Dirk Knemeyer

Online: Harassment, Voting & the Future, January 5, 2017

Censoring online harassment hard as well, because that goes right in the face of free speech, and free speech is arguably the most important tenant of the US constitution. Of the rules that govern the United States. What constitutes harassment, when is someone being harassed. One of the most important parts of a free speech policy is the you know, someone, I’ll butcher the quote but, “You may hate what someone is saying, but you’ll defend to your death their right to say it.” So, that is inherently defending the ugliest of speech, the most hurtful of speech. Particularly now that we’re in a social environment where there is hyper sensitivity to anything that comes from one person’s mouth or behaviour and how that’s taken by others, and is translated into hurt, it’s really nettlesome.

The trends are certainly tipping towards what you’re suggesting, however I think Donald Trump’s Presidency and the Republican control of the government will probably ensure that nothing is happening soon. Because, most of the people who are like oh you know, sort of, “F PC,” kind of thing, those are all on the right and the right is in control. We’re probably not going to see anything soon from a legislative perspective, but certainly from social perspective there’s been a huge swing left towards, I think even hyper sensitivity and to the point of not having a sensible filter of let’s not be bruised by every little indirect thing that wasn’t intended for us and has little to do with us.

I don’t know what’s going to happen on the legal side. I’ve said a lot of times on this show before that all of us should expect that anything we are creating digitally on a networked device, is out in the wild. Is known by other people. Is stored somewhere where if we become a politician in the future, it is going to resurface and it is going to shiv us in the back. You just need to take that for granted, and if you’re not taking it for granted, if you’re saying you’re going to be fine or it’s not happening, then you’re being really unfortunately naive and you’re going to be hurt by that at some point.

If the current hegemony keeps marching forward then online voting certainly will happen. It probably isn’t soon. Again, with the US political, and most of my comments on this show are directed towards the US, it’s the culture I’m in it’s the culture I know. With the recent US political changes, it certainly isn’t going to happen for the next four to eight years. Even after that you know who knows, it’s not something that would happen very quickly certainly. As time moves forward on the current path, we’re getting more and more integrated into our machines. I was just reading something else, something recently, that sort of full mind-machine interface integration is less than a decade away, I think that was from the head of robotics at MIT. In that world, simply a lot of things that right now we have to move in physical space to achieve we’re not going to have to move in physical space to achieve anymore. Voting is sort of a clear and obvious example of something that will fall into that.

Now, the other way all of this could go of course is, there’s uncertainty in terms of the effects of global warming, who knows what’s going to happen geo-politically at a macro level. It is not a done deal that technology is going to continue to advance and we’re going to continue heading towards the singularity, to use that particular theory of it. There are things that could happen that definitely that stop that march, and that turns things around or make us manifest in more analog and what some people might even say backward ways. I don’t expect that to happen, but there’s a real chance that that could happen.

With some of the things that are happening around the world, and just our ability and our meaning, sort of an individual human in the generic to impact major damage to other people and to countries and potentially to the whole world. We’ll have to see, but voting will really I think fall out of “does technology keep progressing in the way that is, or are there nasty things happening to civilization that slow the whole boat down in which the last thing we’re going to be worried about at that point is voting online?”.


Power, Transparency, & Truth, November 18, 2016

No, we’re not interested in total transparency because we have created these myths and legends around reality that simply aren’t true. The fact is the human fight for power at scale is ugly. It’s ugly. If you are trying to be the leader of a nation, of hundreds of millions of people, that is not going to be a fair fight. It wasn’t in 1790’s when the first U.S. presidents were being elected, and it isn’t today at the much larger scale. The people in power want to keep power. The people going for the power will do whatever they can to get the power. From a more primitive viewpoint, I would take the position of saying, “They should,” right? I mean, the stakes are high. If you’re the president of the United States you can do a lot. A lot to the world, a lot to your personal and family’s financial position, a lot to forwarding the beliefs that you have. Look, I mean we can’t … I don’t know that we can culturally approve dirty dealings, and fighting, and so forth.

