Google Is Trying Too Hard (or Not Hard Enough) to Diversify – The New York Times

Interesting internal debates and struggles within Google (and likely not unique to Google):

In 2014, Google became one of the first technology companies to release a race and gender breakdown of its work force. It revealed — to no one’s surprise — that its staff was largely white or Asian and decidedly male.

The company explained that it disclosed the figures, in part, because it wanted to be held accountable publicly for not looking “the way we wanted to.

Since then, Google has made modest progress in its plan to create a more diverse work force, with the percentage of women at the company ticking up a bit. But a spate of recent incidents and lawsuits highlight the challenges the company has faced as it has been dragged into a national discussion regarding politics, race and gender in the workplace.

Google is being sued by former employees for going too far with its diversity effort. It is also being sued for not going far enough.

“My impression is that Google is not sure what to do,” said Michelle Miller, a co-executive director at Coworker.org, a workers’ rights organization that has been working with some Google employees. “It prevents the ability of a company to function when one group of workers is obstinately focused on defeating their co-workers with whatever it takes.”

The division within Google spilled into the open last year when James Damore, a software engineer, wrote a memo critical of its diversity programs. He argued that biological differences and not a lack of opportunity explained the shortage of women in leadership and technical positions.

Google fired Mr. Damore. He filed a lawsuit in January with another former employee, claiming that the company discriminates against white men with conservative views. In a separate lawsuit, a former recruiter for YouTube sued Google because, he said, he was fired for resisting a mandate to hire only diverse — female or black and Latino — candidates.

Google’s handling of the issue was also upsetting to Mr. Damore’s critics. In another lawsuit filed last month, a former Google employee said he was fired because he was too outspoken in advocating diversity and for spending too much time on “social activism.”

Inside Google, vocal diversity proponents say they are the targets of a small group of employees who are sympathetic to Mr. Damore. In some cases, screenshots of comments made on an internal social network were leaked to online forums frequented by right-wing groups, which searched for and published personal information like home addresses and phone numbers of the Google employees, they said.

In 2015, Google started an internal program called Respect@, which includes a way for employees to anonymously report complaints of inappropriate behavior by co-workers. Some diversity supporters say other employees are taking advantage of this program to accuse them of harassment for out-of-context statements.

“Some people feel threatened by movements that promote diversity and inclusion. They think it means people are going to come for their jobs,” said Liz Fong-Jones, a Google engineer who is a vocal supporter of diversity.

Many big tech companies are struggling with the challenge of creating a more diverse work force. In 2015, Facebook adopted the so-called Rooney Rule. Originally used by the National Football League to prod teams to consider coaching prospects who are black, the rule requires managers to interview candidates from underrepresented backgrounds for open positions. But last year, Facebook’s female engineers said that gender bias was still a problem and that their work received more scrutiny than men’s work.

Even executives tasked with promoting diversity have had difficulties. In October, Denise Young Smith, who was Apple’s vice president of inclusion and diversity, came under fire when she said that there was diversity even among 12 white, blue-eyed, blond men because they had different backgrounds and experiences. She later apologized, saying she did not intend to play down the importance of a non-homogenous work force. She left Apple in December.

The tension is elevated at Google, at least in part, by its workplace culture. Google has encouraged employees to express themselves and challenge one another. It provides many communication systems for people to discuss work and nonwork related issues. Even topics considered out of bounds at other workplaces — like sharp criticism of its own products — are discussed openly and celebrated.

In January, on one of Google’s 90,000 “groups” — internal email lists around a discussion topic — an employee urged colleagues to donate money to help pay Mr. Damore’s legal fees from his lawsuit against Google to promote “viewpoint diversity,” according to a person who saw the posting but is not permitted to share the information publicly.

Last month, Tim Chevalier, who had worked at Google as an engineer until November, sued for wrongful termination, claiming that he was fired “because of his political statements in opposition to the discrimination, harassment and white supremacy he saw being expressed on Google’s internal messaging systems.” He said one employee had suggested that there was a shortage of black and Latino employees at Google because they were “not as good.”

Mr. Chevalier said he had been fired shortly after saying that Republicans were “welcome to leave” if they did not feel comfortable with Google’s policies. He said he had meant that being a Republican did not exempt Google employees from following the company’s code of conduct.

A Google spokeswoman said in a statement that the company encouraged lively debate. But there are limits.

“Creating a more diverse workplace is a big challenge and a priority we’ve been working to address. Some people won’t agree with our approach, and they’re free to express their disagreement,” said the spokeswoman, Gina Scigliano. “But some conduct and discussion in the workplace crosses a line, and we don’t tolerate it. We enforce strong policies, and work with affected employees, to ensure everyone can do their work free of harassment, discrimination and bullying.”

