Technology has a bias — but it’s not the kind most talk about
Exploring left and right biases on a `neutral` web
I have previously authored AI: A Politically Correct Intelligence? and offered some thought-provoking commentary on Does Technology have a race? paper (here’s the PDF) while working with some of the smartest researchers. The paper explored themes of how technology can act on our biases. For example, Google’s massive fiasco in which they didn’t take into account the variation in facial features of different races, therefore leading to some of the photos being classified incorrectly, to say the very least and politely so:
But… much as someone who has challenged right-wing, traditional, conservative beliefs, I’m no blind follower — I like to challenge the left-leaning ideology just as much and the very institutions I’m a beneficiary of; those designed to protect me. I believe doing so helps oneself be a better critical thinker and keeps things in check. In fact, it is hard for me to make anyone happy as I tend to set off my liberal and conservative friends alike, by challenging their beliefs.
In this informal research I used Google to identify some of the right and left-leaning biases to make a point. Or rather, because Google tends to claim to be simply a search engine, perhaps it’s the vast vocal majority (“the media”) reflecting those biases.
1. Who makes for better doctors?
I never gave this much thought as to me, and probably most people, it is about good doctors vs. bad doctors. Not women or men. Not gay or straight doctor. Not black or white doctor. Not Democrat or Republican doctor. I discriminate against or towards my choice of a doctor based on their Google reviews and my experience with them. Well, Google tends to think differently. There are two things I don’t like about this:
(a) The sexism: By most articles out there questioning “Are women better doctors than men?” we are essentially admitting to a subconscious bias that “we know” men are better doctors for sure. It’s analogical to googling, “Do aliens exist?”, because well, we know that they probably don’t. I think it’s so stupid and I have never, ever thought of such nonsense until now. I do have to admit though, out of all doctors I have had to date, the female doctors seemed to be more patient and open to listening to their patients. Some — but not all male doctors seemed to be “in a hurry”. But then, there have also been some female nurses and hospital staff who seem to be “always in a hurry” and can be rude/dismissive. So, yeah, that is my problem with this line of questioning.
(b) The reverse sexism: Let us suppose for a moment, that men are actually better doctors — even though I personally don’t believe in this or care so much either way, but say it was proven by hardcore research and science that men make for better doctors. No one will want to admit it, or write about it as doing so would come across as sexist! So better to write off the truth as a “good cause” than to admit it. Because, hey! men can’t be better at anything. Admitting so would mean, empowering an already, seemingly powerful species of humanity.
Result: LEFT bias.
2. Who makes for better sex (or gender) ?
The results here are pretty balanced, although naturally because of what I said in point #1, the ultimate answer to any of these questions answered by the actual resource will actually never end in “men are better at this…”, not without either making it sound more egalitarian (“women and men each have different strengths and weaknesses”) or dismissing it as a fallacy altogether (i.e., “actually, contrary to popular belief, women are better at….”).
RESULT: Almost Neutral but… leans LEFT.
Um, okay, interesting. I’ll let you be the judge. I don’t know what to make out of it but “autocomplete” has gotten sneakier over the last few years.
RESULT: Too few data points to be conclusive. Thanks, Autocomplete!
4. Misogyny vs. misandry
It is prudent to note, whether we live in a patriarchal or matriarchal society, and whether you are for tradition or an nth-wave feminist, women’s rights are and will always be important. Misogyny, although prevalent, is and will always be denounced — it’s bad, it looks bad, it feels bad. Whereas, misandry is not. It is even encouraged subtly or shamelessly — it feels satisfying and just to some, while sounding “awesome” to others.
Over the last few years, I have therefore stopped believing in the argument, “if men could have periods…, tampons will be free, it will be a Federal holiday, healthcare will be subsidized etc.” because it’s just speculation and a slippery slope fallacy. (That being said, I am pro-choice and stand for women’s right to their wellbeing).
But, see, even in a patriarchal world, where men are supposedly “powerful”, breast cancer gets more attention and support than testicular cancer or prostate cancer, women’s rights are put first, there are support groups run by women and men primarily for women, and not to forget, men continue to be the disposable/expendable sex as a tradeoff for a better society — much like The Royals stated, “Nobody cries for the King.” It’s as if the society and men themselves don’t give a sh*t about men. Boys and men’s issues are dismissed by people, including the very men. And, one can’t bring up issues about boys and men without also bringing up girls’ and women’s issues, so as to be inclusive. Men are incarcerated more harshly than women for the crimes of same degree (this and this link). Although this seems to be changing, or the media could be biased (this and this link) — I don’t know.
So, no, if “men could have periods,…” you can’t be so certain that it would cause things to be a certain way. The answer is, we don’t know.
You will experience this on TV and in movies a lot — even in 2018.
