That Manifesto Thing

Last week someone at work brought to my attention the Google Manifesto shenanigan over the previous weekend. As a woman in tech, I hear about things like this all the time, but I’m too caught up with other activities to respond to these things publicly. I try to be a positive person, so instead of dwelling on all the lame comments that peppered social media, I’m just going to focus on those who have rebutted the manifesto with much better articulation that I could ever have.

A Brief History of Women in Computing: What I love about this article is that it pointed out what I felt was the biggest problem in the Google Manfiesto. The manifesto presented several biological research and used it to try to justify why women could be less suited for computing. However, as this article points out, the jump was too big. The biological components pointed out may explain certain traits, but not how those traits exactly cause an interest (or lack thereof) in computing specifically. As it is, the manifesto (yes I read it) sounded like it was motivated by the author’s deeply held stereotypes about women and he tried to back up his beliefs retroactively. Additionally, the manifesto does not address how modern computing environments were shaped by men and optimized for their own behaviour. Because let’s face it: a profession’s environment affects its workers, while workers in turn affect the environment. The relationship is symbiotic. Several of the manifesto’s points pertain more to computing environments rather than the actual task. For example, it said that computing is a high-stress profession requiring less empathy and social interactivity. Is it possible that women, with their different biology, could thrive in a different, yet equally productive, computing environment? I don’t know, and I think it would be more productive to conduct research on it than to rely on stereotypes to make leaps in conclusion.

So, About this Googler’s Manifesto: What I like about this article is his explanation about how engineering isn’t an isolated endeavour. This was a misconception I had when I was younger, and it’s actually something that attracted me to the field, because I like doing solo work. I’ve grown out of that misconception though, and I love computer science enough to also appreciate its collaborative and social aspect.

Tech’s Damaging Myth of the Loner Genius Nerd: This article expands a little bit more on the misconception of engineering as a solo task. What’s even more important is that it points out one of the things that really annoy me in the Artificial Intelligence / Deep Learning sector today: engineers seem to be developing tools for things that I don’t think many people will use. Take for example, machines that beat other players in a very particular game. What is this doing for the world at large? For people who are not gamers? For people from low-income households or third-world countries? What is this doing for the environment, for our healths, for improving society in general? As a computer scientist, making a positive impact in the world is my life goal, and it can be puzzling to hear that advancements in my chosen concentration mostly serve such a tiny niche. Every week you hear about that new deep neural net that can now replace a writer or an artist, but how about helping marginalized creators reach the audience who want to read their work? When did voices of machines become more important than the voices of humans? Especially when you know that these machines have been trained on a very particular subset of work that are most likely mainstream already. This article explains a little bit more on why empathy might be the key to averting this trend.

Anyway, that’s all I have for now. Like I said, I don’t like to dwell on this kind of situations. If you have any article you’d like to share, let me know. Or if you have thoughts about computer science or AI and what you think they can do for society, let me know too!