In the past, discussions about diversity in Google’s online chat groups would encounter skeptical but subtle comments or questions. The debate turned openly antagonistic after Mr. Damore’s memo, which was titled “Google’s Ideological Echo Chamber.”

“The James Damore thing brought everything to a head,” said Vicki Holland, a linguist who has worked at Google for seven years. “It brought everything to the surface where everyone could see it.”

Mr. Damore said he began to question Google’s diversity policies at a weekly company meeting last March. At the meeting, Ruth Porat, the chief financial officer of Google’s parent company, Alphabet, and Eileen Naughton, Google’s vice president of people operations, “pointed out and shamed” departments in which women accounted for less than half the staff, according to Mr. Damore’s lawsuit.

The two female executives — who are among the company’s highest-ranking women — said Google’s “racial and gender preferences were not up for debate,” according to the lawsuit. Mr. Damore subsequently attended a “Diversity and Inclusion Summit,” where it reinforced his view that Google was “elevating political correctness over merit” with its diversity measures.

Mr. Damore said he had written his memo afterward in response.

Ms. Scigliano, the Google spokeswoman, said the company looked forward to fighting Mr. Damore’s lawsuit in court. Sundar Pichai, Google’s chief executive, said in an August blog post that he had fired Mr. Damore because his memo advanced “harmful gender stereotypes” but that “much of the memo is fair to debate.”

Some employees said they were abstaining from internal debate on sensitive issues because they worried that their comments might be misconstrued or used against them. Like the broader internet, the conversations tend to be dominated by the loudest voices, they said.

Google’s diversity advocates said they would like to see more moderation on internal forums with officials stepping in to defuse tensions before conversations get out of hand. Ms. Miller, the Coworker.org co-director, said Google employees had expressed concern about how this would affect an internal culture rooted in transparency and free expression.

“What’s on everyone’s mind is: Has the culture been inextricably damaged by this environment?” she said.

via Google Is Trying Too Hard (or Not Hard Enough) to Diversify – The New York Times

YouTube, the Great Radicalizer – The New York Times

Good article on how social media reinforces echo chambers and tends towards more extreme views:

At one point during the 2016 presidential election campaign, I watched a bunch of videos of Donald Trump rallies on YouTube. I was writing an article about his appeal to his voter base and wanted to confirm a few quotations.

Soon I noticed something peculiar. YouTube started to recommend and “autoplay” videos for me that featured white supremacist rants, Holocaust denials and other disturbing content.

Since I was not in the habit of watching extreme right-wing fare on YouTube, I was curious whether this was an exclusively right-wing phenomenon. So I created another YouTube account and started watching videos of Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, letting YouTube’s recommender algorithm take me wherever it would.

Before long, I was being directed to videos of a leftish conspiratorial cast, including arguments about the existence of secret government agencies and allegations that the United States government was behind the attacks of Sept. 11. As with the Trump videos, YouTube was recommending content that was more and more extreme than the mainstream political fare I had started with.

Intrigued, I experimented with nonpolitical topics. The same basic pattern emerged. Videos about vegetarianism led to videos about veganism. Videos about jogging led to videos about running ultramarathons.

It seems as if you are never “hard core” enough for YouTube’s recommendation algorithm. It promotes, recommends and disseminates videos in a manner that appears to constantly up the stakes. Given its billion or so users, YouTube may be one of the most powerful radicalizing instruments of the 21st century.

This is not because a cabal of YouTube engineers is plotting to drive the world off a cliff. A more likely explanation has to do with the nexus of artificial intelligence and Google’s business model. (YouTube is owned by Google.) For all its lofty rhetoric, Google is an advertising broker, selling our attention to companies that will pay for it. The longer people stay on YouTube, the more money Google makes.

What keeps people glued to YouTube? Its algorithm seems to have concluded that people are drawn to content that is more extreme than what they started with — or to incendiary content in general.

Is this suspicion correct? Good data is hard to come by; Google is loath to share information with independent researchers. But we now have the first inklings of confirmation, thanks in part to a former Google engineer named Guillaume Chaslot.

Mr. Chaslot worked on the recommender algorithm while at YouTube. He grew alarmed at the tactics used to increase the time people spent on the site. Google fired him in 2013, citing his job performance. He maintains the real reason was that he pushed too hard for changes in how the company handles such issues.

The Wall Street Journal conducted an investigationof YouTube content with the help of Mr. Chaslot. It found that YouTube often “fed far-right or far-left videos to users who watched relatively mainstream news sources,” and that such extremist tendencies were evident with a wide variety of material. If you searched for information on the flu vaccine, you were recommended anti-vaccination conspiracy videos.

