In that instance, The Machine Cleaned Out My Desk.
I had a cubicle at the company HQ, but was for some period of time working from home in another state. I still kept quite a few things in the cubicle (notebooks, mugs, etc), which I used when I was in the area.
When I finally came back, I noticed, after a month or two, that my office number has not been updated in the system (from being "HOME OFFICE"), and sent a request to IT to change it.
The next day I came back to see a pristine desk.
With all my stuff gone.
See, my request to update the office number triggered a relocation request. The system, in preparation of the move-in of the "new" tenant (me) into my cubicle, has removed all the belongings of the previous tenant (which also happened to be me).
Luckily, all the removed stuff was put in a box, which I got back several days later, after my manager found the right person in the facilities dept.
Just goes to show that automating even the simplest procedures can be very tricky - and that perhaps it's best to have people on-site manually approve any destructive steps.
Something like this happened to me too at a previous employer, some things I recovered but many were just gone, the cleaning staff apparently help themselves to stuff that “former” employees leave behind, so my fancy headphones for example were just gone. Fucks given by HR/facilities? Zero. One of many similar incidents for me and my cow-orkers. And this was a desk move literally from one row to another!
It wasn’t even an algorithm per se, most of the “machine” at this place was people in India following checklists manually. You could speak to them (tho' they made this very difficult to do) and tell them to stop and they would say “yes” and do it anyway.
I had a friend at another company who was mistakenly terminated, a week later his manager called him at home to find out if he was OK, the conversation apparently went,
Are you sick? What happened?
You fired me you bastard!
No I didn't! Please come back!
Too late now, I have another job.
Especially since you could tell them to stop and they would say "yes" and then carry on anyway...
Another story from the same company, group A would enter their requirements into system 1, group B would pick up work tickets from system 2. Group A thought that group B were idiots who could never do anything right, and group B thought that group A were idiots who could never make up their minds what they wanted.
But the real problem was group C who maintained systems 1 and 2 and "integrated" them with people in India manually rekeying from one to the other with frequent typos. They thought they were saving money but never considered the cost of delays and re-work in groups A and B...
This was discussed/commented on at length a couple of weeks ago. In Indian culture, apparently, the "yes" is like a verbal tick - kinda - and just acknowledges you've spoken without giving any commitment to doing anything (nor indeed indicating any level of understanding).
Tons of people have this exchange out of politeness. The person asking “How are you?” doesn’t really want to know details. The person answering is expected to be brief and positive. It’s only among friends that the same question is expected to get an honest and detailed answer.
—“How do you do?”
tipping of hats ensues
I don't even really blame the cleaners; people left expensive electronics, phones, wallets, whatever on their desks all the time, never any issues at all, I don't think any of them would have taken anything that wasn't from the pile, it was probably at least tacitly sanctioned by their management (who probably helped themselves first too).
automating business processes is actually a similar activity to doing programming!
When it's done competently, the business runs smoother. But if there are bugs (and as anyone who programs knows, there are always bugs), things go wrong. And yet, people who know not anything about complex systems design attempt to write up business requirements for such automation are numourus.
Idea: Require every action taken by an SAP or similar system be tagged with the name and telephone number of the MBA who created the action in SAP.
Or, almost certainly cheaper, manually deal with the 1 in 10,000 case like yours.
In this case, a simple notes field in the request system would perhaps have sufficed. Perhaps there is/was, and it wasn't filled out because it wasn't recognized as being some manner of exceptional request. Perhaps if there was manual approval, removal of your stuff would still have been approved.
It's literally impossible to catch all of these, because human error will creep in. Sounds to me like your case was dealt with adequately. (Perhaps not from your personal perspective!!)
If my research notebooks actually ended up in the trash, the loss of productivity would have certainly not been cheaper compared to implementing a simple checkmark requiring the approval of the manager of the person whose desk was cleaned out.
Did your boss send you home? If not, you should probably stay and be ready for work assignments (even if they don't come). For good measure contact some colleagues each day so they remember you and take a picture before you enter and after you leave.
No. At a certain level of employee experience and commitment this type of thing is inexcusable. Gaming the game is all that is encouraged these days. Complete corruption.
Why has this company not made their loyal worker whole? He stayed there when they needed him even when their system was trying to lock him out.
They need to fix this. If they don't, they are not a company anyone should work for. Perhaps the worker did not want to risk making a big stink, but a manager should have taken the initiative. Humans were involved by the end and well aware of what was going on.
Ethical behaviour, from my perspective, would be to compensate the employee, regardsless of his legal rights. In a more worker-central system, the worker should have easy recourse to an official judgement for his money.
In the Netherlands there is even a concept of culpability in laws regarding firing. Mess up too much, and the employer will have to pay a premium on the disengagement fee. And while our economy is moving towards a lot more 'sole employee contractors' with less worker-rights, you still have rights and a way to affordably enforce them. For them (only) basic contract law holds. That would probably mean paying the full 3 years in this context. A contract _is_ a contract.
