What really happened with Google’s memo?

Disclaimer: None of the views here portrayed are those of Google. These are all personal ideas and points of view.

Google HQ image
Google

Google has been all over the news lately (here, here, here and many more). For the sake of clarifying some confusions and giving my own point of view of the whole situation, I am writing this post.

How it all started

It all started when a James Damore, now a former Google engineer, decided to write a 10 page document about how political correctness was affecting Google as whole.  It seems James released first the document to internal Google forums early last week. By Friday the whole company was going at it. Discussions started erupting from all outlets. And then suddenly someone decided to leak a piece of the document to Motherboard. Only a snippet was released, however it did not take too much time for Gizmodo to obtain the (almost) full copy.  The following weekend, people around the globe were learning of Damore’s ideas. It is worth noting that somewhere in the Gizmodo leak, the document lost some important information like the original doc’s references to various studies.

As a Google engineer I try to distance myself from the internal forums where Damore’s document was first discussed since I think they are a waste of my and Google’s time. However on Friday evening even the normal outlets where bustling with people discussing the document. By Monday the whole globe was reading the news. By Monday night Google fired Damore. That was impressive to me since we rarely hear Google firing employees. However what followed impressed me even more. Instead of stopping the leaks, firing Damore had the opposite effect. Soon after the media wrote on what had happened, Sundar sent an email to the whole company. The message stated what Google’s values are, and why was Damore fired. Basically he was fired because he had breached the Code of conduct. Soon after I read the letter, the media was already commenting on Sundar’s letter.

And this is what surprises me the most. During my last three years at Google, leaks had been sporadic and  dealt with (every leaker I read about had been fired). However after Damore was fired, there was a profound twist to Google’s culture. Leaking became commonplace so much so that even the all hands meeting to discuss all of this was canceled. Even the fact that the meeting was canceled was leaked. It seems that leaking has now become a tool for Googlers to attack other Googlers. And the attacks have become so insidious that Googlers’ names have started to appear in the public eye. This has in turn lead to more serious security issues for Googlers. To think that so little has become so much in a matter of days still amazes me.

The document

So what can this document contain to have caused all this? This is a basic summary of what he says in the document:

My interpretation goes as follows with some of my opinions (marked in blue):

1 Google and scientists in general are biased because most of them are left leaning:

Left Biases Right Biases
Compassion for the weak Respect for the strong/authority
Disparities are due to injustices Disparities are natural and just
Humans are inherently cooperative Humans are inherently competitive
Change is good (unstable) Change is dangerous (stable)
Open Closed
Idealist Pragmatic

I agree in this part with James. Google should not chastise or silence groups with opinions contrary to the majority. However I do think that opinions can become offensive to people. Where do we draw the line? A very tricky question.

2 Explanations of why there are less women in tech other than common biases:

  1. Because of biological predisposition to personality differences (on average):
    1. Openness directed towards feelings and aesthetics rather than ideas
    2. Extraversion expressed as gregariousness rather than assertiveness
    3. Neuroticism (higher anxiety, lower stress tolerance)
  2. Because men have a natural predisposition to have a drive for higher status

There have been several research studies which contradict what James says. Firstly the gender gap in tech can be explained by media constructs from the last century. Secondly there are other studies which suggest that women are less productive than men not because of their  innate traits, but because of their family responsibilities. 

One other thing he mentions is that all these studies are biased because scientists are left leaning. My question is, did he check each and every one? 

3 Ways we can reduce the gender gap without relying on 1:1 gender equality:

  1. Women on average show a higher interest in people and men in things, so software should be more about people than things
  2. Women on average are more cooperative, so reduce competitiveness metrics for performance review of women 
  3. Women on average are more prone to anxiety, so we should make tech less stressful
  4. Women on average look for more work-life balance, so we should increase part-time roles
  5. The male gender role is currently inflexible, we should allow men to feel more feminine

4 The harm of Google being left biased. Google has created several discriminatory practices:

  • Programs, mentoring, and classes only for people with a certain gender or race
  • A high priority queue and special treatment for “diversity” candidates
  • Hiring practices which can effectively lower the bar for “diversity” candidates by decreasing the false negative rate
  • Reconsidering any set of people if it’s not “diverse” enough, but not showing that same scrutiny in the reverse direction (clear confirmation bias)

What James misses here is that Google spends more money to get people in disadvantaged groups to apply for the job. Once the candidates enter the hiring process, there is absolutely no discrimination either direct or reversed towards candidates.

5 Why Google biases came to be. Basically because left leaning is affected by a natural disposition to protect females and the weak

6 Suggestions

  1. De-moralize diversity. Good point
  2. Stop alienating conservativesGood point
  3. Confront Google’s biases. Do they really exist?
  4. Stop restricting programs and classes to certain genders or races. Good point although I don’t see majority groups attending these classes
  5. Have an open and honest discussion about the costs and benefits of our diversity programs. That already happens
  6. Focus on psychological safety, not just race/gender diversity. Already happens
  7. De-emphasize emotional empathy for policy making. 
  8. Prioritize intention.
  9. Be open about the science of human nature. Good point
  10. Reconsider making Unconscious Bias training mandatory for promo committees.

