werent happening with the girls, she says. There was a cultural assumption that the norms of being in computer science were that you would do it 24/7, were obsessed with it, wanted nothing in your life but computers and that was very much associated with male adolescents, she added. It was very much based around a male norm. Females were made to think that, if they didnt dream in code and if it wasnt their full obsession, they didnt belong or were not capable of being in the field.

Former
Former Tinder vice-president Whitney Wolfe, who sued the company over atrocious misogyny in 2014. Photograph: Jeff Wilson for the Observer

Prof Gina Rippon, a neuroscientist at Aston University in Birmingham, has studied extensively cognitive differences between men and women. She says that, while Damore pointed to scientific evidence for men and women having different aptitudes and personality traits, he seemed to miss the point that, even if there were well-established sex differences at any level, theyre always very tiny. Certainly not enough to explain the gender ratios of Google programmers even if you didnt want to get into the nitty-gritty of arguing about the science.

Rippons work suggests that, in many cases, the differences between male and female performance, if present, are very small, can disappear with training and are not consistent across cultures.

In one study, Rippon found that British men performed significantly better on a spatial rotation task than women. However, when the experiment was repeated with Chinese participants, there was no difference between the male and female participants. Other similar studies have found that gender differences in spatial rotation tasks disappeared when the researchers controlled for video game experience. Rippon points to another study, which showed that differences in personality traits between men and women varied wildly across countries, depending on the status of women in that society.

So, Damores suggestion that women are more prone to anxiety does not imply that this difference is a function of hormones or hardwiring of the brain. Plus, there is compelling evidence that unconscious biases have a powerful effect on what people expect themselves to be good at and how they perform. For instance, girls tend to score worse on a test if they are told their maths skills are being assessed than when they are told they are taking part in a study investigating how people solve problems.

Even assuming that there are fundamental differences between male and female cognition and personality, there is no clear, logical line between such findings in a laboratory setting and performance in the workplace.

Priya Guha, the UK lead of tech incubator RocketSpace and a former UK consul general in San Francisco, argues that, even by its own arguments, Damores memo missed the point. The description of an engineer as somebody who has their head down, focused on developing the next line of code, is the sort of engineer that wont be adding value, she says. We need engineers out there who are both very strong developers, but also people who understand the world around them and are comfortable interacting with society. So, by that description, women would be better engineers even by the stereotypes he proposes.

Unfortunately, many such multiskilled people are likely to be deterred by the perception of hostility engendered by claims like Damores. We have a historical challenge to encourage girls, let alone women, into careers such as engineering, which then creates an imbalance in the people who enter tech industries overall, says Guha. Tech has a particular problem in this area. Wherever there are instances of people creating a hostile environment, companies need to stamp that out quickly. His dismissal sends a really powerful message: the environment in these companies needs to be thought about to ensure that it improves day by day.

But Eileen Burbidge, a partner at venture capital firm Passion Capital, argues that tech does not have a significantly worse gender gap than other high-pressure industries such as finance or the media. I think it comes down to cultural norms and female representation in general, Burbidge says. It is what affects the rest of the business world: its around the same time that women start thinking about having families that they think about the opportunity cost of staying in a work environment, and if its not positive or they get negative influences its going to affect their decisions.

She argues that, in many ways, tech is better placed than most large industries to tackle its gender gaps. I dont think theres anything specific that needs to be done for technology: I think the tech sector is more introspective and likes to think of itself as more progressive, so remedies that work for other sectors will help here, too, she says.

In Stem [science, technology, engineering and mathematics] in particular, were seeing the tech industry trying to be more proactive about outreach. The industry is trying to have this discussion a lot companies dont always follow what they say, but they say it, at least.

Computer
Computing is too important to be left to men … the late computer scientist Karen Sprck Jones. Photograph: Cambridge University

Peter Daly, an associate in the employment team at the law firm Bindmans, agrees with Burbidge. The clients Ive had from the tech world are pretty evenly split by gender, he says. But, because it encourages risk-taking, tech doesnt fit well with maternity and pregnancy, so that can be a source of a lot of friction. You see people in the industry who see pregnancy as a genuine problem. That, he says, is the main cause of gender-specific issues in technology at least, those that reach the stage of requiring a legal recourse.

