For Richer or Poorer? The Lazy and Worth, Less?

The Bootstrap Problem

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I’m sick of having to take care of people who don’t want to take care of themselves! They’re poor because they’re just lazy and won’t get a job; there are plenty of jobs out there! How many times have you heard — more often than not during an election year — someone exclaim some variation of those words?

For 2017, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services defines the poverty level for a single person, as an income of $12,060 annually [1]. The American poverty rate stands at 12.7%, or, demonstrated in a more meaningful way: 40.6 million people [2]. A subset of this group is referred to as the working poor, or “people who [have] spent at least 27 weeks in the labor force (that is, working or looking for work) but whose incomes still fell below the official poverty level,” — a total number of 8.6 million people. While, (since a spike up during, and after the Great Recession) these groups have been shrinking in overall size, it remains a significant national challenge to have a population the size of — at least — that of the State of Virginia, or New Jersey, struggling to make it from day-to-day [3]; a problem deserving of a discussion on the treatment of this group.

Take a few moments and think about these questions: Do you know someone who is poor? Are they lazy? Are they worth less than you? Are you poor? Are you lazy? Do you consider yourself worth, less than someone who is rich? Can a rich person be lazy? Can a poor person be hardworking?

Now think about your friends, and your family. Can you apply any of those questions to them? Chances are, even when our friends and family are more, or less well off than we are, we tend not to make judgments that devalue their character as we might when evaluating someone we don’t know, and that’s the key. We may believe they need to get off their behinds more often, but we still care about them as human beings that matter to us.

Since humanity’s earliest days we’ve had to organize to survive and thrive, and organizing has meant placing each other into hierarchies, and boxes. More than 3,700 years ago, Hammurabi’s code defined groups of Superiors, Commoners, and Slaves [4] and too, since our earliest days we’ve been subtracting and adding worth to those who find themselves in other boxes. And, we’ve been mistreating, and dehumanizing those others as well [5].

We have an extensive history of dehumanizing our fellow men and women when it suits our needs. Examples include: slavery (including modern-day human trafficking), exploitation of the Global South for raw materials and labor forces, sexism, racism, as well as prejudice against the mentally ill, the disabled, refugee populations, and indeed, debasing our own selves. People are routinely seen in corporations large, and small, as figures on balance sheets, as liabilities and burdens to be alleviated, rather than those who were born into less lucky, more dependent, life-situations; people who share the same air, and chemical makeup as those who happen to be more fortunate in their opportunities [6].

Most of us, though, live somewhere in the middle and have never known a slave, or a fantastically rich person, and unless you’re living in poverty, or working with those afflicted by its hardships, you’re highly unlikely to cross paths with those significantly outside (above or below) your place in the socioeconomic system [7, 8].

Looking to Nobel laureate Herbert A. Simon’s [9] concept of Bounded Rationality —

“…means that people make quite reasonable decisions based on the information they have. But they don’t have perfect information, especially about more distant parts of the system. Fishermen don’t know how many fish there are, much less how many fish there will be caught by other fishermen that same day. [10]”

Knowing that we don’t necessarily have a good grasp on much outside our own small domains. It stands to reason that our own judgments, and moreover our government’s judgments on a poor person’s self-efficacy may be lacking and presumptive. Self-efficacy: a person’s belief that they can accomplish a task (get out of debt, get a job, go to college) in a particular setting. This belief changes how tasks and goals are undertaken, or if they are attempted at all [11].

Additionally, in debates on the subject of the poor and poverty, you’ll often hear politicians misrepresent another academic term: learned helplessness [12]. The inaccurate assertion is that the government and its excess of social programs have so taken care of people that they have “learned” to be dependent on those programs, and can now afford to discontinue their search for employment and self-sufficiency; these people have a behavior problem in that they’ve forgotten how to help themselves. In reality, learned helplessness is a state in which an organism — in this case a human person — has borne an unpleasant situation to the point where they believe they can no longer change their circumstances, and therefore resign themselves to existing within it, even when there is a way out [13, 14].