If it had renewal intervals, that means he wasn't legally entitled to 3 years.
This is likely why he wasn't paid for the interim either. The best the company could do would likely be to bump up the future rate or offer a "signing bonus".
Being a contractor is not at all like being an employee despite how similar the responsibilities are. You have to watch contract details like renewals like a hawk. This guy and his recruiter should have included compensation for failing to notify when not renewing.
If you keep showing up to work and your superiors keep managing you (and especially if you keep getting paid) the contract remains valid beyond its stated expiry date.
I would agree with your point of professional contracting: contract for the worst and write out scenarios in contracts.
In this case though the employer acted in a way that signalled renewal and the contractor delivered in good faith. Back to contract law and ethics: are services delivered possibly without contract but in good faith without value and compensation?
The worker should not abandon the company during their time of need because of an unfortunate legal SNAFU. The company, in turn, should take it upon themselves to ensure that the worker doesn't suffer economically for having done the right thing by them.
Workers and management on a team ought to be able to trust each other to that degree, even if we understand that the interests of all parties are not fully aligned. That trust goes both ways.
Take that too far, tolerating abuse of trust, and you betray your obligation to yourself. But in small amounts, it's admirable.
Or, if you are saying that they shouldn't stay even for a day, even in the face of an emergency, then I disagree. Even if they don't have a legal obligation to do so, I respect those who would, like this worker. And I would prefer to work along such people as colleagues, trusting that if they could help it, they wouldn't leave their team in the lurch.
I don't like the idea that complete lack of trust and hairtrigger hostility should be the default mode of workforce participation.
As advice to a worker in this situation, it certainly makes sense to gut it out and take the risk of doing work without pay. It's, for most people, probably a much smaller risk than risking getting "really" fired without first having another job lined up.
Then complain to the employers, who are the ones who created that culture.
For what it's worth, I attribute the worst amoral behavior to corporate personhood rather than capitalism. Thus my preferred remedy is to eliminate corporate personhood, rather than capitalism.
The Netherlands sounds a bit employer friendly in the UK mess up at all in firing some one you automatically lose even if the employee is as guilty as sin and was caught bang to rights
Now we're not just talking about a lost opportunity to reward a loyal worker. If you're right, somebody ought to be going to jail.
(1) "Small" in relation to the whole contract deal; what's one employee's salary in a million-dollar agreement between two corporations?
Real story from one of the (big) french telecom companies I worked for, as a contractor (a few years ago)...
In that company, a regular employee was given a full desk, contractors were only given 2/3 of a desk (meaning 2 desks put side by side for 3 persons).
Also, contractors were NOT allowed to go to ANY conference. Even when it was about technical stuff that was directly for their project. We had to rely 100% on a transmission of information by our managers/team leads. This led to humorous results, to say the least.
Things like: a BIG meeting with plenty of people and managers, who then decided a HUGE technical change on the network, without the ONLY expert because he happened to be a contractor. Once given the results of the meeting, the guy was in a "WTF?" shock. He told me that be immediately binned the request: it basically asked him to disable the authentication server! Not the best decision for a BIG ISP, LOL. Seriously, that's almost beyond belief. (But I have other incredible stories similar to this one).
As a contractor, I have really been mistreated A LOT. So much so that I've sworn never to do it again.
If contractors are the only expert in a domain, there are big problems. Of course in corporations this is quite frequent - middle managers have yearly budgets for contractors, but aren't allowed to use that money to increase their headcount.
A company I work for decided to get a contractor in to run a £40m project. This makes sense for a management perspective, they get to blame the contractor (who's already left) if it fails, and they get to claim the glory if it works. It's terrible for a company though.
If I want 500 cables run in a data centre, or even 5 cables if it's a long way, I'll get a contractor in. Saves me a day by not having to do that work neatly and lets me do more important things (like ranting on HN). If I want someone to build me a fancy gui, I'll specify the frameworks, and let them mess around with the look and feel, but ultimately I own the output of the work, I need to be able to deal with it as if I wrote it myself.
>Some of that work included renewing my contract in the new system... When my contract expired, the machine took over and fired me.
As I interpreted the piece, it was a three year contract which was stored in an old system, and not transferred when that system was replaced. So the firing was triggered by the system no longer seeing any valid contract.
If that's true, it would be breach of contract. But if it was a rolling contract expected to end after three years, then yes, it would be a weird situation but not a breach.
There are exceptions, but they are pretty rare in tech.
So the contract was negotiated at a specific price point for (say) three years but every X months the other party can opt out by not renewing. They only commit for a certain term.
From what I understand, you can only sue for $1000 or less in small claims court. An IT contractor who is making $1000 or less per week has bigger problems.
Of course you'd shop around for the Bailiff company with the worse reputation and get them to send the lads who moonlight at that dodgy night club as Bouncers.