It is also possible that YouTube’s recommender algorithm has a bias toward inflammatory content. In the run-up to the 2016 election, Mr. Chaslot created a program to keep track of YouTube’s most recommended videos as well as its patterns of recommendations. He discovered that whether you started with a pro-Clinton or pro-Trump video on YouTube, you were many times more likely to end up with a pro-Trump video recommended.

Combine this finding with other research showing that during the 2016 campaign, fake news, which tends toward the outrageous, included much more pro-Trump than pro-Clinton content, and YouTube’s tendency toward the incendiary seems evident.

YouTube has recently come under fire for recommending videos promoting the conspiracy theory that the outspoken survivors of the school shooting in Parkland, Fla., are “crisis actors” masquerading as victims. Jonathan Albright, a researcher at Columbia, recently “seeded” a YouTube account with a search for “crisis actor” and found that following the “up next” recommendations led to a network of some 9,000 videos promoting that and related conspiracy theories, including the claim that the 2012 school shooting in Newtown, Conn., was a hoax.

What we are witnessing is the computational exploitation of a natural human desire: to look “behind the curtain,” to dig deeper into something that engages us. As we click and click, we are carried along by the exciting sensation of uncovering more secrets and deeper truths. YouTube leads viewers down a rabbit hole of extremism, while Google racks up the ad sales.

Human beings have many natural tendencies that need to be vigilantly monitored in the context of modern life. For example, our craving for fat, salt and sugar, which served us well when food was scarce, can lead us astray in an environment in which fat, salt and sugar are all too plentiful and heavily marketed to us. So too our natural curiosity about the unknown can lead us astray on a website that leads us too much in the direction of lies, hoaxes and misinformation.

In effect, YouTube has created a restaurant that serves us increasingly sugary, fatty foods, loading up our plates as soon as we are finished with the last meal. Over time, our tastes adjust, and we seek even more sugary, fatty foods, which the restaurant dutifully provides. When confronted about this by the health department and concerned citizens, the restaurant managers reply that they are merely serving us what we want.

This situation is especially dangerous given how many people — especially young people — turn to YouTube for information. Google’s cheap and sturdy Chromebook laptops, which now make up more than 50 percent of the pre-college laptop education market in the United States, typically come loaded with ready access to YouTube.

This state of affairs is unacceptable but not inevitable. There is no reason to let a company make so much money while potentially helping to radicalize billions of people, reaping the financial benefits while asking society to bear so many of the costs.

via YouTube, the Great Radicalizer – The New York Times

After one year of Trump, Google CEO Sundar Pichai sounds a lot different about immigration — and that might be a …

Change in tactics but not substance. Whether it will work…

Almost exactly one year ago, Google CEO Sundar Pichai stood in front of cheering employees vowing to “stand together” and “never compromise”in opposing the Trump administration’s travel ban.

On Friday, Pichai spoke out again in defense of immigration and of the benefits that immigrants bring to the US. But the India-born CEO, himself the perfect embodiment of the cause, seemed to have ditched his firebrand approach in favor of a a more diplomatic tone.

“It’s really important that we don’t make it a tech-versus-the-rest-of-the-country issue,” Pichai said on-stage, during a Q&A event in San Francisco organized by MSNBC, when asked about immigration by hosts Kara Swisher and Ari Melber.

Many of the big immigration issues remain unresolved, hot-button topics, including the travel ban, the fate of the so-called Dreamers, and the controversial visa system US corporations use to hire skilled foreign workers. Indeed, the deadlock over immigration policy in Congress helped trigger the federal government shutdown that began on Saturday.

There’s a lot at stake for Google, which recruits engineering talent from all over the world and which counts some Dreamers — immigrants who were brought into the US illegally by their parents but now have work visas — among its ranks.

Still, after a year of the Trump presidency, Pichai appears to have adapted to the political climate his company now operates in. Instead of “never compromise,” Pichai stressed the need for Google to play a “constructive” role in the immigration debate.

“We are very open to constructively reforming the H-1B process,” Pichai said, referring to the visas that allow US companies like Google to hire foreign workers.

This softening in tone may not be the capitulation it appears to be though.

Sure, as a publicly-owned company Google has a responsibility to its shareholders to get on with business and it would be silly to expect Google to go to the mat on any issue that doesn’t directly affect its bottom line.

But Pichai’s real message seemed to be that Silicon Valley needs to be smarter to win this battle.

“It’s up to us as tech companies to make the case as to why immigration is good for the country, not just for tech companies,” he said. “I think we have to do that better.”

