Alphabet Google: High School Science Club Management Breakthrough

February 20, 2021

The Google appears to support the concepts, decision making capabilities, and the savoir faire of my high school science club. I entered high school in 1958, and I was asked to join the Science Club. Like cool. Fat, thick glasses, and the sporty clothes my parents bought me at Robert Hall completed by look. And I fit right in. Arrogant, proud to explain that I missed the third and fourth grades because my tutor in Campinas died of snake bite. I did the passive resistance thing, and I refused to complete the 1950s version of distance learning via the Calvert Course, and socially unaware – yes, I fit right in. The Science Club of Woodruff High School! People sort of like me: Mid western in spirit, arrogant, and clueless. Were we immature? Does Mr. Putin have oligarchs as friends?

With my enthusiastic support, the Woodruff High School Science Club intercepted the principal’s morning announcements. We replaced mimeograph stencils with those we enhanced. We slipped calcium carbide into chemistry experiments involving sulfuric acid. When we we taken before the high school assistant principal Bull Durham, he would intone, “Grow up.”

We learned there were no consequences. We concluded that without the Science Club, it was hasta la vista to the math team, the quick recall team, the debate team, the trophies from the annual Science Fair, and the pride in the silly people who racked up top scores on standardized tests administered to everyone in the school.

The Science Club learned a life lesson. Apologize. Look at your shoes. Evidence meekness and humility. Forget asking for permission.

I thought about how the Science Club decided. That’s an overstatement. An idea caught our attention and we acted. I stepped into the nostalgia Jacuzzi when I read “Google Fires Another AI Ethics Leader.” A déjà vu moment. The Timnit Gibru incident flickers in the thumbtypers’ news feeds. Now a new name: Margaret Mitchell, the co-lead of Google’s Ethical AI team. Allegedly she was fired if the information in the “real” news story is accurate. The extra peachy keen Daily Mail alleged that the RIF was a result of Ms. Mitchell’s use of a script “to search for evidence of discrimination against fired black colleague.” Not exactly as nifty as my 1958 high school use of calcium carbide, but close enough for horseshoes.

Even the cast of characters in this humanoid unfriending is the same: Uber Googler Jeff Dean, who Sawzall and BigTable problems logically. The script is a recycling of a 1930’s radio drama. The management process unchanged: Conclude and act. Wham and bam.

The subject of ethics is slippery. Todd Pheifer, a doctor of education wrote Business Ethics: The Search for an Elusive Idea and required a couple of hundred pages to deal with a single branch of the definition of the concept. The book is a mere $900 on Amazon, but today (Saturday, February 20, 2021, it is not available.) Were the buyers Googlers?

Ethics is in the title of the Axios article “Google Fires Another AI Ethics Leader,” and ethics figures in many of the downstream retellings of this action. Are these instant AI ethicist zappings removals the Alphabet Google equivalent of the Luxe Half-Acre Mosquito Trap with Stand?  Hum buzz zap!

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In my high school science club, we often deferred to Don and Bernard or the Jackson Brothers. These high school wizards had published an article about moon phases in a peer-reviewed journal when Don was a freshman and Bernard was a sophomore. (I have a great anecdote about Don’s experience in astrophysics class at the University of Illinois. Ask me nicely, and I will recount it.)

The bright lads would mumble some idea about showing the administration how stupid it was, and we were off to the races. As I recall, we rarely considered the impact of our decisions. What about ethics, wisdom, social and political awareness? Who are you kidding? Snort, snort, snort. Life lesson: No consequences for those who revere good test takers.

As it turned out, most of us matured somewhat. Most got graduate degrees. Most of us avoided super life catastrophes. Bull Durham is long dead, but I would wager he would remember our brilliance if he were around today to reminisce about the Science Club in 1958.

I am grateful for the Googley, ethical AI related personnel actions actions. Ah, memories.

Several questions with answers in italic:

  • How will Alphabet Google’s effort to recruit individuals who are not like the original Google “science club” in the wake of the Backrub burnout? Answer: Paying ever higher salaries, larger bonuses, maybe an office at home.
  • Which “real” news outfit will label the ethical terminations as a failure of high school science club management methods? Answer: None.
  • What does ethics means? Answer: Learn about phenomenological existentialism and then revisit this question.

I miss those Science Club meetings on Tuesday afternoon from 3 30 to 4 30 pm Central time even today. But “real” news stories about Google’s ethical actions related to artificial intelligence are like a whiff of Dollar General air freshener.

Stephen E Arnold, February 22, 2021

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