In the beginning there where black suited corporate drones. They coded black and white "calculation solutions" for the enterprising enterprise.
Then came colour. Gates wanted cheap computers on every desk. Jobs wanted colour computers for every artist. Mission. Meaning. This worked better, especially if you needed employees to invent things. Can't invent the iPhone wearing a suit writing business requiremnt compendiums.
Startups hired world changers and made a customer and emloyee happiness index. Google wrote "Don't be evil" on a chalkboard. Gmail was better than outlook. All was good.
Then some tension surfaced. Advertisers thought they would be happier tracking users. Users thought this was creepy. Making generals happy did not make employees happy. Someone erased "don't be evil" from the blackboard.
Back to square one.
Google (and "SV") have spent 2 decades telling everyone about their open and selfless ideologies. People bought it. They went to work for Google instead of a bank. Now, they use euphemisms and secrecy to avoid saying stuff that sounds bad.
Btw... It's interesting how iconic "don't be evil" was as a slogan. They couldn't live up to it, but that doesn't mean it didn't impact.
Let's inject a little honesty into this discussion. People didn't flock to google et al in droves because of google's selfless ideology. That was coincidental.
People flocked to google because they wanted to get rich. Especially in the early days when google touted their "don't be evil" philosophy.
For the techies going to work for google, it was never about not being evil. It was about getting rich.
We, as technologists, certainly knew and understood the dangers of companies like Facebook and Google from early on. (Again, if we're being honest, that understanding of the danger is one reason many of us don't even have a facebook.) But we compartmentalize. What we would put on our own home systems rarely reflects what we would put on work systems if someone is paying us enough money. What we would develop in hobby time is, again, very different than what we would develop if someone is paying us a lot of money.
I get it. We have to feed our families. I'm not faulting anyone. I'm just saying that it's a bit revisionist to put forth the "google/facebook/whoever tricked us into working for them" narrative. Most of us understood what google and facebook were going in.
Google left China after I joined. What other company would have done that? It still seemed way better than average.
This idea that of course we all knew what would happen over the next decade is revisionist history via mood affiliation that has no factual basis.
Also, there are ethical considerations in everything. They don't disappear when profit is involved.
In hindsight, after the money with so many zeroes, it is tempting to rewrite history, but this short "it was the money" doesnt tell the story
Google, pre-ipo, sucked in so much intellectual capital that other startups, my own included, were having trouble getting access to the elite techies at prices we could afford. Their salaries were well above market, and their options were clearly going to be worth more than everyone else' at the time.
And don't even get me started on Facebook. That one of facebook's early investors was the VC wing of the CIA was an open secret. Yet techies still flocked to them for the big paychecks and the options.
And good for those guys. For the vast majority of them, it worked out REALLY well. I don't fault them for any of it.
I just think that you're putting on rose colored glasses here. It was clear long before Google IPO'd, that there was a lot of money to be made. (That much was even clear before keyword auctions as a matter of fact.) And everyone wanted to be in on it. Everyone still wants to get in on the hot startups. Whether those startups are profitable or not. That's just the nature of this business.
Now again, I'm not complaining. That's just how the tech startup industry works. I get that. My issue is with everyone trying to turn it all around and act like a giant gold rush never blinded everyone. As if all those techies flocked to SV because it was all just about making the world a better place. That's just not true.
But, Google (and sv 2.0 generally) did both present and to an extent, live up to a certain ethic. Not perfectly, not without some hypocrisy but they did have an ethic. The sold it to their employees (and others).
Today, they have trouble living up to it. People got disillusioned or upset. That is what we're talking about it.
I agree that these people joined a company, not a monestary. But, 10 years ago working at Google was easier to be proud of, on an ethical/esthetic level.
* You tell Google what you are looking for.
* Google returns a handful of ads, alongside world-class organic search results.
* Merchants bid to have their ads returned for specific search intents.
None of this requires the 24/7 surveillance machine Google has ended up building.
Advertisers can now target not just classes of people, but in fact target specific people, and they'll pay a premium for that.
Could Google have kept making enough profit if they had stuck to the original plan?
I just couldn't imagine they'd ever erase it... Now who is left? I guess I'm waiting for the Internet Archive to turn evil...
For public companies beholden to greedy, money-focused shareholders, it's a different story. I don't know that they can help to be anything BUT selfish and probably evil. "Don't be evil" can only be a secondary directive to these beasts, and one to be discarded when it gets in the way of the primary directive of making as much money as possible. For these corporations, if being "good" ever requires "making less money than legally possible", they won't be able to stay good for long.
What does the mission of archive.org have to do with Google?
I'd even argue that working at a library contributes substantially more to indexing the world's information, since libraries usually have one of a kind items in their cataloguing backlog that provide huge insights. As an example, I once met someone at a vintage computing festival who was writing an ENIAC simulator using the original specifications housed at UPenn. Unfortunately, he was having quite a bit of difficulty obtaining example programs to run on his simulator, not because programs didn't exist, but most likely because they were backlogged at UPenn and weren't being added to the library's catalog (i.e., so-called "hidden collections").
There are many ways to work on similar efforts without being at a tech company, but for better or worse the pay isn't remotely as good.
Google contribution is algorithmic ranking, in my opinion, which amounts to an ongoing war / immune response with SEO and huge stakes for visibility of accurate information.
Removing videos from war reporters' channels, but promoting garbage like Lil Yachty to the top of the Youtube etc charts out of nowhere with no view numbers, let alone talent...
It's also revisionist to interject your own thoughts and represent them to a party as whole.
People may have been cognizant that there are ills to Google/Facebook's model, but these are mostly externalities and not necessarily related to the direct impact. The point is - it's in our nature to ignore externalities, as long as the immediate goal is achieved.
Certainly, Eric Brewer and friends  understood these issues and were concerned in 1997. Today, Dr. Brewer is a "vice president of infrastructure" at Google.
Is it money? I'm not sure. We're all human and have our weaknesses. Noting that Brewer was in near tears discussing Inktomi I would guess success and ambition are also driving factors.
Most "techies going to work for google" or any other tech firm, are not going to get rich, in the Bill Gates or Larry Ellison sense. Sure, techies (currently) have a good shot at an above average lifestyle, but that's it. Working as third engineer from the left is not going to provide generational wealth for their descendants, or significantly impact their retirement dates. like everyone else, they are still dependent on their ability to work in order to survive. And it's all highly dependent on the whims of the tech job market. Everything about how good techies have it could be negated during the next tech downturn.
You're describing 2 of the 10 richest billionaires in the world. Most people in general are not going to get that rich, most rich people are not going to get that rich, and nobody is going to get that rich by joining a company that has 100 or more employees already.
Gates, Ellison, Allen, Ballmer, Bezos, etc. are the richest 1% of the richest 1% of the richest 1%, and then some. There is tons of room in the category of "rich" that doesn't involve being particularly close to their level. Sure, you won't be able to single-handedly afford a professional sports franchise, but you'll be rich.
I can't speak for the OP, but there is absolutely a sense of getting rich working early at a tech company. The market for startup options is a direct indication of this. Google and Facebook both made, what..1000 millionaires each when they IPO'd? Point is, yes if you get in early to a world dominating technology company, you can absolutely become rich and be set for life.
> Everything about how good techies have it could be negated during the next tech downturn.
Disagree. Downturns force productivity and technology fuels productivity. If anything it's going to force more investment in technology to replace humans so businesses can maintain profitability. It's the sales & marketing folks that are usually in trouble, because many of these high growth companies will simply turn those functions off while we wait for the economy to swing back.
The remaining 99% of early tech employees for other companies will end up with equity worth a house down payment if they are lucky, worth a few months of rent in the usual case, and often worth nothing.
EDIT: As for the tech downturn, just wait and see. I assume you have not been through a significant tech bear market from your comment, but if you have, you should know better. Things dry up completely, for nearly everyone. If you miraculously keep your job, you are still not in any powerful bargaining position.
Not my point.