Silicon Valley’s greatest strength has always been its ability to sell the world on its vision of the future.

Steve Jobs and Bill Gates put a computer on every desk.

If Google can convince hundreds of millions of people to visit its website every day, then surely it should be able to convince citizens and politicians about the merits of a diverse society.

Pichai knows he has a good argument on his hand, and, like a good tech product, he just needs to figure out how to sell it.

Source: After one year of Trump, Google CEO Sundar Pichai sounds a lot different about immigration — and that might be a …

Google, Facebook Helped Anti-Islam Group During 2016 Election

The flaws in their business models keep on becoming more apparent:

If you saw ads on your Facebook feed showing an alternate reality where France and Germany were governed by Sharia law ahead of the 2016 elections, you’re not alone.

Facebook (FB, +0.89%) and Google (GOOGL, +0.18%) helped advertising company Harris Media run the campaigns for their client, Secure America Now—a conservative, nonprofit advocacy group whose campaign “included a mix of anti-Hillary Clinton and anti-Islam messages,” notes Bloomberg.

According to Bloomberg’s account, Facebook and Google directly collaborated on the campaign, helping “target the ads to more efficiently reach the audiences.” Not only did the two tech giants compete for “millions in ad dollars,” but they also “worked closely” with the group on their ads throughout the 2016 election.

Voters in swing states saw a range of ads, including the faux tourism video that depicted French students being trained to fight for the caliphate, and the Mona Lisa covered in a burqa. Another ad linked Nevada Democratic Senate nominee Catherine Cortez Masto to terrorism, calling on viewers to “stop support of terrorism. Vote against Catherine Cortez Mastro,” and asking them to “vote to protect Nevada.”

Ads were optimized to target specific groups of people that they felt “could be swayed by the anti-refugee message.” And Facebook reportedly used its collaboration with Secure America Now as an opportunity to test new technology as well. Internal reports acquired by Bloomberg show that the ads were viewed millions of times on Facebook and Google.

This case distinguishes itself from that of Russian efforts to influence the 2016 election in that Google and Facebook directly assisted Secure America Now in its targeting of audiences. Of course, the two companies have worked with political groups on their advertising strategies in the past, but the extent and secretive nature of their assistance in this case is uncommon. And the content of the ads themselves reportedly left some Harris employees feeling “uneasy.”

Google and Facebook were not immediately available for comment.

Source: Google, Facebook Helped Anti-Islam Group During 2016 Election

To the James Damores of the world: Focus on your own flaws: Marie Henein

Great column by Henein on the Google/Damore controversy. Witty and pointed:

As debate rages about whether it was fair to fire Google employee James Damore for the now-infamous Google manifesto that explored women’s so-called limitations, I can’t help but think, why can’t everyone just leave my gender alone? Once again, we are being filleted, dissected, and discussed as though we barely exist. Yet another round of public debate began about how our under-representation in various fields and in leadership roles has nothing to do with hundreds of years of inequality but rather is attributable to insurmountable biological limitations. Writers in article after article actually went out of their way to justify Mr. Damore’s view of women. Was this seriously still happening?

A recent column explained that our biological differences, among other things, makes female lawyers better negotiators but worse litigators. Just as I was about to switch jobs, the author kindly pointed out that I was an outlier. I didn’t know whether to be flattered that I am some sort of unicorn, concerned that I am considered more male in my disposition (a comment I have been the recipient of since elementary school) or disappointed that I now had to break it to countless talented female litigators that they should probably give it up and limit themselves to negotiation or more gentle, womanly professions. I look forward to more enlightenment on what our biology allows us to do. Given that technology, science, leadership roles, or any jobs requiring assertiveness are clearly out, we better hurry up as scores of young girls are being grossly misled into thinking they can actually do what they wish.

Mr. Damore, in the course of his unscientific stream of consciousness, unequivocally makes the following point: “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 don’t see equal representation of women in tech and leadership.” (Note: the italics are mine; the asinine quote is his.) He then goes on to mansplain – which was nice given the female biological aversion to ideas – that it is highly unlikely we are going to resolve the problem ourselves. He points out that females do not succeed because they are more inclined toward feelings and aesthetics rather than ideas. Women in general, he argues, have a stronger interest in people rather than things; our extroversion is expressed as gregariousness instead of assertiveness; we are agreeable, neurotic, and have a low stress tolerance. I get it. We feel more and think less. We are an emotional, under-thinking, overstressed gender. But it’s not all bad news: we have a hell of a lot of empathy and mushy feelings.

Golly gee, if only I could overcome my natural biological disposition toward feelings rather than ideas, maybe I could understand Mr. Damore’s point. Or just maybe his biological disposition skews toward feelings rather than well-articulated, grounded, scientific ideas. Who knows? Maybe I can find a man to explain it all to me.