What I refer to as the Bootstrap Problem. American culture is famously (though somewhat inaccurately) known for its self-starters. It’s “self-made” men and women. Those who come from nothing, work hard, and “pull themselves up by their bootstraps,” to pursue and attain the American Dream. That phrase connotes your ability to pick yourself up and succeed, on your own. Unfortunately, in America, not everyone is born with bootstraps, let alone boots — that’s the problem. It’s no surprise that this phrase was originally used as an insult to mock those trying to do the impossible without help from others [15]. If we were all honest with each other, the American Dream, and America itself is, has always been a team effort. And, to belabor the metaphor a bit further, we’re not all picked to join the winning teams, or any team at all. Think about the last time you did anything of substance, all on your own, with no help from anyone else, at all.

While the idea of an entirely equal society is an impossible and bad idea for a number of reasons, the equality of opportunity in society is absolutely attainable, and should be what we strive for. To be clear, this is no quasi-Marxist vision of central control with planners in their hallowed halls presiding over the destitute (though equally) peasants in the streets. It has, can, and should be argued that in our current state of enlightenment, power corrupts too thoroughly for that kind of system to work effectively, the people must be allowed to push back. Democracy and capitalism, have given us much more than they have taken. But those institutions do need a sturdy set of rules to remind us all that there’s no point to any of it if we ignore the humans in the system. Or, put another way: while we may not all be equal in ability, are, all equal in humanity.

Looking back to the questions: Are those on the bottom rungs of the socioeconomic ladder lazy, non self-starters, or are they just paralyzed in a system that is structured to favor someone else? Are the wealthy greedy, and willfully ignorant of their privilege? Or just overwhelmed by a problem within the system they don’t believe they have the ability, or desire to fix, in a world in where they know all too well, they could just as easily have nothing . . . so count your blessings, and don’t rock the boat. Naïve? Perhaps.

What’s to be done?

To put an end to this cycle of inequality, we need to step back and realize what we’re doing. We do, whether we feel comfortable about it or not, place less value on the lives of those who have less material (and educational) wealth than we do [16]. And, believe that those who have not achieved the riches we have achieved are in some way separate from us, to be discarded or shunned. By virtue of wanting to achieve as comfortable, a life as we can, and to share our own cultural traditions, we tend to separate ourselves physically as well [7]. This leads to further loss of understanding, and awareness of those who aren’t like us. We have to make a concerted effort to bring groups back together, into a mindset of: One Humanity.

Just a couple, fairly straightforward methods of doing this in practical terms include, mentoring — both formally and informally, and just plain old physical proximity, both of which have solid working models up and running throughout our society.

Studies of mentoring show that the formal kind works better [17]. Big Brothers & Big Sisters, an organization well known for its school and community-based mentoring, is one such example of exactly the kind of contact needed to narrow gaps of opportunity [18, 19]. By not only mentoring life-skills, the program also places those with fewer means and connections, with adults who have more of both.

In the workplace, Chief Executive Officers and other C-suite occupants, can break down the barriers of the hierarchy to give lower-level workers face time with executives and managers. And, they can make efforts to foster ideas and creativity, through company sanctioned forums with employees and via mentoring programs, perhaps encouraging employees to ask for an advisor on subject matter of their choice, and to foster those relationships and the new social networks to spring from them.

Financial industry leader, and former mayor of New York City Michael Bloomberg, has utilized an open office plan for years, not only during his days running the Bloomberg company, but famously dismantling city offices to build a bullpen, in which he took a cubical and made himself available to any and all comers [20].

On a larger-scale, we can look to the East Lake community in Atlanta, Georgia. Thomas Cousins, a philanthropist and real estate developer founded Purpose Built Communities. This organization looks to strike right at the heart of opportunity inequality, and the proximity gap. They accomplish this by explicitly building neighborhoods and communities with a rich diversity of people of all economic, and educational backgrounds. This group is now operating in sixteen population centers battling against all forms of inequality. And, it’s working! Since 1995 when the East Lake project began not only are lower-income children fairing just as well in school as their higher-income neighbors, the area’s overall crime rate is down more than 70%, and the employment rate went from 13% to 100% [21]!

Let’s Stick Together

By viewing others as, “less than” we’re being selfish, and it’s selfish in the wrong direction. Want to have more? Want to be richer? Then work enrich everyone’s lives, and by doing so bolster the whole system, the money-economy, the knowledge-economy, and humanity. At a material level, think of all the new consumers to buy the products you or the company you work for sells. At an educational level, the smarter we all are, the better lives we can construct. Intelligence and knowledge is not a zero-sum game, and should not be horded; it grows and compounds exponentially. Right now, humanity creates as much data every two days as it did from the start of civilization to the present millennium [22]. At that rate, just imagine the art we could create, the technology we could build, the cures for disease we could find, and what we’ll discover if we can learn to do it together!

