Franke: Cowardly Google

May 8, 2019

by Mark Franke

I have been looking for something, anything, that I can find as common cause with the progressive neo-socialists, and I think I may have found it.

A petition was recently circulated among Google employees to disband a professional advisory board focused on the ethics of artificial intelligence development and application. The board’s egregious sin? One of its members was Kay Cole James, president of the Heritage Foundation.

Now the Heritage Foundation is one of the most respected think tanks in Washington, D.C., a place rife with think tanks but not necessarily with original or incisive thinking. Even though Heritage falls on the conservative/libertarian side of the ideological divide, it has the gravitas that demands attention from all Beltway policy wonks left and right.

But not in Silicon Valley.

It seems that Ms. James does not mindlessly walk the progressive line, at least not according to the 2,000 or so employees who have demanded — yes demanded — that she be removed. (A recent word has been added to the language to describe refusing to let someone speak, deplatforming, which is rather anodyne compared to a perfectly good word like censorship. Such is today’s non-brave new world.)

The cowards who purport to manage Google just disbanded the whole advisory board rather than face the wrath of these employees. Makes one wonder how much these executives are paid to default important decision-making to the mob.

And in a case of ironic hubris, one the chief organizers of the petition has charged her employer Google with retaliation and trying to silence her. She doesn’t understand how this could happen in an organization that places so much emphasis on “fairness.” Fairness for everyone who agrees with her and her fellow travelers, apparently.

Now put this apposite several other incidents involving Google. The company recently abrogated its relationship with the Department of Defense on technology research projects. Its sensitive employees apparently could not sleep at night while they agonized over their work product being used to defend the United States and their own right to act like spoiled two-year-olds.

Not that these same employees got exorcised over Google’s acquiescence of China’s totalitarianism in censoring what its citizens can access on the Internet. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Joseph Dunford said publicly that Google’s products “will help an authoritarian government assert control over its people.” Does the word “hypocrisy” come to mind?

So how does all this nonsense induce me to agree with the progressive thought-police? I’ll come clean on this. It’s visceral, which is a college word meaning knee-jerk.

Progressives have been attacking the major tech giants like Google for having too much power, too much control, too much influence in citizens’ lives. Their solution, of course, is more government regulation and invocation of anti-trust laws to break them up. No one so far has suggested nationalizing them, but how far away can that be given the current crop of Democratic presidential candidates racing to get leftward of each other?

See my dilemma?

My knees are jerking violently here, wanting to see Google get everything it so richly deserves. On the other hand, a lifetime of conservative/libertarian thought tells my brain to scream, “No! Put that knee-jerk reaction down and back away.”

So what I can do that will make a difference? As I pull my Google Pixel phone from my pocket, as I do my Internet work using Google’s browser and search engine, as my wife talks to her Google home device more than she does to me, the answer is not all that simple. Suffice it to say, I like Google’s stuff.

There is the economic principle of natural monopolies and perhaps Google has become a textbook example of that. Maybe I should just vote with my pocketbook and go with a competitor, to the extent any still exist. Or maybe not, at least so long as I like Google’s products better than those of its competitors.

I hope my brain wins this one over my spasmodic knees.

And I will keep looking for a common belief I hold with the progressives. Just don’t hold your breath.

Mark Franke, an adjunct scholar of the Indiana Policy Review, is formerly an associate vice chancellor at Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne.


Leave a Reply