> The remaining 99% of early tech employees for other companies will end up with equity worth a house down payment if they are lucky, worth a few months of rent in the usual case, and often worth nothing.
Agreed. People are disillusioned to believe they'll become one of the "first 1000 have become millionaires". My point is that this a motivating factor, even if incorrectly assumed by most people.
> I assume you have not been through a significant tech bear market from your comment
To be clear - wasn't there only one tech bear market that is historically significant? (2001) If so, I would greatly challenge that we will hit another one similar to that anytime soon. Is there a frothy market right now? Yes. However most tech companies today have the discounted future economics to sustain themselves in an downturn. In 2001 that was not the case - you had companies IPO'n with 0 in revenue. A macro economic downturn is absolutely right around the corner, but a "fall out the bottom" bear tech market is very far from us.
Can confirm. 2001 was utter carnage. Developers hit a lot worse than ops but no one got out unscathed.
That's 5% of your 1000 right there and I know peope who have made $200,000 effectively tax free on a single 5 year UK sharesave
I'm pretty skeptical of objective-sounding claims about people's motivations.
There is a prevailing cynicism among the working man in that he recognizes (though often doesn't articulate) the compulsion to participate in the market that comes with capitalist systems. We already knew these companies were not shining paragons of ethical values—almost every participant in capitalism has known this since Industrialization. To focus on the consciousness of particular individuals or the false ethos of particular companies is to miss the real problem, which is systemic and lies at the roots in the capitalist mode of life and organization of resources. So long as you have capitalism you will have companies that make profit and market-survival an all-encompassing goal (whether or not they admit it) and complacent workers who are forced to support the Darwinian market game to have access to the means of subsistence. Capitalist logic is defined by its unbridled replacement of all other values (ethical, spiritual, etc.) with the value of exchange.
Perhaps "erased" is not quite accurate.
I get really bummed out that there are so many smart people coming out of the US education system who go to work for Wall Street or in adtech/ecommerce roles. We have the brains and energy and passion to solve alternative energy, vertical farming, asteroid mining, carbon sequestration, and social democracy overnight but our system deliberately misallocates resources to projects that generate capital for the already wealthy instead of promoting one iota of social good. Here's to hoping this is a start of that bigger, necessary change.
Yet, might it be worth considering that any individual human brain could potentially be less than infinitely malleable in all possible aspects? I have known blindingly brilliant artists who are utterly repulsed by basic arithmetic, and equally brilliant mathematicians who cannot even begin to grasp how any person could be concerned with things as minor as governance structure when there is math to be done. It might be possible to press those people into the service of what someone else deems social good, but I must admit I am experiencing some doubts that they would universally consider it socially good for them.
Beyond that, consider what selling trinkets and shipping things around the globe has done. It's helped lift billions of people out of abject poverty. It has made material well-being and food security possible on scales unimaginable only a few centuries ago. It has done so more successfully, and more quickly, than any effort explicitly directed at social good in human history. A critic would point to the price paid, and posit that there might have been a better option, but this critic is almost certainly making perfect the enemy of good in pursuit of an ideal.
I get really bummed out that there are so many smart people coming out of the US education system who struggle to recognize so many things in life. You're absolutely right - what's lost by chasing money for its own sake is one such. It's just maybe worth considering that there could potentially be others.
Yes, because "good" means preventable poverty related deaths by the millions because it is not profitable to do anything about it \s. Good for you != good, but it is easy to look past that when it isn't right in your face
With that said, is it possible that this passage could be interpreted more charitably? Perhaps some might read it as a comment on how demanding perfection can cause more negative effects while seeking to prevent negative effects.
For example, where might our technology be if our species had refused to extract or smelt metals until we had the ability to do so without any emissions of any sort?
It's not about what real preventable human tragedies can be averted, but aren't, because of the evils of human greed you wisely point to. It's about accepting that imperfect improvements to alleviate human pain and reducing human lives lost can, sometimes, be preferable to hoping for perfection at some future date.
I think the issue has more to do with the Cassandra effect and the tendencies of some to not consider or want to act on potentially catastrophic situations if they believe it imperils their own more immediate well-being or status.
And, well, sometimes the people making those choices are wrong. Or shortsighted. Or egotistical. Or afraid for their own comfort, power, and privilege.
At the same time, I still don't take the warnings of the flat-earthers particularly seriously, so perhaps not all warnings of potentially catastrophic situations are equally credible. As opposed to how seriously I take the warnings of climate scientists.
I read How To Make Friends And Influence People. Then I threw out all the fluff about genuine connection, and realized that people only actually care that you make them feel like they've been understood. This is the implicit thesis of the book, once you realize that a decades-dead author cannot possibly have a genuine two-way emotional connection with you.
In practice, this tends to mean telling people they're right a lot. Then you imply they have the wonderful, glorious opportunity to become more right. Then you remind them of how right they are. If this sounds exhausting, well, it is. But it also matches the structure of my previous comment.
Poverty is the absence of a lot of things. If you're born in a small isolated tribe in the middle of the Amazon, you're poor. Nobody took anything from you, there is almost no inequality, but you're still poor.
But I think I know where you're trying to get: "They're only poor because X took whatever from them". Probably where X is capitalism, Western countries, or whoever is the fashionable enemy.
People can choose what to believe and all, but it's pretty hard to look at things like the African slave trade or Diamond mining in Zimbabwe or Sierra Leone and find anything but capitalism and imperialism run amok.
This doesn't absolve the misdeeds of exploiters - indeed colonies end in independence usually specifically because of mercantilist mismanagement squanders the true potential of the country by seeing it only as a well of land resources instead of an extension to nurture for mutual good but it is important to recognize that getting out "the Imperialists" won't make things better automatically and the wrong replacement can ironically be even worse. As bad as the British were in Rwanda they never decided to genocide the Tutsis even though their manipulations lead to it indirectly. Evil comes from within and without "the tribe" and it is important to recognize that.
Another response is "deprivation". Unfortunately, this response is effectively an appeal to the definition of poverty.
Since you asked what I believe, I don't believe there is a well-defined single cause of poverty.
If anything, Capitalism has lifted 90% of the world's population out of poverty. It's a solution to absolute poverty, not a cause. It may, however, be a cause of relative poverty. But to paraphrase Winston Churchill, it's the worst system for eliminating poverty, after all the other ones we've ever tried.
Of course anyone who experienced life in the 90's can see the glaring problem with this. $1.08 in 1993 has the same purchasing power as $1.61 in 2008. Those hundreds of millions lifted out of poverty? They are all still there. The rate of inflation is greater than the rise of the ipl. They did glaringly bad math tricks to make it appear as if half a billion people were lifted out of poverty by neoliberalism and Capitalism. And yet that couldn't be further from the truth.
Now that doesn't even take into account the situation in "wealthier" countries, such as Sri Lanka. A survey of Sri Lanka found that 35% of the country fell underneath their poverty line. However the world bank using the international poverty line reported only 4% were lifted out of poverty that year!. A wave of the hand and suddenly 31% of the population didn't factor in to their feel good story of capitalistic success.
And again I want to point out these absurd arbitrary numbers. $1.25 a day? Are you kidding me? Have you ever lived on $1.25 a day? The UN reports that the average person in 2005 needed at least $4.50/day just to meet the minimum nutritional requirements. The minimum. In India, one of the harleded successes of the world bank, children living just above the ipl had a 60% chance of being malnourished.
New Castle University once calculated that if people we're to achieve a normal life expectancy they would need at least $2.50 / day as the new IPL. But if we adopted that as the new IPL it would mean that now 3.1 billion people are living in abject poverty.
I got these numbers from this video https://youtu.be/A6VqV1T4uYs but in the description they list out all of their sources.
When you stop making up numbers to hide actual real poverty, the picture becomes clear. Rather than lifting people out of poverty, neoliberal capitalist policies are responsible for plunging half a billion more people into poverty today than in 1980.
uhhh. your bubble is astonishing. or your standards for "good" are unattainable by anyone.
how about folks who work on CAD software? is that bad because it will be used to design plastic trinkets, or good because it'll design medical prosthetics?