Internal documents such as Damores are the soft end of the sort of hostile working environment female employees can face at overwhelmingly male tech firms. At the extreme end, as companies such as Uber and Tinder have learned, this environment can result in claims of sexual harassment and illegal discrimination.

At Uber, where 85% of technical employees are male, one engineer, Susan Fowler, wrote a tell-all blogpost that revealed a workplace where managers proposition female employees for sex and human resources does little to stop the issue. Tinder faced a similar scandal when former VP Whitney Wolfe sued the company over atrocious misogyny in 2014, entering into evidence abusive texts allegedly sent by Tinders chairman, Sean Rad.

Beyond the egregious cases, the wider culture of even the most diverse Silicon Valley firms can still end up being offputting to would-be employees: the campus-style culture, which encourages workers to be on site from dawn till dusk, renders it hard for any primary caregiver to be part of the team, while in some companies an antipathy for part-time work or on-site creches can also limit flexibility.

Addressing the gender gap isnt only an issue of perception. Companies with homogenous workforces make worse products and earn less money, argues Guha. We know large numbers of women are struggling to get funding. A female founder is 86% less likely to be funded than a man, she says. Thats crazy when we know the return on investment is higher; it is about 34% higher for companies with a gender diverse leadership. Its not about corporate social responsibility: a diverse range of thinking will bring better value for the company.

As we move into a future in which algorithms have greater influence on our lives from communication to healthcare, transport to the law the gender balance in tech companies goes beyond what is fair for their employees. The result of male domination of tech has led to the development of, for example, voice recognition technologies that, trained and tested solely by men, struggle to understand female voices. It has resulted in virtual reality technologies that disproportionally impose motion sickness on women. At this early moment in its history, the tech industry is already littered with products that have gender bias effectively programmed into them.

The most objectionable point about that memo was the notion that there are biological differences that make women less capable, said Burbidge. Obviously, I have an issue with that and I think its fundamentally incorrect. The thing I cant answer is how, in 2017, do you stop people thinking that? I dont know how you change peoples minds.

As we go into the world of AI, when people are designing algorithms that help us live our lives, it will be very bad if thats all done by men, says Hall. Social care, looking after kids, so many aspects of our lives. We really need as many people as possible doing this. Its really important and its going to get more important.

Hall invokes her late mentor Karen Sprck Jones, a pioneering British computer scientist who campaigned hard to encourage more women into the field. As she used to say: Computing is too important to be left to men.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2017/aug/08/why-are-there-so-few-women-in-tech-the-truth-behind-the-google-memo

Crunch Report | Caldbeck and Mazzeo leave Binary Capital

Todays Stories

  1. Binary Capital co-founder Justin Caldbeck quits as Matt Mazzeo steps away from thefirm
  2. Pandora co-founder and CEO Tim Westergren will step down according toreports

  3. Houzz raises a huge $400M round at a $4Bvaluation

  4. Avis signs on to manage Waymos self-driving vehicle fleet in Phoenix

  5. MITs new drones switch between flying and driving for optimal urbantransport

Credits

Written and Hosted by:John Mannes
Filmed by: Gregory Manalo
Edited by:Chris Gates

Notes:

Tito Hamze is gone seeing how many times we can pass the show back and forth between NYC and SF before he comes back

Read more: https://techcrunch.com/2017/06/26/crunch-report-caldbeck-and-mazzeo-leave-binary-capital/

Googles Tensor2Tensor makes it easier to conduct deep learning experiments

Googles brain team is open sourcing Tensor2Tensor, a new deep learning library designed to help researchers replicate results from recent papers in the field and push the boundaries of whats possible by trying new combinations of models, datasets and other parameters. The sheer number of variables in AI research combined with the fast pace of new developments makes it difficult for experiments run in two distinct settings to match. This is a pain for researchers and a drag on research progress.

The Tensor2Tensor library makes it easier to maintain best practices while conducting AI research. It comes equipped with key ingredients including hyperparameters, data-sets, model architectures and learning rate decay schemes.

The best part is that any of these components can be swapped in and out in a modular fashion without completely destroying everything. From a training perspective, this means that with Tensor2Tensor you can bring in new models and data sets at any time a much simpler process than would ordinarily be possible.

Google isnt alone in its pursuits to help make research more reproducible outside the lab. Facebook recently open sourced ParlAI, its tool to facilitate dialog research that comes prepackaged with commonly used datasets.