Those things are going to happen. Unless the transparency is so bright that there’s no dark corners in which we can plot, and scheme, and do underhanded things. I take for granted the democratic national apparatus is trying to knock out Bernie Sanders, the outside upstart as they change the system and help Hillary Clinton, the ultimate insider. To carry on with the propaganda messages from the campaign. Don’t kid yourself, I mean Republicans are doing the exact same thing, the exact same thing. Different people, different agendas, different power sources, but everybody’s doing it. It’s sort of ridiculous when either party, from my perspective, is exposed and call out on it that we have this sort of Victorian moral shock about what’s going. Of course it’s going on. If you think Bernie Sander’s was getting a fair shake, you don’t understand how the world works. Point blank. Yeah, going on a little bit different direction with the WikiLeaks stuff, the people, liberals, we’re aghast that the Russian government would influence U.S. elections. “Oh my God, Trump is in Cahoots with the Russians.” Shock … first of all, do I think Trump is in cahoots with the Russians? I don’t. Is it possible? I guess, but I don’t think so. What is possible is that major nations influence the internal workings of other major nations all the time.

The U.S. has influenced, and it’s a known fact that the U.S. has influenced elections in a variety of nations. In the Americas, in other places in the world many times in the history of this nation. Again, there’s this shock, “The Russian nation is influencing our …” of course. There’s this whole espionage layer to how major nation states interact with each other, and the Russians are going to be taking advantage of those tools as we do. When, in this case the Democratic party, the supporters of Hillary Clinton, however we want to bucket them, are the victims of it. Again, the Victorian moral outrage goes up.

Come on people, I mean this is the world. This is power at scale, it’s just the way it is.

To me this is not a Facebook issue, it’s an internet issue, right? We do have the New York Times, or any number of editorially curated organizations that have … I don’t even want to say a higher level of credibility because there’s other issues, but some semblance of editorial guidance. The ability to project, we as consumers to project a level of trust that approximates what things used to be like in the print days, in the old media days. Now, they’re still making errors are all over the place, making retractions, yadda, yadda, yadda.

The internet at large, the technologies, whether it be social networking technology, or Wiki technology, or whatever the different online communication technologies are have done a very poor job at editing, at having that layer of authentication. Wikipedia’s a good example of it. Wikipedia is actually quite well edited as these things go. As a relatively heavy Wikipedia user, I’ve found a number of errors. They are generally of the trickster variety, right? A little bit of a tangent, but to frame just how sort of insidious this is. My father was a big fan of boxing, so one of the things he and I would do together was watch some boxing. I was a big fan of the boxer Lennox Lewis, a British guy.

During Lennox’s career there was a fellow he fought named Henry Akinwande, who for a brief time was the number one contender, the next big thing. Then Lennox Lewis beat him, and that ended. For whatever reason I’m jumping around on one of my Wikipedia jumps where I’m reading about lots of different things. I end up on Henry Akinwande’s page, and in his little biography there’s a few sentences talking about this key fight he had against some boxer I had never heard of. It just stunk a little, the way it was written. I researched, and there was no boxer of the name that the Wikipedia page Akinwande fought. As I researched more it was some trickster who had just put himself into the narrative of Henry Akinwande. He had this big key fight in the career of this boxer, so I edited it out.

It was up there for a long time before I saw it. I identified it, I edited it. That kind of stuff is all over Wikipedia. Wikipedia has a tremendous, to the point of almost fascist editorial process to keep things clean and keep things out. That’s sort of at the most extreme case of how editing is being handled in sort of the open transparent web.

Companies like Facebook and those sort of technologies have absolutely none of that. If you have a trickster who’s on Facebook, who’s doing things, there’s not people catching it. Additionally, and I think crucially, we have to think about use cases and what people are doing on the web. When people go onto Wikipedia, for the most part people are going there to learn. It’s not a place where you’re rewarded for being a trickster. This guy probably thought it was really funny putting that thing about fighting Akinwande, but it was meaningless in the big picture of things.

However, on Facebook if you can put a fake story out there that forwards a political agenda that you have and it takes off, not only are you having real impact on pervading your political agenda into society, but you’re also getting social reinforcement feedback. You’re getting liked, and up voted, and you’re becoming more important in the culture. That’s not great, and it’s rewarded by Facebook and by the very behaviors. You don’t go on Facebook to learn, I don’t think. It’s a social kind of learning-ish I guess. You’re going on there to connect, to amplify, to blow off steam, to do human emotional things that often can be negative, or not well thought.

