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The machine learning community has a toxicity problem (reddit.com)
143 points by zekrioca 30 days ago | hide | past | favorite | 187 comments



The ____ (insert scientific community/field here) has a toxicity problem.

It can be said from every single field in science (I am in the natural/health ones):

- peer review is broken - check

- reproducibility problem - check (try to reproduce any miracle cancer cure paper)

- worshipping problem - check, there are kings and no one can take them down.

- diversity problem - check. In my department 80% of the professors and PhD and postdocs are women.

- moral and ethics are set arbitrarily - check. Morals? in Genetics? give me a brake

- there is a cut-throat publish-or-perish mentality - check, tell me something new

- discussions have become disrespectful - check. The time I saw Pavel Pezner giving a keynote lecture at ISMB and instead of showing his work he spend 70% of the time dressing down other people and trashing their work, Science died to me. And this was early 2000’s.

Machine learning won’t be the first field to notice it, and won’t be the last. Science is not scientific anymore.


Is this a new phenomenon?

Max Planck had this famous quote:

> A new scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light, but rather because its opponents eventually die and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it. . . . An important scientific innovation rarely makes its way by gradually winning over and converting its opponents: it rarely happens that Saul becomes Paul. What does happen is that its opponents gradually die out, and that the growing generation is familiarized with the ideas from the beginning: another instance of the fact that the future lies with the youth.


I think this goes beyond science. People don't just change their minds. The only consistent way to get people to change is to wait until they die.


Not new at all, just more widespread today with all the sacred info and media.


"Science progresses one funeral at a time.”


One of the most eye-opening experiences I had as a new grad was sitting near to Bjarne Stroustrup during the OOPSLA 2006 keynote (? It’s been a long time), while 2000-or-so co-attendees repeatedly booed & hissed at him every time C++ was mentioned. It was weird & disconcerting. The only thing that made it bearable was how much Bjarne seemed to enjoy the whole thing.


How would you rephrase it? Does “science have a toxicity problem?”

Academia? Humans in general?


Eric Weinstein has a theory that it's caused by the embedded growth obligations in our institutions.

I'm not sure it's the answer, but I think there is something seriously amiss with our institutions that causes them to all have a similar set of self silencing momentum. The amount of corruption that has been exposed in institutions over the last 20 years that has gone largely ignored in traditional media and inside this institutions themselves is staggering. Every time we hear institution X has a problem with Y, the story quietly disappears and there is no institutional change enacted.

https://bigthink.com/culture-religion/eric-weinstein-intelle...


My personal experience has been that, once an organization reaches some critical mass in terms of size, the primary goal seems to be to protect the institution itself rather than the stated mission it was created to serve. I’ve often wondered if this is the same mechanism that causes large organizations (e.g., churches, academic institutions) to go astray. I tend to think a diffusion of responsibility tends to go hand-in-hand with growth


"The bureaucracy expands to meet the needs of the ever expanding bureaucracy" or something to that effect.

I blame it on exceeding Dunbar's Number and creating different groups inside of an org, which now have different priorities and tribal affiliations, e.g. Ops vs. Engineering vs. Finance, or sub-teams inside of Engineering fighting holy wars about Tool [X].


I’ve heard it described as a “self licking ice cream cone”

I think the Dunbars number idea is interesting in terms of possibly describing how our organizational scaling has outpaced our biology


If you treat it as hazing the problem becomes more manageable.

Ultimately, scientists want to be understood and accepted by their peers and make friends, they are people after all.

A culture of abuse can start when the notion of exclusivity is accepted and outsiders want to join the group, whether that be in a single research group or within a field of study.

The problem is exacerbated by greedy individuals, and limited pools of funding to carry out research.

In turn, the greediest are the most exclusive, and the most prone to toxic behavior and chronic hazing.


Maybe we can blame the anonymity of the internet.


Of all the debates and cries for LeCun's insensitivities and outrage over DeepMind's so-called "not quoting good research due to their deep racial bias", can someone comment on the scientific part? In particular, is PresGAN novel or worth quoting? Is fairness on algorithm instead of on dataset a good research direction?


don't get dragged into that false dichotomy. treating fairness as a merely technical problem is a cop out. in addition to looking at dataset and algo, look at the processes that generate data, how the data is collected/selected for the data set, and how the algo is deployed and to what end.


Can you elaborate on what you mean? I was interpreting “fairness” as “unbiased”, meaning if the process used to generate the data is biased, they are inherently unfair


> At our CS faculty, only 30% of undergrads and 15% of the professors are women. Going on parental leave during a PhD or post-doc usually means the end of an academic career. However, this lack of diversity is often abused as an excuse to shield certain people from any form of criticism. Reducing every negative comment in a scientific discussion to race and gender creates a toxic environment. People are becoming afraid to engage in fear of being called a racist or sexist, which in turn reinforces the diversity problem.

This was an unexpected twist! It's rare to read such an honest, unbiased opinion on this issue.


In my opinion the dominant discriminatory mechanism is:

1. The expected working hours and travel schedule

2. Poorly-compensated, unstable unemployment through the mid-thirties as de riguer

I'm a man, but my experience is relevant in that I left early for industry from a Physics PhD that was dragging on, in large part because I wanted to start a family. I'm now, according to the feedback I receive, a high-performing C++ developer in the CAD / CAM space, and I didn't have to move around the country doing temp work for below-market compensation, work crazy hours, or suffer through the degrading administrative bullshit one must endure to convince a committee. And I have a seven-month-old and a partner getting a master's on my salary, and we get to live near my parents.

It was unpleasant to nod along when "enduring the company of gross assholes like you" was presented (rather than the above) as the dominant discriminatory mechanism, but, you know. There were plenty of gross assholes and it was a learning experience and I guess I'm now probably better for it.


The divide you're describing between careers C++ development and physics can be explained by simple supply and demand. You've responded to the market and are better off for it.

Also, when you have a bunch of very intelligent and hard-working physics grad students, how on earth can "working hours" not be a discriminatory mechanism between them, when the coveted faculty positions are so few and far between? Does it not stand to reason that a person who devotes more of his day to the work will come out ahead, on average?

It isn't good or bad, it simply is.


I did not argue that this situation is "bad," I argued that it's "hostile to people who want to start families."

Now, you can guess based on my emotional language that I think it is good to pursue policies that make careers more open to people who want families. And, as it happens, the US government agrees, in so far as it designates wanting a family a protected class for the purpose of employment discrimination.

My argument, devoid of moral content, is:

If it's your aim to avoid excluding people who want families from a career, you need to regulate the amount of hours people in that career are expected to work, the amount they're expected to travel, and the distribution of lifetime expected earnings (don't unnecessarily gate a prosperous 40s behind penurious child-bearing years). Since this particular career is overwhelmingly government-funded, free-market analyses miss the point - the government decides how many Physics Grad Students there are, what they're paid, and largely what their future career trajectories are. Given that it holds the purse strings it also holds substantially more power to regulate working conditions than it otherwise would.

It's empirically obvious that people who want families are excluded from science, and I'm positing that the above is why.


I also want the society to support more families, especially by the highly educated people (not in the name of some IQ-supremacy, although you could argue that's beneficial to society, but simply to level the playing field - low educated people don't seem to have any problem having tons of kids, while high educated are delaying family creation more and more - and in case of women, often into their less fertile years).

However, my proposed solutions are quite different, and much more direct - simply address the main issues directly - the main issue IMO currently being housing (at least in major cities, near major colleges, in major Western countries). So you could make a simple rule, giving (either literally, or in a form of long-term (10+ years) loan that automatically gets written of under some conditions) young people apartments when they e.g. enroll in a difficult STEM PhD program. Once this problem is "sorted" (housing represents a major factor in how "secure" you feel about your future - you and your kids never going homeless) I think that would encourage many young highly-educated high-achiever couples to start families much sooner.


Housing is not the main issue (grad students can afford that, after all), child care is.

For several years an adult needs to be present 24/7 and if the adult is someone other than the parent that ain't cheap. If the adult is someone other than the parent and it's not business hours that really ain't cheap.

What's a better use of the NSF's dollars? Funding night-nurses for grad students so professors can keep working them through the night? Or just funding day-care and regulating their hours?