Sounds very strange that he wouldn't care to do a bit of paperwork, which he from the sounds of it could probably well justify to do on company time, with the manager and director being supportive. Or get the agency to do it for him, and bill them for the trouble. Or whatever. Something smells a bit fishy about that part of the story.
And if there's anything in the comments about "the manager and director being supportive", I don't see it -- where did you get that?
As for "fishy", I find it very strange that someone writes an article emphasising twice that they're out three weeks of pay, but then couldn't be bothered to do anything about it. There's breach of contract, this isn't a long and arduous appeals process, it's open and shut, and if it isn't you have a lawyer deal with it, and recoup expenses, too. And if the guy just doesn't care about it, then why does he mention it twice?
And for the purposes of this, and the other sub-thread that is incredulous about this, this is not an American thing: If you're a contractor in Europe, and you don't get paid, and you then don't do anything about that, then you don't get paid. There's no process that automatically fixes things when the aggrieved party doesn't ask for them to be fixed (and yes, even in Europe, there's a bit of annoying process and paperwork to deal with).
Even if he's legally entitled to the money, bringing a lawyer into the mix is likely to sour his relationship with his client (he's a contractor), and—rightly or wrongly—could give him a bad reputation in the local community, making it harder to find work in the future.
I'd actually rather people sue over this to establish some kind of case law where companies' legal teams tell their management to make a default policy of giving the missed pay on demand. There might already be case law on it.
I suspect this is the difference. If this company is incapable of not firing someone, I imagine their appeals process could be equally miserable. Sure, maybe the manager and director want to repay him, but actually releasing funds to pay someone who "wasn't employed" is going involve a lengthy battle with some HR/Accounting computer system that just wants its invariants not to vary. Depending on somebody's financial position, I can see them deciding to just walk away on even a large chunk of money to avoid the mess.
But, of course, the author is perfectly within his rights to just not pursue this, and I have no idea what processes he'd been told to expect for this -- it's just strange that he would emphasise something he doesn't care about in the post.
This is a good point. I was thinking that no matter how trivial the money, actually dragging a check out of the accounting system would be a serious hurdle. But the solution I missed would be to sic legal on it - their machine tends to beat out everyone else's.
“Made available? I eventually had to go down to the cellar to find them.”
“That’s the appeals department.”
“With a flashlight.”
“Ah, well, the lights had probably gone.”
“So had the stairs.”
“But look, you found the forms, didn’t you?”
“Yes, yes I did. They were made available in the bottom of a locked filing cabinet stuck in a disused lavatory with a sign on the door saying ‘Beware of the Leopard.'”
I billed 40 hours a week the entire time.
This sort of thinking kind of makes sense in a world where almost every company is a big factory company with their workers primarily doing repetitive physical labor. And the business management world has not adapted at all to the transition to mental labor. Their businesses fail and suffer for this, but as it's a universal condition (yes even among Google and such... if the company has a physical office, then they haven't even done the obvious to benefit from the move to mental work) there's not much pressure motivating change.
IMO because the generally demonstrated position of the labor force is that companies do not have to (which I hate, to be clear).
IMO, employees buy into the employer/owner-propogated myth that they are "lucky to be employed." As a result, employees greatly undervalue their labor and give up any leverage to make employers do the right thing.
Having been around the block a few times, I view 'work' as a transaction in which my employer and I need to realize fairly mutual benefits: most people don't. Employees generally see jobs and titles as a way to assess their societal value. And employers, knowing that, can do pretty much anything they want to people, dangling the occasional carrot to encourage higher worker output, but mostly working w/sticks.
This is also contributes to the zero real wage growth in a supposedly tight job market.
TLDR: power dynamics and poor 'game play' on the part of employees
Worse, the first notification email happened while I was presenting to the CEO and the HR contact in the meeting had noticed half way through that I had been fired. Queue jokes of "was the presentation that bad?". No one was able to stop the machine because no one really knew all the different processes or they weren't built to stop midway.
This is (in my opinion) one of the reasons why everyone talking about getting rid of dedicated IT ops in their organizations is making a mistake. You can have devs building integrations and automation all day, but you still need sysadmins who can see the whole picture and override them when necessary. Having an outsourced (or even internal) hell desk that goes off a script doesn't take care of situations like this either.
Imagine if we didn't have an operations engineer who knew how to trace down the problem using a TCP dump. Or if it had been a developer who was, by the proper "DevOps" hygenics, denied access to the boxes to run TCP dumps.
Yeah, they're fixing it. No, we don't have a timeline.
I think wasn't auto fired like OP only because such trigger wasn't implemented in the company, yet. No IT support available can be really bad.
The percentage is debatable, but the more important issue is what that 1% looks like. Because it's definitely not 1% of their value, it's the high-stakes stuff that needs a context-aware human to apply a fix or good decision in place of whatever The Machine is trying to do.
