How a 22-Year-Old Discovered the Worst Chip Flaws in History

In 2013, a teenager named Jann Horn attended a reception in Berlin hosted by Chancellor Angela Merkel. He and 64 other young Germans had done well in a government-run competition designed to encourage students to pursue scientific research.

In Horn’s case, it worked. Last summer, as a 22-year-old Google cybersecurity researcher, he was first to report the biggest chip vulnerabilities ever discovered. The industry is still reeling from his findings, and processors will be designed differently from now on. That’s made him a reluctant celebrity, evidenced by the rousing reception and eager questions he received at an industry conference in Zurich last week.

Interviews with Horn and people who know him show how a combination of dogged determination and a powerful mind helped him stumble upon features and flaws that have been around for over a decade but had gone undetected, leaving most personal computers, internet servers and smartphones exposed to potential hacking.

Other researchers who found the same security holes months after Horn are amazed he worked alone. "We were several teams, and we had clues where to start. He was working from scratch," said Daniel Gruss, part of a team at Graz University of Technology in Austria that later uncovered what are now known as Meltdown and Spectre.

Horn wasn’t looking to discover a major vulnerability in the world’s computer chips when, in late April, he began reading Intel Corp. processor manuals that are thousands of pages long. He said he simply wanted to make sure the computer hardware could handle a particularly intensive bit of number-crunching code he’d created.

But Zurich-based Horn works at Project Zero, an elite unit of Alphabet Inc.’s Google, made up of cybersleuths who hunt for "zero day" vulnerabilities, unintended design flaws that can be exploited by hackers to break into computer systems.

Read more: A QuickTake Q&A on the big chip security weakness

So he started looking closely at how chips handle speculative execution — a speed-enhancing technique where the processor tries to guess what part of code it will be required to execute next and starts performing those steps ahead of time — and fetching the required data. Horn said the manuals stated that if the processor guessed wrong, the data from those misguided forays would still be stored in the chip’s memory. Horn realized that, once there, the information might be exposed by a clever hacker.

"At this point, I realized that the code pattern we were working on might potentially leak secret data," Horn said in emailed responses to Bloomberg questions. "I then realized that this could — at least in theory — affect more than just the code snippet we were working on."

That started what he called a "gradual process" of further investigation that led to the vulnerabilities. Horn said he was aware of other research, including from Gruss and the team at Graz, on how tiny differences in the time it takes a processor to retrieve information could let attackers learn where information is stored.

Horn discussed this with another young researcher at Google in Zurich, Felix Wilhelm, who pointed Horn to similar research he and others had done. This led Horn to what he called "a big aha moment." The techniques Wilhelm and others were testing could be "inverted" to force the processor to run new speculative executions that it wouldn’t ordinarily try. This would trick the chip into retrieving specific data that could be accessed by hackers.

Having come across these ways to attack chips, Horn said he consulted with Robert Swiecki, an older Google colleague whose computer he had borrowed to test some of his ideas. Swiecki advised him how best to tell Intel, ARM Holdings Plc. and Advanced Micro Devices Inc. about the flaws, which Horn did on June 1.

That set off a scramble by the world’s largest technology companies to patch the security holes. By early January, when Meltdown and Spectre were announced to the world, most of the credit went to Horn. The official online hub for descriptions and security patches lists more than ten researchers who reported the problems, and Horn is listed on top for both vulnerabilities.

Wolfgang Reinfeldt, Horn’s high school computer-science teacher at the Caecilienschule in the medieval city of Oldenburg about 20 miles from Germany’s north coast, isn’t surprised by his success. “Jann was in my experience always an outstanding mind,” he said. Horn found security problems with the school’s computer network that Reinfeldt admits left him speechless.

As a teenager he excelled at mathematics and physics. To reach the Merkel reception in 2013, he and a school friend conceived a way to control the movement of a double pendulum, a well-known mathematical conundrum. The two wrote software that used sensors to predict the movement, then used magnets to correct any unexpected or undesired movement. The key was to make order out of chaos. The pair placed fifth in the competition that took them to Berlin, but it was an early indicator of Horn’s ability.

Mario Heiderich, founder of Berlin-based cybersecurity consultancy Cure53, first noticed Horn in mid-2014. Not yet 20, Horn had posted intriguing tweets on a way to bypass a key security feature designed to prevent malicious code from infecting a user’s computer. Cure53 had been working on similar methods, so Heiderich shot Horn a message, and before long they were discussing whether Horn would like to join Cure53’s small team.

