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A perfect tech-world storm

August 8th, 2017 Comments off

Don’t Be Evil.

It was the much-derided slogan of Google back in the day, the ancient days, in techworld terms, of about 15 years ago. Although it had been debunked to an extent by the latter modification to “Do the right thing”, the aura of trying to be all things to all men still drifted around the behemoth of the online world.

Note that … all things to all MEN. And it was a sexism scandal that ended the Alphabet [Google] career of presumably well-meaning employee and systems biologist James Damore.

So here’s the perfect storm: there’s privacy, sexism, free-speech, digital world, gender pay gap, Silicon Valley values, all rolled together into a delicious tech-crunchy sandwich.

Mr Dunmore wrote an internal memo, a long 10-page memo, in which, among other things, he addressed the difference between men and women of tech. With the spirit of John McEnroe hovering over him, he wrote that “the distribution of preferences and abilities of men and women differ in part due to biological causes”.

Vivek Wadhwa, of Carnegie Mellon University college of engineering and a frequent critic of the tech sector’s lack of diversity, told The Guardian: “You could take this to a lot of people and you would hear: ‘Yup, we agree with this.’ People used to say things like this fearlessly.”

But maybe those people will be more afraid now that Damore has been shown the door, after a very clear memo from Google VP Sundar Pichai, which said in part that Damore’s manifesto was “advancing harmful gender stereotypes in our workplace”.

Damore can now be classified as a “knave” – not really our type of person at Google. Yes, two of the company’s leaders actually, seriously it seems, described the people who are not wanted at the company in this term in a talk two years ago.

So what about free speech? In the beautiful tomorrow of the digital world it is still too hot to handle at one of digital’s chief temples.

Damore’s manifesto represents the voice of the right, the tell-it-like-it-is brigade of Trump’s America. Predictably, the story was the darling of super-right-wing Breitbart News in recent days.

“Google’s left bias has created a politically correct monoculture that maintains its hold by shaming dissenters into silence,” Damore wrote. And there you have one of the core reasons for Trump’s ascendance – a distrust of intellectuals and liberals, a fury that the ‘eastern elites’ with their fancy affirmative-action policies were ruining American life.

So what’s the take-away from all this? If we have to choose, in a bi-polar world, who is right and who is wrong?

Google was wrong to sack Damore because that is only throwing petrol on a fire. He could have been “counselled”, “re-educated” – maybe he would have quit anyway, to escape the heat. For it seems there is a fire burning steadily within the walls at Mountain View, where men outnumber women employees by four to one.

More significantly, whites outnumber African-Americans by 98 to 2. Anyone care to write a manifesto on that?

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