The design of Facebook allows those things to take off, and be treated as truth, and build on a lot of social dynamics, even getting into sort of crowd … the sort of thing that leads to riots and that kind of crowd behavior. To me it’s not a Facebook issue … it is a Facebook issue as far as it’s an issue for everyone on the internet who hasn’t solved it well, which is pretty much everyone. I don’t think it’s native to Facebook, it’s just the size of Facebook, and the influence of Facebook allows it to have more of an impact.

How much those things impacted our election, I’m not qualified to answer. I mean maybe we should be upset with Facebook about it, but to treat it like this is some problem that Facebook has created. It’s just kind of Facebook participating in this Zeitgeist of openness, transparency, freedom of information, not oppressing it or holding things that has led to that. That’s an internet problem.

There’s this ideal that “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington”, of voting for the best person. It’s all bullshit. I mean, at the end of the day in our current system, the way we’re structured now. The democrats can get 40 something percent, the republicans getting 40 something percent. It doesn’t matter if the republican, or the democrat, I don’t think … although I think the criteria are probably different. Let’s use the concrete example we have with Donald Trump. The republican goes out there, says a lot of ridiculous things. Says a lot of things, like if you look at one of the big voting blocks within a Republican party, their conservative right is talking about these very immoral things those people should be horrified by. They’re going in a Republican camp for other reasons regardless of the specifics of that candidate.

Politics, there’s this sheen of truth, idealism … I know I sound really cynical today but I think these things are true. It’s all shit, right? It’s all crap. People are just voting for their thing. Whatever that trigger is. The gun side, the abortion side, whatever it is, the candidate can go out there and be a total zero and they’re going to put their vote in that camp. On the Democratic side, we could I think also come up with very unflattering examples of the candidate. Maybe we could even do it with Hillary Clinton if we step back and thought about it and tried, but who really in some sort of objective humanistic way isn’t a great person, isn’t a great candidate. Same things that shouldn’t be appealing to that base, but at the end of the day they’re going to tick the box, whether it be for one reason or another.

That’s also part of it. On Facebook it’s not about truth, it’s not about, “Oh, I’m trying to learn something, I’m trying to.” It’s, “I have this agenda, I’m slashing away at it.” It’s people with agendas pushing it up, and other people share the agenda. They don’t care if it’s true or not, they’re like, “Ah, Ah, Ah,” you know? Then it takes off. A lot of this, it comes back to human nature and it comes back to really understanding … I think we just need to be more honest about what we are as an animal, as a species, and operating in more honest ways. I think a lot of this is just, it’s just dishonesty.

Truth, nobody cares about truth, people just want it their way. We’re big, spoiled, tantruming children at the end of the day. We try and act like we’re these wise, smart, considerate people but we’re not. I mean we’re checking our box every damn time no matter what, and this election just proves it.

 


“Chief Inclusion Officers” & the American Legacy, November 10, 2016

I think it’s totally a question of maturity. I think for now, today, it’s absolutely appropriate. It’s valuable, it’s not just that that person can be empowered to make things happen, the very presence of it is a signifier of the seriousness, of the investment that the company is taking. Now, in 20 years, I don’t know there should be anybody with a title like that because we should have in the culture of business generally, in our society from a more over-arching perspective, has moved beyond this uncomfortable moment. It will be over by the time that this is published, but we’re right on the doorstep of this election with the death rattle of the conservative white male here embodied in Donald J. Trump. Hopefully in 20 years that death rattle has turned into death, and we buried some of that backward, undeveloped thinking, culturally speaking. We’ll be to the point we don’t need to have an inclusion officer. It’s just more a part of how we function, but for today, I think it makes perfect sense.

I don’t know how to respond to stupidity, so I’m not going to even try. Single viewpoint, I feel sad for those people and I hope they’re lifted from ignorance at some point. Listen, how much longer this country is going to be the leading world power, how long this country is going to be a leading world power, how long this country is going to be a country in the form that we understand it now, are total unknowns. Years, decades, centuries, but at some point it will end. It will decline. It will cease to be the that way we know it now.