(And if you're going to keep experts on full time to handle the occasional 1% case, there's no longer much reason to outsource everything else.)
maybe the engineer that designed the system got themselves fired while they were testing the system
Wow, talk about someone who really never learned the importance of thinking things through.
However, a promo at Google is a huge deal. I really wanted the promotion to go through, so that I would have that level if I decided to re-join Google (or even so that go/epitaphs would match my resume). My manager and HRBP managed to get it sorted out, but it was a pain.
On the one hand, you have been promoted to a new role, so you have reached a compatible level of expertise. You can put that role on your resume and sell yourself.
On the other hand, you never, ever actually performed in that role, with the new responsibilities. How can you list that on your resume !
I am not sure what is the right answer here... but as your new employer I would take your last promotion with a big grain of salt. A resume is not a score sheet of levels accomplished in a game, it is a list of things your have actually done.
For example, is someone with level I is up for level II promo, she/he has to match level II criteria long before actual promotion is due.
In reality promotions mostly happen in organizations due to political lobbying with the powers.
Even in these 'decent' tech companies you will see some people getting rapidly promoted and moving up the hierarchy, while genuine performers are stuck in the process and minutiae. Its just what kind of leverage your manager has with the upper management.
I think everyone should at least experience once to what length a company can go in order to keep someone they really need that threatens to leave.
It happened once to me: in a 150k people company that had a well defined promotion model very similar to Google. I gave my resignation notice and suddenly all the HR pep talk was out of the roof. I gained two levels and was promoted to director level.I still left but felt stupid I didn't threaten to leave earlier.
It made me realize that there are two types of workers. The ones that will play fair game and believe the HR pep talk, as we just saw in the previous comments, and the ones that realize that the fastest way to go is to bypass this and play politics in order to fastrack it. It is another type of skill.
Companies are not living systems and in general its just people making decisions.
I've been walked over many times now, but once, after all the work, I was nominated for an award the company's annual meet. My manager, his manager and all the way up assured me that based on what I had done the award was coming my way. I was even asked to prepare a small speech to give on the stage, they even asked for a photo to put up on slide deck with a small bio.
Two days before the meet, my manager and the director called me into a meeting room to tell me that I wouldn't be getting the award, and they didn't want it to be painful surprise to me during the meet. And they had tried everything they could.
Eventually my manager told me during lunch later that big time political lobbying had gone into this, and VP making decisions had no option as he would be cornered politically on other issues, if he didn't relent to demands of rewards from other corners.
Google or any other company. Performance has nothing to do with how you get paid/rewarded in any company.
A promotion is a _recognition_ that you are _already_ operating at a given level. It's an acknowledgement by TPTB that you deserve a given title.
Anything less than this leads to a result where you may not actually be performing at the level the new title requires, which means you could conceivably be promoted and immediately fail to meet expectations in the new role.
aka the peter principle (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peter_principle)
The span at the level lower than your performance is accommodated by an excellent bonus and stock refresh.
For what it's worth - that's not necessarily true. Several places I have worked gave promotions in retrospect - after you have been performing the additional responsibilities for a while. It's sort of like a 'dry run' - they want to make sure you can do it before officially thrusting it on you.
I actually stayed an extra week to receive the promo.
I was due for a performance review about a week before I handed my notice in at my old job. The review didn't happen because my boss was incapable of communicating with his employees and actually scheduling appointments with them, but had it happened, I was fully prepared to push for a payrise, even though it would only be a couple of dollars an hour, and for only 3 weeks.
You wouldn't turn down a promotion because you know you're about to hand your notice in. You act like everything is normal and you're going to be working at the company for the foreseeable future, right until the day you hand your notice in, which should be at the minimum notice period.
Otherwise what would happen if you decline a promotion, then your new job offer falls through? You'd be left looking like a prize dick.
Too late though. :)
They don't stay, and you end up wasting a perfectly valid promotion while some one who would stick longer with you could have got it.
Your old manager may have said that to encourage you to stay, but at the end of the day he will promote whoever needs to be promoted in order for that person not to leave. It is all very simple offer and demand at the end of the day.
I was once in a company where the CEO liked to brag that in this company everyone is fairly paid in regards to their competences. You can guess what happened next, we went to have a couple beers with colleagues one evening and started talking about salaries. We realized that we had salaries that didn't really match what the CEO was pretending. The laws of the market are simply too strong, you will always need to sometime pay someone a lot because of circumstances or because that person had another offer to match.
At the end of the day, companies benefit a lot from information asymmetry (they know everyone's salary, but you know nothing). They can claim a lot of things without you having the ability to verify it.
Maybe someone just unassigned your employee id to the role, because in reality you weren't actually taking the job!
> I resigned just after I had gotten a promotion, but before the date when the promo was effective
If I get sick before my insurance is effective...I don't get my coverage.
If I resign before my raise is effective...I don't get my raise.
All of this is what "effective" means.