You definitely don't want to just give grad students assets that can be converted into liquidity after some fixed term, because then you're just exacerbating the "you get rich eventually, after you're too old for kids" issue. A better asset would be something like a seven-year voucher for day-care that is:

1. Granted after a two-year vesting period (so that people receiving this benefit get at least a Master's degree)

2. Non-transferrable (so students don't just sell it)

3. Not conditional on continued enrollment (so it doesn't tie you to an abusive professor / department)

Again, I think this only really works with regulations on hours (possibly with a shift system of some kind), but once the federal government begins funding such a benefit there's no reason to restrict it to grad students (I'm sure military service-people could use such a benefit as well, and the more government professions receive it the more flexible the voucher is).


“It isn’t good or bad, it simply is” implies it followed some amoral natural law.

These are human-created systems, though, and would be built upon human ethics and morals. Stating academia as an institution just “is” isn’t much different than asserting the military-industrial-congressional complex just “is”


IMHO, depersonalizing a problem may help to mitigate it.

My IRL analogy:

Working in election integrity, I emphatically encouraged my peers to pointedly ignore intention, to frame problems as "errors", not "fraud".

From the systems view, all fraud are technically errors.

And the conversation is full stop over the moment someone says "fraud", "chicanery", "electioneering".

But if you can keep the convo in the "safe space" of "errors", avoid partisanship and blame and whatever, then it's easier to build coalitions, persuade others, neutralize opposition.

Just my two cents.


I think that’s a good way to phrase it. Another is to focus on the “process” rather than the “person”.

An election process can fail to provide validation against errors. A person, however, commits fraud.


Ya, process vs people is a smarter dichotomy. More general purpose. Thank you.


Human-created systems (science funding in the US) are absolutely built upon human ethics and morals and subject to modification. But the concept of productivity = f(time-invested) is indeed an amoral natural law. f(.) is not necessarily something simple like a line, maybe a sigmoid, I don't know. But the idea that time spent on a problem is, away from corner cases like 0 and 24/7, positively correlated with results and productivity - that idea is indeed amoral and not really mutable.

You bring up the military, and I can draw another analogy - development of a military technology. Sure, you can decide nukes are amoral, but the more actors there are in the world, the higher the chance that someone else will develop them anyway, and will wipe the floor with you, amoral as though they may be. So do you really have a choice? Generall,y when a technological advance is possible and brings about significant advantages for the entity that develops it, it will eventually happen. It won't be good or bad, it just will be. Agonize about it or don't, develop it or let yourself be overpowered by the one who will - your moral choice entirely.


I’m with you in the first paragraph. My larger issue is when the function is reduced to a single variable like time invested. There are some cases where time invested can even be counterproductive because of competing effects (think of newbies working out who assume more is always better and eventually become overstrained). My point is that it’s naive to think time = productivity in anything but trivially simple systems. To think that about complex systems can get you in trouble

Your second paragraph I’m less sure about. It comes across as realpolitik (that may have been your point) which can be used as a rationalization to continue immoral behavior. My bringing up the military is that we can create systems that incentivize certain behavior (lobbying for a military need) and confuse that with natural law when in reality it can be mitigated through a differently oriented system (in this case, one that more clearly separates money and politics)


> implies it followed some amoral natural law

Doesn't it? If you have two lions of the same physical ability and one of them hunts for six hours a day and the other one hunts for 12 hours a day, which one would you expect to be more successful?

> Stating academia as an institution just “is” isn’t much different than asserting the military-industrial-congressional complex just “is”

It's not about academia specifically though, it's about any and all systems where individuals compete. Given similar talent, the one who puts in more time/effort will likely win.


One of them will be dead by exhaustion a short time after he piled up his bounty only to have it rot because he doesn't know a freezer...


There's no need for anyone to win, both the person working 6 hours and the one working 12 hours can contribute and be compensated proportionally to their efforts.


No, they can't. There are more grad students than postdoc positions. Modern academia is famous/infamous for this.


Except I don’t think we can/should reduce our institutions to such a simple model. There’s many more inputs than just work-hours.

We build our institutions to guard against this. That’s why we don’t live in an anarcho-capitalist society and have things like anti-trust laws.


> There’s many more inputs than just work-hours.

Obviously, but if you consider those to be very similar at the top of some field, wouldn't you expect work-hours to be important in predicting the outcome? I'm sure you can draw clear lines between two individuals, but when you look at many people of similar ability, how much time they put in will most likely predict their results pretty well.

> We build our institutions to guard against this.

We do? Is there a thing where you can explain that you're as smart as other people and therefore it shouldn't matter that they work 5 days a week in some area and you only work one day, and that it's unfair that they produce more results than you and get the promotion/grant/whatever you compete for? I've never heard of it.


The anti-trust example in the previous statement is one. It doesn't matter if someone is more successful, even if it's due solely to an extraordinary work ethic; societal institutions will artificially limit their market share.

Sports is another example. Leagues put salary caps as well as minimum salaries to artificially limit compensation.

Both sports and economics put these in place to provide a bulwark against such "natural laws" in favor of human defined ethics like fairness.


Those are extremely different things. There is no monopoly in academics or personal career. Sports is a terrible example imho, because most of the compensation isn't in the salary, it's in the ad contracts.

> Both sports and economics put these in place to provide a bulwark against such "natural laws" in favor of human defined ethics like fairness.

That's not at all why we have anti-trust laws. They are harmful to the economy, that's why. If they weren't, that is, if monopolists usually were more efficient in lowering prices/increasing quality/innovating than companies that had competitors, we'd have no issue with monopolies at all.


Fair enough on the anti-trust point. But societal institutions still put artificial limits, such as minimum wages. In different eras, the U.S. put maximum limits as well. The U.S. also limits profits in certain industries through regulated monopolies (e.g., insurance, utilities).

It's a strange moving of the goal-posts to posit that sports doesn't count due to endorsements. There are also examples of leagues that limit these as well (UFC being one, although the case can be made this is of the managers interest). It becomes more pronounced in amateur levels (e.g., Olympics).

The military is an institution that sometimes put numerous limits on one's professional career regardless of contribution.

Someone above brought up E. Weinstein. He's been a vocal critic of how academic institutions use immigration institutions to artificially drive down labor rates. There are seemingly boundless examples of institutions either biasing or leveling outcomes.

The larger point being institutions do put artificial limits on all kinds of interactions. These interactions have societal ethics forced upon them and don't exist in a libertarian vacuum consisting of only natural laws.


I don't believe we do minimum wages for similar reasons either. We want people to be able to live (or, at the very least, survive), and we don't want to distort the markets by subsidizing their lives when working doesn't pay enough. But that has nothing to do with removing competition, or limiting competition to some areas, i.e. "natural talent" but forbidding to put more work in than your competitors.

> It's a strange moving of the goal-posts to posit that sports doesn't count due to endorsements.

If you go for total comp, endorsements is part of it. If you don't, you'll just see that the average salary in highly lucrative and competitive fields will sink and the stock options, bonuses etc for the top performers will increase. In both cases, the result is the same: the top performers get substantially more than the rest. The different is only whether you're trying to hide that fact by making them nominally earn close to the same, only to then give some of them the rest of the money in a different way.

> The military is an institution that sometimes put numerous limits on one's professional career regardless of contribution.

And they are also a very special case, with lots of intricacies and paranoia and not something that comes to mind when you ask people about rewarding merit and efficiency.

Nobody is arguing that anything and everything must "only consist of natural laws". But to claim that something as basic as "more effort = more results" shouldn't be allowed to be real because it's too much of a natural law and has no place in civilized society sound ridiculous.

It's fine if you want to argue that we shouldn't promote the top 1% of each year and murder the rest. I agree, and we don't. But to not consider the actual output of people competing for something because they might have put in different amount of hours?

Should we have the Olympics add more classes where only people may compete against each other that were born on the same day and had their training supervised and limited to a reasonable amount achievable by every hobbyist for their whole life, to make sure that none of them had an "unfair advantage" by training harder or longer than the others?


> > The military is an institution that sometimes put numerous limits on one's professional career regardless of contribution.

> And they are also a very special case, with lots of intricacies and paranoia and not something that comes to mind when you ask people about rewarding merit and efficiency.

The elephant in the room is however, what is merit and efficiency in academia. I would argue the attempt to somehow make scientific output measurable has led to the big problems plaguing academia today, salami publishing, churning out more and more papers with less and less results, making papers purposefully difficult to reproduce, time spend on applying for funding instead of research, crazy work hours... In many ways academia is similar to the military in that short term incentives are actually counterproductive to the end goal that you try to achieve.