The greatness that will be remembered from the United States, from this experiment, as it’s often called, is diversity and openness. It’s not the Constitution. The Constitution is not nearly one of the best Democratic Constitutions written. It has slavery, it has a lot of f-ing problems. That document is not what people think it is. The flag, the national anthem, all that nationalistic rubbish, not at all. In the United States the openness and the diversity, the spirit of that, that has been among the leaders in the 20th century and the 21st century of openness and inclusivity, bringing everyone in, and benefiting from the multi-cultural, multi-ethnic vibrance, participation of a lot of different people, that’s what’s going to really matter.

That’s what one of the positive legacies. I fear most of the legacies are going to be negative for the United States, but I think on the side of positive legacies it is these issues of social liberalism in practice. There’s things I’m proud of, and things I’m certainly happy to see the business world at large and the tech community more specifically taking more seriously and investing in because it will be to it’s best benefit as well.


Silicon Valley & Inequality,

I want us to be clear, when we talk about diversity and inclusivity, both of which are important to me, what exactly are we talking about? I wryly noted that you mentioned minorities, after mentioning that Asian men were very present in the tech community. The community that I came from, a little suburb called Sylvania, Ohio, which has a very highly-rated public school that I attended, and the non-white people could be counted on my hands in the school of over a thousand people, more or less, at that time. It’s become more diverse since then. From my perspective, being an Asian male within a culture that was historically white males is a part of diversity. Asian males in our culture, certainly in the sub-culture that I grew up in, that was very white and sheltered, would have been considered a minority. You excluded that group from being a minority. I’m interested in your framing, and let’s be really clear on what we’re talking about when we say diversity and inclusivity.

I lived in Silicon Valley from 2004 or 2005 until about 2008 or 2009, so about four or five years that I was there. What struck me when I was in Silicon Valley, was from a racial and ethnic perspective, it was certainly the most diverse place I had ever been. As a white person, this may or may not be true, but my impression was that a Caucasian was the fourth most common ethnicity.

That’s present around me, in the spaces that I worked with knowledge workers were far-east Asian individuals. I don’t know if that’s the right term, so I’m certainly trying to be inclusive in using that. I apologize if it’s not the politically correct term. Also, Indian individuals. People of Indian decent, which I definitely distinguish from far east Asian, were very common. Then the other, which was not within the knowledge work, but in the community at large, was hispanic. That culture as well.

I went to Silicon Valley, and I felt like I was in the most diverse environment that I’d ever been in. What was missing from that picture were women. Certainly on engineering teams at that time, the men were predominant, well over 90% men, but of a variety of ethnic backgrounds. As you would get into other parts of the company, say marketing, then you would start to see more women. With a little bit of a background in marketing, I would say, still somewhat less than maybe I had seen in other industries or other parts of the country before I went to Silicon Valley.

I never know what to do with statistics like the 29% that you threw out there, because superficially, you know, we say, everything should be equal. Equal translates to 50/50. We get 29%, and we’re like, “Oh my God, it’s a horrible statistic.” It may be a horrible statistic, but I think in our rush to equality, we’re going for equality of outcome, when really what we want is equality of opportunity. Whether or not a similar proportion of women want the same specific job or title or role that men would want in different cases, who knows?

Anecdotally, from living with people of different genders, and doing different things, I know that there’s certain types of people that like to do these things in more proportion, certain types of people that like to do that thing in more proportion, so I think if we’re looking for 50% in outcomes across the board, I think that’s short-sighted. I think it’s sort of well-meaning liberalism going overboard. I think really, what’s important that there’s equality of opportunity for everyone. If a woman is interested in the same role or job or company as a man, that the opportunity should be there equally.

I would even argue that because diversity and inclusion are so powerful and important to the benefit of the company and the other employees there, even allowing a minority group, whether it be ethnic or gender, advantages to get things closer to par is a good thing. The diversity inclusion in and of itself is beneficial for all. I think we need to be a little bit more nuanced in making sure people are paid properly, people have equality of opportunity, but that doesn’t translate into a world were necessarily every company is 50/50, every role is 50/50. I think that’s really, really short sighted. I’m liberal, but that’s where the liberal agenda tends to break down.

Before I forget, I want to make a couple of other comments about Silicon Valley culture. As much as I loved the diversity there, I will say that there was never once, and I worked as a consultant. I worked with over 50 different companies, some of them quite large. I worked with, I would say thousands of people, actually, in ways large or small. There was not a single African-American person who I worked with in Silicon Valley in these great companies, in knowledge working roles of importance. That’s certainly, on the ethnic cultural side, a glaring omission. The other thing I will say is that there’s very few older people working in Silicon Valley.