Heiderich soon discovered that Horn was still an undergraduate at the Ruhr University Bochum, where Heiderich was doing post-doctoral research. Ultimately, he became Horn’s undergraduate thesis supervisor, and Horn signed on at Cure53 as a contractor.

Cybersecurity specialist Bryant Zadegan and Ryan Lester, head of secure messaging startup Cyph, submitted a patent application alongside Horn in 2016. Zadegan had asked Horn, through Cure53, to audit Cyph’s service to check for hacking vulnerabilities. His findings ended up as part of the patent and proved so significant that Zadegan felt Horn more than merited credit as one of the inventors. The tool they built would ensure that, even if Cyph’s main servers were hacked, individual user data were not exposed.

“Jann’s skill set is that he would find an interesting response, some interesting pattern in how the computer works, and he’s just like ‘There’s something weird going on’ and he will dig,” Zadegan said. “That’s the magic of his brain. If something just seems a little bit amiss, he will dig further and find how something works. It’s like finding the glitch in the Matrix.”

Before long, Cure53’s penetration testers were talking about what they called "the Jann effect" — the young hacker consistently came up with extremely creative attacks. Meltdown and Spectre are just two examples of Horn’s brilliance, according to Heiderich. "He’s not a one-hit wonder. This is what he does."

After two years at Cure53 and completing his undergraduate program, Horn was recruited by Google to work on Project Zero. It was a bittersweet day for Heiderich when Horn asked him to write a recommendation letter for the job. "Google was his dream, and we didn’t try to prevent him from going there," he said. "But it was painful to let him go."

Horn is now a star, at least in cybersecurity circles. He received resounding applause from fellow researchers when he presented his Spectre and Meltdown findings to a packed auditorium at a conference in Zurich on Jan. 11, a week after the attacks became public. 

With bowl-cut brown hair, light skin and a thin build, Horn walked his fellow researchers through the theoretical attacks in English with a German accent. He gave little away that wasn’t already known. Horn told the crowd that after informing Intel, he had no contact with the company for months until the chipmaker called him in early December to say other security researchers had also reported the same vulnerabilities. Aaron Stein, a Google spokesman, has a different account though: "Jann and Project Zero were in touch with Intel regularly after Jann reported the issue."

When a fellow researcher asked him about another possible aspect of processor design that might be vulnerable to attack, Horn said, with a brief-but-telling smile: "I’ve been wondering about it but I have not looked into it."

    Read more: http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2018-01-17/how-a-22-year-old-discovered-the-worst-chip-flaws-in-history

    Researchers share $22m Breakthrough prize as science gets rock star treatment

    Glitzy ceremony honours work including that on mapping post-big bang primordial light, cell biology, plant science and neurodegenerative diseases

    The most glitzy event on the scientific calendar took place on Sunday night when the Breakthrough Foundation gave away $22m (16.3m) in prizes to dozens of physicists, biologists and mathematicians at a ceremony in Silicon Valley.

    The winners this year include five researchers who won $3m (2.2m) each for their work on cell biology, plant science and neurodegenerative diseases, two mathematicians, and a team of 27 physicists who mapped the primordial light that warmed the universe moments after the big bang 13.8 billion years ago.

    Now in their sixth year, the Breakthrough prizes are backed by Yuri Milner, a Silicon Valley tech investor, Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook and his wife Priscilla Chan, Anne Wojcicki from the DNA testing company 23andMe, and Googles Sergey Brin. Launched by Milner in 2012, the awards aim to make rock stars of scientists and raise their profile in the public consciousness.

    The annual ceremony at Nasas Ames Research Center in California provides a rare opportunity for some of the worlds leading minds to rub shoulders with celebrities, who this year included Morgan Freeman as host, fellow actors Kerry Washington and Mila Kunis, and Miss USA 2017 Kra McCullough. When Joe Polchinski at the University of California in Santa Barbara shared the physics prize last year, he conceded his nieces and nephews would know more about the A-list attendees than he would.

    Oxford University geneticist Kim Nasmyth won for his work on chromosomes but said he had not worked out what to do with the windfall. Its a wonderful bonus, but not something you expect, he said. Its a huge amount of money, I havent had time to think it through. On being recognised for what amounts to his lifes work, he added: You have to do science because you want to know, not because you want to get recognition. If you do what it takes to please other people, youll lose your moral compass. Nasmyth has won lucrative awards before and channelled some of his winnings into Gregor Mendels former monastery in Brno.