Look, if you want to debate the pros and cons of diversity policies, knock yourself out. If you want to dispute a company that extends certain benefits or opportunities differentially, go right ahead. There are ways to meaningfully challenge an employer’s policies. But a manifesto explaining to a substantial portion of your colleagues that they are underperforming because they were made that way – that has very little to do with meaningful discussion.

Let me be clear, you can say whatever you wish. I am a staunch believer in freedom of speech and the expression of opinions, even offensive ones. Fragility of mind when faced with opposing thought and shouting people down does not in any way advance our pressing democratic goals. And there is no crime in being stupid, but if you are an employee you are fireable. Mr. Damore should have thought of that, but perhaps his biological male assertiveness got in the way.

So I have a proposal for the James Damores of the world: why don’t you focus on your own biological inadequacies, and stop thinking about ours. After all, you know them best. He and his compatriots can feel free to write as many manifestos explaining male deficiencies, of which my feeling, female self – with aggressive male undertones – is convinced there are many. This exercise would consume both time and thousands of pages, but please, please leave my gender alone. We do not need you to explain what you perceive to be our limitations, thank you very much. We do not need to be told that we will fail and not lead because we are “more compassionate” or our brains are wired differently. We’ve got this. Focus on yourself. If only Mr. Damore had spent 8 of his 10 pages setting out the flaws in his personality, he probably would still have a job. The only inferiority that Mr. Damore definitively demonstrated is his own.

Finally, a word of advice: Girls, do not bother to read the manifesto. It isn’t worth your time. Read about Marie Curie instead who said: “We must believe that we are gifted for something, and that this thing, at whatever cost, must be attained.”

She was a scientist, by the way. Mr. Damore didn’t mention her.

Source: To the James Damores of the world: Focus on your own flaws – The Globe and Mail

We’ve studied gender and STEM for 25 years. The science doesn’t support the Google memo. – Recode

Of all the commentary written about Google’s firing of James Damore, this long read and assessment of the science and evidence appears to me the most comprehensive and convincing one given the range of studies cited.

Most of the op-ed type commentaries – Jon Kay’s The Google Manifesto contained truths that we can’t say, Debra Soh’s No, the Google manifesto isn’t sexist or anti-diversity. It’s science, David Brooks’ somewhat hysterical Sundar Pichai Should Resign as Google’s C.E.O. – tend to be overly simplistic and selective in their presentation of the issues involved.

I am also less than convinced by free speech arguments, perhaps reflecting my time in government where it was clear that any public comment should not undermine, or appear to undermine, the government. While the rules may not be so ironclad in other organizations, employees in all organizations need to be mindful of the impact of their public commentary on the overall reputation, image and policies of their employer.

For the account of the Google board deliberations, see How CEO Sundar Pichai made the decision to fire James Damore was just as hard as Google’s all-hands meeting today will be which highlights the superficialiity of Brook’s piece in particular:

James Damore, 28, questioned the company’s diversity policies and claimed that scientific data backed up his assertions. Google CEO Sundar Pichai wrote that Damore’s 3,300-word manifesto crossed the line by “advancing harmful gender stereotypes” in the workplace. Pichai noted that “To suggest a group of our colleagues have traits that make them less biologically suited to that work is offensive and not OK.”

Damore argued that many men in the company agreed with his sentiments. That’s not surprising, since the idea that women just can’t hack it in math and science has been around for a very long time. It has been argued that women’s lack of a “math gene,” their brain structures, and their inherent psychological traits put most of them out of the game.

Some critics sided with Damore. For example, columnist Ross Douthat of The New York Times found his scientific arguments intriguing.

But are they? What are the real facts? We have been researching issues of gender and STEM (science, technology engineering and math) for more than 25 years. We can say flatly that there is no evidence that women’s biology makes them incapable of performing at the highest levels in any STEM fields.

Many reputable scientific authorities have weighed in on this question, including a major paper in the journal Science debunking the idea that the brains of males and females are so different that they should be educated in single-sex classrooms. The paper was written by eight prominent neuroscientists, headed by professor Diane Halpern of Claremont McKenna College, past president of the American Psychological Association. They argue that “There is no well-designed research showing that single-sex education improves students’ academic performance, but there is evidence that sex segregation increases gender stereotyping and legitimizes institutional sexism.”

They add, “Neuroscientists have found few sex differences in children’s brains beyond the larger volume of boys’ brains and the earlier completion of girls’ brain growth, neither of which is known to relate to learning.”

