The Cancel Culture in Technology: A New Approach to Sustained and Informed Discussion

July 1, 2020

DarkCyber sifts through a range of content. Some of it is becoming repetitive. Acquisition of promising start ups like Google’s devouring of a rival maker of smart glasses. The story? Competitive fear, a desire to make hay after burning the field and most of the equipment barn, or an easy way to get some employees not yet prone to management resistance while doing the WFH thing. More details about this deal appear in “Google Completes Acquisition of Ontario Smart-Glasses Maker North.”

Another repetitive theme is turning off, disconnecting, and cancelling. This is not the wonky folks living in SUVs and converted delivery trucks. This dropping out is not the Timothy Leary thing. The new approach to cancelling embraces throwing $450 million into the bonfire nobody cared about: The Microsoft retail stores. And top experts in smart software leaving Twitter because of a New Age “conversation.”

Yann LeCun Quits Twitter Amid Acrimonious Exchanges on AI Bias” brings the culture of open range disputes between sheep herders and cattle ranchers into the zippy 24×7 digital era.

The write up explains in Silicon Valley speak that sheep muddy drinking water and cows do not. Sheep ruin the grazing land. Cattle do not. How is the dispute resolved? As I recall one of my addled teachers explaining, the approach involved poisonings, shootings, fencing, and law enforcement. I am not sure that the problem has been eliminated, but I will generalize that most people do not care about muddy streams and sparse grass.

Today we care about smart software.

The write up points out:

Penn State University Associate Professor Brad Wyble tweeted “This image speaks volumes about the dangers of bias in AI.” LeCun responded, “ML systems are biased when data is biased. This face upsampling system makes everyone look white because the network was pretrained on FlickFaceHQ, which mainly contains white people pics. Train the *exact* same system on a dataset from Senegal, and everyone will look African.“

Definitely contentious.

What interested DarkCyber, however, is not the socio-tech discussion. The message seems to be “I can’t talk to you so I am out of here.”

This is a nice way of hitting the cancel button.

Several observational questions:

  1. Is this a sheep versus cattle argument?
  2. How does technology’s refinement processes operate when improvement muddies the drinking water?
  3. How does dropping out, turning off, and tuning out contribute to innovation?

Cancel means more than not tweeting. Cancelling is officially a trend even for allegedly informed and enlightened techno-herders.

Stephen E Arnold, July 1, 2020

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