    Another life sciences prizewinner, Joanne Chory at the Salk Institute in San Diego, was honoured for three decades of painstaking research into the genetic programs that flip into action when plants find themselves plunged into shade. Her work revealed that plants can sense when a nearby competitor is about to steal their light, sparking a growth spurt in response. The plants detect threatening neighbours by sensing a surge in the particular wavelengths of red light that are given off by vegetation.

    Chory now has ambitious plans to breed plants that can suck vast quantities of carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere in a bid to combat climate change. She believes that crops could be selected to absorb 20 times more of the greenhouse gas than they do today, and convert it into suberin, a waxy material found in roots and bark that breaks down incredibly slowly in soil. If we can do this on 5% of the landmass people are growing crops on, we can take out 50% of global human emissions, she said.

    Three other life sciences prizes went to Kazutoshi Mori at Kyoto University and Peter Walter for their work on quality control mechanisms that keep cells healthy, and to Don Cleveland at the University of California, San Diego, for his research on motor neurone disease.

    The $3m Breakthrough prize in mathematics was shared by two British-born mathematicians, Christopher Hacon at the University of Utah and James McKernan at the University of California in San Diego. The pair made major contributions to a field of mathematics known as birational algebraic geometry, which sets the rules for projecting abstract objects with more than 1,000 dimensions onto lower-dimensional surfaces. It gets very technical, very quickly, said McKernan.

    Speaking before the ceremony, Hacon was feeling a little unnerved. Its really not a mathematician kind of thing, but Ill probably survive, he said. Ive got a tux ready, but Im not keen on wearing it. Asked what he might do with his share of the winnings, Hacon was nothing if not realistic. Ill start by paying taxes, he said. And I have six kids, so the rest will evaporate.

    Chuck Bennett, an astrophysicist at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, led a Nasa mission known as the Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe (WMAP) to map the faint afterglow of the big bangs radiation that now permeates the universe. The achievement, now more than a decade old, won the 27-strong science team the $3m Breakthrough prize in fundamental physics. When we made our first maps of the sky, I thought these are beautiful, Bennett told the Guardian. It is still absolutely amazing to me. We can look directly back in time.

    Bennett believes that the prizes may help raise the profile of science at a time when it is sorely needed. The point is not to make rock stars of us, but of the science itself, he said. I dont think people realise how big a role science plays in their lives. In everything you do, from the moment you wake up to the moment you go to sleep, theres something about what youre doing that involves scientific advances. I dont think people think about that at all.

    Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/science/2017/dec/04/researchers-share-22m-breakthrough-prize-as-science-gets-rock-star-treatment

    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.

    Commenting on this piece? If you would like your comment to be considered for inclusion on Weekend magazines letters page in print, please email weekend@theguardian.com, including your name and address (not for publication)

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

    What should I teach my children to prepare them to race with the robots?

    I must prepare my sons to adapt to the fourth industrial revolution but that means sending them to schools that are equipped to exceed the averages

    Years ago, as a reporter in Seattle, I watched Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer decry Washington states education system. He said Microsoft couldnt hire enough locals because our schools dont produce the kinds of minds he needed.

    At the time, I was angry. He and his cohort, most notably Jeff Bezos of Amazon, contributed serious money to the campaign against a state income tax on the wealthy that would have funneled billions to our schools. Now I feel a pinch deep in my stomach, an emotion so primal I hesitate to name it.

    As a mother, my time is come, or nearly done, and my childrens just begun.

    Automation will absorb all of the jobs it can reach, whether on the factory floor or in an office. Artificial intelligence has already taken over the corporate earnings analyses I once produced as a business journalist. By the best measures Ive been able to find, machines will displace about half of American jobs by the time my toddlers look for work.

    This new era has been called the second machine age, the fourth industrial revolution, the information economy.

    From certain angles, Seattle residents seem well positioned to access the highly paid and creative jobs that arise from combining cutting-edge technologies with the exponential powers of computing and big data. My city is now considered a global city not because of the port, which put our state on the maps when they were still being drawn, but because of the presence of Microsoft, Amazon and numerous tech startups.

    Amazon occupies one fifth of all office space in downtown Seattle, a short ride from my neighborhood on light rail. Incoming waves of well-educated tech workers have helped double the median home price during the past five years.

    Many of these rich young people call themselves progressive. Are they proud to be joining the nations most regressive tax structure? In our state, poor people pay eight times as much of their family income to taxes as the wealthy 1%. Lacking a personal income tax, Washington state relies on sales tax and has long looked to levies to fund schools, parks and other social needs.