The way I work around this is, every scene of a TV show I watch, which features a casual interaction or a court proceeding between the opposite sexes, I imagine “what would it be like if the roles were reversed?” Even in today’s progressive society, we find it not offensive and even satisfying to some degree when an actor portraying a man who cheated on his wife is slapped by her. Or, a man being bashed for being male, or made fun of.
Talking purely about TV at the moment but this disparity creeps well in real-life too.
We would all however, feel the pain of a woman or a young girl who is hurt physically, or murdered or treated in a hostile manner. We want to get back at the man who did this. The reasoning some may want to use behind this attitude, that “men are physically stronger” may not apply here depending on which feminist you ask — some believe in it, others dismiss it as “well, there are exceptions!” or “women give birth!” (thereby referring to the better pain tolerance of women overall and not necessarily muscle mass). Because… fuck biology.
In the past, I would dismiss male-rights literature and activism as utter bullshit and focus only on feminism, but mind you, not all of those points are irrelevant. You can’t be so sure without hearing both sides.
5. “Why are <insert gender>…”
and just watch autocomplete:
RESULT: NEUTRAL, for once.
But, most women are not circumcised!?!
6. Who is better at technology?
Ha! Again, the question you’ll never get a straight answer to.
Much like doctors, I believe there are good and bad technologists and don’t pay attention to gender but I’m also frustrated when I see either “men are better…” or “women are better…” at technology because of the sexism and reverse sexism alike. If you want me to believe women are better than men at technology, let’s just conveniently forget who created the Internet, the computers, smartphones, chips, barcodes, Google and the many technologies taken for granted today — because it couldn’t have been men, right?
Whatever happened to giving credit where it’s due? Come on, guys!
I am better off mincing my words here but I’m sorry — you can’t just change history or dismiss it and blame everything on oppression and patriarchy either. Yes, I’m aware of female inventors as well, e.g. Josephin Cochrane who is my hero and the person behind one of my favorite gadgets: the dishwasher! But, you also can’t dismiss the contributions of many straight, white, cis-males (and at least one gay man: I’m referring to you, Alan Turing!) to technology. You wouldn’t become any less of a feminist or humanist by admitting this. But some would rather use the “lack of early exposure of girls to technology” argument and that’s okay. Well, it’s a leveled playing field today — both very young girls and boys have access to iPads, smartphones and smart TVs, along with the older gadgets (dishwashers, washing machines, calculators, etc.) so the early exposure argument is fading away.
But, Google or rather most of the media thinks “women are better at technology.” End of discussion.
I’m not convinced. And, I’m not going to let myself be bullied to plead otherwise by some.
RESULT: LEFT Bias. Very LEFT.
7. Gay men vs. Straight men
As a gay man, I was just curious.
Autocomplete is silent here. Thanks again, autocomplete!
8. “Why <insert gender>” and let Google speculate:
RESULT: Inconclusive / Neutral
9. Misogyny vs. Misandry: Round Deux.
Ouch… thought provoking on both sides actually.
RESULT: _______________ (fill in the blank).
10. Diversity vs. No Diversity
Even as a beneficiary of diversity and a supporter, I have my reservations with the concept. I’m all for diversity as long as it doesn’t lower the bar or create “quotas” for every kind of human: that makes approximately 8 billion kinds,
because everyone is different, right?
But we don’t need Google to tell us it’s biased towards diversity. 😊
Haven’t we seen the memo and its aftermath already?
RESULT: NEUTRAL, but Google you’re still LEFT-biased!
I actually liked reading this Quora answer on “diversity”:
Quora actually seems to offer a more “fuller” perspective and truly diverse opinions on many subjects unlike Google, which has become the Supreme Leftist doctrine.
I sincerely request whether you are left-leaning or right-leaning in your politics and ideologies, it never hurts to listen to the opposing sides and even helps you become a better critical thinker, as my college Psychology professor once told us. He said something along the lines, “you don’t necessarily have to agree with the opposing viewpoint or change your mind, but exposing yourself to another viewpoint helps you evaluate [things] better.” But today, as we know, if you are conservative you are very likely only following conservative websites and news sources (Fox News anyone?). And, if you are liberal, well, you aren’t even being exposed to the conservative side or an opposing viewpoint — thank Google, and the majority of media.
This list is obviously not exhaustive — it primarily targets topics like gender disparity and diversity. You should be able to carry out similar researches on other topics — but if you do, try to sincerely observe towards which side do the results lean. I was hoping to find an equal representation of left and right biases on the Internet: which inevitably means Google, but it turned out to be either left leaning or somewhat neutral. So, yeah, technology does have a bias much like everything else these days, but it’s not the one most talk about.
Who is to blame for this? Liberals and conservatives alike!
© 2018. Akshay ‘Ax’ Sharma.