My short title for this blog is “Pass the Tylenol” and my inclusion of this 1977 advertisement is deliberate. The issues that we are examining are thorny ones; there are no quick fixes or easy answers. It’s enough to make your head spin off of its axis, but I think we need to be intentionally provoked in order to respond with meaningful analyses.
Anyone ever look at their arm or eyes for too long and they become strange to you? We recently read about this in our NonFiction- Memoir class when we examined Girl, Interrupted. You sometimes stare at something: it could be anything, a facial feature, a tree outside and it seems to get detached from its context and you start to wonder, why is it made the way it is? At this point, I am certain that many of my colleagues are rolling their eyes at me and saying really, Medea, really? Yet, pondering Google and its monopoly status is staggering, causing this type of dissociative feeling.
This article is so astounding because it made me really question the underpinnings of search platforms that I use fairly regularly, Google and YouTube (which are both married, and as I said last week Google had to pay a hefty price for that wedding). I know that Google is ad-based and not a “public library” where we are the customers; yet, Dr. Noble’s commentary caused me to enter into a type of Google-eyed stupor– initiating the thrumming mantra of “this is all real” to keep rotating in my brain.
Google is driven by many powerful companies that perpetuate stereotypes. I know this. However, I decided to further my headache by “googling” “sicilian girl.” Here’s one of the top items, a movie I’ve actually seen and found to be quite moving:
Note my subtitle above. Although this was a great movie, hey Google, I know it’s hard to believe but all Sicilians are not in the mob. I’ve grown up with the “Sicilian mafiosi” stereotype my entire life. I don’t like it much, but it doesn’t incense me anymore. I actually joke about it, but as Noble says, “we’re laughing because it’s a defense mechanism.” How true!
So we know the problem. Here’s where we go deeper into the spongy gray matter that is entwined in headache particles. You can try to fool Google. The best way to do this is to enter varied search terms and always put key terms and phrases in quotation marks. And don’t look at the top results. Vary your Google-eyed diet (or abstain altogether). I think we need to do that when we are searching for very important things. We need peer-reviewed articles and libraries still exist (although Kean is getting rid of a lot of its physical collection of books, sad).
But we are in need of a solution that is much more profound. I think a viable answer lies in education and dedicated parenting/caretaking. In my personal view, the Common Core has done a lot to chip away at the educational system, both in public and private schools. When you try to raise standards, but the necessary support structure doesn’t exist, what happens: standards are going to fall. I have seen it. The great, difficult teachers are retiring and we are left with teachers who just grade based on how much effort you put in? Excuse me? Or as my father would say- Whaddayah you say to me? Education needs to change so that meritocracy becomes valuable again. Additionally, parents, neighbors and relatives need to get involved to fill in the educational gap. Teachers and the latter need to instill in students that you can’t google your way through it! Even when we had encyclopedias, we didn’t write our reports straight out of them, we worked towards synthesizing ideas. As expressed by Dr. Noble, googling, is problematic and sadly, reflects deeply disturbing stereotypes. Education and parenting are vital tools to fighting the Googlization of digital culture.
The same types of problems are addressed in the article “Engine Failure.” However, I have a problem. I am not the biggest fan of government getting involved in our business and businesses. Drafting legislature to monitor the Internet is worrisome. Moreover, you would really need to change our entire American legislative system to have a case like the Nazi-memorabilia one to be found in favor of Ebay pulling the merchandise. I find Nazi memorabilia repugnant and to have it be used as collectors’ items is awful and disrespectful to humanity, not just those affected by the Holocaust. However, what if similar things are being used for educational purposes? We need to see the ugly stuff so that we don’t repeat it.
Furthermore, many reprehensible crimes are driven by Internet searches of issues like white supremacy (i.e. Dr. Noble mentions the shooting of a black church in Charleston). Awful gut-wrenching news, I remember when it happened. We’ve got to take a harder look at mental health resources and educate teachers and parents in spotting warning signs. Is it going to solve every problem? Sadly no.
We do need better standards. We have to seek out diverse, skilled people to engineer the algorithms (algos for short) so that proper machine learning (ML) is done. If greater diversity is not reflected, meaningful change will not occur. We need to cast a wider net in searching for bright people of all races to contribute to algorithm-building and ML.
Algorithmic Injustice and Facial Recognition
I used Salvador Dali’s painting here because essentially that is what is happening with facial recognition, as explained by Joy Buolamwini. The faces of black women and darker-skinned people of color are melting, languishing away like these melting Dali watch-faces. They don’t matter, they are beyond recognition, and persist elsewhere in the amorphous ether. That’s awful. It reminds me of several news articles I happened to see on Twitter last week. One addressed precisely this issue: how an African American woman’s face simply could not be captured by facial recognition (in her case I believe it was for a passport photo). Furthermore, there are also soap dispensers that don’t code for black skin. Insanity right?
So what do we do? How do we solve these issues? Like Buolamwini explained, facial recognition tools can cause significant damage in terms of racial profiling. We don’t allow illegal searches and seizures right? Why are we allowing the data mining of faces? My gut instinct is to get rid of it all. It seems so sinister. But that is that realistic? Likely not. So we need skilled, POC to help feed the algorithmic machines. We can’t afford to exclude people. The price is just too high.