> Nobody is arguing that anything and everything must "only consist of natural laws". But to claim that something as basic as "more effort = more results" shouldn't be allowed to be real because it's too much of a natural law and has no place in civilized society sound ridiculous.

Again the difficulty being what does more results mean and is it necessarily good.

That being said I don't think artificially capping work hours (how even) would alleviate the situation, work hours are a symptom not the cause.


Certainly, competition has undesired side effects, and everything you measure will become a target and be gamed. I don't believe there's an alternative available that scales and works reliably. The market-style multi-layer competition (individuals, organizations, regions, nations, continents and blocs etc) is full of problems, but it's the best thing we have.


I think my original point is getting lost based on the way you are speaking about those examples.

My intent is not to rail against the idea that “more work = more results”, all else being equal.

My point is that this is not something that should just be expected to run its course because it’s a “natural law”, and is thus some evidence of some fundamental truth. Society places limits on how far these “natural laws” can extend. The “intricacies” of special cases are exactly what I was inferring when I stated what I felt was too simplistic of a model; namely, reducing the systemic effects to a single correlation like “more work = more results”. In the real world I think those rare situations that can be boiled down to such a simplistic relationship are the exception rather than the rule.

We do add rules to many (most?) sporting events, largely out of ethics. Combat sports have weight classes, others have age restrictions, Olympians have pay restrictions etc. Whether or not your examples would be adopted is a matter of social convention about what is “fair enough”, so they seem to illustrate the point about society setting ethical boundaries.

I don’t think there’s anything wrong with the meritocratic goal of “more work = more results”. To get there, though, all else must be equal which is too idealized to work in the real world. So society creates ethical rules, outside of natural laws, to get closer to that level playing field. Insinuating differences influenced by institutional convention is evidence of some foundational truth is naive and potentially dangerous.


> My point is that this is not something that should just be expected to run its course because it’s a “natural law”, and is thus some evidence of some fundamental truth.

What I'm missing is what alternative you see. Sure, we could turn the relationship between input and output on its head and watch what happens when whoever crosses the finish line last wins the race. But what does that achieve?

> We do add rules to many (most?) sporting events, largely out of ethics.

We add constraints so we can compare the abilities, and that gets too hard to be useful when we don't focus on something. If we had a new sport, not unlike a decathlon, but testing every skill imaginable, I'm sure we'd find the field much closer together, and we'd probably have quite a few surprises, but it would take forever and wouldn't really tell us anything. Constraining it with rules allows for comparison.

Yes, of course, we could constrain researchers as well by how much time they were allowed to work, or which books they were allowed to read, and how often they are allowed to look something up etc, but we're not really interested in some very narrow, hyper-specific "research" skill, it's not a hobby, we want results. Ergo we look at who gets the most results, or gets them the fastest, or cracks the hardest puzzles, whatever you may use to compare researchers.


As someone more eloquently stated above, I think the measure is more a symptom than a root cause. So the alternative would require more systematic change. In many ways, academia seems broken. Areas that seem to contribute are 1) the endless push for publication regardless of quality, 2) the disingenuous recruiting of PhD candidates in light of the limited positions available, especially as tenured professors and 3) the way colleges have been run as businesses built on debt in the last few decades. These are not based in “natural law” but human convention.

I think those three areas combine to create students with massive debt and limited prospects, ripe to be taken advantage of under the guise of meritocratic competition. What I’m seeing is that people may interpret success in this area as a natural outcome of what “just is” rather than the byproduct of a broken system.


poor compensation is normally a factor that filters out guys more than women because of societal (and partner) expectations.


In the physical sciences (possibly others but I can only speak to what I know), there's an expectation that your compensation hits an inflection point somewhere in your mid-thirties (once you've endured the hazing of the PhD and multiple post-docs). For example, I know that in my company I make a 20 percent premium over junior engineers hired fresh out of college at the same time I was, and I'm a PhD program wash-out.

So it's not exactly "poor compensation," it's more "poor compensation through the years when most educated people have children."


The US is a funny country. Parents mock geeks. Towns are crazy over only sports, and cheer leaders are the most popular figures in schools. Schools tell kids that they need to be unique and they don't have to study hard, and the term "queen bee" is apparently a US thing, and it is definitely not popular, if non-existent, in India. The states dumb down their curriculum. The testing organizations use only standard tests. The whole country sells more barbies than any action figures of female scientists, biographies of female scientists, and experiment kits for kids, combined.

Did your teacher tell you stories of Marie Curie passionately? Did your teacher tell you stories of Noether and her amazing theorems with great admiration? Did your teacher tell you the inspirational stories of Ada Lovelace? Did your teacher and parents tell students that everyone can achieve the same level of mastery on STEM? Did your country treat engineers and scientists as heroes? I guess not.

And now a bunch of lefties are complaining there are fewer women scientists and engineers in the pipeline and attribute it solely on discrimination or bigotry?

Get your priority straight.


The idea that girls can’t be inspired by male scientists is extremely sexist.

> Parents mock geeks.

I was a kid nerd. I was mocked. (And bullied too, but I’ll take that one for the team.) Trust me, there was absolutely no encouragement provided for me, except by a few geeky teachers. If girls receive(d) approximately zero encouragement, that sounds like equality to me (though not how things should be!). The idea of geeks being cool, rich and popular is very recent, brought to you by the likes of Zuckerberg, Elon Musk, and Big Bang Theory.


> The idea that girls can’t be inspired by male scientists is extremely sexist.

Nobody said that they can't be, that's a straw man. But there is a difference between not being inspired by male scientists and never having a female scientist mentioned to you.

> > Parents mock geeks.

> I was a kid nerd. I was mocked. (And bullied too, but I’ll take that one for the team.) Trust me, there was absolutely no encouragement provided for me, except by a few geeky teachers. If girls receive(d) approximately zero encouragement, that sounds like equality to me (though not how things should be!). The idea of geeks being cool, rich and popular is very recent, brought to you by the likes of Zuckerberg, Elon Musk, and Big Bang Theory.

I don't think the OP was only talking about female geeks but in general. Regarding bullying, I agree it's a big problem, however girls tend to have another issue to fight with, which is being told (by teachers, parents, and other geeks...) from very early on that they are not good at science/math. So imagine being bullied for geekiness and at the same time being told that you can't really do that think you like.


Where do you live that teachers tell girls they are not good with science/math? Even when I went to school ages ago, nobody ever said anything like that to girls in my classes.


I heard it said to girls in my class in Germany (this was in the 80/90s), the teacher in question when challenged said that it was an obvious joke and the girls just can't take humour.

I know quite a lot of women (both in science fields and ones who did not go into science because of this) who told me that they were told this.

I have read it repeatedly on reddit/HN and others by people (in particular those who call themselves geeks/nerds) who argued women and girls are not good at science.

Also one thing I learnt when talking to female colleagues and friends, is that some things we just don't see/hear, because they are said in private, e.g. in teacher meetings...


Where I went to school almost all of the teachers were women. In fact teaching profession here as a whole has been dominated by women for a very long time now. Seems a bit illogical girls would be commonly told to be unfit for science. Do you think the situation is different in Germany, because you have more vocational oriented education and probably more male teachers?


Education in Germany is a bit special, i.e. there are three different "tiers" of schools. The school to be able to go to university (and to which I went) is called Gymnasium and is not and in my experience (I went to a US high-school for a year as a Senior) is less vocationally oriented than US high-schools at least. While teachers being largely female is also true in Germany, the distribution depends on schools, elementary school (grade 1-4) teachers are by vast majority women, but when it comes to the Gymnasium the distribution is somewhat more even (maybe 60/40 in my time). However teachers for STEM subjects (math, physics, chemistry) are still mainly men.

Moreover, I know several women who were told by women, e.g. their mothers, that girls are not good at STEM. Just to say the discouragement doesn't just come from men.


> The idea that girls can’t be inspired by male scientists is extremely sexist.

You're right. I somehow fell into the framework set by the progressives. Any gender can do STEM, and the country I came from ensures that such message is loud and clear. Having female role models helps, but that's beside the point.


I would go further and state that there is no "diversity" problem, whatever that should mean. There is an a priori assumption that it should be 50/50 and only then a field is just. Why CS though? There are countless other occupations where that is not given. The problems with PhD and pregnancy is a university problem. So I still think it is heavily biased.