Several major books have debunked the idea of important brain differences between the sexes. Lise Eliot, associate professor in the Department of Neuroscience at the Chicago Medical School, did an exhaustive review of the scientific literature on human brains from birth to adolescence. She concluded, in her book, “Pink Brain, Blue Brain,” that there is “surprisingly little solid evidence of sex differences in children’s brains.”

Rebecca Jordan-Young, a sociomedical scientist and professor at Barnard College, also rejects the notion that there are pink and blue brains, and that the differing organization of female and male brains is the key to behavior. In her book “Brain Storm: The Flaws in the Science of Sex Differences,” she says that this narrative misunderstands the complexities of biology and the dynamic nature of brain development.

And happily, the widely held belief that boys are naturally better than girls at math and science is unraveling among serious scientists. Evidence is mounting that girls are every bit as competent as boys in these areas. Psychology professor Janet Hyde of the University of Wisconsin–Madison has strong U. S. data showing no meaningful differences in math performance among more than seven million boys and girls in grades 2 through 12.

Also, several large-scale international testing programs find girls closing the gender gap in math, and in some cases outscoring the boys. Clearly, this huge improvement over a fairly short time period argues against biological explanations.

Much of the data that Damore provides in his memo is suspect, outdated or has other problems.

In his July memo, titled, “Google’s Ideological Echo Chamber: How bias clouds our thinking about diversity and inclusion,” Damore wrote that women on average have more “openness directed towards feelings and aesthetics rather than ideas.” And he stated that women are more inclined to have an interest in “people rather than things, relative to men.”

Damore cites the work of Simon Baron-Cohen, who argues in his widely reviewed book “The Essential Difference” that boys are biologically programmed to focus on objects, predisposing them to math and understanding systems, while girls are programmed to focus on people and feelings. The British psychologist claims that the male brain is the “systematizing brain” while the female brain is the “empathizing” brain.

This idea was based on a study of day-old babies, which found that the boys looked at mobiles longer and the girls looked at faces longer. Male brains, Baron-Cohen says, are ideally suited for leadership and power. They are hardwired for mastery of hunting and tracking, trading, achieving and maintaining power, gaining expertise, tolerating solitude, using aggression and taking on leadership roles.

The female brain, on he other hand, is specialized for making friends, mothering, gossip and “reading” a partner. Girls and women are so focused on others, he says, that they have little interest in figuring out how the world works.

But Baron-Cohen’s study had major problems. It was an “outlier” study. No one else has replicated these findings, including Baron-Cohen himself. It is so flawed as to be almost meaningless. Why?

The experiment lacked crucial controls against experimenter bias, and was badly designed. Female and male infants were propped up in a parent’s lap and shown, side by side, an active person or an inanimate object. Since newborns can’t hold their heads up independently, their visual preferences could well have been determined by the way their parents held them.

Source: We’ve studied gender and STEM for 25 years. The science doesn’t support the Google memo. – Recode

Google just hired a diversity VP — just as it struggles with a sexist memo from an employee – Recode

Culture change is hard:

Google recently announced a new head of diversity, just as it has had to deal with a controversial 3,000-word internal memo sent across the company by an employee.

It contains a series of what I can only describe as sexist twaddle, wrapped in the undeserved protection of free speech. (Hey bros who don’t agree, that’s just my opinion, so you’ll have to take it because … First Amendment and all!)

Danielle Brown, who was previously at Intel, was named the search giant’s new VP of diversity, integrity and governance several months ago and arrived a month ago. But she now has her first big test and it has to do with Silicon Valley’s latest problem.

Which is: Some male techies don’t seem to like women around computers.

She did note that in her memo she just sent to the company, noting she would not link to the employee’s memo because, ‘it’s not a viewpoint that I or this company endorses, promotes or encourages.”

The employee memo —which has been up for days without action by the company — went viral within Google this weekend with some decrying it and others not. Sources said execs have been struggling with how to deal with it and the fall-out, trying to decide if its troubling content crosses a line or should be allowed to be aired.

It’s not an easy line to walk. The employee — whom I am not naming since he seems to be the subject of threats online — penned a piece he sent across the company that said, among other things, that women just can’t do tech.

Titled “Google’s Ideological Echo Chamber,” it begins promisingly enough:

“I value diversity and inclusion, am not denying that sexism exists, and don’t endorse using stereotypes. When addressing the gap in representation in the population, we need to look at population level differences in distributions. If we can’t have an honest discussion about this, then we can never truly solve the problem.”

But then, in what is pretty much the main premise, he went on in detail: “I’m simply stating 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 don’t see equal representation of women in tech and leadership.”

Also men like status and, apparently, ladies like me are too nice to code.