As I understand it, it goes like this:
1) Employee gets promotion, effective in the future (at #3)
2) Employee resigns, to be effective after promotion (at #4)
3) Promotion is to be effective at this date
4) Resignation is to be effective at this date
I understand the surprise.
I had interpreted that as being resignation effective before the promotion. But I was probably wrong.
A very logical thing to do. In big companies it takes time to build a case for a promotion(position). If you were not going to use it, it was always a good thing to give it to somebody else.
Plus asking somebody to sustain a position for somebody who was promoted and still wants to leave seems like bonkers even from the HR perspective.
According to the Social Security Administration:
> At its inception, the SSN's only purpose was to uniquely identify U.S. workers, enabling employers to submit accurate reports of covered earnings for use in administering benefits under the new Social Security program. That is still the primary purpose for the SSN.
I've been in health IT for the last 15ish years so I know a lot about patient matching (wrote at least 4 patient matching MPIs in my time at different companies).. so maybe it's just my perspective..
However, that all being said, almost all processes like this are NOT automated, but instead handled by automated emails telling people to do operations. You're basically then subject to the lowest common denominator logic of people in IT that are in charge of disabling accounts- with no regard or care about who the person is.
Anyway to the person that got fired like this - just be happy you are out of the environment - it is not for you. There are signs in life.
The author assumed that the recruiter accidentally thought that he had been fired after reading the list of fired employees, as there were other employees with the same name.
In reality, he had been fired as his contract had not been renewed. He wasn't actively fired, but rather his contract expired because someone failed to renew it.
A big part of the problem here seems to be rather that there were no warnings of his impending "departure" to the correct people. There were no emails to his manager reminding them that his contract was ending, or to the author himself. Even if it was intended for his contract to end, it would still be a good idea to have that email sent out, just to remind them. I can totally foresee somebody forgetting that their contract is finished.
The author's contract hadn't even ACTUALLY expired. The end date was wrong on the system. That doesn't actually affect his contract.
Seriously, in my 20+ year career, I've run across very few legitimately talented people in HR. The department seems to attract the kind of people who have little to offer intrinsically; who happen to be willing to facilitate the necessary protocols, as minimally effective as possible, while claiming "people skills" that end up being little more than office politics.
I’ve had the joy of being in meetings with folks from every discipline that don’t know their field but HR IT takes the cake. Somehow they find a way to absolve themselves of responsibility by leaning on more technical teams while simultaneously touting their unique technical expertise and importance they use as a club to ignore those very same teams.
About six months ago I left my long-time enterprise-y employer for a startup in another city. So we sold our house, packed up the family, bought a new house and moved in.
After 3 months it became obvious I had made a terrible mistake, so we sold the new house, packed up the family again, and bought another new house in the same city we had just left 3 months ago so I could return to my previous employer. They were happy to have me back and I ended up in the same desk and chair I had just vacated 3 months previous.
Only it took awhile. Since I was already in the system as a terminated employee it required manual intervention and code changes to the employee management system to get me added back in. It took about 3 weeks before I could do anything besides go to meetings.
If anything needs disrupting, it’s the employee management systems in use by pretty much all the large enterprise shops. It’s a mess.
The what now? I can only assume this is in US, because in EU he would be 100000% entitled to pay for every single minute of this going on.
It’s a shit situation and the company should have made him whole, but on ethical not legal grounds.
One week later they send me an e-mail asking when I'll be back from vacation. They refused to renew the contract (which explicitly said it required a formal written agreement to be renewed) but wanted me to keep working for them. So I went back to them and they kept paying me.
Several months later we had a disagreement and they claimed the terms of the original contract no longer applied because they hadn't renewed them. But my lawyer confirmed that in fact the contract was still valid because they implicitly extended it and the requirement for a formal renewal was invalidated (they failed to provide a new contract so the extension was still subject to the terms of the initial contract even though it had expired).
We didn't go all the way in court so I can't say whether this would have held up, but they ended up reaching an agreement with me where they pretty much gave up on everything except my legal fees, so I guess their lawyer wasn't too hopeful.
EDIT: For context, this happened in Germany.
You cant get out of "frustrating a contract" by saying its a mistake
I wonder what other examples there are of people blindly following technology - people driving into lakes because their GPS told them to, etc. Plus, as our society gets more and more dependent on these systems, we may lose out on the flexibility that human mediators and problem solvers once gave us. The human tendency to defer to authority may never be as terrifying as when that authority is held by an uncaring machine with a couple bugs.
What was once satire has become too real.
The episode about the black engineer who isn't detected by the motion sensors is basically straight out of HP's webcam fiasco(although the show takes it to the logical and hilarious extreme).
In my opinion, BOT is one of the best comedy shows of the past decade and that episode is widely considered to be the best one.
Can be solved by illuminating the face with IR though, which should work across all ethnicities.
It's not that hard to find both conscious and subconscious examples of systemic or individual racism. Engineers taking the easy path with webcam facial recognition is probably not a good one and serves only to give more fuel to those who claim people jump to the racism cry too quickly.