Relationships based on an equality of opportunity are what will drive our success as a society, culture, and species. If we were at once moved to cease with the convictions of: Us vs. Them, the Givers and The Takers, and instead substitute it for the All of Us Together. By sharing just some of the benefits of being wealthy, the less fortunate can capture just that one — bootstrap — and start pulling. Creating prosperity for everyone, and more for those who already have so much. This is a long-term game we’re all playing, by thinking of everyone, by giving a little to each other now we’ll find there are massive rewards waiting for us, our children, and the many generations to follow.

REFERENCES/NOTES

1. Services, U.S.D.o.H.a.H. U.S. FEDERAL POVERTY GUIDELINES USED TO DETERMINE FINANCIAL ELIGIBILITY FOR CERTAIN FEDERAL PROGRAMS. 2017; Available from: https://aspe.hhs.gov/poverty-guidelines.

2. Bureau, U.S.C. Income, Poverty and Health Insurance Coverage in the United States: 2016. 2017 [cited 2017 9/19]; Available from: https://www.census.gov/newsroom/press-releases/2017/income-povery.html.

3. Statistics, B.o.L. A Profile of the Working Poor, 2015. BLS Reports 2017 [cited 2017 10/16]; Available from: https://www.bls.gov/opub/reports/working-poor/2015/home.htm.

4. King, L.W. The Code of Hammurabi. The Avalon Project 2008 [cited 2017 10/1]; Available from: http://avalon.law.yale.edu/ancient/hamframe.asp.

5. Harari, Y.N. and D. Perkins, Sapiens: A brief history of humankind. 2014: Harvill Secker London.

6. Haslam, N. and S. Loughnan, Dehumanization and infrahumanization. Annual review of psychology, 2014. 65: p. 399–423.

7. Bischoff, K. and S.F. Reardon, Residential segregation by income, 1970–2009. Diversity and disparities: America enters a new century, 2014: p. 208–233.

8. Jargowsky, P.A., Take the money and run: Economic segregation in US metropolitan areas. American sociological review, 1996: p. 984–998.

9. Foundation, T.N. The Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel 1978. 2014 [cited 2017 9/18]; Available from: https://www.nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/economic-sciences/laureates/1978/simon-bio.html.

10. Meadows, D. and D. Wright, Thinking in Systems: A Primer. 2008: Chelsea Green Publishing.

11. Bandura, A., Self-efficacy: toward a unifying theory of behavioral change. Psychological review, 1977. 84(2): p. 191.

12. Stoker, E. Paul Ryan now wants to solve poverty with ‘love’ and ‘eye to eye’ contact. Don’t let him. 2014 [cited 2017 9/24]; Available from: http://theweek.com/articles/446722/paul-ryan-now-wants-solve-poverty-love-eye-eye-contact-dont-let.

13. Abramson, L.Y., M.E. Seligman, and J.D. Teasdale, Learned helplessness in humans: Critique and reformulation. Journal of abnormal psychology, 1978. 87(1): p. 49.

14. Maier, S.F. and M.E. Seligman, Learned helplessness: Theory and evidence. Journal of experimental psychology: general, 1976. 105(1): p. 3.

15. Alvarez, S. Where does the phrase “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” actually come from? State of Opportunity 2015 [cited 2017 9/21]; Available from: http://stateofopportunity.michiganradio.org/post/where-does-phrase-pull-yourself-your-bootstraps-actually-come.

16. Heiserman, N. and B. Simpson, Higher Inequality Increases the Gap in the Perceived Merit of the Rich and Poor. Social Psychology Quarterly, 2017. 80(3): p. 243–253.

17. Putnam, R.D., Our kids: The American dream in crisis. 2016: Simon and Schuster.

18. Herrera, C., et al., Mentoring in schools: An impact study of Big Brothers Big Sisters school‐based mentoring. Child development, 2011. 82(1): p. 346–361.

19. Eddy, J.M., et al., A Randomized Controlled Trial of a Long-Term Professional Mentoring Program for Children at Risk: Outcomes Across the First 5 Years. Prevention Science, 2017: p. 1–12.