Maybe there shouldn't be an assumption that only a 50/50 proportion is just, but there also shouldn't be an assumption that our current ratio is just fine and not indicative of any problems. I'd note that in the 80s the gender ratio for CS was around 40% women, and that it then began to decline while other STEM fields saw a continued rise. Right now the physical sciences have twice the rate of female participation than CS. Heck, at my college (University of Rochester) while our CS program had maybe 30% women, the Math program was over 50%. Is there some fundamental difference in interest between pure mathematics and computer science that I'm missing? I'd also note the high number of women in CS who report discrimination or harassment.


50/50 is kind of an arbitrary strawman, there aren't many demographics approaching that in the western world. Even in the US, the male/female split is closer to 49/51, so you wouldn't expect 50/50 there either without a small bias. There are various other demographics with an uneven distribution too - even if we decide it should be 49/51 based on the gender balance of the overall population, is that necessarily representative of the hiring pool (i.e. excluding teenagers, children, students, retirees)? Some rigorous analysis is necessary before deciding that a given ratio is Correct, I think. When the ratio is dramatically different from the general population it's at least a sign that perhaps something is wrong.


Because, unlike other field, CS, and especially ML, uniquely positions itself as a field that is setting out to revolutionize how the world is structured. You want more input than just white and Asian folks when you’re going to make such bold claims.


ML can barely look at a jpeg and tell me if it has boobs; I'm not optimistic that we could or should revolutionize how the world is structured around it.


"Why CS though?" is a weird statement here.

Why should the vast majority, or even a sizable fraction, of fields not have a gender or race balance even remotely approximating the balance of the general population? Is it not a 'should' but merely 'it's okay if they do'? If the balance was in the other direction and men or white people were being intentionally denied jobs, would that be okay?

Should it be OK for other things to be unbalanced? Should it be OK if 60% of black people can't get houses but only 10% of white people have trouble getting homes? Should it be OK if 90% of asians are turned away from emergency rooms but only 20% of mexicans are?

You can argue that race/gender genetic differences play a role but it's kind of hard to explain away the widespread imbalances here just based off DNA.


~80% of the Nurses in the US are Female, this is no doubt due to discrimination and anti-male bias according to your worldview, correct? 87% of Garbage men in the US are Men, are you fighting for better female representation in the Garbage trade?

https://www.beckershospitalreview.com/hr/gender-ratio-of-nur...


Yes and what gender are the doctors? Even though medicine students are 60% female? That's the issue, the prestigious more powerful jobs are largely male dominated, while the "rank and file" who takes orders (or does the dirty work) is largely female. Show me one field (that does rely on the person's ability not looks) where there are more women in the higher ranked positions and more men in the lower ranked positions.


You ignored my question.

>Show me one field (that does rely on the person's ability not looks) where there are more women in the higher ranked positions and more men in the lower ranked positions.

Nursing


The field is medicine and doctors are predominately male.


Not sure how you leaped from me asking "should it be OK for there to be an imbalance" to this. Why would it be OK? That's the question I asked in the first place.


> If the balance was in the other direction and men or white people were being intentionally denied jobs, would that be okay?

You're implying – and your argument rests on – that right now, women and non-white people are being intentionally denied jobs due to their gender or the color of their skin [1], and that this is a widespread phenomenon [2]. I would really like to see some hard evidence for that claim.

[1] As opposed to their qualification or other directly relevant criteria.

[2] I'm assuming you mean in the US, or at least in the Western world.


The OP asked "There is an a priori assumption that it should be 50/50 and only then a field is just. Why CS though?" as if CS is the only field that matters here. I responded by asking more broadly about whether imbalance should be acceptable in any field and what kind of imbalance should be acceptable. Why are you immediately assuming that my question is a thin veil over some sort of implied argument?

If you believe that racial discrimination in hiring (or otherwise) is made up, you need merely perform a google search to find many reputable articles and papers on the subject. Feel free to educate yourself.

https://www.google.com/search?q=race+discrimination+in+hirin...


There is no indication that people are being denied entry to certain fields.


None that I'm aware of. I've never even seen somebody claim to be an otherwise qualified candidate who is unable to enter a field due to demographics.


Other than high-profile lawsuits against tech companies accusing them of discrimination against demographic groups?

https://www.mercurynews.com/2019/06/07/google-discrimination...

"Now the plaintiffs can request access to internal Google documents to try to support their allegations, which also include some people being “denied employment because of their actual and perceived conservative political activities and affiliations, and their status as actual or perceived Asian or Caucasian male job applicants,”"

There are myriad examples of this sort of allegation from the last decade, it's not hard to find them. They've been discussed here on HN.


OK sorry I meant there is no indication of such denial of entry BEFORE the activists take over. Once they manage to install their quota rules, it is of course not a fair playing field anymore.


Indeed, with a correction

_People are becoming afraid_

People are already afraid. Every other discipline outside STEM is completely rotten, it's clear STEM is next.



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Ironically, this comment perfectly exemplifies the toxicity.


They are not the real problem. The all-or-nothing exaggerations that remove all nuance are (a major part of) the real problem.


Moreover, not everyone who receives benefits is aware of them in the first place. For example, I am reasonably sure that I have it slightly easier at conferences as a man because women do not hit on me, whereas my female Ph.D. students have to endure all kinds of sleazy invitations over the course of one week. (low sample size, admittedly, but it was eye-opening)


>I am reasonably sure that I have it slightly easier at conferences as a man because women do not hit on me

Can we acknowledge the fact that most men would be ecstatic to be hit on by a woman or two at a conference? Can we acknowledge that men and women are innately different? That forcing men to change their behavior significantly to accommodate for women in male spaces may in fact place unequal strain on men?

Edit: are we just going to deny the fact that men are biologically driven to reproduce and compete for women? That this is an instinctual urge that we are required to suppress? You don't solve problems by ignoring their sources.


> >I am reasonably sure that I have it slightly easier at conferences as a man because women do not hit on me

> Can we acknowledge the fact that most men would be ecstatic to be hit on by a woman or two at a conference? Can we acknowledge that men and women are innately different? That forcing men to change their behavior significantly to accommodate for women in male spaces may in fact place unequal strain on men?

"Male spaces"?! Since when are conferences male spaces, they are a freaking professional space and yes expecting men (and women) to act professionally is exactly what we should do.

> Edit: are we just going to deny the fact that men are biologically driven to reproduce and compete for women? That this is an instinctual urge that we are required to suppress? You don't solve problems by ignoring their sources.

B*ll, to imply that men can't control themselves is just offensive to men. But I guess you're also a proponent that women should wear burkas to protect them from those men that can't control themselves. Funny how those "policies" are always to the detriment of the women, not the men who can't control themselves. So much for unequal strain.


>"Male spaces"?! Since when are conferences male spaces, they are a freaking professional space and yes expecting men (and women) to act professionally is exactly what we should do.

Male spaces are any spaces that are predominantly occupied by men. It is an observational definition and does not imply that women are deliberately excluded.

>B*ll, to imply that men can't control themselves is just offensive to men. But I guess you're also a proponent that women should wear burkas to protect them from those men that can't control themselves. Funny how those "policies" are always to the detriment of the women, not the men who can't control themselves. So much for unequal strain.

No, I am not implying that men cannot control themselves. But it's possible that in unisex spaces, there is a much higher burden on men not to be men than there is on women to accommodate to the spaces they are entering (practically by force).

But I'm glad you brought up burkas, because I considered mentioning the fact that men and women have largely self segregated across time and culture; we seem to be taking our very modern experiment with diversity and inclusion as though history (and non western culture) has been unambiguously wrong.

My ultimate point is inclusiveness does not come without its own costs, and there's no guarantee that an environment re-emagined to be overly inclusive will overall accomplish it's initial goals with the same effectiveness. In fact some degree of implicit exclusivity is not only good, but necessary for many pursuits. In sports the differences (not just in performance, but strategy) between males and females are obvious - but we're just supposed to pretend that sexual dimorphism stops at the shoulders?


> Can we acknowledge the fact that most men would be ecstatic to be hit on by a woman or two at a conference? Can we acknowledge that men and women are innately different? That forcing men to change their behavior significantly to accommodate for women in male spaces may in fact place unequal strain on men?

