MIT and Ethics for the 21st Century: A New Spin on Academia, Ethics, and Technology

January 13, 2020

Yes, a new spin. There is nothing like spin, particularly when an august institution has accepted money from an interesting person. Who is this fascinating individual?

Jeffrey Epstein, alleged procurer, human trafficker, and hobnobber with really great and wonderful people.

I read, with some disgust, “Eight Revelations from MIT’s Jeffrey Epstein Report,” which was conveniently published in Technology Review, an organ of truth and insight affiliated with MIT. For context, I had just completed “Alphabet’s Top Lawyer to Retire after Google Founders Leave,” which appeared in the Bloomberg news-iverse. You remember Bloomberg, the outfit which reported with some nifty assertions that motherboard spying was afoot.

But to MIT and Epstein, then a comment about the sterling outfit Google.

MIT’s write up explained that MIT was prudent. Instead of accepting $10 million from the interesting and now allegedly deceased Mr. Epstein, the university accepted a mere $800,000. Such restraint. And that’s the subtitle for the write up!

What are the eight teachings derived from the fraternization, support, and joy of accepting the interesting Mr. Epstein? Here you go, gentle reader:

  1. The relationship for money extended over 15 years. Such tenacity.
  2. The hook up with Mr. Epstein were happenstance. Maybe MIT was seduced?
  3. The $10 million didn’t happen, but the donations had to be anonymous. Such judgment.
  4. It was the MIT Corporation, not the real school.
  5. Mr. Epstein prevaricated about his donations. Quite a surprise, of course. Lies, deception, manipulation, etc. etc.
  6. Mr. Epstein attended real MIT events, like the funeral for “AI pioneer Marvin Minsky.” An icon, of course.
  7. No big wheels like Bill Gates were involved in directing Mr. Epstein’s money. Perhaps a bit of color on this point would be helpful.
  8. A real MIT professional asserted that Mr. Epstein was a person whom MIT “should treat with respect.”

And the write up concludes, “The Media Lab [a unit of MIT] rejected $25,000, Mr. Epstein tried to donate in 2019. Another example of judgment.

To sum up, quite a write up about an institution which I assume offers a course in ethics. Well, maybe not. Full disclosure: I was quote in the MIT Technology Review late in 2019. I was not thrilled with that association with an outfit will to treat Mr. Epstein with respect.

Now to the Google. The world’s largest online advertising agency seems to be channeling the antics of Madison Avenue in the 1950s. In this episode of the Science Club Explores Biological Impulses”, I learned:

David Drummond, the legal chief of Google parent Alphabet Inc. and a company veteran, stepped down following questions about his conduct at the technology giant.

The conduct may have involved another Googler. What do two Googlers create? Why another Googler it seems. Who knew that Madison Avenue extended from New York City to Mountain View, California.

Net net: Two outfits with people who should have known about propriety demonstrated poor judgment. Look for slightly used ethical compasses on eBay. Lightly used but likely to manifest flawed outputs.

I would suggest that certain non technical behaviors qualify as grounds for viewing MIT and Google as very poorly managed institutions staffed by individuals who operate from a position above the “madding crowd.”

Stephen E Arnold, January 13, 2020

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