    When I moved to Seattle in 2004, I marveled that the state didnt take a cut of my income from the now-defunct Seattle Post-Intelligencer. It took me a while to contemplate what it means for an entire society to act against the interests of its children.

    College-level tuitions before college

    To survive the extinction of an entire class, I must prepare my two- and three-year-old sons to race with the robots, and not against them.

    Our kids are going to meet an economy with far fewer entry-level positions and will have to clamber up a receding ladder. That means being in schools equipped to exceed the averages, not rising to meet them.

    Washington state has underfunded our schools so long that our governments negligence was deemed unconstitutional by our state supreme court, which fined the state $100,000 a day for failing to provide a future for our children.

    Years into this public shaming, the legislature came up with a multibillion-dollar package to fund basic education in our state, though they didnt manage to pass a capital budget before students went back to school after a long, dry summer.

    Amazon
    Amazon Go opens to Amazon employees in its Beta program in Seattle. Photograph: Paul Gordon/Zuma Press / eyevine

    From my porch, I can see the chain-link fence blur into gray around the asphalt playground of our neighborhood public school. On weekday mornings, my closest friends walk to Hawthorne Elementary with their children, ducklings that cluster at crosswalks along streets known for gunfire. A new home just sold for nearly a million dollars at the end of our block, but people keep getting shot and dying at our community playfield.

    Despite valiant efforts by its admirable principal, committed educators, engaged parents and resilient students, Hawthorne has been labeled failing since long before my husband and I bought a peeling house from a nice couple who raised their family here.

    Less than half of the schools fourth and fifth graders meet the states standards in math, which makes me doubt that our educational system is preparing these kids to thrive in the glittering economy they were born under. Five years ago, the office of the superintendent of public instruction ranked Hawthorne among the bottom 5% of the state, according to test passage rates.

    This, in a city known for minting billionaires.

    In The Second Machine Age, authors Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee, both MIT professors, recommend Montessori programs to prepare children for their future, with a focus on science, technology, engineering, arts and math. Thats Steam, for those not versed in educational acronyms.

    Developed to help poor children realize their own innate potential, Montessori schools practice self-directed learning with tactile materials that encourage the freewheeling creativity that formed tech CEOs such as Bezos and Googles co-founders.

    The private bilingual Montessori kindergarten I found 30 minutes away costs $20,000 a year.

    Despite college-level tuitions, about one quarter of Seattle students opt out of the public school system to study at private or parochial schools. To send my sons to Seattles best private schools would cost more than $700,000, and thats before they get to college.

    A survey of public schools in Seattle shows no Montessori options that my children can access, though a nearby program in Leschi was a success at first, drawing wealthier students into the public school system, bringing with them the engagement of their families.

    The Leschi teachers were so distressed by the resulting racial, linguistic and housing disparities between the traditional and Montessori classes that they melded the programs, rather than working to recruit more students of color into the Montessori program, which they could not afford to expand. A taskforce opted against including technology in the curriculum, fearful they would attract too many white families.

    I believe in diversity; my own blood is blended. A first generation Latinx, Ive invested years of effort to raise my sons to be bilingual. I also want to work toward equity in a city whose neighborhood schools reflect the segregation compelled by redlining and white flight.

    Leschis students are learning hard truths about equity, but theyre improving together. Maybe thats enough. But I worry when well-intentioned people lacking the resources to serve their students equally decide against teaching technology, the lingua franca of our world. Even the state administers student tests by computer.

    I sought answers from Chris Reykdal, state superintendent of public instruction. The injustice of it all is that we have never seen technology as a core learning, Reykdal said. Do we still consider technology an enrichment, or should it be a more profound part of basic education? The state hasnt made that decision yet.

    Washington has hundreds of school districts overseen by elected boards that enact tangled mandates without the resources to see them through. All over the state, schools used levy monies to take care of basics and pay their teachers, rather than acquiring and teaching technology.

    Deb Merle is Governor Jay Inslees K-12 education adviser. Merle said that designating technology as part of basic education, which would ensure that the dollars flowed to their purpose, is not a state priority, though she recognized that Reykdals predecessor also advocated for keeping technology funds separate.

    I dont think we teach enough science, period. Thats what I spend a lot of time worrying about, not what kind of science, Merle said. Our elementary schools teach less than one hour per week of science.

    Steam as a social justice issue

    I kept dialing, determined to maintain the education-fueled trajectory of my family.