Well, does it place unequal strain on men to just not do something? I get the appeal of this—and believe, I would love to have women throw themselves at me left and right! But the issue is: it's probably interesting if it happens a few times, but what if it keeps happening? What is if every smile, every kind word of yours would be seen as 'Oh, he must be into me'?

I am not saying anyone's at fault here: I get it, there's a few women around and hey, you can shoot your shot. The trouble is that it's one shot for you, but dozens for her over the course of a regular conference. The conference messaging apps make it easy to make advances to women...


> That this is an instinctual urge that we are required to suppress?

That doesn't mean it's proper to whip your ding dong out in professional settings (aside from the professional settings that require it). Are you going to fight that fight? For the same reason, it is not proper to hit on people in professional settings.

> Can we acknowledge the fact that most men would be ecstatic to be hit on by a woman or two at a conference?

Yes, we can acknowledge that this could be flattering if it happened rarely. Can we also acknowledge that getting hit on at nearly every professional event would be extremely tiresome?

> That forcing men to change their behavior significantly to accommodate for women in male spaces may in fact place unequal strain on men?

There it is. A machine learning conference is not a male space. A men's bathroom is a male space.


As a fat, hairy IT guy who goes to a lot of conferences, I'd be super unnerved by multiple women hitting on me. That's the kind of thing that ends up with me getting hoodwinked out of a bunch of cash or waking up without a kidney in a bath tub full of ice.


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That's a misrepresentation of the content and you're pretending he wrote that. It didn't say "women are more privileged", it said "I'm a man, but I've never received any benefit just because (most of) our presidents / businessmen are men".

Please leave that kind of behavior on reddit and Twitter.


Nobody said this; you're inventing strawmen.

e: Apparently someone did say this. Apologies.


I'm not defending either of them, but that quote is apparently from https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=23662706


The quote literally says that... how is that a strawman?


You pulled a quote from tomp's post history, in a post made 8 days ago in a discussion on an unrelated story, and gave no indication of where it came from. You should have posted the source link as an attribution, because I was really confused about where you were getting that from until BerislavLopac found it and posted the link.


Similar has been replicated in removing asking about criminal records to be discriminatory against black people.

It really shows just how systemic bias can be.

Admittedly this makes me uncertain what studies have been done to prove or at least anyhropologically report on effective movements at increasing diversity. We already know (or have evidence that) more diverse teams are more effective teams.


[flagged]


Black people are convicted of disproportionate amounts of crimes which is different than committing a disproportionate amount of crimes. Or at least as disproportionate an amount.

The police, prosecutors and juries will go after black people more harshly and more often. Blacks are also more likely to be poor which means they cannot afford good legal defense.


Often the studies showing this are flawed, or at least incomplete.

For instance, it is often said that black people being arrested at higher rates for buying drugs in small amounts compared to white people when data shows that both groups use drugs at the same rates is evidence of discrimination.

However subsequent research has shown that black individuals often engage in much riskier behavior when buying drugs, leading them to get caught more.

What evidence do you have that "police, prosecutors and juries will go after black people more harshly and more often"?


>What evidence do you have that "police, prosecutors and juries will go after black people more harshly and more often"?

Talking to middle class black people, most have stories of police harassment which my white middle class friends do not.


They were harassed -- absolutely believe that.

Were they convicted of anything? OP wasn't talking about harassment, they were talking about convictions.


Have you asked if they were engaging in bad behavior? One sided anecdotes are often unreliable.


Does personal responsibility matter at all anymore?

>The police, prosecutors and juries will go after black people more harshly and more often

And blacks are more likely to commit the crimes in the first place, and more likely to reoffend. If you want to blame "systematic racism" or whatever the term of the day is, you need to paint the whole picture, because culturally inspired behavior (fuck the police!) leads to culturally inspired outcomes.

Tell me, do you believe that the justice system (excluding marital issues) is biased against men relative to women, since the incarceration ratio is like 9:1?


>Does personal responsibility matter at all anymore?

As a white person I'm not worried about the police pointing guns at me when walking home with my kids in a nice neighborhood. My middle class black colleague had that happen to them. Not sure what else they could have done with their "personal responsibility" to avoid that other than bleaching their skin I guess.


>As a white person I'm not worried about the police pointing guns at me when walking home with my kids in a nice neighborhood

8 unarmed black men died at the hands of police last year. In a country with tens of millions of police interactions every year. And proportionally the number of white people who died by cop is approximately the same.

What people are worried about right now is a mass hysteria manufactured by a slanted media determined to paint a picture which absolves blacks of any responsibility.

I'm more than willing to admit that yes, to some extent, discrimination/racism play a role in unequal outcomes. Are you willing to accept that personal choices have a far greater effect?


I think the claim is that prohibiting employers from asking about criminal records disadvantages black people precisely because black people commit more crimes. If they're allowed to ask about criminal records, then the non-criminals, black or white, are all on an equal footing. If they're not allowed to ask, then they'll assume that the black applicant is more likely to be a criminal.

[ I have no idea whether or not this claim is actually empirically true. ]


I think there are statistics showing that black people are much more likely to be arrested for committing the same crime as a white person, and thus more likely to have a criminal record even if they don't commit more crimes.


When it comes to policing this is actually a real problem and a violent one. Watch this vicious attack that police pretend a dog did it while not doing anything but provoke more pain. Imagine for a second you were black when you saw this. Getting arrested, not resisting and being mauled by a police dog, this leaves me speechless...

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LbZWt7kWCCY



Careful with your words. You say "black people commit disproportionate amount of crime" but it is entirely possible that black people are prosecuted more often for the same crimes as white people do not get prosecuted for. A simple web search will show you that is true.


This is why there are population surveys of criminal victimization. See table 12 on page 12. https://www.bjs.gov/content/pub/pdf/cv18.pdf


What do you want me to take away from it?


That it refutes your hypothesis.


Please dumb it down for me how it does so.


This is racist crap. If you over police black and brown neighborhoods, you’ll manage to find ways to incriminate black and brown people at a much higher rate than white people, because you won’t be around to see white people committing the same crimes.


The main take-away and problem for me is the 'arXiv dilemma', combined with shoddy scholarship: newcomers to the field regularly try to drink from the arXiv firehose and take every paper they find on there as gospel—even though it is not peer-reviewed (let's set aside the issues of peer review for that one).

The quick publication cycle creates an environment that is always just about 'beating' the state of the art, but if you look closer into the reported values, you will often find a lot of questionable experimental choices. In one of my main application areas, viz. graph classification, almost none of the papers holds up (with respected to the reported performance gains) if subjected to a thorough experimental setup.

This creates a dangerous environment; in the worst case, we might miss some interesting contributions because they are drowned by the noise of reviewers (here we go again!) claiming that 'It does not beat the state of the art, so it must be crap'.


I think this is a main reason that journal clubs exist in grad school: to refine the ability of PhDs to separate the bullshit from the real. I was shocked at how easy it was to "take down" a paper based on straightforward errors in the methods or analysis.


>> In one of my main application areas, viz. graph classification, almost none of the papers holds up (with respected to the reported performance gains) if subjected to a thorough experimental setup.

Could you give an example? Just being curious :)


Sure thing!

For the GIN-ε (https://arxiv.org/pdf/1810.00826.pdf), for example, the authors report a classification accuracy of 75.9±3.8 on the PROTEINS data set (classical graph benchmark data set). If you run it with a cross-validation setup that is repeated to account for effects of chance, performance drops to 73.1±0.7.

Notice the drop—the second accuracy value is at least within the standard deviation of the first one, but you can see that a different experimental setup shrinks the gains quite a lot...

Same goes for different data sets. Since the gains are not super large for most papers, these changes matter a lot. But of course, the paper is now published, so no one is going to go back and change it.

FWIW: I like the GIN paper and think the authors did a good job. It's just that their experimental setup is insufficiently thorough for the data sets they are considering, thus leading to overoptimistic estimates. This is a problem because the next 'state of the art' paper has to find a way to get a slightly higher mean accuracy, at the expense of an even larger standard deviation, etc.


Thanks - it will take a while to read through the paper. I'm very surprised to see actual theoretical contributions in a (recent) neural networks paper. Pleasantly surprised.

I agree the trend you point out is worrying. I suppose if this continues at some point the benchmarks are beaten, but that still tells us nothing about the true abilities of the tested systems or algorithms.