(are the medical prosthetics good because they help people, or bad because they make someone money?)
if i write the software for a piece of test equipment for batteries, is that good because now people who buy consumer electronics are less likely to catch on fire? or bad because i helped the big company sell more plastic trinkets?
It's actually an awesome place to work, and it's nice to know that I'm actually helping push the needle a little bit in the right direction to help the medical industry succeed.
If you don’t mind me asking, how’d you end up in the medical device field? Do you feel like the projects you work on contribute to the advancement of human health? And do you feel that you’re adequately compensated? I don’t love asking that last one in the same breath as questions of morality, but I do have a family to take care of.
I was recruited from a B2B company by an old friend/boss. I was skeptical because I had only ever heard bad things about working for medical companies. I was very impressed with the leadership, product, and direction of the company. So I took the job.
> Do you feel like the projects you work on contribute to the advancement of human health?
I don't feel like I'm making a direct impact, no. However, I can clearly see that the work I do is a single cog in a machine that actually makes a real-world difference for medical professionals. I talked to a family friend who is a nurse. He was complaining that software was horrible for medical professionals, then he went in about this new product they started using and how it's made a world of a difference. Turns out it was our product and I just didn't know he used it and he didn't realize I had switched jobs to that company. He went on and on about how it makes things better (easier to diagnose, easier to see patient history, etc etc)
> And do you feel that you’re adequately compensated?
I got a significant raise that beat out other job offers at the time for another B2B company. I have what I feel is a competitive salary (a respectable amount higher than the average in my area) and the benefits are quite amazing (401k, untracked PTO with management who actually does a good job encouraging vacation, 100% paid health insurance, etc)
I can't speak to compensation yet since I'm only on a PhD stipend, but there's plenty of blue chip companies (that bring blue chip salary and benefits) that are going into the healthcare field.
It doesn't take long to notice serious manifestations of societal rot. And yet some of the brightest minds of our generation spend their best years trying to get people to spend more of their cognitive surplus on mindlessly staring at their device screen.
I'm not at all saying this is tech's fault. I think the problem is much more systemic. But that doesn't make it any less troublesome.
Luckily, I think I'm starting to see more people waking up to smell the societal rot that tech has helped foster, and people are becoming more motivated to fight it. I'm just waiting to see if tech folks can mobilize to push for causes like socialism during my lifetime. That would be the ultimate "Revenge of the Nerds" story line at this point.
The context was the unlikely event of the WTO calling fouls if America and a few other regions levied carbon tariffs on imported goods.
Of course, The article was written in 2013, and it’s cyncisim would be considered wildly optimistic in today’s climate.
But perhaps his point is wrong.
Perhaps for humans, it is free trade that is more important than the planet.
Free trade is effectively our distributed human brain. Our ability to make choices and distributing those choices down information trees encompassed by entire industries.
Society is one big exercise in managing complexity - obfuscating or dispersing away decisions and information.
And maybe for human beings, that is just more important than saving the coral reefs or the elephants.
The insects may die, so we lose almonds and other flowering trees. That just means almonds and other precious species disappear.
But most human beings don’t even get almonds, Or meat, or fruit, as part of their diet anyways.
It would be nice to save other species, but if the whole planet was just covered in bio crop species 1-299, and a few aesthetics, humanity would be alive and ok.
Perhaps the awful truth is that for humanity as a species, free trade and economic growth is more important than saving the planet.
Do you think tech can solve the problem of homeless addiction? There actually aren't that many homeless in the Bay Area.
There is only one problem with socialism. There is no check and balance on the amount of appropriation, which cannot be voluntary. Unchecked power eventually leads to oppression. Systems which you can't opt out of often lead to evil. (This may apply to Capitalism, but there it's somewhat ameliorated by creative destruction.)
1) Alternative Energy has a lot of minds working on it already. Success is dependent on the establishment of large scale infrastructure and changing societal expectations. One "Ah-Ha!" moment isn't going to cut it.
2) Vertical Farming is a world-saving problem that needs solving? Color me skeptical.
3) Asteroid Mining: Also requires establishment of large scale infrastructure.
4) Carbon Sequestration: The laws of thermodynamics are against you on this, unless you can marshal self-replicators harvesting a significant portion of the sunlight falling on the Earth. If we've gotten that desperate, it must mean that building sunshades at L1 has been made unavailable by groundside politics and/or the Kessler Syndrome.
5) Social Democracy Overnight: Why is this desirable, outside of theory? The whole of history indicates to us that collectivism works either on small scales, or as a disguised totalitarianism.
projects that generate capital for the already wealthy instead of promoting one iota of social good
Is that what the Industrial Revolution was? Or has industrialization raised 90% of the world's population out of poverty? Hint: It's the latter.
Another hint: Has there ever been a collection of intelligent, privileged young people who thought they could change the world into a utopia? I think you might want to study the history a bit. There was one utopian project which was implemented by privileged intellectuals, but which was also based on a good knowledge of history and human nature. Though flawed, that project worked, did some good, and has been going on for well over 200 years.
Here we observe the not-so-subtle attempt to shift the debate from "social democracy" to "collectivism", as if the two terms are synonyms.
We also see a denial that mixed economies with strong social safety nets can ever work on, say, the scale of a nation. Despite plenty of evidence available, in the real world, that they can.
Exactly what is the difference between "social democracy" and "socialism?"
In particular, how is there a system of checks and balances to keep the voters from appropriating everything, thus handing all of the power to the central government and thus initiating totalitarianism?
It can be argued that all existing economies are mixed economies.
The US doesn't have one of those.
Literally. The people of the United States can, without consent of Congress or the President or the Supreme Court, do everything you just said, via the amendment-convention process (Congress does not have the option to deny a convention when at least 2/3 of states call for it). Once the convention's underway, even state legislatures can be bypassed by conventions in the states.
Thus it's possible to get amendments into the US Constitution without them ever having been voted on or even considered by Congress or the state legislatures. And if you're worried about a populist wave "appropriating everything" in other countries, why not worry about it in the US? It's just as possible.
Another way of saying it, the only check and balance is political.
After the founding, there was another check and balance, in that the voting public, comprised solely of landowners, would never have voted for socialism.
2. If you're unfamiliar with the environmental problems and inefficiencies present in our current food system, I implore you to do some research and get back to me. Decentralized, high-efficiency, urban food production is going to become more and more necessary as human populations continue to move into cities and global warming reduces crop viability in much of the world.
3. I don't understand how "establishment of large scale infrastructure" is a blocker to what I'm saying. Large scale infrastructure means you need smart people to design and build things to make a goal possible. You need "large scale infrastructure" like railroads to ship goods across the U.S. but when that was a need in the 17th century no one was grousing about how much work it was going to be.
4. Say what you will, but a system of distributed C02 scrubbers powered by alternative energy is at least a feasible way to prevent a Hothouse Earth scenario. Better than just accepting climatic doom through inaction.
5. Social democracy doesn't mean we become out-and-out Marxists, it just means that maybe we reconsider government in relation to what people need. Germany is a social democracy, USA is a democracy where people go without clean drinking water. Talk about a false dichotomy.
Over the past hundred years, California has been host to thousands of intentional communities, where people set their sights on something higher than making a living. Nearly all of these communities collapse within a generation, neither living up to their ambitions nor providing for their members’ most basic needs. These failures have multiple causes, but ultimately can be summed up in terms of having one institution serve too many different functions, in an environment where there are already specialized institutions serving those functions efficiently.
People seeking to do good in the world aren’t looking for work, they are looking for religion — in the sense of spiritual community and connection to the godhead. Doing good is the role of something like the Salvation Army and charitable missions — institutions of long standing which are subject to very different guidelines than businesses.
Those who would mix business and charitable, virtuous action are asking to be held accountable for neither while enjoying the rewards of both.
If only society / the global economic system wasn't set up to incentive profit over all else....