    My kin have lived in dictatorship-induced diaspora since famine swept Spain under Franco; they later fled Batista, who ruled Cuba before Castro. I am not conditioned to expect social stability as a condition of being for any country.

    The meeting I most dreaded was closest to home. On the short walk to our neighborhood school, I decided to come right out and tell its principal, Sandra Scott, that I am afraid to send my kids to Hawthorne because the schools test scores, though on the rise, are low enough to make me wince.

    Luckily, Scott is a pragmatic visionary, the kind of principal who inspires parents to put down the remote and join the PTA. Since 2009, Scott has led Hawthornes revitalization, winning admiration and awards from Johns Hopkins University for her program of school, family and community partnerships.

    Test scores dont define who the students are. Our kids are not a number, Scott said. There were things we needed to do differently or better like improving the academics and the school culture to bring families back into the community.

    To
    To face the age of automation, it is recommended children are taught a program with a focus on science, technology, engineering, arts and math. Photograph: Will Walker / NNP

    Recognizing the opportunity that Seattles tech economy presents, Scott retooled Hawthorne to focus on Steam programming. Rather than cluster the high-performing test takers together which has segregated programs within diverse schools Hawthorne distributes them throughout classrooms. If a student excels in math, outstripping peers in that grades curriculum, the teacher walks that child to the next grade for math.

    When it comes to fifth-grade science, those efforts more than doubled the test passage rates over three years, from 20% to 46%. I ache upon rereading that last sentence the hope and pride in the increase, the grimace I cant help but make at where they started, and what remains to be accomplished.

    Scott and her staff find ways to make progress. But she doesnt have the funds for a technology teacher or trainings, so the lab will be largely unused this year. As a mother who cares about the kids who go to Hawthorne, I cant afford to wait for someone else to find those resources.

    The leaders of this school are working to undo the effects of intergenerational poverty that dates back to slavery and other forced migrations. More than half of the students are eligible for free and reduced lunches. A quarter of the students are learning the language theyre taught in. Scores reflect circumstances, which is why Reykdal is refocusing the state on racial gaps, poverty gaps and English language gaps, down to the school level.

    Many of the jobs first displaced by automation belong to peoples of color, women and others who depend on a combination of part-time positions. A federal council of economic advisers found an 83% likelihood that, by 2040, automation would displace jobs paying less than $20 per hour.

    In Washington, Steam-related jobs pay double the median wage, for starters. The people moving here to work for Microsoft, Amazon and Boeing make much more. When we choose not to provide public schools with the resources needed to provide educational access to those opportunities, we are consigning local students to lesser-paid sectors of the economy, the very same that are vulnerable to automation. In other words, we are allowing our government to consecrate our children to poverty in real time.

    Mass unemployment would make American society more violent, our law enforcement more brutal and our peoples more vulnerable to genocide. Automation is a social justice issue, and if history is any teacher, it shows us that vast swaths of disenfranchised peoples are a harbinger of war.

    Problems that reflect the world

    Whenever I have a problem thats too big to solve, I call my dad, and we argue about what to do. He told me the solution was simple. I should move. The only financially feasible choice would be the suburbs.

    Something in me balks at leaving a city I love, and especially our neighborhood, where my children are happy. As a community, we just celebrated our 10th annual block party, a Cuban pig roast that my husband and I organize for our wedding anniversary. Our neighbors come bearing side dishes, canopies and games, and we dance until the DJs stop playing. The conversations we start on that night have lasted a decade. I want to stay.

    As native Spanish speakers, my sons could option into the bilingual public schools on the other side of our gridlocked downtown, north of the covenants which kept people of color from buying homes. Those schools wait lists are legendary, but I am uncomfortable with the mostly white and relatively well-off demographics produced by saving only 15% of seats for native speakers. I want my kids to feel at home in a country that contains multitudes, which is why we moved to one of our nations most diverse zip codes.

    Computers solve the problems theyre given. And so we must ask ourselves what we value, and whom.

    Not every child wants to be a robotics engineer. But without the modes of thought elicited by learning computer science from an early age, many Washington state students will not be competitive for the jobs that remain. I want my own sons to be chosen and better yet, able to choose as I was, though I fell for a profession whose financial structures imploded five years after my college graduation.

    I hope my privileged vulnerability encourages you to reflect on those truly trapped by our system. This essay invokes my worries as a mother, and with them, my socioeconomic position. Hawthorne is a happy place with diverse classrooms whose problems reflect the world, but I am glad of the years I have left to decide what my kids truly need to learn.