Similarly, Googles Tensor2Tensor comes with models from recent Google research projects like Attention Is All You Need and One Model to Learn Them All. Everything is available now on Github so you can start training your own deep learning-powered tools.

Read more: https://techcrunch.com/2017/06/19/tensor2tensor/

Quantum Computing Is Real, and D-Wave Just Open-Sourced It

Quantum computing is real. But it’s also hard. So hard that only a few developers, usually trained in quantum physics, advanced mathematics, or most likely both, can actually work with the few quantum computers that exist. Now D-Wave, the Canadian company behind the quantum computer that Google and NASA have been testing since 2013, wants to make quantum computing a bit easier through the power of open source software.

Traditional computers store information in “bits,” which can represent either a “1” or a “0.” Quantum computing takes advantage of quantum particles in a strange state called “superposition,” meaning that the particle is spinning in two directions at once. Researchers have learned to take advantage of these particles to create what they call “qubits,” which can represent both a 1 and a 0 at the same time. By stringing qubits together, companies like D-Wave hope to create computers that are exponentially faster than today’s machines.

IBM demonstrated a working quantum computer in 2000 and continues to improve on its technology. Google is working on its own quantum computer and also teamed up with NASA to test D-Wave’s system in 2013. Lockheed Martin and the Los Alamos National Laboratory are also working with D-Wave machines. But today’s quantum computers still aren’t practical for most real-world applications. qubits are fragile and can be easily knocked out of the superposition state. Meanwhile, quantum computers are extremely difficult to program today because they require highly specialized knowledge.

“D-Wave is driving the hardware forward,” says D-Wave International president Bo Ewald. “But we need more smart people thinking about applications, and another set thinking about software tools.”

That’s where the company’s new software tool Qbsolv comes in. Qbsolv is designed to help developers program D-Wave machines without needing a background in quantum physics. A few of D-Wave’s partners are already using the tool, but today the company released Qbsolv as open source, meaning anyone will be able to freely share and modify the software.

“Not everyone in the computer science community realizes the potential impact of quantum computing,” says Fred Glover, a mathematician at the University of Colorado, Boulder who has been working with Qbsolv. “Qbsolv offers a tool that can make this impact graphically visible, by getting researchers and practitioners involved in charting the future directions of quantum computing developments.”

qubits for All

Qbsolv joins a small but growing pool of tools for would-be quantum computer programmers. Last year Scott Pakin of Los Alamos National Laboratory–and one of Qbsolv’s first users–released another free tool called Qmasm, which also eases the burden of writing code for D-Wave machines by freeing developers from having to worry about addressing the underlying hardware. The goal, Ewald says, is to kickstart a quantum computing software tools ecosystem and foster a community of developers working on quantum computing problems. In recent years, open source software has been the best way to build communities of both independent developers and big corporate contributors.

Of course to actually run the software you create with these tools, you’ll need access to one of the very few existing D-Wave machines. In the meantime, you can download a D-Wave simulator that will let you test the software on your own computer. Obviously this won’t be the same as running it on a piece of hardware that uses real quantum particles, but it’s a start.

Last year, IBM launched a cloud-based service that enables people to run their own programs on the company’s quantum computer. But at least for the moment, Qbsolv and Qmasm will only be useful for creating applications for D-Wave’s hardware. D-Wave’s machines take a radically different approach to computing than traditional computers, or even other quantum computing prototypes. While most computersranging from your smartphone to IBM’s quantum computerare general purpose, meaning they can be programmed to solve all sort of problems, D-Wave’s machines are designed for a single purpose: solving optimization problems. The classic example is known as the traveling salesman problem: calculating the shortest route that passes through a list of specific locations.

In the early days, critics wondered whether D-Wave’s expensive machines were even quantum computers at all, but most researchers now seem to agree that the machines do exhibit quantum behavior. “There are very few doubts left that there are indeed quantum effects at work and that they play a meaningful computational role,” University of Southern California researcher Daniel Lidar told us in 2015 after Google and NASA released a research paper detailing some of their work with the D-Wave. The big question now is whether D-Waves are actually any faster than traditional computers, and if its unique approach is better than that taken by IBM and other researchers.