Profit is achieved primarily by selling people goods.
people want cheap meat, coffee and toys.
We found ways to give people that.
There are other effects where corporations cheat the laws, corrupt government, and pillage the environment - true.
But the system has always been about you and me getting more choice and more options at better prices.
Your toothpastes offer different flavors, and come in a magic immortal material called plastic which costs nearly nothing to make and is better for our environment than using tin tubes.
Profit has many ills, as single numbers often do - they reduce complex decisions down to a simple number.
That’s the magic of it all. We don’t have to examine the calculus of our morality when buying a pixel or an iPhone.
We just have to Examine the price.
I think we have to come to terms with the fact that humanity as a distributed entity, is not a moral organism.
Profit is just a way to reduce complexity. We have a society that reflects this because our reality is such.
Which is why many of the popular solutions today are prices which reflect carbon costs.
When considering how successful a thing, a person, or a project is, innovation and market success certainly should be weighted heavily but we really need some other metrics to include.
And furthermore, when was the last time you saw someone held to account for their job title? I've done that and every time it results in me alienating someone, because no one wants to lie to themselves and be forced to answer that they work at Raytheon because they think that's the way to do good in the world.
Lots of people make principled decisions every single day. You think only rich engineers can afford to put morals over money, and everyone else is selling their soul for a paycheck? Where do you live?
Business and the economy are doing what they are supposed to do. It's our expectations that are out of line.
They aren't exempt from serving any social needs -- that's taking what I said further than I said it. Business do serve many social needs. They just can't serve every social need. They are a limited institution with a limited function.
It's not just government and individual people that come together to make a robust society that can counterbalance business interests; and business, government and the individual are not all we have at our disposal to meet the broad challenge of maintaining a just, livable and inspiring society. The wide variety of "civil society" institutions that, at one time, characterized the American polity -- unions & professional associations, men's and women's organizations, benevolent societies, church groups and religious federations -- are important avenues to political participation outside of (a) government, (b) the individual and (c) business. Francis Fukuyama, in Political Order & Political Decay, highlights the great significance of civil society organizations in the survival of democracy in America,
and the eventual adoption of it in England, Denmark and many other countries.
Basically just regulate businesses with the expectation that they have no social conscience and hope legislation is enough to prevent them from taking actions that damage society?
They need to be regulated so as to (a) "...prevent them from taking actions that damage society" and (b) encourage them to stick closer to action that is beneficial to society. Were businesses to determine on their own what those things mean, it would effectively be undermining the political will of the rest of society. Businesses are paid to do a job.
Please consider that your reply was a little exaggerated, taking what I said further than I said it. This is quite characteristic of American politics at present; and perhaps of hacker politics in general. It doesn't serve us, though: it neither helps us to understand one another, nor to come to a workable agreement that improves public life.
Ones that actually work as intended in the general case, and don't frequently malfunction by getting a bunch of people exiled, consigned to real poverty, or killed?
The problem isn't that people are expecting businesses to be charities. It's that survival and solvency make abuse of the commons a business necessity.
People want jobs that don't involve abusing the commons.
I would also note that a Computer Science degree isn't necessarily the best preparation for a career building commercial software.
The best way to make sure you are working on ethical projects is to start and run your own company. Any technology can be used for good or evil. Personally, I do think blockchain has a lot of potential, but the best way to ensure that your technology gets used for good is to design it yourself that way - in other words, build a micro-lending system that helps finance small business owners in 3rd world countries with fair interest rates, instead of building a predatory payday lending system that charges unfair interest rates.
There is nothing "efficient" about proof-of-work -- in fact, it's deliberately inefficient because it's a zero-sum game and all the miners have to waste as much electricity as possible to compete with the other miners.
The wasted energy is not "on the chain". It's gone, converted into CO2 poisoning the planet.
Banks may do stupid or damaging things, but they aren't in the business of wasting energy just to prove they wasted it.
I have a friend who's a security engineer at a bank. I was surprised when he took the job - he'd always been pretty to the left politically.
But he takes pride in making sure the grandmas of the world don't get their accounts drained. He realizes he's not saving the world, but he's not swapping around debt vouchers until the economy crashes.
It's counter intuitive, but in his mind he's more moral than someone working at Google or Facebook.
(He also brags to me about the vacation - apparently they're encouraged to take their time for anti-fraud reasons?)
BlogSpot is a robust platform and some of the folks who worked on it probably have compsci degrees.
I'm also curing the incurable, but most people don't believe that, so probably no point in trying to convince you that I may yet win a Nobel Prize in medicine someday, if people will ever stop calling me crazy and take me seriously.
Don't mind me. I'm just cranky cuz reasons.
Of course, Social only works if a critical mass of users start actively using the network...achieving that number, no matter what the underlying tech is, is a very hard nut to crack.
They said "multiphysics combustion codes" and my manager looked at me and said "they run nuclear weapons simulations" (they didn't confirm).
After chatting for a while I realized they were using my code to manage nuclear weapons simulations. That's a consequence of licenses like MIT and BSD and Apache: you don't control who uses your software.
I came to terms with this a long time ago but it's still odd to think that I can write software that my own government will use to ensure our destructive weapons work as expected.
While true, there's a big difference between the guy that makes a generic door stop that's used to prop open the door at a nuclear test lab, and the guy making precision parts specific to a nuclear detonator.
Maybe you can't prevent your work being used for what you consider to be immoral, but you can avoid working on a project that's directly contributing to that use.
You might also think about it positively. At least they are blowing up nukes in simulations instead of out in the desert somewhere upwind of a lot of people... speaking of upwind, there is also significant oil and gas funding behind a lot of geophysical science.
Addendum: as I recall, the Globus project was often funded by a mixture of NSF and DoE grants and a large part of its core group was based out of a midwestern national lab.
Globus was mostly run out of Argonne National Lab, but it existed primarily to support scientific computing and public research. We had a subcontract to build pyGlobus since so many people wanted a Python interface (the Globus team started in C++ and then switched to Java and a really, really bad RPC technology called SOAP with WSDL for schema).
I've definitely come to terms with the modern compromise (in which a great deal of scientific research is motivated and funded by defense).
I work in cloud related things (I do UI stuff for the cloud), I'm pretty sure 3-4 contracts from me, the code I work on could be used for weapons, but I'm clearly not developing a weapon nor something whose main goal is killing.
it was a grid computing library that made it easy to FTP large files at high performance and do automated job management.
Have corporations done bad things? Of course, and so they are regulated, and there are processes for dealing with bad corporate behavior.
Space is maybe the clearest example of the problem with governments doing anything outside of creating a playground for innovation. 1969 was probably the greatest single government led achievement. We put a man on the moon, having only first put a man into orbit in 1962 and any object into orbit in 1958. That was when space had the government's full attention both as a possible means of weaponization and as a soft power victory of communist powers [ironically] aiming to show the resolve and capability of capitalist nations.
But that same story also shows the downsides of government dependence. Today, nearing the 50th anniversary of putting a man on the moon - we're severely struggling to try to send a man around the moon. And in fact no human would ever leave low Earth orbit after 1972. We not only stopped progressing technologically, we actually and literally technologically regressed. On top of this regression, government never has much of any motivation to cut costs or improve efficiency since they're short term public 'servants' who are just spending other peoples' money. Because of this costs became insane. After all was said and done the Space Shuttle program ended up costing more than half a billion dollars per launch.
At the risk of being tautological, corporations let people pursue what people want to pursue. Governments, by contrast, pursue what governments want to pursue. If you don't like what the government's pursuing you can try to influence votes, lobby, or 'raise social awareness' but in reality it's generally going to be about as effective as pissing into the wind. By contrast, anybody can start a company and start making whatever they want to. And indeed maybe SpaceX would be the proper epilogue here.
Enter corporations. Elon Musk wanted to send a greenhouse to Mars. The costs were unacceptable. It made no sense to him why a rocket that cost on the order of tens of millions of dollars in materials would cost hundreds of millions of dollars to contract. And indeed it didn't make any sense. So he started a company and changed it. Now costs are down by nearly an order of a magnitude, SpaceX is one of the world's largest supplier of launches, and it's looking increasingly likely that the first person to leave our orbit in nearly half a century won't be doing so on a government rocket, but on a privately built, privately funded, and privately launched rocket.
