Another Good Reason for Diversity in Tech
December 29, 2015
Just who decides what we see when we search? If we’re using Google, it’s a group of Google employees, of course. The Independent reports, “Google’s Search Results Aren’t as Unbiased as You Think—and a Lack of Diversity Could Be the Cause.” Writer Doug Bolton points to a TEDx talk by Swedish journalist Andreas Ekström, in which Ekström describes times Google has, and has not, counteracted campaigns to deliberately bump certain content. For example, the company did act to decouple racist imagery from searches for “Michelle Obama,” but did nothing to counter the association between a certain Norwegian murderer and dog poop. Boldon writes:
“Although different in motivation, the two campaigns worked in exactly the same way – but in the second, Google didn’t step in, and the inaccurate Breivik images stayed at the top of the search results for much longer. Few would argue that Google was wrong to end the Obama campaign or let the Breivik one run its course, but the two incidents shed light on the fact that behind such a large and faceless multi-billion dollar tech company as Google, there’s people deciding what we see when we search. And in a time when Google has such a poor record for gender and ethnic diversity and other companies struggle to address this imbalance (as IBM did when they attempted to get women into tech by encouraging them to ‘Hack a Hairdryer’), this fact becomes more pressing.”
The article notes that only 18 percent of Google’s tech staff worldwide are women, and that it is just two percent Hispanic and one percent black. Ekström’s talk has many asking what unperceived biases lurk in Google’s algorithms, and some are calling on the company anew to expand its hiring diversity. Naturally, though, any tech company can only do so much until more girls and minorities are encouraged to explore the sciences.
Cynthia Murrell, December 29, 2015