Pakin says his team are believers in D-Waves potential, even though they admit its systems might not yet offer performance improvements except in very narrow cases. He also explains that D-Wave’s computers don’t necessarily provide the most efficient answers to an optimization problemor even a correct one. Instead, the idea is to provide solutions that are probably good, if not perfect solutions, and to do it very quickly. That narrows the D-Wave machines’ usefulness to optimization problems that need to be solved fast but don’t need to be perfect. That could include many artificial intelligence applications.

Ideally, however, the hardware and software will improve to the point that other types of computing problems can be translated into optimization problems, and Qbsolv and Qmasm are steps towards building exactly that. But to get there, they’ll need more than just open source software. They’ll need an open source community.

Read more: https://www.wired.com/2017/01/d-wave-turns-open-source-democratize-quantum-computing/

Jesse Williamss Essential History of Social Justice

In the wake of the Greys Anatomy actors powerful BET Awards speech, we dig into his long, profound, and tireless history of working for social justice and equality. “>

Jesse Williams, with his piercing blue eyes and make-you-short-of-breath smile, always grabs attention, but never has he captured our gazeand our minds, our hearts, and our passionmore than with his powerful acceptance speech at the BET Awards Sunday night, where he received the Humanitarian Award.

The Greys Anatomy actor was called a tireless champion of change, and a voice for the voiceless, by Debra Lee, chairwoman and CEO of BET, when she presented him with the award.

His speech that followed went viral immediately for the eloquence and candor with which he thanked the unsung heroes in the fight against systemic racism and the black women who spent their lifetimes dedicated to nurturing everyone before themselves, saying, we can and will do better for you.

He honored the memory of Tamir Rice, Eric Garner, Sandra Bland, Darrien Hunt, and Rekia Boyd, and demanded that more be done to end police violence. He called for an end to the celebration and commodification of black culture that happens in tandem with the devaluation of black lives. The thing is, though, the thing is that just because were magic doesnt mean were not real, he concluded.

It was an unprecedented dissemination of knowledge, call for action, and state of the union at an event like this, the immediate viral spread of which was deserved.

The value of a platform like an awards show is the megaphone and amplification it can give to a person like Williams, and the information he was giving. And its a byproduct of the very institutionalized marginalization that, as a white male reporter in my New York media newsroom, I was shamefully ignorant of Williamss work outside of Greys Anatomy.

His BET Awards speech was the start of a much-needed educationmoved and stirred by his words and also embarrassed by my blind spot for his work, Ive spent most of the day researching his social justice initiatives, reading his profound statements on resonant issues, and basking in the humanitarian genius he received the BET trophy for on Sunday.

Ive collected some of what Ive learned about him and his initiatives here. It might not be nearly enough of a spotlight, or make up for my earlier White Guy in a Manhattan Office privileged ignorance. But I encourage you to read, and explore further on your own because, while there are undoubtedly many who already are familiar with his work, Id suspect that Im not alone in just learning about Dr. Jackson Averys long history of activism.

Currently, he sits on the board of directors of the Advancement Project, a civil rights think tank and advocacy group. Its focus is work on-the-ground to mobilize and organize communities of color and provide support in their struggles for racial and social justice, from protecting voter rights and marginalization through redistricting to working to end the school-to-prison pipeline. Williams is the youngest member of the organizations board of directors.

In addition, he is an executive producer of Question Bridge: Black Males, a multi-hyphenate art-media-education project that creates a platform for black men from diverse backgrounds to represent, refine, discuss, debate, and explore black male identity.

Williams himself has been open and influential on that very matter, the black male identity. He is biracial, the son of a white mother of Swedish descent and an African American father.

He credits his parents with first instilling in him a passion and obligation to social justice, something that became all the more important when his family moved from Chicago to suburban Massachusetts where, as The Guardian writes, he went from being one of the whitest kids in the area to being one of the darkest. When he moved to Massachusetts, he became co-president of the schools black student union.

Williams attended Temple University, majoring in African American Studies and Film and Media Arts. His first job out of school was as a public school teacher in Philadelphia, something he said was the best thing Ive ever done.

Hes said in interviews that if acting doesnt work outor if, lets say, Shonda Rhimes ever decides to kill his character off Greys Anatomyhed be a civil rights attorney, saying, Its what I love and what I care about. Its why I wake up.