When I was in Ohio, where I was before I started Involution with Andrei, I was always the youngest person in the room. It was like, there’s Dirk, and there’s a lot of executives who were 40, 50. One of my bosses called me the Boy Wonder. That was my reality. As soon as I started in Invo, moved to Silicon Valley, how old was I? I was 30, and I was they oldest person in the room. Almost immediately. Now I’m working with these CEOs who are younger than me. I’m the design bitch. In the beginning, certainly that was the role that I was playing.

That was weird, and it really spoke to the the culture of youth that permeates, particular the start-up culture in Silicon Valley, but it certainly matriculates into the large corporations which are born of start-ups as well. Anyway, that was winding from a different place, but before I forgot, I wanted to, with more crispness, talk about issues of diversity in Silicon Valley as I lived them for five years.

You know, there’s another way to look at it too, coming back to Silicon Valley. Most of the people there, and again this doesn’t speak for everyone by any means, but, a majority for the people that I dealt with came from wealthy families and many of them had Ivy League or top-level educations. One of the things I took from my time in Silicon Valley is it’s really a culture of wealth begetting wealth begetting wealth over generations.

At one point, Invo was doing quite well, quite well, and I talked to my accountant out here who lived there for his entire life, and I said, “I can’t even dream of owning a big house here. How the hell does anybody afford it?” He said, “Dirk, the dirty secret of Silicon Valley is these young people, their parents buy them the house in Silicon Valley, and then they get the job and they throw them money, and it’s generation over generation over generation.”

I do want to also speak to a lack of diversity from the standpoint of socioeconomic status. From that perspective. I think that’s a really important one. I think a lot of people who would be valuable to Silicon Valley, would be valuable to technology are just shut out.

If they want to live a comfortable lifestyle, and they don’t have the Daddy Warbucks parent or hit the one-in-a-thousand shot on being with the right start-up, or some other existing money or super unusual circumstance, you can’t have the same quality of life there as you can have in the Midwest or even here by comparison. When we talk diversity, inclusion, that tends to very quickly go to racial, ethnic, or gender, but I think there’s other ways to look at it. I think socioeconomic status is a big one. It’s also one that in part speaks to why there is an absence of certain racial and ethnic background of individuals in the knowledge work in Silicon Valley too.

 


The Ethics of Designer Babies, Wealth & Power, October 10, 2016

For a long time we’ve taken an egg from a different woman and planted a sperm from a father and put it in the wife of the father as the host mother for an egg that she didn’t produce, or were taking sperm from another man, putting it into an egg of the mother from someone other than her husband. Of course, marriage is not a prerequisite for any of these things. Now, it’s taking essentially the egg and taking part of it out from a genetic perspective and replacing it with something else.

It seems newer, scarier maybe, but it’s really not that different. It’s really making a decision based on the viability of the biological material of one of the parents and making an alteration for the viability or the health of a baby. In and of itself it’s doing it at the genetic level as opposed to the sort of substitution of an egg or a sperm cell, which makes it different, but it’s pretty similar from an outcome perspective. Where this becomes more compelling is the slippery slope problem, because it’s easy to sit back and say, “Oh, yeah, you know, we don’t want to have this child born with this congenital problem. We want it to be born healthy.”

Most people are going to nod their heads with that and say, “Yeah, that makes sense,” making that replacement okay, but the path isn’t that long to the superman, the supermensch model, where you’re not replacing to avoid some disease or some condition. You’re replacing to enhance. You’re replacing to go and not just get healthy, but to healthy superstar. Right? I think that’s where it becomes more interesting. Certainly, this technology is on a path to allow that to happen, even though in the sort of concrete sense that we imagine it probably not able to happen today.

We were having a conversation about Trump’s tax return, and the fact that if you look at over all of human history, there’s always been an elite. Always is too absolute, but by and large, in civilization there’s haves and there’s have-nots.

That’s been the case whether it’s been a democracy, whether it’s been a hereditary monarchy, whether it’s been communism. Regardless of the social structure, there is a small group that has a vast majority of the wealth and power that tends to propagate generation over generation over generation, whether it be because it’s supposedly by divine right or whether it’s because you just have a shit ton of money that you keep passing down to the following generations.