Of course SpaceX would never have been able to get to where they are without governmental contracts and assistance, so I'm not proposing anything like anarcho-capitalism, but rather that government should is the one that provides the sandbox - the people are the ones that build as they choose.
I'm not able to turn off caring about what I work on, although I have picked up some tricks over time that help me turn that caring on. However, there's if I'm working on something that is ultimately lame, eventually I'll run out of stuff to care about. That's when the soul crushing starts to happen.
A very important factor whether the work is soul-crushing or not is whether the work is intellectually stimulating or not.
Solving problems, working on tight deadlines, and getting recognition, status, and money are all things that make a person feel like what they're doing is right. It gives an endorphin high, it's a sign that other people are recognizing their work. I hesitate to use the word "addictive" in this context, but it can certainly be compulsive. It's easy to lose sight of whether what you're doing is what you ought to be doing when the act of doing it is so compelling, financially rewarding, and celebrated by others.
This isn't a justification; it is a warning to anyone coming into this field, a warning that I wish I'd thought more about coming into it. This is something we need to be vigilant about as engineers, because it's easy to look the other way on questionable activities by your business when everything else in your life is becoming enriched by it and they're telling you that the ethical issues are for "their side of the business" to worry about. It is not. Do not believe them. Understand where your paycheck is coming from, and make sure that you continue to evaluate it as your company changes and ask yourself if you're okay with it.
In my career, I have:
* Been lied to about the true purpose of a product we were building, and only realized the lie because another engineer was brave enough to call them out and force them to tell the truth. I was fully prepared to be the coward that didn't follow up on it and remain willfully ignorant, and his ethical bravery was the only thing that snapped me out of it.
* Seen a company's financial plan gradually change from an ethical one to an unethical one, and have seen good people struggle and contort themselves to justify it: including myself, for a time.
* Worked in fields where the profits gained by maintaining the status quo has created a desire for minimium compliance instead of continual improvements.
The mandatory ethics class I took for my CS degree never prepared me for what to do, how to be vigilant, or how to take action when it is the company itself that is the unethical one. I feel like we need to have open and honest discussions with people coming into this field about this very real possibility, and about the need to evaluate not just the compensation and interesting problems being presented by a given business, but also the ways that they earn money and whether it is something you find acceptable. And what to do if that situation takes a turn for the worse.
The ACM has some high-level recommendations in their ethics statements, and I think they're a good start. They should be required reading for all software engineers.
I have been a coward. I have been an example of the banality of evil. And I don't think I'm alone in this field: not by a long shot. We've got to pay attention to the ethics of what we create, and we need to be much more brave than we have been.
It's so easy for me to slip into those addictions and not pay attention to the bigger picture. And I feel like I'm not the only one suffering from this problem. In fact, I can see it empirically in the people who have worked at the aforementioned jobs with me.
There needs to be a balance. A person doesn't need to be outright altruistic, but focusing exclusively on local optimization allows for a sort of hedonistic behavior set that can justify - and has historically justified - participation as a cog in larger and harmful systems.
Why? Even doctors have been doing nasty things for money (e.g. bribing by big pharma). And they have an official ethical code!
It's exactly like how hardcore libertarians respond to anything good the government does ever by saying the free market would've done it even better: their dogma doesn't permit them to say otherwise, and so they can safely assume they're always right.
A tech interview goes like this "a list begins with an integer between 0 and 5. You then add a new set of integers that must sum to the value of the last added integer. How many different possible lists of 100 integers can be generated through this process?"
I've done this at so many companies. They don't talk about what you'll be building. They don't want your opinion. You could go through two days of whiteboard exam style interview questions and have no idea what the company does. And you could get hired without ever answering a single question about what the company does. It's remarkable, but it's actually designed to work that way.
I think tht the outside world really doesn't quite understand what goes on in tech interviews and tech hiring. If they did, they might know that the indifference to ethics may stem from general programmer unawareness of what the companies they work for actually do.
I could barely impact how my former employer ran the company, and even though I had the company's best interests at heart the whole time, I faced resistance the entire way. Political change is even more out of reach. I grow tired of obviously bad policy ideas being promoted because of political party consensus (on "both" sides). I am exhausted of the generational warfare that is causing newer generations to face an uphill battle for the rest of their lives, with higher health care costs, higher housing costs, higher environmental costs, higher education costs, and lower wages. I'm sick of inaction on important issues, misguided action on petty issues, and the nonexistent potential for small unpolitical changes that could have big impacts but won't ever see the time of day because the need for political posturing doesn't allow for it (like for example, a change to the metric system).
I feel trapped and helpless to change anything. And sometimes my feeling of helplessness has made it so I can no longer muster the effort to care for things that are so far beyond my control. I'm at the point on Maslow's Hierarchy where taking care of my family's survival is the only important thing anymore. I sometimes ponder whether I should just go out and get some kind of unethical job that pays a ton of money (and there is no shortage of those kinds of jobs for people of my talents) merely because it accomplishes that goal more efficiently. But then I feel bad about entertaining that thought. I don't really know what to do about it.
This is where the defense comes in; acknowledging that there are things you can do _today_ means acknowledging that you're not doing those things which means you have to set up a straw man for yourself of world-sized problems that you can't fix so that you don't feel bad about not doing anything. We all have this heuristic in our minds whether we know it or not: feeling good > feeling bad, but feeling bad > the effort of changing yourself. So we accept feeling bad, and do mental gymnastics (I can't change America to the metric system, so I guess there's no point in doing anything) to minimize.
My advice: don't overthink it. Don't worry about doing something with your life. Just do something with your day!
You have to keep in mind that things look different from different perspectives. It seems that swapping to metric should be no big deal. In reality we already have things like the Mars Climate Orbiter. That was a $300 million probe launched by NASA in 1998. It disintegrated in Mars' orbit. What happened? The spacecraft was built to operate using SI units. Unfortunately one of the systems they were using to direct it was still using customary measurements. $300 million completely wasted because of what you'd think would be no big deal. It should be easy to just ensure all systems are communicating using the same systems of measurement, right? And NASA certainly has decently competent people working for them. But the thing is as things get larger and larger seemingly simple changes can often produce unexpectedly catastrophic side effects, or end up being far more difficult to synchronize than would ever be expected. Actually, this nature of software alone is probably a perfect microcosm of the nature of change in business as well.
So yeah, earn a ton of money doing whatever. And then use that money to do what you think ought be done. If you succeed, great you've changed the world. If not, try again.
This is kind of a tangent, but:
Today I learned that this recently became untrue.
I'm cynical too. I'm on a "good salary" but still can't afford my own home, and have made the decision to not have children mostly because I don't like the way anything is headed and don't see any change on the horizon.
When 8 people control more resources than 50% of the people on the planet , it's pretty clear that the evil overlords have already won.
I don't know how to fix it but I'm blown away by the apathy of most people towards the disgusting state of affairs.
From the finance sector bailout, which still blows my mind, to justice only for the rich and powerful while ridiculous numbers of people are put in jail for non-violent crime - which is sure to continue because of lobbying by the private prison industry, everyone knows it's unfair but the population has been beat into a feeling of powerlessness and somehow blaming each other and immigrants instead of the ridiculously greedy beyond comprehension 1% who are really responsible.
Everyone seems to be a crab in a bucket harboring secret dreams of eventually being part of the 1% while simultaneously not willing to admit the fact they are struggling much more than they should be with the amount of resources out there, unfortunately hoarded by a very small percentage of people who have successfully lobbied the politicians to continue the status quo.
So no, I don't think you're alone...
Edit: Some people have suggested some useful ideas here to do something about it at a local level. I'm going to try not to be so cynical and think of the problem being too big to fix, but it's difficult.