When Quentin Tarantino released Django Unchained in 2013 and gave an interview saying I am responsible for people talking about slavery in America in a way they have not in 30 years, Williams penned a piece for CNN in response titled: Django, Still Chained.

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He talked about his biracial experience growing up on both sides of segregated neighborhoods, often viewed as invisible when racial topics arose, and how he witnessed candid dirt from both sides, and I studied it.

The conversation was almost always influenced by something people read or saw on a screen. Media portrayals greatly affect, if not entirely construct, how we interpret otherness. People see what they are shown, and little less, he wrote.

If, like Tarantino, you show up with a megaphone and claim to be creating a real solution to a specific problem, he continued, I only ask that you not instead, construct something unnecessarily fake and then act like youve done us a favor.

For The Huffington Post he wrote a piece based on his experience as a Philadelphia public school teacher, using it to discuss the staggering issue of children experiencing hunger. That was almost five years ago. His public activism has only intensified since. Just last month, Williams released a documentary he executive produced called Stay Woke: The Black Lives Matter Movement.

The film includes interviews with Black Lives Matter co-founders Alicia Garza and Patrisse Cullors, along with other leaders including DeRay McKesson, Michaela Angela Davis, and Williams himself.

Black Lives Matter is, in many ways, in its adolescence, he told The Huffington Post in an interview. Its an ongoing movement, so we wanted to be sure that, as we catalog its origin story and machination, we also wanted to be sure we do not treat it as a fixed, finite, closed circle. We want to look back without being conclusive.

Perhaps the simplest example of Williamss social justice work and power is his social media presence. Hes scoffed at the idea of hashtag activism, telling The Huffington Post, Miss me with that. Ive yet to hear an intelligent reason or criticism of using your voice on social media.

He continued: Were in the streets, were at the halls of power, were impacting policy directly, were changing the narrative and the way presidential candidates have to come correct in order to even show up in our town. And then were happening to report it online because those are the tools at our disposal. Aint nothing changed but the technologythe activism is whats happening.

Back in 2014, Williamss activism began making the cable news circuit when he joined the rallies and marches in the St. Louis area as part of Ferguson October.

Asked why he was there, he told Democracy Now: Because I couldnt get here sooner, because I had to work, but got here as soon as I possibly could. I think you need towe need to stand up and show some support for an incredible weekend of resistance, people coming from all over the country to say, Enough is enough, and were not going to, you know, be strung out in isolation anymore; recommit ourselves to finding unity, finding common ground, finding whats common to all of us. And that is just a basic, really, desire to be able to survive and not be killed with impunity, to have those whove taken an oath serve and protect us to, on occasion, serve and protect us, to be held accountable for our actions.

A year later, in October 2015, he appeared on a panel at The New Yorker festival alongside Ta-Nehisi Coates, Jelani Cobb, Claudia Rankine, Danai Gurira, and David Simon, titled The Fire This Time: Black in America.

It was a sprawling, searing conversation that covered absolution and forgiveness in the context of black and white America, among many other talking points. The goal is: Can we be done with this already please? he said. Look at how quickly we went to post-racial. Obama just got elected so were done right? Were done. Can we take the signs down? Can it be over please?

Riffing on Ta-Nehisi Coates, who argued that making the goal the arrests and charging of the officers for excessive violence emphasizes the individual rather than the institutional problems, Williams said, Youre playing whack-a-mole with the symptoms and not the core thing. Police are American citizens, they were born here, they were raised here and programmed here, as we all are. You go to public school and you spend 12 years learning white supremacy.

The truth is that we could fill out about a dozen pieces on The Daily Beast cutting and pasting some of his most insightful, provocative, and intelligent comments on race, injustice, and the state of our culture right now. And maybe we should, or should have this whole time. Its unfortunate that it takes a viral video to bring attention to a thought leader whose ideas and work deserves not just attention, but absorption and action.

In the meantime, here is the transcript to his speech in full, for it bears reading again:

This award, this is not for me. This is for the real organizers all over the country. The activists, the civil rights attorneys, the struggling parents, the families, the teachers, the students, that are realizing that a system built to divide and impoverish and destroy us cannot stand if we do.

All right? Its kind of basic mathematics:, the more we learn about who we are and how we got here, the more we will mobilize. Now this is also in particular for the black women, in particular, who have spent their lifetimes dedicated to nurturing everyone before themselves. We can and will do better for you.