You are welcome! If you want to go further down the rabbit hole, feel free to ping me via another communication channel; I have some interesting findings to share but they are unfortunately not ready yet for public consumption.

(this sounds more ominous than I intended it to sound; the reason is plain and simple that the publication is still under review and we have no preprint)


Haha, don't worry, I thought you meant it's a draft or under review :)

I got a research interest in GNNs and the datasets used in papers like the one you link, but I have so far only dipped a toe- because I have other priorities right now. But, more if I ping you :)


"the way Yann LeCun talked about biases and fairness topics was insensitive"

Insensitive according to who? The most sensitive 5% of people? All statements will be deemed insensitive by at least one person somewhere. It's silly to allow the most extremely (often unreasonably) sensitive people to set the threshold for what is sensitive or insensitive speech.


> It's silly to allow the most extremely (often unreasonably) sensitive people to set the threshold for what is sensitive or insensitive speech.

Well, that's one of the drawbacks of social media. Offended people can band together, amplify their voices, and spark nation-wide outrage. Whether the outrage is "real" or just "perceived" (i.e. the media says everyone is outraged so it must be so) is a different debate.


Insensitive to anyone who has a moderate amount of understanding of machine learning and social empathy.

You can't plug your ears and say "it's just your training set" as a response to unfairness in ML algorithms. Real life is biased. Any real life data in our world is going to be biased. If you train algorithms on this data, they will cement any existing divides in society. So, with the understanding that researchers need to be more circumspect about ML algorithms than worrying about just the training data, consider that the upsampling algorithm in question only worked for white people because they fed it a huge amount of white faces. Claiming "it's just the training data" is one of those "well yes, but actually no" situations where ML researchers tend to miss the broader picture of how ML algorithms are used in real life, and just makes Yann look ignorant.


The real argument they were making against Lecun is whether a mathematical function can be biased. Care to explain how a gradient is racist?


>Care to explain how a gradient is racist?

Sure. Your comment's language equivalent is something along the lines of "Care to explain how words are racist?" Which yes, they are just a collection of words. They possess no consciousness and cannot be racist by themselves.

Similarly, a gradient is just a collection of vectors. It's just numbers. However, like language, it's what they represent that matters.

For example, I can create a machine learning algorithm to determine who should get a home loan. I create a gradient to optimize the algorithm to give loans to people who I think are unqualified.

The gradient can easily be racist if it optimizes heavily on something like race. Minorities tend to be lower income and so can be seen as less qualified as higher income individuals. However that's the easy argument, and also quite illegal. If you exclude race, there's 2nd degree variables that are proxies for race. Things like zip codes, job titles, whether they rent or buy. These are not explicitly illegal to filter on, though the end result is illegal if they exclude certain protected statuses. It can even be no fault of the researchers who implement the algorithm, because controlling for bias using real world data is extremely difficult. But we must do it, since it is the ethical thing to do.

And so, it's easy to see that one can optimize ML algorithms to exclude certain protected statues, which is what can make the algorithms racist.


You failed the test. The Gradient is not biased, the data is. This was of course LeCun's point... This is pure foolishness


Maybe I'm not explaining it very well. Look, so things have meaning deeper than their face value. To use a really basic example, The number 14 means nothing, it's a number. The number 88 means nothing. In the same context, they mean something not good.

There are English words that as pieces, they don't mean anything except their face value. I can string words together that mean bad things that are harmful to real humans.

Gradients are not racist by themselves, they're just math. It's like saying multiplication is racist.

But I can use multiplication as a tool in a chain to create weighted averages to create a naive Bayesean classifier to reject people for home loans.

And so too can I misapply gradient descent as a part of a larger ML model that is racially biased. For instance, I could choose a loss function that when minimized, gives biased output despite less biased input. Or, I could accidentally settle on a local minimum on the gradient in my model. There's many naive implementations of an algorithm that will just be biased no matter the unbiased inputs.

So in summary, a gradient is just math and is not racist by itself. It's being used in an algorithmic tool chain that researchers are frequently using which potentially will always produce biased output no matter the inputs (but more often than not also with biased input).


It should be self-evident that if you add race as a variable the resulting function at the very least could easily end up racist. If you add biases to a function it will be biased. Which is fine, sometimes the biases are necessary to solve difficult problems!

Even if you insist that a gradient or mathematical function is unbiased and can never have negative impact based on race or gender or other demographics, you have to explain any resulting negative impact somehow. Saying that the function or gradient is racially biased is a generous interpretation of the situation because it allows the creators to deflect blame towards an error in their mathematics or training set. If you insist on claiming that the training set and mathematics are infallible, one of the only remaining explanations is that the creator intended to discriminate. I'd rather not assume that!


All you have done is make the case that the data was biased. A mathematical function is not racist.


I'm not disagreeing with your basic idea, but it seems you're nitpicking and talking past Yann's point.

A model's only link to the real world is the training data, so saying it's sufficient to "worry about the training data" captures all the concerns we may have about bias, because from the model's POV there is no other relevant interface with the real world.

Saying "we need to do more" is devoid of meaning when by addressing the training data we are truly doing all we can as model builders and trainers.


So here's an example of more that we can do.

A huge problem in the field is that we must use the previous benchmarks. This is because how do you know if the needle moves or not if you just change your data constantly?

So. In order to tackle this problem, someone with more resources than me needs to create training sets that are less biased. THEN, new academic papers need to benchmarked against the old biased sets, and also the new "less biased" (I don't think it's possible to ever get 0% bias, the world just isn't that clean) sets. And progress needs to be eventually transitioned to be measured on the new less biased sets.

The upsampling algorithm used pictures of celebrities. And the researchers put a blurb in their paper that was basically a "We know this is biased but everyone uses it so we must also". I feel like this is less useful science than an algorithm trained on more of a mix of actual real-world humans.

I admit it's quite challenging and probably impossible to do in some areas. I mean, how do you make a field whose end algorithmic goal is generalization, not use real world data to generalize people? But I think the issue can be worked on, and the need to use celebrity photos to train a set is a good place to start.


All this is going to do is researchers not releasing data and code when publishing their articles so that the public doesn't meme biases/mistakes of their data/code into twitter hate mobs.

We'll probably go back to the 2000s model where you have to email the authors for code and data. The authors will delay by saying they are preparing it and then release it a few years later when it becomes irrelevant for public discourse.


ML is a huge field outside of modelling humans and their behavior. For instance, image recognition of vehicles, financial data prediction and analytics, and weather forecasting, to name a couple examples. Those don't draw scrutiny. The problem comes with generalizing humans. And generalizing using biased data. And applying generalized algorithms in areas that cause a lot of harm. I think these researchers should properly be placed under the microscope since they have the potential to be very hurtful to society. I do not think they should be subject to death threats or loss of income or whatever the social media mob throws at them these days, but I don't think researchers should be cavalier in creating algorithms that generalize humans without taking very careful steps to not create bias in the end result.


I think it's more appropriate to hold companies, governments, organizations that use these algorithm on the general public under scrutiny. Research that doesn't materially impact anyone shouldn't be placed under such scrutiny.

I understand that the research is what is driving this and vice versa, because companies and governments are funding a lot of this research (face recognition research specifically had significantly increased funding due to 9/11). It's the companies and governments who should be scrutinized and put under pressure instead of researchers who are trying to get ahead in academia or publish their next article or are incentivized by funding.


Sorry, but was the trained ML model to be implemented and used, as is, in public, like in an airport? Or was it to become the next standard or the next "ML for dummies" book? Or was it just research or an experiment?

If it was an experiment, then let it be. Perhaps the researcher was looking for something else, circumscribing the data, model, whatever to the experiment itself.

> researchers need to be more circumspect about ML algorithms

What does entitle you to tell what to study or how?


Your entire comment is correct, but still missing the bigger picture. It's understood that it's way easier to detect features in pictures of white faces than black faces due to the fact that it's easier to resolve lines and shadows. These lighting differences show up once the image is pixelated, and gives something for PULSE to lock on to when it attempts the upscale. I'm questioning whether or not the algorithm even works for cases where these lighting differences are difficult or impossible to resolve.

If the researchers created a toy, then great, it's a cool project and is a neat algorithm. But they didn't create a toy. It's an academic paper to attempt to move the needle forward in ML academia. And they are doing the exact same thing as a lot of other researchers, which is basing their research on old biased benchmarks. If the bedrock of the field is based on biased data and everyone builds on top of that, your research down the line will skew more and more in favor of the bias.

