Update: Clay Shirky calls time of death on #AmazonFail and Mary Hodder’s argument.
I’ve been debating for the last ten minutes whether or not to post on this idea simply because it borders on politics and philosophy rather than technology, but it is in response to a posting on Techcrunch, ostensibly a tech blog, and I generally feel that given the general audience of the tech blogosphere, if I don’t say something on it, it probably won’t get said.
The post is a guest spot from Mary Hodder, the founder of Dabble, a social video search site.
Her perspective is that despite the explanations of what happened from Amazon, there still is a conspiracy between the robots and humans who run the Amazon catalogue to discriminate against homosexual authors and authors of books covering homosexual topics.
She trots out most of the same examples that we saw fly across the blogosphere, like Heather Has Two Mommies vs. A Parent’s Guide to Preventing Homosexuality.
Ultimately, her argument rests on two points:
- Algorithms are evil tools of the devil.
- Homosexuality is not an adult topic.
This Shouldn’t Require Explanation…
… but judging from the fact that the editors at Techcrunch are still giving airtime to these ridiculous points, I’ll rebut them both here.
Algorithms aren’t evil. They’re tools just like a hammer, screwdriver, or a microprocessor.
You can bludgeon someone with a hammer. You can stab someone with a screwdriver. You can launch an ICBM through the use of a microprocessor.
You can also build a house with a hammer. You can put together your infant’s crib with a screwdriver. There’s no end to the altruism that can be accomplished by way of the use of microprocessors.
An algorithm is just like that. It’s a tool. It can be used for good or evil. It boggles the mind that the founder of a web tech company can put together a five page guest post on Techcrunch that’s largely devoted to extolling the evils of automated decision making mathematical expressions.
When she gets done talking about the inherent dangers of algorithms, she attempts to define why the word “homosexual” has nothing to do with “sex”:
The ethics bar in creating algorithms and classification systems should be very high […] the issue with #AmazonFail isn’t that a French Employee pressed the wrong button or could affect the system by changing “false” to “true” in filtering certain “adult” classified items, it’s that Amazon’s system has assumptions such as: sexual orientation is part of “adult.” And “gay” is part of “adult.” In other words, #AmazonFail is about the subconscious assumptions of people built into algorithms and classification that contain discriminatory ideas.
I’m sorry, “gay” isn’t part of “adult?” Let’s break it down real simple-like so we know what these two words mean.
Adult implies grown up. Grown up implies not a child. Child means someone under the age of 18, the socially and legally determined age of minority/majority.
Gay is slang for homosexual. Homosexuality refers to which gender an individual is sexually attracted to. Sexual attraction is the desire to engage in reproduction, copulation, or in the common vernacular: sex.
Now that we have these terms defined, let’s ask ourselves: “Do we want our children having sex?”
I’m not asking a hypothetical question, and I’m not asking if children are having sex.
You! The parents out there! Do you want your kid having sex? The answer is probably “no.” Realistically, you at least want to be the ones to guide their sexual education, rather than have it defined by mistakes and experimentation.
The truth is that homosexuality has everything to do with sex. Sure, the topic branches out from there but for Mary Hodder to suggest that homosexuality isn’t about sex …
… particularly when the word sex is in the word homosexual …
Well, I’d say that it screams a lack of critical thinking, but this really isn’t rocket science. It’s reading comprehension.