Conclusion

I am not sure James Damore should have been fired over what he wrote. Some of his points are pretty good and should be discussed. Some of his other points are offensive even if they are his own opinion. I guess if people had not leaked the story, maybe Google would not have fired him. My own opinion is that Google practices are fine, I think spending more money to recruit less traditional CS candidates is good option. Should we treat women and men differently when talking about promotion and salary? Should we judge women by their cooperativeness and men by their competitiveness? I would say probably not. It is a tough problem and the current solution is good enough. Maybe there’s a better solution, however it’s not what was portrayed in the Google memo.

US Politics : Retarded Republicans and Looser Democrats

 

Politics, Republicans, Democrats

Welcome to politics in America 2017. There are basically two choices, the red republicans (aka GOP – Grand Old Party) and the blue democrats (DNC ?). As you can already guess, the more aggressive and proud party is the GOP while the DNC is the more sensible and emphatic one. As of late, the chasm that divides these two parties has grown larger and larger. Republicans are now more religious, more proud but also more stupid. On the other hand the democrats are getting more skeptic, more intelligent but also more weak. And this is a huge problem because each party decides to elect a more radical president each time. As in any unstable system, this will inevitably lead to a crash (maybe we are there already?).

“There is an ‘excusitis’ outbreak caused by so much petty thinking in politics”

In light of current events in politics the only plausible situation to stop the oscillations between radical candidates would be for both parties to tone it down. What this means for democrats is to stop being so complacent. While it is very true that the situation for disadvantaged groups is not at all fair as compared to other US citizens, it is also true that the prevailing attitude they have generated is a meek one. There is a sense of entitlement in Americans which is quite contrary to the values on which the country was founded.

People think they are owed a great job, think that they should get everything easy and without effort or suffering. As David Schwartz* would put it, there is an ‘excusitis’ outbreak caused by so much petty thinking in politics. While I think it is good that democrats fight for human rights equality, the attitude they inadvertently are fostering is having an excuse not to be all that you can be.

“They are not just dumb, they are incredibly confident dumb people.”

If democrats are growing weaker by the day, republicans are definitely growing dumber at twice the speed. All the data shows that income disparity is growing, that climate is changing, that H1B’s generate innovation needed in the US… And what do they do? Elect the most contrarian candidate which goes out of his way to shut down climate change policies, which restricts the H1B visas and which cuts funding to medicaid to give bigger tax breaks to business owners. You just can’t beat them at being retarded. They are not just dumb, they are extremely confident dumb people. I could  go on ranting about the GOP for another several posts, but you get the point.

I think democrats will win the next elections given the current president’s polls. So it is up to them to learn a bit from the GOP and have a stronger image. Democrats need to rise to the occasion and take the lead combining the best of both worlds. Otherwise America is at risk of forgetting the great values that were embedded into its foundation.

 

* David Schwartz wrote this great book called the The Magic of Thinking Big. Highly recommended.

DIY: How to Hijack a Democracy in Three Easy Steps

Hijacking democracy

At AboutWorld we have recently come up with a unique DIY guide. Given our latest research into US politics (most notably on Why is Trump a Genius, US Economy and Fake News), we concluded that such a guide would be an easy next step. This is why we present to you our very own and first DIY guide: How to hijack a democracy in 3 simple and easy steps:

Step 1

Stupid People Large Groups

This step is probably the easiest for those of you who already have an evil plan in mind. As a first step, you should choose the democracy you want to hijack. Of course any democracy is doable, however there are easier and tougher ones. If you are a newbie at hijacking democracies, we suggest you pick one of the easier ones. While there isn’t (at least that we know of) a list out there ranking democracies by there hijackability, we do have a list of traits that might help you find an easy one:

  • Patriotic: Yes, patriotism is one of the easiest ways to hijack a democracy. Patriotism is a feeling, and as such is fish to the marketing sharks. Patriotism has driven people to do the unthinkable. Diverging some of this drive to meet your needs should be easy once you target the right population with the right fake news.
  • Radically religious: Similar to patriotism, but probably better. Radical religion has a tight grip on the population. Showing the right information aligned with the religion’s symbolism will make you nothing short of a puppet master. Great attribute if you want to hijack a democracy.

“After all, misleading Google algorithms is all about scale. And yes, maybe this step involves probably thousands of people generating fake accounts and fake content, but hey if you live in great dictatorial countries, you should be able to get enough bureaucrats to do it.”

 

  • Low education: Yes, education will be the biggest blocker against your hijacking efforts. Acting like a self-defense mechanism, skepticism provided by education makes hijacking people’s opinions very difficult. Finding yourself a democracy with bad education standards will assure you an easy path towards your project.
  • Disbelief in science: Populations who don’t really understand what science is all about will be the most likely to doubt it. These pockets of people are not hard to find, just search those who believe in things like homeopathy, that the earth is flat or that aliens discovered the transistor.
  • Dumb people: In general, any democracy with enough dumb people should be easy to win over.

Read more “DIY: How to Hijack a Democracy in Three Easy Steps”