20. Henriques, D.B., Bloomberg by Bloomberg. Columbia Journalism Review, 1997. 36(1): p. 75–77.

21. Naughton, C., An Outcomes-based Approach to Concentrated Poverty, in What Matters: Investing in Results to Build Strong, Vibrant Communities, F.R.B.o.S. Francisco, Editor. 2017.

22. Siegler, M. Eric Schmidt: Every 2 Days We Create As Much Information As We Did Up to 2003. 2010 [cited 2017 10/19]; Available from: https://techcrunch.com/2010/08/04/schmidt-data/.

Information Monopoly

Who controls what we say?

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However much I wanted to be there, I was not. I wanted to be standing in solidarity, in counter-protest of the hateful speech, and backward thinking of the white nationalists and neo-Nazis gathered in Charlottesville, Virginia. I, like much of the nation, was glued to my television, and to the rapid-fire news notifications as they streamed onto my phone. What was going to happen next in Charlottesville?

While what happened was hardly unique, it was a shock to our system. Epithets on signs, Nazi flags, beatings, and a murder. How is this happening? The answer, it’s been happening for hundreds of years, this time we had a ringside seat.

Angry. Anger, sadness, and fear was what I felt as I watched it. Paralyzed by all of it. Unable to do anything more than re-tweeting the latest event, commenting on the comments of others, wanting to do something, being unable to do anything.

This is nothing new for those of color, and minorities in the United States. They don’t need me to remind them how paralyzing and exhausting it is to be abused, indeed, I’ve never been abused. It is discomforting to even speak about the events there in Virginia, the events in Ferguson, Missouri, and since the pilgrims landed here at Plymouth Rock. Fact is, we are a nation of violence for our own ends, there is hardly any way to argue around that. What we have, we’ve taken from others, even our freedoms — it is for others to argue the validity of the outcomes. It is up to all of us to make the best of those outcomes.

The one thing that has made that fact feel less like an atrocity, is The Idea. The idea of America: Land of the Free, Home of the Brave…? That shining city on the hill.

We champion the rights of the persecuted (when we’re not the perpetrators of that persecution), we champion the right to speak our minds, at anytime, to anyone, without fear of retribution. We champion the right to gather together and do it loudly.

In the recent political climate, membership of the American Civil Liberties Union (A.C.L.U.) has flourished. Those worried that their voices may be quieted by the hand of the executive branch, looking, panicked for someone to stand up for their right to speak their minds to power.

After the events in Charlottesville, the A.C.L.U. took an unpopular position in defense of the Ku Klux Klan and Nazis’ right to speak. That statement drew anger, and outrage from the ranks of their membership, both old and new. No matter how disliked, or unsettling the voice, we must stay true to our values, to our Idea of America and allow them to speak. Whether it is in writing, whether it is protest, everyone in America must be allowed to speak. Everyone.

It is true, however, a common misconception of this right granted to us by the First Amendment of the Constitution is that anyone can say anything, anywhere, anytime. In reality, this constitutional right extends only to our freedom not to be squelched by the government. Your employer can terminate you for statements you make on social media and otherwise, indeed social media platforms, and the owners of the companies — yes, the companies — that make up social media can put their hand over your mouth.

Cheers went up among the politically progressive audience when GoDaddy summarily ended their hosting deal with the white supremacist website Daily Stormer. The Daily Stormer moved to Google Hosting who quickly followed suit in the name of a violation of terms of service. Mark Zuckerberg too, announced that Facebook was monitoring the platform and taking down posts that violate the same.

I was one of those cheering on the hosting companies for their actions, “quiet the racists!” It was a coup against hate! It was a coup.

Because the information age has come upon us like the tsunami that it is, happening in just a few decades, and in bulk, overwhelming us in just the last decade and a half, our slow human brains, and moreover, our society, both in ideology, and in laws have not yet caught up to the situation in which we find ourselves.

My moment of pause came when I read the letter from Matthew Prince, the Chief Executive Officer of Cloudflare. Cloudflare is a content delivery network, or CDN. If you use the Internet, you use CDNs everyday and probably don’t even notice. That’s why CDNs exist. Without continuing off on a technical tangent, they make websites faster to load and use by hosting bits and pieces of them closer to your computer on the Internet. If they don’t provide the service, many large websites just don’t work.