More to come, but here is a memo Brown just sent out about the other memo:

“Affirming our commitment to diversity and inclusion—and healthy debate

Googlers,

I’m Danielle, Google’s brand new VP of Diversity, Integrity & Governance. I started just a couple of weeks ago, and I had hoped to take another week or so to get the lay of the land before introducing myself to you all. But given the heated debate we’ve seen over the past few days, I feel compelled to say a few words.

Many of you have read an internal document shared by someone in our engineering organization, expressing views on the natural abilities and characteristics of different genders, as well as whether one can speak freely of these things at Google. And like many of you, I found that it advanced incorrect assumptions about gender. I’m not going to link to it here as it’s not a viewpoint that I or this company endorses, promotes or encourages.

Diversity and inclusion are a fundamental part of our values and the culture we continue to cultivate. We are unequivocal in our belief that diversity and inclusion are critical to our success as a company, and we’ll continue to stand for that and be committed to it for the long haul. As Ari Balogh said in his internal G+ post, “Building an open, inclusive environment is core to who we are, and the right thing to do. ‘Nuff said.”

Google has taken a strong stand on this issue, by releasing its demographic data and creating a company wide OKR on diversity and inclusion. Strong stands elicit strong reactions. Changing a culture is hard, and it’s often uncomfortable. But I firmly believe Google is doing the right thing, and that’s why I took this job.

Part of building an open, inclusive environment means fostering a culture in which those with alternative views, including different political views, feel safe sharing their opinions. But that discourse needs to work alongside the principles of equal employment found in our Code of Conduct, policies, and anti-discrimination laws.

I’ve been in the industry for a long time, and I can tell you that I’ve never worked at a company that has so many platforms for employees to express themselves — TGIF, Memegen, internal G+, thousands of discussion groups. I know this conversation doesn’t end with my email today. I look forward to continuing to hear your thoughts as I settle in and meet with Googlers across the company.

Thanks,

Danielle”

Source: Google just hired a diversity VP — just as it struggles with a sexist memo from an employee – Recode

Update: Google has apparently fired the employee who wrote the offending memo.

Google is funding a new software project that will automate writing local news – Recode

More white collar jobs at risk – other professions will likely face similar partial replacement (e.g., lawyers, accountants):

Google is awarding the Press Association, a large British news agency, $805,000 to build software to automate the writing of 30,000 local stories a month.

The money comes from a fund from Google, the Digital News Initiative, that the search giant started with a commitment to invest over $170 million to support digital innovation in newsrooms across Europe.

The Press Assocation received the funding in partnership with Urbs Media, an automation software startup specializing in combing through large open datasets. Together, the Press Assocation and Urbs Media will work on a software project dubbed Radar, which stands for Reporters And Data And Robots.

Radar aims to automate local reporting with large public databases from government agencies or local law enforcement — basically roboticizing the work of reporters. Stories from the data will be penned using Natural Language Generation, which converts information gleaned from the data into words.

The robotic reporters won’t be working alone. The grant includes funds allocated to hire five journalists to identify datasets, as well as curate and edit the news articles generated from Radar. The project also aims to create automated ways to add images and video to robot-made stories.

“Skilled human journalists will still be vital in the process,” said Peter Clifton, the editor in chief of the Press Assocation in a statement. “But Radar allows us to harness artificial intelligence to scale up to a volume of local stories that would be impossible to provide manually.”

The Associated Press, a major U.S. news agency, started using automation software to generate stories about corporate financial quarterly earnings in 2014. The AP now posts thousands of stories every quarter with the help of its robotic reporting tools.

But the AP generally automates the generation of stories that don’t require investigation. Quarterly earnings are essential to cover for business journalism, but it often amounts to essentially sharing and comparing new numbers from the company with past earnings reports. That requires crunching numbers quickly, which might make more sense to be done by a robot.

The Radar project, on the other hand, plans to cover issues of local importance, digging into government datasets to find stories that matter. That kind of news judgement takes a deep understanding of social, political and local contexts, which humans are better suited to determine than software. The team of journalists who work on the project will likely be key to making it a success.

Still, Clifton says that this type of automated reporting can go a long way at a time of extreme financial pressures on media outlets, helping to cover important local stories — albeit with fewer people involved in the process.

Source: Google is funding a new software project that will automate writing local news – Recode

Why Google’s newest AI team is setting up in Canada – Recode

The Canadian advantage includes immigration and related policies:

DeepMind, Google’s London-based artificial intelligence research branch, is launching a team at the University of Alberta in Canada.

Why there? Two reasons come to mind:

1. Canada has a history of AI research

DeepMind is launching a team at the university partly for proximity to the broader AI research community in Canada.

