Google: High School Science Club Mini Revolt. Mini? Why Not Maxi?

December 17, 2020

Ah, remember the good old days. No one knew about thumb typing. High school students contented themselves with chemistry experiments, electronics kits, and weird tin girder thingies. Now the HSSC has grown up, but has failed to leave behind the beliefs, precepts, and insights of their youth.

I thought about the then and now perspective when I read “Google AI Researchers Lay Out Demands, Escalating Internal Fight.” As if the assorted lawsuits were not enough to bedevil the senior management of the Google. I know the allegations about fiddling with online advertising are colorful, but just maybe that’s another facet of what I call HSSCMM or the high school science club management method. The idea is that teen spirit allows some bright young people to discard history, expected behaviors, and social conventions in order to demonstrate the superiority of the young mind.

Yeah, how is that working out?

Let’s recap:

  1. Google management seems to have an issue with staff who want to explain how smart software can become biased. How does this get fixed? Just work through the weird explanations emitted by Google and then ask the question, “Are there other ways to ignite a social issue powder keg?” The answer is, “Well, probably.”
  2. How can a company find itself in the litigation hot seat in multiple jurisdictions? Easy. Treat the European Community as if they were slightly dull and non-Googley critics of the world’s largest online ad system. Create a situation which allows the company to come to the attention of 40 US states attorneys general. Recite the mantra about competition and a free service. Are there other ways to catch attention of people who sue for a living? The answer is, “Well, probably.”
  3. A couple of days ago, the Google infrastructure with Chubby, Sawzall, and their pals crashed. Nifty. Some can get by without Gmail, but what about the father who used the fine tweeter system to share this thought: “I’m sitting here in the dark in my toddler’s room because the light is controlled by @Google Home. Rethinking… a lot right now.”

Does it seem that the HSSCMM is fraying at the edges?

Am I concerned? Nope. Just amused. I think there are lessons to be learned from these Google missteps just as there are from the SolarWinds’ misstep. (What’s the cost of remediating this minor hiccup? A few bucks? An ad like Facebook’s in the Wall Street Journal? Or an AT&T telemarketing promotion of its outstanding video service?)

Integrity, ethical behavior, and an effort to deliver solutions that work are not priorities. That’s too bad. Once upon a time, high school science clubs meant something sort of positive. Today the sort of negative has won.

That explains a great deal about the social and technical environment in which these almost comical actions are unfolding.

Do you have a HSSCMM T shirt? Messrs. Brin and Page may be wearing theirs now.

Stephen E Arnold, December 17, 2020


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