Laziness and racism aren't mutually exclusive. Historically in America, white people haven't considered black people as fully human. You can read the various declarations of secession or the 3/5ths compromise for that. Or the long post-Reconstruction history of slightly more subtle ways.
Sure, laziness was involved here. But deciding a product was good enough to ship without caring that it worked for black people requires the effective belief that black people didn't really count as people. At least, not people that mattered. Imagine the reverse: if the product didn't work on white men, would it have been shipped? Of course not.
When laziness just happens to have a blatantly racist outcome in a place where there is a centuries-long history of racism, Occam's Razor suggests the explanation is racism. If laziness could not have caused the bad outcome to happen for white people, then it's pretty clear that pure laziness is not the real cause. It's instead white people being differentially lazy when it comes to black people. That's clearly racism.
As a confirmatory example, look at the American justice system. In a lot of places and times, the same nominal laws applied to white and black people. But they were enforced very differently. Serious crimes against black people were ignored. Minor infractions by black people were enforced vigorously.  Were the cops lazy? Sure, everybody's lazy sometimes. Was that why there was a racially different outcome? Definitely not.
 Examples of this are all over Loewen's "Sundown Towns" for example.
So plausibly, this really was an innocent and understandable mistake. Maybe they grew up in a town full of white people, and maybe all of their friends and coworkers are white. I understand what they did is technically racist, but that's because of that particular combination of people. Let's use _this_ 'experience' of "racist", but not it's exact definition. For example:
- It was racist you forgot your mother in law's birthday (who you see once a year.)
- It was racists you didn't lift the toilet seat. (Edit: I grew up in a culture where it was offensive to not raise the seat)
Definition: Any unintentional side effect from not thinking about someone* outside of everything you've experienced, and presumably causing harm to that outsider.
* Usually this person is disadvantaged in some way. But almost everyone is disadvantaged in some way, thus neutralizing this particular point IMO.
Does that sound rational? I don't think it does.
The world is full of suffering, and I'm advocating people help and love the people they are surrounded by. If many people did that, it would be easier to recognize each other, where ever you come from. Why? Because hate will push away everything it is unfamiliar with, but love will accept everything it is unfamiliar with.
(Now meta argument, do I expect people to change? No. So I try accepting them instead.)
> Maybe they grew up in a town full of white people, and maybe all of their friends and coworkers are white.
This is not an accident. All-white contexts in America are the result of personal and systemic racism. People who grow up in those contexts are, unsurprisingly, more likely to be personally biased and will regardless do things that further systemic racism.
People in that condition have a choice: they can either overcome their upbringing or they can continue to support white supremacy. If they do the latter, well, then they've made a choice. You can accept that if you want. I don't.
Less than 15% of the U.S. is African American so it's not at all surprising that there are areas where there are very few black folks as a result. That's nobody's fault and shouldn't be described as racist because, well, it isn't.
If you'd like to learn more, start with Loewen's "Sundown Towns", which describes how hundreds and possibly thousands of towns across the US were turned and kept white:
These were known as "sundown towns" because non-white people had to leave by sundown or face violence: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sundown_town
These came about not because there were never any black people, but because white people indulged in violent ethnic cleansing. This happened most prominently during the Nadir: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nadir_of_American_race_relatio...
He proves this quite clearly through census data, where places that used to be racially mixed suddenly got white and then stayed that way for decades.
He doesn't give any specific Vermont examples, but Vermont had a prominent Klan presence in the 1920s: http://vermonthistory.org/research/research-resources-online...
Later, as suburbanization happened, white supremacy was maintained more subtly, through means such as racial covenants: https://www.sevendaysvt.com/vermont/discrimination-in-deed/C...
It's also not necessary for a lot of white people to be actively racist to preserve white supremacy. As is clear from Loewen's book, all it takes is a small number of people willing to be active (e.g., making threats, burning crosses) to drive off new black arrivals. The majority can be passively accepting of a racist system without lifting a finger.
But that doesn't mean they won't end up biased. White people who don't know many black people are more likely to be biased, and all-white towns produce people that are more likely to have racist views. (For more, see Loewen's Ch 11, "The effects of sundown towns on whites".)
> But deciding a product was good enough to ship without caring that it worked for black people requires the effective belief that black people didn't really count as people.
Nobody ever said "oh it doesn't work with black people? Who cares LOL." I was going to make a crack about mental gymnastics but this isn't even that. You're just making shit up at this point.
> When laziness just happens to have a blatantly racist outcome in a place where there is a centuries-long history of racism, Occam's Razor suggests the explanation is racism.
No, even using your sentence here you admit the cause is laziness but then try to reframe it to racism because that fits your world view. Just like the fact that we're talking about webcams and you're talking about the 3/5th compromise and the American justice system.
Is there institutional/structural racism in the US? Absolutely. Webcams aren't a good example of it, sorry.