A carbon tax might be a simpler approach, though I don't know what you could do on a personal level to influence that.
1. Lessen overall life expenses.
Why? Not so much to be financially independent/retire early (I think they call this "FiRE")...though that would be great...It is more about giving myself even more leverage in job searches and salary negotiations. If my expenses are lower, then getting a job with a non-profit/NGO whose mission i might believe allows me to think less about likely getting a lower-than-industry-standard salary.
2. Focus on a side hustle.
Now, this could be a side business, which - if successful - further detaches you from being beholden to a corporate entity...Or, it could simply be volunteering for a local cause that you believe in, or even civic engagement more with your local community (e.g. getting involved in local town/citizen meetings), etc. The trick here is that you have to keep levels manageable. You want this side hustle specifically for the purposes to only slightly distract you from any depressive feelings you gain from your dayjob. If this side hustle grows too cumbersome, the fear is that this could of course lead you to burnout, which could lead to more triggers for feelings of depression. Use this as a distraction BUT more so for seeking areas of inspiration. (Caveat: I am NOT a mental health professional/doctor.)
3. Make a plan for where you want to see yourself in 10 years.
Normally, people put the plan first...but here I'm putting as step #3. Honestly, this step does not have to await conclusion of the above steps...you merely have to at least be well underway on both steps. This is purposeful. Sometimes people really don't know what they want to do for their rest of their lives, or at least in the next few years. By preparing you - making you financially flexible (due to having such low expenses vs. your current salary), and pumping your energy levels up (via either side hustle or volunteering/civic activity - first, it sort puts you through mental basic training. Then after you are deep into the first 2 steps, begin to formalize a plan for your life, or better yet, a plan for the next 10 years of your life.
4. Execute on the plan.
At some point - most likely - you will stumble upon something that gives you fulfillment. It might be wanting to create a non-profit startup, or maybe you will decide to be a community organizer (not as a volunteer, but as your full-time profession), or maybe you will create your own for-profit company, but you will run it in a way that you feel good about/fulfills you. Whatever it is, execute on your plan; 'nuff said.
I have no idea if the above proposal will work for you; YMMV. (I myself am not even all the way through it yet!) I also will clearly state that i am NOT a life coach nor a mental health professional, nor a doctor...I'm basically just a human being posting a comment on hacker news...So, from one stranger to another, I surely hope my comments help, and I really hope that you find what fulfills you.
In his lifetime he was one of the most famous (world-wide) Americans ever to have lived. He traveled around the world more than eighty times. There is a form of carbon named after him: Buckminsterfullerene.
Anyhow, he calculated that we would have the technology to save the world and fix everything by sometime in the 1970's. That happened, so now all our problems are basically psychological or spiritual.
It also so happens that a working psychology was invented/discovered in the mid 1970's and subsequently refined. It's called "Neurolinguistic Programming" (NLP) and it's basically the OS of the mind. Using NLP and off-the-shelf technology we can stop ourselves being foolish jerks and provide a high standard of living for everyone forever.
I suffered from crushing depression until my mid-20's and was totally cured, after considerable self-improvement, by a single intervention with Dr. Bandler (one of the co-founders of NLP) that lasted less than twenty minutes.
Let me repeat that in case I'm not being totally clear: A life-long depression that interfered with my ability to live a normal life (I was homeless for about four years after high school) was cured in a 20 minute session of NLP-informed hypnosis with Dr. Richard Bandler.
So, we have the psychological technology and the physical technology to solve all our problems.
It really is just a matter of getting the word out and putting our backs into it.
My specific recommendations to you are: 1. study NLP and go talk to practitioners, maybe even get some therapy; and 2. Study applied ecology (E.g. Permaculture) and start a small productive system (farm!) to begin to meet your personal needs in a economical and ecological manner.
"The plan was good, it was right, and no one had to get nailed to anything."
BTW, NLP is pretty easy to learn and it's a great career if you're at all good at it. An experienced therapist commands remuneration comparable to that of a computer programmer.
Last but not least, browse Rex Research: http://rexresearch.com/1index.htm
There is a lot of weird crap in there but in between the crack-pottery you'll find mind-blowing cool technologies. The idea is to break out of your funk by confronting yourself with existing real-world solutions to all the various BS confronting us today.
My hobby is collecting powerful ideas, I can assure you the best things out there are really amazing and you haven't heard anything yet!
Why do we have to slog through crackpottery for insight?
I did a lot of work on myself before I could even go seek out a therapist. When I did, I tried several different people (six IIRC) for a couple of sessions each until I found someone who seemed to be able to really help me. That helped a lot, but I was still suffering and had a hard time functioning. Then I attended a week-long seminar by Dr. Bandler, the "twenty minutes" I mentioned above happened on stage. I volunteered to participate in a demo and Bandler picked me. Subjectively I thought I was only up there for a few minutes. Someone else told me later that it was more like twenty minutes.
Anyhow, here are some NLP-specific sites to start to find a therapist. Good luck!
(Don't be put off by style, go for the substance.)
> What do you mean by "all our problems are basically psychological or spiritual"?
We have all the technology we need to supply all of our needs if we deploy it efficiently. The limiting factor is not physics. (I would say our problems today are spiritual, but my point is they're not physical.)
> It is now highly feasible to take care of everybody on Earth at a 'higher standard of living than any have ever known.' It no longer has to be you or me. Selfishness is unnecessary and henceforth unrationalizable as mandated by survival.
> Think of it. We are blessed with technology that would be indescribable to our forefathers. We have the wherewithal, the know-it-all to feed everybody, clothe everybody, and give every human on Earth a chance. We know now what we could never have known before - that we now have the option for all humanity to make it successfully on this planet in this lifetime. Whether it is to be Utopia or Oblivion will be a touch-and-go relay race right up to the final moment.
> The things to do are: the things that need doing: that you see need to be done, and that no one else seems to see need to be done. Then you will conceive your own way of doing that which needs to be done - that no one else has told you to do or how to do it. This will bring out the real you that often gets buried inside a character that has acquired a superficial array of behaviors induced or imposed by others on the individual.
I want to emphasize that Bucky was an engineer. These are statements backed by science and calculation.
> Why do we have to slog through crackpottery for insight?
The simple answer is that Mr. Nelson, the proprietor of Rex Research, has eclectic tastes.
The deeper answer is that it's not at all easy to tell the revolutionary from the ridiculous in every case.
A lot of these things are obviously stupid (fuel-from-water); some are obviously important (the silicon-nitrogen cycle of Plichta); many are interesting but may not be economical (Aluminum Lamp; FanWing).
There may well be the next revolution lurking in the Rex Research database, and if so it probably looks like a deformed duck.
But anyway, we don't need more technology, we can apply what we've got to solve our problems (but we have lots more tech than we even know about.)
 "Novel concept for generating power via an inorganic nitrogen cycle" http://rexresearch.com/plichtasilane/plichta.html
 "microcavity plasma lamps ... built of aluminum foil, sapphire and small amounts of gas" http://rexresearch.com/eden/eden.htm
 "The FanWing looks like someone has put the blades of a combine harvester behind a helicopter cockpit and forgotten about the rest of the fuselage." http://rexresearch.com/fanwing/peebles.htm
The tech job market is extremely buoyant in the present age, meaning very few programmers are in a position where they have to settle for a job they dislike just to make ends meet.
I mean, every tech company talks about wanting engaged, passionate, proud employees - so why settle for doing work you can't take pride in when you could switch to work you could be proud of, and probably get a raise while you're at it?
No doubt it depends on the range of things you could take pride in doing, which varies from person to person!
So yeah, you could find a job doing something that isn't morally questionable pretty easily, even in most fields.
Consider how every industry can benefit from having a developer doing job automation, looking at data for optimization, or making new products.
The demand is ferocious.
I don't understand why developer wages are lower outside the US. Shouldnt developers everywhere be changing local industries?
And also, I think he/she means if you can't get behind what Facebook is doing, maybe jump to Apple who "supposedly" have security and privacy as their top priorities and in the mean time receive a raise.