    There can be no denying that I am one of the gentrifiers of this neighborhood, and with the honor of living here comes the responsibility to contribute. Looking at whats coming in the second machine age tremendous opportunities, to be sure, but also massive loss of what weve known as jobs I feel compelled to join those working toward a better future, minds whirring whenever problems arise.

    Two nonprofits, FIRST Washington and XBOT Robotics, have offered support and equipment for Hawthorne to start a Lego robotics league after school. Four parents signed up to lead teams during last nights PTA meeting, my very first.

    Its a start.

    Get involved

    To bolster Steam education for students, hybridized systems have sprung up as non-profits seek to prepare our children for the economy we will leave to them.

    First Washington: This nonprofit helps start and sustain after-school Lego robotics leagues from K-12.

    XBOT Robotics: Operating in one of the nations most diverse zip codes, offering robotics programming K-12.

    Code.org: Free online programming for learners at all levels. Work through problems with your kids.

    Technology Access Foundation: Helping people of color access Stem-related education in middle school, high school and beyond.

    Washington State Opportunity Scholarship: A non-profit that funds thousands of Stem scholarships for Washingtons college-bound high school graduates. More than half of those scholarship recipients are students of color, women and/or the first in their family to access a higher education, if not all three.

    Teals (Technology, Education and Literacy in Schools): Matches professionals with teachers to co-teach computer science in classrooms.

    Seattle Mesa (Mathematics Engineering Science Achievement): Provides scholarships, in-class math and science projects, advanced learning opportunities, tutoring, math camp and teacher trainings.

    Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/education/2017/oct/18/what-should-i-teach-my-children-to-prepare-them-for-jobs-in-their-era

    Apple: don’t use Face ID on an iPhone X if you’re under 13 or have a twin

    Facial recognition system is 20 times more secure than Touch ID, but struggles with young users and siblings

    The iPhone X might be the future of Apples smartphone design, but its lauded Face ID facial recognition system has an issue with people under 13: its much more difficult to tell them apart.

    In a security guide published Wednesday, Apple recommends that children under the age of 13 do not use Face ID due to the probability of a false match being significantly higher for young children. The company said this was because their distinct facial features may not have fully developed.

    While few young children are likely to be given a 999 iPhone, false matches are also more likely for twins and siblings. In all those situations, the company recommends concerned users disable Face ID and use a passcode instead.

    For most users those over 13 without evil twins, as Apples head of iOS Craig Federighi describes them the bigger concern is deliberate attacks. Touch ID, Apples fingerprint sensor, was famously bypassed just two days after it was launched in the iPhone 5S, using a fake fingerprint placed over a real finger.

    With Face ID, Apple has implemented a secondary system that exclusively looks out for attempts to fool the technology. Both the authentication and spoofing defence are based on machine learning, but while the former is trained to identify individuals from their faces, the latter is used to look for telltale signs of cheating.

    An additional neural network thats trained to spot and resist spoofing defends against attempts to unlock your phone with photos or masks, the company says. If a completely perfect mask is made, which fools the identification neural network, the defensive system will still notice just like a human.

    Apple is also confident that it wont fall prey to issues of algorithmic bias that have plagued many attempts to use neural networks at scale. High-profile examples of such failures include the photo-labelling system that ltagged black people as gorillas, or the word-association model which states that men are computer programmers and women are homemakers.

    Whenever its initial training exposed a demographic shortcoming, Apple says, it augmented the studies as needed to provide a high degree of accuracy for a diverse range of users. Time and millions of people around the world using the technology will tell whether the effort worked, but the company sounds confident.

    One area the system will struggle with, however, is facial coverings. Apple says that Face ID is designed to work with hats, scarves, glasses, contact lenses and many sunglasses, but ultimately two things dictate whether or not it has a chance of success. The first is whether the coverings are transparent to infrared light, and the second whether the system can see the eyes, nose and mouth. While some fabrics are more transparent to infrared than they may seem, that means iPhone users who cover their faces may be forced to rely on a passcode when out and about.

    Separately, Apple has also confirmed that the depth-sensing technology included in the iPhone X is not allowed to be used by developers to create their own facial biometrics, a possibility which had concerned many privacy activists.

    The depth sensor data is not directly available to developers, but the camera API now allows them to receive a pixel-by-pixel measure of how far features in an image are from the lens, a system intended to be used to enable image manipulation such as Apples own portrait mode.