>What does entitle you to tell what to study or how?

Nothing entitles me. It is my opinion based on the facts in front of me. The ML field has a bias problem, researchers toss a "oh this is biased" blurb in their papers, and then continue using the biased data. Everyone looks at the cool demos, and then the research gets slurped up and implemented without regard to the science. More algorithms get based on previous biased algorithms.


> doing the exact same thing as a lot of other researchers, which is basing their research on old biased benchmarks

They might have a reason. I can understand if they want to compare the result of the model with a past experiment. That's normal.

> attempt to move the needle forward

Completely agree, so just let them work.

By the way, I don't see "evil" in these experiments and I want a 100% free from bias model too, but I wouldn't dare to attribute the result to lazyness, stupidity or racism. If I come with something completely new then I would try to compare it with something that already exists too.


By many other researchers in the field.


This is very refreshing to read - looking from the outside in, there has been a pretty clear problem with (at least the representation of) ML research along the lines highlighted here - ridiculous hype, papers again and again linked from the same researchers and institutions indicating potential cliqueyness, nepotism and celebrity worship.

All very dispiriting, indicating real problems making progress in AGI beyond the clear lack of ideas.

Of course, just because these toxicity claims are being made, it doesn't mean they are accurate, but they certainly ring true.

If they are, it is good to know they are being talked about in some quarters.


> Of course, just because these toxicity claims are being made, it doesn't mean they are accurate, but they certainly ring true.

In many respects I think it is more important that we have no idea what is true about any industry. When I dwell too much about my impression of any part of the tech field I usually end up demotivated to do anything that might connect me with the social group involved. I think there is a general shallowness and overcompensation in our industry that makes it impossible to figure out what real life is like with a group until you are way too invested and they have already hazed you.


I'm super curious why you were optimistic about AGI in the first place?

it seem to me that a majority of the performance gains in ML are a result of using better hardware to run brute-force statistics with larger more complex models but the algorithms themselves have been improving at a nominal rate.


I'm optimistic about AGI because I see no reason for it not to be implemented (though the time-frame is a different matter).

Going by the hype articles (which may be unrepresentative), we just seem to be moving faster and faster on an impressively powerful, but AGI-irrelevant train along a machine "learning" railway track and although I suspect plenty of people on the train would like to get off, the drivers and momentum are making that very difficult, as indicated in the OP article.

I'm completely optimistic about AGI, just think we are allowing the excitement of the advances in Artificial Unintelligence over the last few years erroneously dominate our thinking about it - at least in the sort of papers that turn up in tech-related feeds. Again, this may be unrepresentative of the top thinkers in computer science (machine-learning/whatever).

My own (layman!) opinion is that the good ideas have and will continue to come from external (or intersecting) fields, philosophy, neuroscience, etc; not computer scientists raving about the power of DeepWhatever using cloud-enabled networks.


Thanks for sharing! I totally agree with you that we seemed to focus a little too narrowly. If you haven't read it already, you might enjoy the book Range awesome look at the impact of interdisciplinary innovation


I assume you mean:

Range: How Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World by David Epstein.

I'll check it out - thank you.


AGI is very far away from being a reality. I am skeptical that classical computers will ever achieve it. We will need to build radically different machines to accomplish AGI.


My group of hard core ML friends went fully private. I don’t even pay attention to the public ML discourse (except on HN.) I think a big part of it is a low barrier to an international culture and academia which can be toxic in their own ways.


Why go private?


I think as long as no government funding is involved, people sho0uld be free to worship whoever they want and read whatever they want and flock around posters of whatever topic they want.

If government money is being distributed, things become more interesting. But I don't think everybody is entitled to a career funded by tax payer money. So it should probably remain "cut throat" to get a good job based on government money. Whether governments have the best criteria for handing out money is another question (number of papers published might not be the best metric).


Also see: r/machinelearning has a toxicity problem

https://www.reddit.com/r/MachineLearning/comments/hkc697/d_r...


It is unfortunate that culture politics have taken over HN.


> everybody is under attack, but nothing is improved.


>Fifthly, machine learning, and computer science in general, have a huge diversity problem. At our CS faculty, only 30% of undergrads and 15% of the professors are women.

Yes, and the deep sea fishing, oil drilling and logging industries also aren't super diverse and have a severe lack of women. I don't see anyone complaining about that. Different groups have different preferences. I've met several women who have gone into science and IT only to find it immensely unfulfilling, as it's often a very socially isolating job by nature, and leave to switch careers.

If there's a rule or law preventing women from getting into the industry, then let us know and we'll change that. But don't criticize an entire industry because women on average chose to pursue other passions.

>At this very moment, thousands of Uyghurs are put into concentration camps based on computer vision algorithms invented by this community, and nobody seems even remotely to care.

What does he propose be done about this? Tell Chinese government bureaucrats to stop "stealing" publicly accessible research papers and code to implement tools that help commit genocide? Sue the Chinese government for violating licensing agreements that require "no violation of human rights"? Not everything should, or can be, about global politics. We should let people researching machine learning worry about machine learning, and leave the broader socio-political effects to political pundits and sociologists.


The west has a fragility problem.


We cannot handle the freedom we had since the 90's. We abolished most rules that a conservative / christian society had. As it turns out we actually prefer having strict rules. These new rules are now about diversity, discrimination and racism. They fulfill the same role as the rules of the conservative / christian society. If you abide the rules, you are a good human being. If you are ever in doubt about yourself, just stick to the rules and you will be fine.

I personally don't really like this trend but I think our society is not ready to handle freedom yet.


The world has a bigotry problem.


I would argue that anything that becomes sufficiently popular enough to be lucrative beyond some arbitrary threshold becomes toxic. Welcome to the cycle of capitalism!


Progress < profits and control


Just a series of weighted if statements anyway...


Agree with this point:

Sixthly, moral and ethics are set arbitrarily. The U.S. domestic politics dominate every discussion. At this very moment, thousands of Uyghurs are put into concentration camps based on computer vision algorithms invented by this community, and nobody seems even remotely to care. Adding a "broader impact" section at the end of every people will not make this stop. There are huge shitstorms because a researcher wasn't mentioned in an article. Meanwhile, the 1-billion+ people continent of Africa is virtually excluded from any meaningful ML discussion (besides a few Indaba workshops).


Maybe I am misunderstanding but... Why does a community need a moral stance on external issues? If everyone is there to do/learn/advance machine learning, isn't that the end of it? It isn't their purpose to engage with Chinese or other issues.

Edit: I think it makes sense to have a stance on Machine Learning moral issues in a machine learning group. I just don't think you need to have a stance on every issue ever.

I say this as someone always a bit frustrated that HN and Reddit etc are very US centric.


> Why does a community need a moral stance on external issues?

Some communities choose to do so. Einstein, Szilard, Pauling (and others) formed the Emergency Committee of Atomic Scientists to argue against nuclear weapons at the dawn of the Atomic era. And many scientists have taken a stand against nuclear weapons since then.

Their actions have, at least, influenced the proliferation of these weapons and informed the public about their dangers. Would you argue that it wasn't "their business?"

One could make a case that machine learning has negative consequences/possibilities that are similar in scope to nuclear weapons. The people who work with and understand machine learning are in the best position to take a stand against abuse of these technologies. I would say it's their responsibility to speak out, otherwise a despot will do it for them.


> Their actions have, at least, influenced the proliferation of these weapons

How? The number of nuclear weapons was growing rapidly until the 80s, to the point where dozens of bombs were aimed at single targets.

> informed the public about their dangers

Seeing the effects of bombs informed the public, not a committee


> How? The number of nuclear weapons was growing rapidly until the 80s.

It's hard to assess their impact, but that doesn't mean it was insignificant. Could we have been in a worse position? Definitely. Someone might have "pushed the button" by now were it not for decades of work from organizations (some of whom consisted of scientists) lobbying against nuclear weapons and their proliferation.

> Seeing the effects of bombs informed the public, not a committee

The nuclear tests demonstrated that the weapons work. There are other effects such as "nuclear winter" that have not been (and hopefully never will be) demonstrated. Sadly, because of Chernobyl, we do have examples of what happens to contaminated areas. Understanding and communicating the effects beyond "blast radius" is best done by scientists and health experts.


