Tag Archives | Silicon Valley

Vanity Fair, Elon Musk, AI, and Frankenstein’s (unexpected) Monster

Vanity Fair magazine recently ran a profile of Elon Musk that focused on the ways that Musk is at odds with other tech gurus about the relative merits of artificial intelligence (AI). Musk, who thinks that A.I. is humanity’s biggest threat, is quoted as saying “sometimes what will happen is a scientist will get so engrossed in their work that they don’t really realize the ramifications of what they’re doing.”  Musk doesn’t reference it directly, but his fears about a scientist who gets carried away with his work, with disastrous results, perfectly describe Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein.

Victor Frankenstein’s ambition to “penetrate the recesses of nature” leads him to create a human being, which he thinks will become a new species that will “bless him” as the creator. Victor’s creature, as we all know, does not turn out the way Victor expects, and when the creature comes to life one November evening, Victor flees in horror, leaving his creature defenseless and alone—and outside of Victor’s control. Eventually, after the creature learns to read and think, he confronts Victor and demands that Victor make him a female companion. The creature plans to flee with the female to South America, where they will live on nuts and berries and exist in complete harmony with nature. Victor initially agrees to this plan and then changes his mind, fearful that the female creature “might refuse to comply” with the plan. He destroys the female creature, which sends his first creation into a vengeful rage. The final chapters of the novel focus on the battle between man and creation, each trying to destroy the other.

The novel is about the dangers of ambition, yes, and about not realizing the full ramifications of your actions, but ultimately, “Frankenstein’s monster” is not the problem.

At the heart of the novel is what happens when women are neglected and their experiences denied by male ambition. Frankenstein wants to create life all by himself, without women; he cannot bear the thought that the female creature might not “comply” with what men want her to do; and when the creature kills Frankenstein’s bride on their wedding night, it’s because Frankenstein never thought that the monster would bother with anyone else other than him.

Maureen Dowd, who wrote this article, also interviewed a number of other players in the tech world as a way to map the spectrum of attitudes about AI developments.

Here is the infographic that accompanied the article:

 

Notice anything? It’s like Frankenstein talking to himself: apparently only men have opinions about AI, which I guess explains why Dowd’s article only contains interviews with men. Musk talks about other male entrepreneurs, who then talk about Musk, themselves, and each other. It’s a giant reflecting mirror of men talking about their accomplishments—past, present, and future.

And yet, as Heather Roff pointed out in a recent issue of Foreign Policy, as developments in AI continue, no one seems to be asking key questions: “Are there abuses of power? What is the value happening here? Why are we doing this? Who is subordinate? And who is in charge?” Questions like these are embedded in feminist theories but I’m going to bet that none of the guys on that infographic are very well versed in the writings of Donna Haraway or bell hooks.

The men in Dowd’s article are terrifically accomplished, there’s no doubt, but they (and we) should take a lesson from Mary Shelley and her nineteenth-century nightmare: when you leave women out of the equation(s), the results are disastrous.

 

 

 

Infographic credit

 

Continue Reading · 0 on April 28, 2017 in Children, Education, Feminism, Gender, Politics, tech life

Gender Gap in Silicon Valley…

So the other day I was reading The New Yorker — the actual magazine, not the tablet version. I hate reading magazines electronically. They force me to read chronologically, when for me some of the joy of reading a magazine is flipping through the pages and reading whatever I want, in whichever order. Yes, that means I’m always about two weeks behind, but hey — if you want to know what the hot restaurants were in late October, I’m totally your gal.

Anyway. So the other day, there was a short article about the gender gap in Silicon Valley, written by James Surowiecki.  Titled “Valley Boys,” the article described what we all already know: the leadership in the digital world is overwhelmingly male. Sorry Sheryl, it seems that leaning in isn’t getting the job done. Screen Shot 2014-11-29 at 10.17.25 AMThe article sketched out some of what is being done in an attempt to change this problem, which is, in fact a problem.  At the end of the article, Surowiecki cites an oft-cited study by McKinsey, which found that “organizations with the most diverse executive teams had dramatically higher returns on equity and earnings performance than those with the least diverse teams.”

Want a higher return on your investments? Invest with the company whose board doesn’t look like a poster for the Old White Guys society. Wait, what’s that you say? That’s what most of the Republican party looks like?  Er… well, ‘Murrica, hope you’re not expecting a quality return on that particular mid-term investment.

But I digress.

The next article in the magazine was titled “The Programmer’s Price,” by Lizzy Widdicombe, and focused on an agency whose specialty is hiring out computer programmers and techies.  Here’s the photo that ran with the article:

The agency 10x has nearly eighty clients, mostly in North America, though one codes from India and one from beaches in Thailand.

Nice-looking bunch of fellows, aren’t they? Especially the lad with the gingery tresses in the front.

So here’s my question: did the editors at the magazine intend for this piece to be a visual commentary on the “there are no women in tech” article? Or are we witnessing unintentional editorial irony?  There are no women in that picture and the only mention of women in the article is the fact that this digital talent agency only has three women on its roster, a fact that one of the agency’s owners says he is “bummed” about. Yeah. I’m sure the gender inequity is, like, totally a drag for him.  I’m sure that the  the women trying to break through the ranks of coding machismo in order to land one of the plum coding jobs (or should we say Apple jobs?)  are bummed about it too.

It’s no surprise to find irony in the pages of The New Yorker; I’m just not used to seeing the articles silently comment on one another in this fashion. I appreciate the irony–and realized too that if I had a daughter, she’d be learning to code.

 

 

 

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Continue Reading · on November 29, 2014 in Children, Education, Feminism, tech life, Uncategorized

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