Here is the full text of Prince’s letter —

Team:
Earlier today Cloudflare terminated the account of the Daily Stormer. We’ve stopped proxying their traffic and stopped answering DNS requests for their sites. We’ve taken measures to ensure that they cannot sign up for Cloudflare’s services again.
This was my decision. Our terms of service reserve the right for us to terminate users of our network at our sole discretion. My rationale for making this decision was simple: the people behind the Daily Stormer are assholes and I’d had enough.
Let me be clear: this was an arbitrary decision. It was different than what I’d talked talked with our senior team about yesterday. I woke up this morning in a bad mood and decided to kick them off the Internet. I called our legal team and told them what we were going to do. I called our Trust & Safety team and had them stop the service. It was a decision I could make because I’m the CEO of a major Internet infrastructure company.
Having made that decision we now need to talk about why it is so dangerous. I’ll be posting something on our blog later today. Literally, I woke up in a bad mood and decided someone shouldn’t be allowed on the Internet. No one should have that power.
[Cloudflare employee’s name redacted] asked after I told him what we were going to do: “Is this the day the Internet dies?” He was half joking, but I actually think it’s an important question. It’s important that what we did today not set a precedent. The right answer is for us to be consistently content neutral. But we need to have a conversation about who and how the content online is controlled. We couldn’t have that conversation while the Daily Stormer site was using us. Now, hopefully, we can.
I’ll be publishing a blog post with all our thoughts on this issue in a few hours. Until then, I’d ask that you not talk about this externally.
— -
Matthew Prince
Co-founder & CEO

We should all be very thankful that Matthew Prince is experiencing this cognitive dissonance, and we should all be having a strong case of it as well. The idea that someone can, literally, as he writes, wake up in a “bad mood” and silence a voice so quickly, and with such finality, with quite literally no check and balance, he continues, “no one should have that power.”

He’s dead right.

Next time it might not be the Daily Stormer — an easy target to pick on, it might be the A.C.L.U., or the Republican National Committee.

Do companies like CloudFlare possess information monopolies?

We have laws in this country to prevent monopolies from dominating their industries, and taking advantage of customers, or disadvantaging customers. Think railroads and steel, in the early 20th century, “Ma Bell” AT&T’s forced break-up, Microsoft, and regulations the FCC places on media conglomerates so that they cannot control too many television and news markets.

Now, we have companies like Google, Facebook, and indeed Cloudflare, that can effectively “turn off” someone they think is an “asshole.”

Is this American?

Sure, if you’re violating laws aimed at the prevention of violence you need be stopped, but who decides what is inciting violence, and what is just abominable speech? Can the President call a sympathetic CEO and ask that CEO to do the administration a favor and shutdown a website? Corporate terms of service allow for a lot of leeway, and our current set of laws allow for even more.

We need to have a conversation about information and who controls it, and, should it be controlled? What actions are protection from impending violence, and what is legalized censorship of words that someone in power just doesn’t like? Who should have the final say?

The country is raw from the events in Charlottesville, and the timing for this discussion may be poor. But, this discussion is required, and soon. We must not become complacent. A discussion of speech both tasteful and not, amongst and within ourselves, between CEOs of major companies, and our political institutions, even if that discussion results in repulsive speech we don’t wish to hear.

America, with all of it’s faults, and there are many, can still be a bright beacon in the world for free speech, as long as we fight like hell to keep that right which we all hold so dear, but perhaps all take for granted.

Women will be the Winners in Tech

Have we reached “peak STEM”?

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On August the 5th, an internal Google memorandum written by the now unemployed software engineer James Damore, found its way into the public domain and stoked the already fiery discussion around the inclusion of women in technology, and specifically in Silicon Valley. The memo refers to the oft-debunked concept that career choices for men and women are due to their biological differences, and not the centuries of social construction assigning men into dominant cultural roles. In the time of Alex Jones, the divorce of facts and reality, and tweeting presidents, we should all question the motives of, and keep an eye on Damore’s next career move. One would hope that as he says, his intention was to “improve” Google, and that his character will guide him away from what could be a lucrative career as an oppressed white guy martyr targeted by the Thought Police, but that’s another conversation for another day.

Is there a gender pay gap? Yes, it’s well documented. We need to, as a culture acknowledge this, and rectify it, through corporate mandates lead from CEOs and boards on down the hierarchy, and education of gender and sex equality.