    That could theoretically be used to build a standalone authentication feature, albeit one that is less precise than Apples own, but the company has updated its App Store policies to prevent developers from attempting to do so. You may not attempt, facilitate, or encourage others to identify anonymous users or reconstruct user profiles based on data collected from depth and/or facial mapping tools, the companys developer guidelines now state.

    Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2017/sep/27/apple-face-id-iphone-x-under-13-twin-facial-recognition-system-more-secure-touch-id

    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

    Collection of letters by codebreaker Alan Turing found in filing cabinet

    The correspondence, dating from 1949 to 1954, was found by an academic in a storeroom at the University of Manchester

    A lost collection of nearly 150 letters from the codebreaker Alan Turing has been uncovered in an old filing cabinet at the University of Manchester.

    The correspondence, which has not seen the light of day for at least 30 years, contains very little about Turings tortured personal life. It does, however, give an intriguing insight into his views on America.

    In response to an invitation to speak at a conference in the US in April 1953, Turing replied that he would rather not attend: I would not like the journey, and I detest America.

    The letter, sent to Donald Mackay, a physicist at Kings College London, does not give any further explanation for Turings forthright views on America, nor do these views feature in any of the other 147 letters discovered earlier this year.

    The correspondence, dating from early 1949 to Turings death in 1954, was found by chance when an academic cleared out an old filing cabinet in a storeroom at the University of Manchester. Turing was deputy director of the universitys computing laboratory from 1948, after his heroic wartime codebreaking at Bletchley Park.

    Turing was a visionary mathematician and is regarded today as the father of modern computing who broke the Nazis second world war Enigma code. While his later life has been overshadowed by his conviction for gross indecency and his death aged 41 from cyanide poisoning, a posthumous pardon was granted by the Queen in 2013. His life was featured in the 2014 film the Imitation Game.

    Prof Jim Miles, of the universitys school of computer science, said he was amazed to stumble upon the documents, contained in an ordinary-looking red paper file with Alan Turing scrawled on it.

    When I first found it I initially thought: That cant be what I think it is, but a quick inspection showed it was a file of old letters and correspondence by Alan Turing, he said.

    I was astonished such a thing had remained hidden out of sight for so long. No one who now works in the school or at the university knew they even existed. It really was an exciting find and it is mystery as to why they had been filed away.

    The collection focuses mainly on Turings academic research, including his work on groundbreaking areas in AI, computing and mathematics, and invitations to lecture at some of Americas best-known universities including the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

    It contains a single letter from GCHQ, for whom Turing worked during the war, asking the mathematician in 1952 if he could supply a photograph of himself for an official history of Bletchley Park that was being compiled by the American cryptographer William Friedman. In his reply to Eric Jones, GCHQs then director, Turing said he would send a picture for the American rogues gallery.

    The collection also contains a handwritten draft BBC radio programme on artificial intelligence, titled Can machines think? from July 1951. The documents were sorted, catalogued and stored by the University of Manchester archivist James Peters and are now available to search online.

    Peters said: This is a truly unique find. Archive material relating to Turing is extremely scarce, so having some of his academic correspondence is a welcome and important addition to our collection.

    There is very little in the way of personal correspondence, and no letters from Turing family members. But this still gives us an extremely interesting account and insight into his working practices and academic life whilst he was at the University of Manchester.

    He added: The letters mostly confirm what is already known about Turings work at Manchester, but they do add an extra dimension to our understanding of the man himself and his research.

    As there is so little actual archive on this period of his life, this is a very important find in that context. There really is nothing else like it.

    Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/science/2017/aug/27/collection-letters-codebreaker-alan-turing-found-filing-cabinet

    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

    Tech has become another wayfor men to oppress women | Lizzie OShea

    We act as if technology were neutral but its not. The challenge now is to remove the gender bias, says human rights lawyer and writer Lizzie OShea

    Most women in the Bay Area are soft and weak, cosseted and naive, despite their claims of worldliness, and generally full of shit, wrote former Facebook product manager Antonio Garca Martnez in 2016. They have their self-regarding entitlement feminism, and ceaselessly vaunt their independence. But the reality is, come the epidemic plague or foreign invasion, theyd become precisely the sort of useless baggage youd trade for a box of shotgun shells or a jerry can of diesel. This is from his insider account of Silicon Valley, Chaos Monkeys. The book was a bestseller. The New York Times called it an irresistible and indispensable 360-degree guide to the new technology establishment. Anyone who is surprised by the recent revelations of sexism spreading like wildfire through the technology industry has not been paying attention.