Now, what weve been doing is looking at the data and we know that police somehow manage to de-escalate, disarm and not kill white people every day. So whats going to happen is we are going to have equal rights and justice in our own country or we will restructure their function and ours.

Now Ive got more, yall. Yesterday wouldve been young Tamir Rices 14th birthday, so I dont want to hear anymore about how far weve come when paid public servants can pull a drive-by on a 12-year-old playing alone in a park in broad daylight, killing him on television and then going home to make a sandwich. Tell Rekia Boyd how its so much better to live in 2012 than 1612 or 1712. Tell that to Eric Garner. Tell that to Sandra Bland. Tell that to Darrien Hunt.

Now the thing is though, all of us in here getting money, that alone isnt going to stop this. All right? Now dedicating our lives to get money just to give it right back for someones brand on our body, when we spent centuries praying with brands on our bodies and now we pray to get paid for brands on our bodies.

There has been no war that we have not fought and died on the front lines of. There has been no job we havent done, theres been no tax they havent levied against us, and weve paid all of them. But freedom is somehow always conditional here. Youre free, they keep telling us. But she wouldve been alive if she hadnt acted so free.

Now, freedom is always coming in the hereafter. But, you know what though? The hereafter is a hustle. We want it now. And lets get a couple of things straight, just a little side note: The burden of the brutalized is not to comfort the bystander. Thats not our job, all right, stop with all that. If you have a critique for the resistance, for our resistance, then you better have an established record of critique of our oppression. If you have no interest in equal rights for black people then do not make suggestions to those who do. Sit down.

Weve been floating this country on credit for centuries, yo, and were done watching and waiting while this invention called whiteness uses and abuses us, burying black people out of sight and out of mind, while extracting our culture, our dollars, our entertainment like oil, black gold. Ghettoizing and demeaning our creations then stealing them, gentrifying our genius and then trying us on like costumes before discarding our bodies like rinds of strange fruit. The thing is, though, the thing is that just because were magic, doesnt mean were not real.

Read more: http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2016/06/27/jesse-williams-s-essential-history-of-social-justice.html

Russian bill requires encryption backdoors in all messenger apps

Backdoors into encrypted communicationsmay soon be mandatory in Russia.

A new bill in the Russian Duma, the country’s lower legislative house, proposes to make cryptographic backdoors mandatory in all messaging apps in the country so the Federal Security Servicethe successor to the KGBcan obtain special access to all communications within the country.

Apps like WhatsApp, Viber, and Telegram, all of which offer varying levels of encrypted security for messages, are specifically targeted in the “anti-terrorism” bill, according to Russian-language media. Fines for offending companies could reach 1 million rubles or about $15,000.

The new Russian legislation, which has already been approved by the Committee on Security, is just the latest such flare up in a global debate over encryption that earned a bright spotlight in the U.S. earlier this year, particularly after the San Bernardino terrorist attack led the FBI to plead for access to one of the shooter’s encrypted iPhones.

Russian Senator Yelena Mizulina argued that the new bill ought to become law because, she said, teens are brainwashed in closed groups on the internet to murder police officers, a practice protected by encryption. Mizulina then went further.

“Maybe we should revisit the idea of pre-filtering ,” she said. “We cannot look silently on this.”

Encryption uses advanced mathematics to protect data so that even the world’s most powerful computers cannot unlock data they are not meant to have access to. The technology is used in various ways to protect everything from credit card transactions on the internet to your emails and internet traffic.

Government focus on encryption intensified in recent months afterAppleand Googleoffered encryption options on their smartphones. WhatsApp, with over 1 billion users around the world, offers encryption on messaging.

The technology is seen as a fundamental cornerstone of cybersecurity,such that if a business is not using encryption to protect sensitive data, it’s often deemed irresponsible by experts.

But just as encryption keeps out crooks, it keeps out governments, law enforcement, and intelligence agency spying. That’s led to high-level debates around the globe about the rising popularity of encryption.

While government authorities around the world argue in favor of special access backdoors, a vast consensus of technologists argue such backdoors will undermine cybersecurity and create an internet more dangerous and volatile than ever before.

H/TAnton Nesterov

Read more: http://www.dailydot.com/politics/encryption-backdoor-russia-fsb/