Is there discrimination of women in society and the workplace? Yes, and, the centuries of discrimination, and oppressive conditions for women are very well documented in both today’s news, and any history textbook. Women have been oppressed, and still are, on the basis of someone else’s morals and ideology — in stark contrast with the views of Mr. Damore’s manifesto. Furthermore, Damore is woefully, and as PhD candidate in biology, astonishingly wrong about biological differences predetermining cognitive abilities of women and men.

Is it true that our society needs to place more value on its teachers, nurses, and social workers? Yes, of course. It is arguable that someone who can successfully navigate a metropolitan city’s family and mental health services bureaucracy should be awarded combat pay. It is arguable that someone who is there for another person during his or her hardest days, or one who supports a child whose parents were just killed in a car accident, are worth ten times what the best coder is worth. It’s an unfathomably cultural, social construct that has set these values, plain and simple.

Hardly a day passes when an article or interview subject isn’t talking about the next industry that will be replaced by artificial intelligence. When most of us think about what computers and automation will replace, we think of workers on factory assembly lines being substituted for robots, that day has already come and gone. Rather, in the next few years computers and their software are going to replace, through machine learning, and automation, the middle levels of STEM and Business. Coders, engineers, accountants, 10-K combing MBAs, lawyers, watch your backs.

Computers are already very good, and are getting much better at task-specific artificial intelligence. And, indeed, the machines are advancing their very own programming skills and not inviting us to the party. What, we should be asking ourselves — will computers not replace? Us. Our humanity.

So, yes, there is a blatant pay gap and sexism problem in our culture, in business, technology, and in the microcosm of Silicon Valley. It can’t be said often enough, the country, and business management need to once and for all pull themselves together and fix it, the injustice has existed far too long.

While there is no doubt, at present certain degrees carry prestige and value premium, and that men are obtaining them in greater numbers than their female counterparts. A question we ought to ask ourselves is: have we already reached “peak STEM”? Are women, purposefully, brilliantly, and deservedly building the lead in what we’re going to need next?

In December of last year, the National Center for Education Statistics released its latest Digest of Education Statistics (DES). A 1042-page tome of data tables and explanations that, buried deep inside, hold a few specific and highly relevant data points for the discussion on women’s role in technology.

To begin with, women are ahead of the game in getting a degree of any kind. During the 2013–14 academic year: 1,611,783 degrees were awarded to women to the 1,190,086 to men.

Degree specific data at a glance — (STEM Degrees in Bold)

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  • Total STEM Undergraduate Degrees Conferred: 177,758
  • Graduate Degrees: 64,965
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  • Total STEM Undergraduate Degrees Conferred: 61,206
  • Graduate Degrees: 26,152

There is debate in academia as to whether the Nursing field is a STEM profession. Some say that it is an “applied” field, rather than a pure research, so it cannot be counted. From 2012 to 2013, however, more than 110,000 nursing degrees were conferred. It’s questionable that many technology degrees fit this “applied” bill as well.

To pull the themes together: While women may be, on the whole, light on the traditional STEM degrees, they are heavy on human degrees.

Based on Bureau of Labor Statistics data, and an in-depth 2013 study by Carl Frey and Michael Osborne, Bloomberg built an incredible interactive visualization. The visualization shows fields and careers that are “Least likely to be automated,” and “Most likely to be automated.” It states that, “some lower-wage jobs with higher-education requirements are less likely to be automated.” Think: social workers, teachers, psychologists, nurses, and business managers. The careers that involve human interaction can’t be easily automated or replaced by a robot. Maybe someday we’ll all have therApIst™ app on our smartphones, but, not quite yet, probably not for a long while. Women, while not only exhibiting nobility of purpose, are too, setting themselves up to be un-automatable.

There is something to be said about the quality of a person who persists, and is successful in a demanding, lower-wage career. And, just because a job pays a high salary, it doesn’t make it more important to society. What is important today may very well be unimportant tomorrow. Passion, not profits, drive us in the end.

Hopefully, those who choose to enter non-STEM fields like manufacturing and services have done their homework on automation. But, there is no question, if we’re playing God with artificial intelligence we’re going to need human intelligence to make it in our image. Computers are predictable, wholly learnable complex systems, humans are unpredictable complex systems: learn the humans, not the computers.