We don't know whether or not they knew it didn't work with black people before they shipped it. Maybe they did and dismissed it with technical hogwash, as you are here. Maybe they did and decided it was an ok flaw. Maybe they didn't know because the company doesn't have any black employees and nobody though to test it on black people because the people in charge don't know any. Or maybe they do and just don't care. There are many possible paths to this decision, but any of them demonstrates systemic racism.
And this is on topic, because the broader topic is social implications of technology.
As an aside, your attempt to narrowly define the topic so racism can't even be spoken of is a pretty typical move from people experiencing white fragility: http://libjournal.uncg.edu/ijcp/article/view/249
Speaking of work, have you tried testing your definition of racism on non-white subjects and products, such as Black Entertainment Television? It doesn't hold up very well.
You could mean two things by "testing your definition of racism on non-white subjects": in the US or elsewhere. Either way, yes, of course I have. When going elsewhere it's necessary to speak of "the dominant racial group", and that can be helpful here too. So taking BET, we can ask questions like, "What effect are they having on non-dominant racial groups?" And, "Do their actions tend to increase or decrease the racial power imbalance?"
I'm not much of a TV person, so I'm not familiar with their shows. But I took a look: https://www.bet.com/shows.html
My first impression is that they are having positive effects on a non-dominant racial group, and are acting to decrease the racial power imbalance. Therefore, no, they are not racist.
Since you are anonymous person with a new account turning up to be a dick about the topic of racism, I presume your question was entirely insincere. But just in case, I hope you find the answer useful.
It can be both. An attitude that considers facial recognition software acceptable if it only recognizes light-skinned people is both lazy and racist. Only choosing to test on light-skinned people is racist because doing so assumes dark skinned people are an exception or an outlier, rather than an equally valid part of the set of "human faces."
The assumption of ones own race being the default color for humans (rather than an arbitrary value) that leads to facial recognition software being trained on a data set so narrow that the resulting software can't even recognize skin colors that diverge from that norm is as much about implicit, albeit unintentional, racial bias as it is the particular technical problems involved and the need for engineers to cut costs and meet deadlines.
It's not entirely racist, but racism is a component.
I wasn't ready to admit the genius of the show before, but I am now: what you said is quite close to a line from the same episode (said by the sociopathic boss, Veronica) when told by the protagonist that the sensors were effectively racist "[...] it's actually the opposite of racist, because it's not targeting black people. It's just ignoring them. [company] insist the worst people can call it is "indifferent.""
There could be a hidden assumption on the part of the engineering team that light-skin is "normal" and anything else is a special case. Nobody is saying "I hate black people" or anything of the kind.
Or, as happened with a voice recognition system a former employer used, it was tested on the engineering staff, who happened to be all male. As a result it didn't work well for most women who tried to use it. There was no intentional exclusion of women from the test data, and I'd argue, no intentional exclusion of women from the engineering teams. But it is reasonable to say that systemic sexism that excludes women from engineering careers helped this system fail.
These kinds of problems are difficult to solve, because they aren't active decisions on anyone's part. They evolve out of pervasive conditions, and unconscious biases. At root, the source is still racism, or sexism (or another form of discrimination).
No, it's an insufficiently sensitive contrast filter combine with too narrow a training set. Screaming racism at everything that is even marginally approaching the topic of race detracts from real racism and ignores the actual issue here - shitty software.
If the system had failed for with people with different hair color rather than skin color would they have been equally lazy?
Personally, I think it could be understandable people didn't consider race when developing facial recognition technology, especially when we've only had mainstream awareness of this for under a decade and many people live in racially homogeneous or dominated cultures. However, I don't think it's acceptable for organizations, and the time when you can safely say you didn't understand biased learning data will be over soon. There are considerations you need to make scaling your tech from personal project to something the public will consume.
Also, the day will come when computers can point out racist stuff better than the average human can now, albeit with a high false positive rate. I say this because it's relatively easy; even if you only count a subset of tweets talking about racism as not trolling, that's still a shockingly high number of meaningful things about the world many people aren't seeing.
If it's not worth the trouble to see if your system works for non-whites, that's beyond lazy.
Like the soap dispensers that don't work for dark skinned people.
Don't take it seriously.
Most sci-fi has the problem of trying to model a situation with limited social scope. The fact that they never turn out true is because society has social safeguards to prevent it from happening that the writers don't model.
1984 is also a comedy.
“Once men turned their thinking over to machines in the hope that this would set them free. But that only permitted other men with machines to enslave them.”
She told us we needed to sign a corrected lease because there was no way to make the rent billing system charge us the lower amount.
We explained to her that the building’s legal obligations trumped what their computer would do. They figured out how to change the amount in their billing system.
My wife is a victim of the OPM breach and had someone apply for (and in some cases open) numerous accounts with her data. One of those accounts was with T-Mobile and after three months of phone calls and strongly worded bills we filed an FCC complaint. A T-Mobile rep called us two days later and the issue was resolved (or so it seems anyway, haven’t heard anything in the past few weeks).