To me, if we’re concerned about it being only elite are going to use this and their children are going to be more powerful, more successful, more set up, it’s already the case. It’s just manifesting in different ways. Now, it’s just they have the millions of dollars that they pass down, which gives the children ginormous advantages that sets them up to more likely to be in charge. This is just a different flavor of that.

Not that that is necessarily to advocate for or excuse it, but I don’t know that it’s such a different state of affairs than we already have in the world. The fact is, there is a power elite in virtually every organized manifestation of civilization as far back as recorded history goes, and that power elite generally tends to stay in place generation over generation. One of the things that’s remarkable about the experience in the United States of America, where we are, is that unlike the European countries, where many of us came from originally, it’s much easier to go from having nothing to make it for yourself and to get into that elite at one level or another.

The question is, would this make it harder? Would the sort of promise of America of, “I have nothing, but I’m going to work hard and be ingenious and make something for myself that starts to move me into a place of power and could move my family into a place of power,” do the hurdles of designer babies and technology create a system that is less penetrable by the lower classes? I think it may, but I think there’s a lot of unknowns, too, so I’m not sure.

Business is always way, way ahead of legislation on this stuff. There’s no question about it. Way ahead. The government’s going to be really slow to catch up. I don’t know that this technology is all that different from things that we take for granted now. What I mean by that is the wealthy now take their children and put them in private schools. They take them and put them in schools that are demonstrably better than the public schools that everyone else is in.

What is more impactful on the outcome of a child as they’re advancing? Is it more impactful that they get the super smart genes, or is it more impactful that they get the private schooling? I think it’s well within the realm of possibility that the environmental and network benefits of the existing old-school infrastructure that the money buys actually is the thing that should be more intimidating and frightening to the have-nots in terms of the advantages that the children are getting.

It’s just that the designer baby aspect of it is the sort of sci-fi. It’s not here yet. It’s a little bit scary. It’s easier to feel fear toward … I suspect that the very analog, very old-school advantages that the money of the power elite provide are really putting in harder-to-overcome obstacles for the rest of us ultimately, at least certainly in the short term until that technology is super-perfected and is creating more holistic uber-people.


Apple, China, and internet privacy, April 26, 2011

A short comment contextualizing the prediction could go right here

The big story last week is that Apple’s iPhone and iPad devices have been tracking and storing the movements of their users since the release of Apple’s iOS 4 operating system last year. Within days it was devices based on Google’s Android are doing the same thing. Initial responses of shock and concern were quickly replaced with people trying to hack the feature and use the data in other ways, then followed by what seems like a collective yawn.

Honestly, I find the indifference a little head-scratching. When we reported on the Chinese government’s plan to track the movements of all their citizens in larger cities via device embedded GPS, people were quick to make snarky comments and bemoan the state of the poor Chinese people. Yet, when a US corporation is accused of accumulating the same data secretly, we all let out a collective yawn. Look, it can’t be both ways. Either privacy is important and attempts to track individuals using geolocation technology is odious, or it is just a part of living the modern world and there is nothing to see here. We can’t treat the Chinese government one way because they are historically authoritarian and Apple another way because their shiny objects give us warm fuzzies as we smugly hunker down in Starbucks with a black turtleneck and latte.

Personally, I think governmental and corporate use of modern technology to track individuals is chilling. If we assume everyone’s intent is benign, and/or it is being done to help combat terrorism or some other safety measure, then it seems superficially good, or at least not bad. But what if governments of companies have other agendas? History is littered with good leadership replaced by bad, seemingly sane and benign rules being replaced by the malevolent. Even if we ultimately decide the risk of a possible negative future known is worth whatever the benefits the technology provides now, we should at least be vigilant. We shouldn’t shrug when it is revealed that Apple, secretly no less, has been gathering this information. We should be skeptical, probing and concerned. Our privacy, identify and autonomy rely on some degree of self-control. It might be easy to forget that in the kumbaya of social media and technology, but, at least here in the United States, if we hope to cultivate a relatively free country for ourselves and our decedents, we must give a shit when we learn beloved media darling companies are tracking our every move.


Geopolitics, January 9, 2003

A short comment contextualizing the prediction could go right here

I believe that fundamentalist religious fervor will be the cause of brutal wars and conflict in the next hundred years and represent the biggest threat to our species.