    When Susan Fowler wrote about her experience of being sexually harassed at Uber, it prompted a chain of events that seemed unimaginable months ago, including an investigation led by former attorney general Eric Holder, and the departure of a number of key members of the companys leadership team. Venture capitalist Justin Caldbeck faced allegations of harassing behaviour, and when he offered an unimpressive denial, companies funded by his firm banded together to condemn his tepidity. He subsequently resigned, and the future of his former firm is unclear. Since then, dozens of women have come forward to reveal the sexist culture in numerous Silicon Valley technology and venture capital firms. It is increasingly clear from these accounts that the problem for women in the tech industry is not a failure to lean in, it is a cultureof harassment and discrimination that makes many of their workplaces unsafe and unpleasant.

    At least this issue is being discussed in ways that open up the possibility that it will be addressed. But the problem of sexism in the tech industry goes much deeper and wider. Technological development is undermining the cause of womens equality in other ways.

    American academic Melvin Kranzbergs first law of technology tells us that technology is neither inherently good nor bad, nor is it neutral. As a black mirror it reflects the problems that exist in society including the oppression of women. Millions of people bark orders at Alexa, every day, but rarely are we encouraged to wonder why the domestic organiser is voiced by a woman. The entry system for a womens locker room in a gym recently refused entry to a female member because her title was Dr, and it categorised her as male.

    But the issue is not only that technology products reflect a backward view of the role of women. They often also appear ignorant or indifferent to womens lived experience. As the internet of things expands, more devices in our homes and on our bodies are collecting data about us and sending it to networks, a process over which we often have little control. This presents profound problems for vulnerable members of society, including survivors of domestic violence. Wearable technology can be hacked, cars and phones can be tracked, and data from a thermostat can reveal whether someone is at home. This potential is frightening for people who have experienced rape, violence or stalking.

    Unsurprisingly, technology is used by abusers: in a survey of domestic violence services organisations, 97% reported that the survivors who use them have experienced harassment, monitoring, and threats by abusers through the misuse of technology. This often happens on phones, but 60% of those surveyed also reported that abusers have spied or eavesdropped on the survivor or children using other forms of technology, including toys and other gifts. Many shelters have resorted to banning the use of Facebook because of fears about revealing information about their location to stalkers. There are ways to make devices give control to users and limit the capacity for abuse. But there is little evidence that this has been a priority for the technology industry.

    Products that are more responsive to the needs of women would be a great start. But we should also be thinking bigger: we must avoid reproducing sexism in system design. The word-embedding models used in things like conversation bots and word searches provide an instructive example. These models operate by feeding huge amounts of text into a computer so it learns how words relate to each other in space. It is based on the premise that words which appear near each other in texts share meaning. These spatial relationships are used in natural language-processing so that computers can engage with us conversationally. By reading a lot of text, a computer can learn that Paris is to France as Tokyo is to Japan. It develops a dictionary by association.

    But this can create problems when the world is not exactly as it ought to be. For instance, researchers have experimented with one of these word-embedding models, Word2vec, a popular and freely available model trained on three million words from Google News. They found that it produces highly gendered analogies. For instance, when asked Man is to woman as computer programmer is to ?, the model will answer homemaker. Or for father is to mother as doctor is to ?, the answer is nurse. Of course the model reflects a certain reality: it is true that there are more male computer programmers, and nurses are more often women. But this bias, reflecting social discrimination, will now be reproduced and reinforced when we engage with computers using natural language that relies on Word2vec. It is not hard to imagine how this model could also be racially biased, or biased against other groups.

    These biases can be amplified duringthe process of language learning. As the MIT Technology Review points out: If the phrase computer programmer is more closely associated with men than women, then a search for theterm computer programmer CVs might rank men more highly than women. When this kind of language learning has applications across fields including medicine, education, employment, policymaking and criminal justice, it is not hard to see how much damage such biases can cause.

    Removing such gender bias is a challenge, in part because the problem is inherently political: Word2vec entrenches the world as it is, rather thanwhat it could or should be. But if we are to alter the models to reflect aspirations, how do we decide what kind of world we want to see?

    Digital technology offers myriad waysto put these understandings to work. It is not bad, but we have to challenge the presumption that it is neutral. Its potential is being explored in ways that are sometimes promising, often frightening and amazing. To make the most of this moment, we need to imagine a future without the oppressions of the past. We need to allow women to reach their potential in workplaces where they feel safe and respected. But we also need to look into the black mirror of technology and find the cracks of light shining through.

    Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/jul/07/technology-sexist-society-even-worse-women-potential