A number of leading AI researchers in Silicon Valley hail from Canada, where they plugged away at deep learning, a complex automated process of data analysis, during a period when that technology — now popular at major tech companies — was considered by the larger computer science community to be a dead end.

Plus, almost a dozen DeepMind staff came from the university, according to a blog post by DeepMind co-founder and CEO Demis Hassabis announcing the new lab. An Alberta PhD and a former post doc from the school played key roles in one of DeepMind’s hallmark accomplishments, getting its AlphaGo software to beat the human world champion at Chinese strategy game Go.

“Our hope is that this collaboration will help turbocharge Edmonton’s growth as a technology and research hub,” wrote Hassabis, “attracting even more world-class AI researchers to the region and helping to keep them there too.”

2. The Canadian government is friendlier to AI research than the U.S.

Political realities also make Canada a particularly attractive place for Google to expand its AI efforts.

The Canadian government has demonstrated a willingness to invest in artificial intelligence, committing about $100 million ($125 million in Canadian currency) in its 2017 budget to develop the AI industry in the country.

This is in contrast to the U.S., where President Donald Trump’s 2018 budget request includes drastic cuts to medical and scientific research, including an 11 percent or $776 million cut to the National Science Foundation.

Another contrast to the U.S. is in immigration policies. Canada doesn’t have an equivalent of the U.S. travel ban, which restricts travel for immigrants and refugees from Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen. In the U.S., the ban makes it more difficult for tech and academic talent to enter the country.

Something interesting: One of the three researchers leading the team, Dr. Patrick M. Pilarski, is part of the university’s Department of Medicine. Google won’t comment on whether Pilarski’s medical background will play a role in his machine learning work for DeepMind, but Google is working on ways to integrate AI for health care as part of its cloud offering.

Source: Why Google’s newest AI team is setting up in Canada – Recode

Google offers a glimpse into its fight against fake news

Challenge to know how much the issue is being addressed without any independent watchdogs:

In the waning months of 2016, two of the world’s biggest tech companies decided they would do their part to curb the spread of hoaxes and misinformation on their platforms — by this point, widely referred to under the umbrella of “fake news.”

Facebook and Google announced they would explicitly ban fake news publishers from using their advertising networks to make money, while Facebook later announced additional efforts to flag and fact-check suspicious news stories in users’ feeds.

How successful have these efforts been? Neither company will say much — but Google, at least, has offered a glimpse.

In a report released today, Google says that its advertising team reviewed 550 sites it suspected of serving misleading content from November to December last year.

Of those 550 sites, Google took action against 340 of them for violating its advertising policies.

“When we say ‘take action’ that basically means, this is a site that historically was working with Google and our Adsense products to show ads, and now we’re no longer allowing our ad systems to support that content,” said Scott Spencer, Google’s director of product management for sustainable ads in an interview.

Nearly 200 publishers — that is, the site operators themselves — were also removed from Google’s AdSense network permanently, the company said.

Not all of the offenders were caught violating the company’s new policy specifically addressing misrepresentation; some may have run afoul of other existing policies.

In total, Google says, it took down 1.7 billion ads in violation of its policies in 2016.

Questions remain

No additional information is contained within the report — an annual review of bad advertising practices that Google dealt with last year.

In both an interview and a followup email, Google declined to name any of the publishers that had violated its policies or been permanently removed from its network. Nor could Google say how much money it had withheld from publishers of fake news, or how much money some of its highest-grossing offenders made.

Some fake news site operators have boasted of making thousands of dollars a month in revenue from advertising displayed on their sites.

‘I always say the bad guys with algorithms are going to be one step ahead of the good guys with algorithms.’– Susan Bidel, senior analyst at Forrester Research

The sites reviewed by Google also represent a very brief snapshot in time — the aftermath of the U.S. presidential election — and Spencer was unable to say how previous months in the year might have compared.

“There’s no way to know. We take action against sites when they’re identified and they violate our policies,” Spencer said. “It’s not like I can really extrapolate the number.”

A bigger issue

Companies such as Google are only part of the picture.

“It’s the advertisers’ dollars. It’s their responsibility to spend it wisely,” said Susan Bidel, a senior analyst at Forrester Research who recently co-wrote a report on fake news for marketers and advertisers.

That, however, is easier said than done. Often, advertisers don’t know all of the sites on which their ads run — making it difficult to weed out sites designed to serve misinformation. And even if they are able to maintain a partial list of offending sites, “there’s no blacklist that’s going to be able to keep up with fake news,” Bidel said, when publishers can quickly create new sites.

Source: Google offers a glimpse into its fight against fake news – Technology & Science – CBC News