Not everyone is top talent though - and I don't think there's anything wrong with being an average programmer and not wanting to work on morally wrong projects.
In the end, I have to be able to look myself in the mirror and be accountable for my actions, even if that would mean to forego money, prestige, etc.
The constant tempo means the act of stopping to ask these questions has a real and highly visible cost. You essentially have to be a whistleblower to say no to things.
It is, I believe, the ugly reason why management has become so enthusiastic about sprints.
> In the end, I have to be able to look myself in the mirror and be accountable for my actions, even if that would mean to forego money, prestige, etc.
How would you like people to square this with providing for their families? No offense to coal miners or well operators, but I don't think they're willing to destitute their families over climate change -- what's a better world for their grandchildren if their children die starving in the miners arms?
More to the point, I think the problem is "we as a society", not the individual. We're not willing to give slight inconveniences for massive increases in energy efficency. Look at how we design our cities and communities. People drive 2+ton vehicles upwards of 2 hours each day to go to work instead of living closer to the office and biking or taking public transport. (Many first and second ring suburbs of many/most/all cities have decent (or better) school systems than in the exurbs.)
Do we really need to consume all of the plastic junk or waste nearly as much food as we do? Do we need to be so wasteful of energy in our homes? Do we need to keep stores and offices frozen in the dead of summer? There is a lot of really low hanging fruit (that people as a whole are unwilling to do because it's the slightest of inconvenience or expects them to acknowledge the world they live in), before we ask people to give up their jobs.
Do you think coal miners, well operators, or big box retail associates wouldn't want a safer or more fulfilling job? We need to look at our excess consumption before pointing fingers at people for taking a job we find dirty (in the moral sense.)
With a capable human brain, like we all have! Just because a decision is hard doesn’t absolve you of the responsibility to make the right one—all people making decisions have been faced with this, including many people commonly considered evil.
Computers are levers, and developers are the fulcrum. We have quite a bit of negotiation power.
Finally, I think it’s naive to think that these systemic problems can be addressed with concerted individual effort, not by addressing the underlying problems. Maybe I have some sympathy for the coal miners after all.
> Just because a decision is hard doesn’t absolve you of the responsibility to make the right [choice]
I think this is telling: you believe there is a correct choice in all situations, from all points of view.
I have no problems installing Google Analytics or AdWords on a site if my employer asks me to, but I personally run with ad blockers. The "right" decision in my case is to keep my family fed and warm because I don't think I can find a position at a company that doesn't do advertising or analytics and my own attempts to start my own companies have failed. I'm not willing to take the risk of long-term unemployment or to take a significantly lower paying job at a company that does the exact same thing (e.g. advertising).
So please tell me why my decision is unequivocally wrong, especially in light of the ability of anyone to run an adblocker and that we adhere to all relevant regulations, e.g. GDPR. Additionally, please tell me where I (and everyone who doesn't like advertising) can find a living wage from a company that does not advertise or perform analytics (or do any other morally questionable activity).
If you prescribe to "the end justifies the means", you can stay fully apathetic (blocking out the guilt and shame). Worst case is you find you can't wash your hands of what you've done as you're old and dying (blockage breaks), and one could say it's too late to care then. Best case, you were worrying needlessly and the problem wasn't one (change in perspective). Bitter to me.
Maybe it isn't even a "problem" or "evil" to you, and you're reacting to your perception of "someone else's perspective on evil being forced on you" while you don't consider it as such.
On dichotomies: it's usually a lot more interesting to find a third option or to synthesize the two sides to get to a new position. So perhaps:
* "compensate for your contribution to the evil by reducing it on a larger scale, e.g. company-wide"
* "reduce expansion of evil in the company and support it's reduction"
* "transition to running your own company"
* "pay back society in some form or other once you have sufficient financial security for your family and yourself".
Maybe you have to do this for now, and it's understandable you can't consider the society above your family or yourself, but it can't truly be the final solution?
IMO, there's no cause or outcome where you are justified in working for an "evil" company, especially long-term as you'll inevitably contribute to the company's success (lest you be fired).
Do you think there's a way to consider yourself forced to contribute to evil without running up a debt?
(I mean "evil" from your own personal perspective.)
My original question was "How would you like people to square [being accountable for the actions of their employer] with providing for their families?"
You've yet to say anything except implying that there is a single, black-and-white moral compass that everyone is capable of following in its entirety. There are no employers that have no moral shortcomings. Telling people that they're immoral for not destitute themselves is rather pointless and leads to a nowhere discussion because it started nowhere.
Moreover, it's a fairly pointless expectation that everyone is I don't know what country you live in, but I can ask with certainty the same with respect to citizenship: How can you be a citizen of a country that's perpetrated atrocities. In that case, it's even more clear that there is no option -- there is no country that hasn't committed atrocities.
And the answer to that is, "It is up to those people to decide that. No one else can do it for them."
"You've yet to say anything except implying that there is a single, black-and-white moral compass that everyone is capable of following in its entirety. "
Wrong. Nobody but you has done that. You are the one demanding answers for how people square these things."
A) I do not hold a firm position on moral absolutism.
B) All I am saying is that there are so many variables that go into employment that you need to make this moral calculus yourself.... but simply having a family should not be an excuse to avoid the moral calculus completely. You often still have choice.
It all comes down to a very simple (although fundamental) question about your morality and character: do you believe ends justify the means?
It's also a question of morality: I obviously don't believe that all morally distasteful things are equal. AdWords is significantly less disasteful than my family starving.
I would bet that most people, probably even including you, find driving much less distastful than going without or moving to an area with and using public transit, even though it's significantly more efficient. Since moving out on my own, I've purposely have always lived on good transit lines and fight for better transit.
I would bet that most people, probably even including you, are OK purchasing cheap, foreign made items without a thought to the working conditions and environmental conditions that purchase is helping to enforce. I specifically seek out items made in countries with environmental regulations at least as strong as the US'.
I would bet that most people, probably even including you, are OK purchasing food raised in unsustainable ways, or that is significantly out of season. I became vegetarian and strive to buy as much as I can from local farms.
These are much more important to me than if I install an AdWords script on a website that's trivially easy to block by the end user. Do I wish I could convince people to use less invasive forms of advertising? Yes. Have I been successful? Not really. Have I found anywhere to work that doesn't have the same practices? No.
Please don't play this game of "just because you do something I don't like I'm morally better than you" game. We're all flawed and not one of us is living up completely of our moral standards.
The notion of a technology company selling products or services directly to customers hasn't gone away, but it's starting to feel quaint and nostalgic, like it belongs in a Norman Rockwell illustration.
I can't understand how anyone could work without this understanding and not get their soul crushed. Maybe I'm just sensitive or underpaid.
My passions can live in my free time.
I wouldnt work for a defense contractor, but I have a high paying, 'boring' day job.
Succeeding is not easier in tech than anything else, given that success means doing exactly what you want and feeling good about it.
I do interview people and try to find techies that fit in our org, but it's tough even if there's available people.
Maybe someone could chime in on how easy it is to get a job with good morale in SF? I would imagine that it's like looking at the trees but only seeing the forest.
> I can't understand how anyone could work without this understanding and not get their soul crushed. Maybe I'm just sensitive or underpaid.
Well, if someone's paying you, there is always a value proposition for the end user :)
More to what I think your point is, though, most people do not view themselves through the lens of their work. I don't see myself as a guy who writes ecommerce software; I see myself as a spouse, father, child, uncle, and someone always trying new things and expand my horizons. Ecommerce just pays the bills and enables that all to happen.
Have you considered that they might care very much about the moral implications of their work — and be proud to contribute to their nation's armed might?
I would extend that to the hope for peace through strength (might).
Discriminating against those who hold discriminatory views is different than discriminating against people based on their ethnicity or gender. And yes, I fully understand that what is or isn't a "discriminatory viewpoint" can be subjective. My point is that it's still a false equivalency to say that discriminating against someone who thinks women are lesser than them is the same as discriminating against women.