Going forward, having human experience, and creativity, and critical thinking skills will be what is important and lucrative. None of the computers that are built, none of the apps that are written, none of the products that are manufactured mean anything without humans who use them. It’s the humans who are the only constant in the equation.

Let’s get real Facebook is not to blame for Trump . . . BTW, THIS ISN’T ABOUT TRUMP OR HILLARY. . .

Originally published November 20th, 2016 on Recode.net: http://www.recode.net/2016/11/20/13692040/facebook-fake-news-trump-election-confirmation-bias

. . . it’s about us.

In the days after the shocking, yet not entirely surprising election of Donald Trump to the office of the American Presidency, we’re performing our standard triage and diagnostic routine. One of the running themes is that Facebook and the #FakeNewsSites problem are to blame for false knowledge and therefore Trump’s election win. This is a specious argument.

Much of the coverage and outrage has been directed toward social-media, its echo chambers, and specifically those of the Facebook platform. While to be sure much of the fake or inaccurate news is found and circulated on Facebook, Facebook is not a news outlet; it is a communication medium to be utilized as its users so choose. It is not the job of Facebook’s employees, or its algorithms, to edit or censor the content that is shared; in fact it would be more detrimental to do so. This is for two very good reasons:

One, either human editors, or artificial intelligence editors, by removing one item or another will appear to introduce bias into the system. The group who’s content is being removed or edited will feel targeted by the platform and claim it, rightly or wrongly, is biased against their cause even if the content is vetted and found to be true or false.

Two, censorship in any form is bad for the national discourse.

So, rather than blaming Facebook or other platforms for the trouble in which we find ourselves, let’s give credit where credit is due, the American people.

This comes down to two very important concepts that our society has been turning it’s back on, in the age of social media: Confirmation Bias, and Epistemology.

Explained by You Are Not So Smart blogger, and author of You are Now Less Dumb, David McRaney confirmation bias is the misconception that, “your opinions are the result of years of rational, objective analysis” and that the truth is: “your opinions are the result of years of paying attention to information which confirmed what you believed while ignoring information which challenged your preconceived notions.” Or, precisely: the tendency to process information by looking for, or interpreting, information that is consistent with one’s existing beliefs. (Source: Britannica)

If we find a piece of content that says that Donald Trump is clueless, or that Hillary Clinton belongs in prison, we accept the one because it reinforces our like for one candidate over the other, and discard the negative item as some falsehood generated by the opposing party to discredit your candidate. We don’t care about the information or what it says, as long as it reinforces how we feel.

That brings us to Epistemology, “the study or a theory of the nature and grounds of knowledge especially with reference to its limits and validity” (Source: Merriam Webster) a branch of philosophy aptly named from the Greek meaning “Knowledge Discourse”. This is a concept that has existed since the 16th-century and very likely conveniently ignored in political campaigns ever since, perhaps because it’s just easier to believe and propagate than it is to read and validate.

In fact, a recent Pew Research Center survey, the American Trends Panel asked if the public prefers the news media present facts without interpretation. Overwhelmingly 59% of those posed the question preferred facts without interpretation, and among registered voters 50% of Clinton supporters, and 71% of Trump supporters preferred no interpretation. While those numbers may seem incredible the telling result is that 81% of registered voters disagree on what the facts actually are. Aren’t facts, just facts? Yes, they are, but our biases and distrust of intellectual sources say otherwise.

Does Facebook create echo chambers on both sides of the political spectrum? No. Facebook and other social media only service to provide a high-speed amplifier of what already exists in our society; especially to those who enjoy the communal effect of sharing information with others in their personal circles. Facebook goes give them a wide and instant audience.

In a 2012 study published in the journal Computers in Human Behavior, computer scientists Chei Sian Ma, and Long Ma said, “…we also establish that status seeking has a significant influence on prior content sharing experience indicating that the experiential factor may be a possible mediator between gratifications and news sharing intention.” Or in other words, it’s fun to share something and get congratulatory high-fives from your like-minded friends. Facebook does make that activity almost instantaneous. Sharing news, or fake news and being liked for doing so feels good. Never mind the ramifications on the accuracy of cultural or political discourse.

During his final press conference in Berlin with Angela Merkel, President Obama puts this as succinctly as it could possibly be said, “If we are not serious about facts, and what’s true and what’s not . . . if we can’t discriminate between serious arguments and propaganda then we have problems.”