"Make game of that which makes as much of thee." is a quote from a book thousands of years old (The Rubiyat by Omar Khayaam) but it is as applicable as ever.
That’s what I always do with shitty utility providers - it’s funny how the “computer says no” excuse suddenly disappears when they start to be out of pocket.
I recommend complying with the process, mentally account for the extra costs when you sign up, stick to defaults and avoid complexity whenever possible.
On the other hand nowadays companies do respond to complaints much better than a few decades ago if you file complaints through their websites. Taking it to social media may also result in quick and drastic measures.
By the time I arrive to this stage, I’ve already got a replacement lined up and all it takes is to flick a switch.
> hurt your credit rating
From experience, the problem eventually gets resolved and they cancel any black marks on your credit report. But personally I never cared about mine anyway.
Due process has favored debtors for some time now, but the information isn't published, leaving shady "credit cleanup" companies to charge hundreds to do what you can do in many cases simply by logging into a website.
If you think this is a bad thing, then it's an organizational problem and has nothing to do with computers.
- Evidence of abuse of a drug.
- A second prescription which interacts badly with the first.
- Changing health circumstances (pregnancy, some sort of deficiency, failing internal systems, etc).
The correct thing to do in a case like this is to stop and coordinate with the prescribing physician. Having a pharmacist look at some change compared to how things were done prior and have a patient tell them it's a mistake and they should ignore it without consulting the prescribing physician is almost never a good idea.
If the migraine was really bad (bad enough to cause tangible damage) maybe you should sue the doctor for damages, or if it wasn't that bad, report him/her and go somewhere else next time.
Clearly, some commenters are also trying hard to be robot-swappable. :)
If you can’t deal with corner cases, or have none than leveraging rules/software is the way to go.
I think of vending machines and parking meters as automation of simple tasks, but what to do when they break?
I think google tries this by trying to “automate all the things”. It works most times but when it goes wrong it makes it very frustrating to correct.
The two key points are that you are committing the crime yourself, not asking somebody else to, and that it is in fact only potentially a crime, and even then it's relatively minor, and could be argued strongly in court.
You are not asking somebody else to illegally sell you opioids (for example) with no prescription. From what it sounds like, nobody was in real danger, just pain, and you expect people to risk everything they've spent their entire life working for just to prevent an hour of pain for some stranger?
Not sure how suing is related to the comment you replied to. If a chemist hands out drugs to people without prescriptions and they get caught, they will lose their licence, be barred for life, lose their store, get a massive fine, and in some cases serve jail time. Nothing to do with suing.
 Relative to medical emergencies.
Depending on the jurisdiction, pharmacists aren't allowed to prescribe stuff or treat people on the spot. That's business of a (licensed) doctor.
Mistake? *chuckles* We don't make mistakes!
*crashing sound as an improvised plug for the new hole in the ground falls straight through*
Bloody typical! They've gone back to metric without telling us!
When you design business processes like these, firing, hiring or managing people always keep in mind something can go wrong. Always include an abort button to either stop or roll back the process.
It's basically the issue we're trying to solve, where to draw that line?
It does not loose meaning because it can be aborted if stuff goes FUBAR.
To this observation I highly recommend E.M. Forster's The Machine Stops, first published in 1909(!).
That one has actually happened: http://bgr.com/2016/05/17/car-gps-mapping-directions-lake/
It's a little unfair, though. There was heavy rain, fog, and a second article  says it was also in the middle of the night. The photo there also does make it look easy to mistake as a road.
I remember Dwight and Michael arguing in Michael's car over whether the GPS was right as it kept telling them to go right which was directly into a lake.
"Dunder Mifflin Infinity" - Season 4 Episode 3/4
I'm glad it wasn't me driving there at night and in the rain, I could see myself making the same very bad mistake.
When the orders come from a computer. Will any of that happen, will there be someone responsible?
Humans are very quick to abdicate their own moral authority, and it is the most repugnant human impulse that exists. If someone puts a gun to your head, and tells you to kill someone or die, you are still responsible for whoever you kill. Others might consider your actions understandable, even forgivable, but you're still a murderer and still one who valued their own life above anothers.
If you do something because you were "just doing your job", that's even worse. That's exactly identical to doing something for money. Which is usually looked very poorly on by society.
The danger I see is the stifling of potential human subjective decisions. That broad decisions will be made and carried out without a sanity/humanity check by humans.
I think measures should be put in place for a guarantee of human intervention in the case of situational anomaly or system error as well as an emphasis on redress.
Since automation scales and a human workforce doesn't, a guarantee of human intervention might not be practically possible.
Anyone have any ideas on how this kind of thing might be mitigated?
Reminds me of the Google Ultron IT guy story, from 2014 (I think? How do 4Chan/American dates work?)