Some part of the previous generation did that. Some, obviously, did not, just as some part of the current generation continue to do that, and some do not. In some cases there is a real, legitimate argument that the discrimination has reversed -- there is a lot of discrimination and exclusion going on in this country all in the name of tolerance, inclusion and diversity.
In any case I appreciate you making my point for me.
Can you clarify that that's what you're asserting? That's what it looks like, and I sincerely hope I'm wrong, because that's a very weird hill to defend.
Neither of which necessarily relates to one's willingness to effect change in the world.
“In June, more than 100 students at Stanford, M.I.T. and other top colleges signed a pledge saying they would turn down job interviews with Google unless the company dropped its Project Maven contract. (Google said that month that it would not renew the contract once it expired.) “We are students opposed to the weaponization of technology by companies like Google and Microsoft,” the pledge stated. “Our dream is to be a positive force in the world. We refuse to be complicit in this gross misuse of power.”
This is an incredibly powerful statement. A bunch of students getting together brought Google to its knees.
Now these brave students might consider standing up en masse to Facebook and its rapidly shrinking signing bonuses before FB moves too fast and breaks reality again.
1. How is this powerful, in the slightest? 100 students is less than a rounding error.
2. How are these students in any way brave?
2. Brave in turning down lucrative job offers for moral reasons. Many, many engineers currently work at Big Tech co’s with similar doubts and fears. But to risk your salary and job security on ethical grounds, that’s what I call brave.
Does the nytimes tech team ask "Why are we spamming HN everyday for"? I doubt it. They just do what they are paid to do.
The same thing for all tech workers and all workers in general. The construction worker building a luxury tower isn't asking "why are we building this for". He just wants to get paid and paid well.
"Do no evil" is no more real in the tech world as "fair and balanced" or "all the news fit to print" is real in the news world. It's just empty slogans for PR.
I think it's one of the most immoral and unethical jobs that could be taken today.
A overused rhetoric that does not hold much ground when you realize that poverty is decreasing fast everywhere around, and faster than we expected it to.
We consider that a villager living from subsistence farming and therefore having almost no use for money to be part of the very poor, less than 1$/day crowd.
Take this same peasant and send it working for some multinational company harvesting cocoa or sugar cane, under horrible, exploitative conditions for 2$ a day, and bam! poverty has been halved!
Ditto if you send him and his family in some shanty town collecting plastic on a rubbish pile, feeding on refuse : he's now making 3$ a day, poverty decreased again!
What is called "lifting out of poverty" is actually "making them a cog of a worldwide, money-based economy". That's a mixed blessing, to say the least.
They weren't actually subsistence farmers, but they did live without money before this was done to them. They were incredibly bitter.
And people forced to become cogs don't automatically gain meaningful access to things like healthcare and education, plus the education of the city people can involve horrible prejudice that is actively harmful to them for various reasons.
Half of the worlds population lives in poverty, and ~650m live in extreme poverty .
Meanwhile in most developed countries, inequality is grotesque and the consequent poverty is on the rise.
*Absolute poverty would decrease much faster if we exploited and expropriated from developing countries a little less.
If I live aboard a ship, I am not in poverty because I do not own a car, because in my society, you do not need a car. But if I live in a city with no public transport where you need a car to get around, but I can't afford one, I absolutely am.
Poverty apologists always bring up TV as an example, as if poverty is about optional extras rather than basic dignity, respect and participation.
It's about feeling inferior, it's about being treated inferior, often violently so.
For instance, what happens when you try and retrieve groceries from a supermarket when you cannot afford to pay for them.
There's a running joke in my country that US poverty is our middle class - only two cars and a small house.
It is still plenty good enough but employee want to be paid in the currency their employers uses.
If you trust your employer to do things for the greater good, you can accept less money, or even no money at all like with the charities. If your employer is simply pursuing the highest profit, employee want the biggest amount of money.
Banking never could claim a "Moral High Ground", so they compensated with cold hard cash. SV is loosing its and needs to align its salaries accordingly.
But what about climat change? We've improved so much across so many areas, surely that'll offset a few more degrees across the globe? It's just one metric among so many where we're doing great.
What if it doesn't? How will we cope in 50 years with hundreds of millions of landless refugees? Right now we can't. Are we doing so great that in 50 years we will?
* Literally every piece of lab equipment that uses any kind of controller/control board (most of them)... has needed programming of one sort of another. Hmmm, with the exception of older analog gear maybe (decades ago?).
* Every single piece of data collection, storage, analysis, and control software is created through programming.
* Even communication of results among team members, to management, to the public, often requires programming.
Imagine there are two paths from A to B (the left and right path). 100 people walk from A to B. Half take the left and half the right, and none of them have any information not in this paragraph.
There are wolves on the left path. Everyone who travels it gets eaten. Now, at B, we have 50 people. They all chose the right path voluntarily, they all made a choice. None of them knew about the wolves though. How do we catagorise this situation in term of having and not having made a "real" choice? I argue that in practice, whatever the people were thinking when they chose B was irrelevant, because they didn't know the thing that actually mattered and they didn't have a proxy variable for it.
With that setup, I'd argue companies that "help collect a number of people with similar goals rather than to solely make a profit" are a lot like my right path, in that the people may not have been focused on maximising profits, but if they didn't achieve them they wouldn't have lasted long. By evolution, there will be a decided drift towards companies maximising profits even if all the individuals actually making the choices think they are doing something real (or I suppose, the converse where they think that their job is meaningless).
If anything, the drive for profit is a little less now.
This is one of the reasons among many I regard the decline in proper journalism as so worrying.
A corporation could be chartered for any reason. What is true is that in the early 19th century there was a legal pretense that corporations had to justify their charter to the government in order to be approved and renewed.
One of the very first corporations in USA was Alexander Hamilton's bank, that ran a
water utility as a front operation. https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Manhattan_Company
The old days weren't as honorable as the stories whitewash.
But not-just-for-profit corporations have existed for a long time.
https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/B_Corporation_(certification... is a modern trend.
You might want to have a look at an history book then. Companies had slaves, got kids working in mines, got to use the government to shout their workers who rebelled because they had no rights whatsoever, or just straight up used private armies. It was all pre 20th century already. If all this was not solely to make a profit, I don't know what it was.
Furthermore the great majority of big ventures were family driven. There were not formal associations between "people with similar goals" who weren't blood related.
Tactics, when it came to dealing with competition, were far beyond anything you see today. There were few regulations in the US, so companies were free to devise all manners of schemes to best their competitors. The treatment of labor in the pursuit of profit, was similarly far more brutal (there's really no comparison, Amazon's warehouse workers are treated like kings compared to sweatshop workers back then).
If that is the case, is it moral to refuse to work on the Manhattan Project if asked?
(I also agree that working on the next generation of the atomic bomb or the next revision of the M16/AK47 does not hold the same promise of saving lives, of course...)
Modern society has already made the choice though. We sacrifice a few for the many all the time, and they are called heros and duly celebrated.
It's really an argument that can't be made because the other event never happened. The weapon killed people, that's it. I don't know if there's a moral side at all?
Do you know of any text, interviews or discussions with any of the scientists on the Manhattan project on the morality of their work?
Let it grow from being just your vision to become a small group's vision.
Guys join the army for what? Loose their lives for what?
They are people who are signing up for a job whose work benefits are medium probability of making their spouses widows and single parents overnight
I am not saying that they did not sign up for the other reasons as well, and by saying this I don’t think I am undermining their commitment to serve or their intent, but in a volunteer force it is also about money, and we’re going to have to pay a lot more to meet recruitment targets.
Making money for shareholders is an instrument to secure long term/regular investment. It's not the "end goal", and almost no company's mission is "to make money". Money is just the blood stream that enables everything else.
Sure seems that way, when every decision is optimized towards making money short-term. I think the more correct model of most companies would be money-focused entities that through path dependence ended up in the market sector they're in. That is, the actual thing they're doing is an artifact of history and is abstracted away for actual operations.