> Maybe I am misunderstanding but... Why does a community need a moral stance on external issues? If everyone is there to do/learn/advance machine learning, isn't that the end of it? It isn't their purpose to engage with Chinese or other issues.

Because its wrong to write-off the mistreatment of other human beings as an external issue. It never is: we're all human and we all share the same planet.


So any group anywhere needs to have a stance on every injustice everywhere? Isn't that exhausting?


Of course it's exhausting. It would be less exhausting if more people paid attention to these things instead of viewing it as someone else's problem.


That's not true though is it? The more people get involved, the more opinions you need to weigh and the more consensus you need to get to even 1 stance.

Getting 10 people to agree a stance on the 10 issues facing you is much much easier than getting 7bn people to agree on the billions of possible issues in the known universe.

That's sort of my whole point: eithe limit the issues you have to take a stance on, or watch the amount of time taken up with stances grown exponentially.


It is true because there is no alternative. Dismissing the exponential growth and required time commitment won't make it go away, if anything it amplifies the problem and increases the number of discussion that need to happen in the end. If you have no consensus then the stance will just be taken for you by whoever screams the loudest, in modern times that is social media and advertising.


So you accept its impossible to do mathematically, But insist we still need to do it because we have no alternative? Doesn't this mean that no community can ever actually function beyond very small sizes? They will just get stuck answering infinite moral quandries?


I can't speak for what the best method of organizing for the ML community should be, but society at-large is already stuck answering these infinite moral quandaries.


So why are you insisting we do the impossible at either level?


That's quite a stretch from taking a stance on the ways the products you are developing might be weaponized. The discussion is more analogous to groups making cruise missiles and the like.


You just need to take a stance on injustice classes, after that its simply classification. Surely you can muster that much moral effort?


Sorry, what's a class in this context I'm more than happy to say something like "injustice everywhere is bad and we should oppose it and not let our technology be used to support it". But I feel that's a bit less than people expect?


> Isn't that exhausting?

Eventually, but this is a unique time right now. People are paying attention to injustice.

I would say that much of these "stances" are inauthentic and done just for PR reasons. We'll see who is being genuine and who is phony soon enough.


No, people are paying attention to some injustice. They don't give a damn about other injustices unless they can wrap those back into one of their causes. They'll visit Native Americans when its something about environment, but ignore them when it comes to police violence.


Presumably actually working in a prison camp is actually exhausting.


If a community has a stance on US politics which interact with it only incidentally — which the community very much does have, to the point of distraction, it is alleged — then the community can damn well afford to have a stance on international politics when the advancements the community builds are key tools in building the engines of tyrannical repression.


I think it's fine to take a stance on things central to the groups main function: don't supply ML Tech for immoral use. But beyond that? That's a lot of issues you need to make stances on before you can actually do any machine learning work...


> don't supply ML Tech for immoral use. But beyond that?

There's a lot to that and it goes beyond the scope of what researchers can handle by themselves. It's an effort that involves more than just the researchers, though they will take a central role.

For one thing, how do you evaluate whether a usage is "immoral"? How do you enforce correct usage? These are difficult questions with multifaceted answers which no one has yet elucidated (yes, it has to be more than "I'll know it when I see it").


This is exactly my point. You can get general agreement to "do no evil". But every step you take to be specific makes the amount of discussion and detail exponentially more difficult. So you can't have a specific stance on everything. You either take a specific stance on a small number of issues central to the community or a general stance, or you spend all your time creating and amending stances and do nothing else.


This issue isn't beyond that. The question is how a commitment to not supply ML tech for immoral use is compatible with supplying it to a country that's genociding the Uighurs.


How the technology you develop is used is an "external issue"? Ivory tower much?


Would you say the issues are more "rhizomatic"? ;)


The world is changing vigorously. Trust is breaking down domestically and internationally. For some, it was never trust but an oppressive stability. People are anxious about who they are dealing with because who rises to power now will determine which subcultures will enjoy great political prominence and who will have their voices silenced in the near future. The battle is over values, standards, and world views. A lot is at stake.

Technology is the ultimate medium now. Technologies like machine learning shapes discussions like money and GDP figures continues to shape discussions about the state of societies the world over.

Ignore the strategically important position that technology holds now and in the future of our society at your own peril. To be so willfully blind to the changing times, I can’t imagine a less engaged worldview.


If your research is used to create such ill that on net throwing every researcher in your field into the sea would be a lesser evil the question of external issues at least deserves a look lest you miss an opportunity to avert harm.

Note I do not support tossing ml researchers into the sea and lots of industries are worse.


Not every community does. The ML community generally believes they're obligated to have moral stances on external issues because they believe machine learning has great potential to cause harm if not properly controlled.


Thanks. I guess I can admire the intent and the recognition of consequences of important tech. Honestly though, I'm glad I'm not responsible for organising that sort of response...


> thousands of Uyghurs are put into concentration camps based on computer vision algorithms invented by this community

I saw this repeated frequently in the last few days, and I think I've missed some important info. I know that China uses face recognition for surveillance purpose, and that it detains a substantial share of the Uighur population for supposed violations of the law. I miss a link between the two: is China using AI to detect who is Uighur and arrest him/ her for this very fact? Does anyone have more info?



Thank you, but this article seems to say that the technology is used to track Uighurs (I suppose for the reason that some of them have been engaging in terrorist activities) and not to incarcerate them.

Despite the scale- which we considered worrying in itself and for understandable reasons- this seems to be an automated version of "I suddenly see a lot of mafioso-looking guys congregating here, let's keep an eye to see if there's anything dodgy going on"- which has been practiced with skilled eyes since forever. And it's a whole different thing from "if I see anyone looking Jewish I'll round them up and send them to a concentration camp".


> Thank you, but this article seems to say that the technology is used to track Uighurs (I suppose for the reason that some of them have been engaging in terrorist activities) and not to incarcerate them.

That's a weird suggestion. It's undisputed that they have put millions into detention camps, so are you suggesting they all have been engaging in "terrorist activities"? So why suggest ("suppose" ) that they have been engaging in terrorist activities?

> Despite the scale- which we considered worrying in itself and for understandable reasons- this seems to be an automated version of "I suddenly see a lot of mafioso-looking guys congregating here, let's keep an eye to see if there's anything dodgy going on"- which has been practiced with skilled eyes since forever. And it's a whole different thing from "if I see anyone looking Jewish I'll round them up and send them to a concentration camp".

The article literally said they are looking for (tracking) Uighurs because of their ethnic appearance. That is looking for "Jewish" , not looking "mafioso-looking" in your example above


> That's a weird suggestion. It's undisputed that they have put millions into detention camps

No, the article talks about "tracking" Uighurs, not rounding them up. The Uighurs are 25 million and mostly live in the Xinjiang region, so there is no real need of AI to round them up. If what you want is to find them and imprison them, you can just go in any street of Kashgar: they make up 5/6 of the population.

What the linked article says is:

"The facial recognition technology, which is integrated into China’s rapidly expanding networks of surveillance cameras, looks exclusively for Uighurs based on their appearance and keeps records of their comings and goings for search and review. " (Italic mine)

> The article literally said they are looking for (tracking) Uighurs because of their ethnic appearance.

No, the article says they're tracking Uighurs through their ethnic appearance. Not "because" of it.

> That is looking for "Jewish" , not looking "mafioso-looking" in your example above

The point is whether you're looking for a visible trait because that is in and by itself the fault (and so after detecting it you immediately proceed with an arrest), or because it is somewhat predictive of something else, and it merely helps in narrowing your search.


It's not only incarcerating them it's ripping the organs out of their still living bodies to give to more wealthy factions of society.


The problem is not toxisity itself. That's but a symptom. It's:

1. People getting into positions for the wrong reasons (diversity hires), 2. No one has any kind of backbone any more... victim culture and molycoddling shows it's ugly face, 3. Real smart people that don't' want to content with stupid getting rightfully angry with their subpar collegues who are desperatly trying to being somewhat relevant.

Let's face it... scientists are most of the time not people persons. Most smart people don't care for your snowflake persona getting hurt by the truth. It's basically impossible to do antying in an environment that treats microaggressions as anything else but the completely infantile bullshit that they are.

GROW A FUCKING SPINE AND GROW THE FUCK UP WHINERS.




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