Note: Some content in this article may not be suitable for sensitive viewers.
There have been many ways AI has been infiltrating social networks in the last decade. From rogue chatbots that have been taken offline by questioning the Communist Party in China, to the founder of the Luka app building a chatbot to resemble her dead friend, Roman by feeding its AI a library of previous messages(ie, Eugenia Kuyda, the engineer who built the Roman chatbot said she wanted to build a digital memorial bot in order to honour her friend whom she missed texting messages); to personal assistants such as Apple’s Siri and Amazon’s Alexa, and towards more humanoid forms such as Softbank’s Pepper, AI has become a new way for people to socialise.
Softbank's AI humanoid, Pepper, first launched in 2014, taking the world by surprise in its goal of understanding human emotion.
Lieutenant Data from Star Trek: The Next Generation. In the sci-fi series, the AI humanoid Data wins a legal case in which he attains the right to become self-sufficient, having the same self-agency protections and rights as humans.
In fact, AI may even become your next therapist, lawyer, and teacher, and many organisations in last decade have even been developing ways to even make AI into a sexual partner.
Gamification of Language
One of the apps that I utilise everyday is Duolingo. At first, I was surprised by how quickly I was able to learn Japanese. I had previously taken a course at SOAS in London in elementary Japanese for a few weeks, but soon grew bored. In addition, the course focused on memorising words written in the English alphabet, so I was never able to read Japanese characters or Kanji as that was reserved for advanced learners. My retention for the course was zero and I lost interest after a couple of weeks. This was after hundreds of £s spent on the course. Although SOAS has a stalwart reputation and an overall brilliant institution, I found that I preferred learning at my own pace at the beginner level in Japanese with Duolingo; with Duolingo’s version of Japanese, I was able to start pattern recognition of Japanese characters fairly quickly by practicing just 10 minutes a day.
Duolingo is an app that my mother also likes, and she tends to practice learning her new languages right when she receives the message reminders on her phone. I tend to use Duolingo whilst in transit or standing in queue and it has usurped my tendency to check my email religiously throughout the day.
Another thing I like about Duolingo is the AI chatbot, as the app utilises everyday situations and puts you in a mode of thinking to converse in that particular language. Although the chatbot feature is not available for Japanese, it is available for other languages. One thing I would prefer is if Duolingo would launch a new chatbot situation for languages such as French everyday instead of every time one passes a particular section or category as I find I prefer talking to the French chatbot everyday.
In addition, I think it would be great if Duolingo launches an AI messaging app in which one could exclusively talk to a chatbot continuously throughout the day such as WeChat’s Xiaoice or Xiaobing in a variety of topics in the target language in which the user can also learn popular slang and ways of speaking in contemporary, non-academic form of the language as a potential option.
Previously, I have tried EdTech language apps such as Tandem - which is an app that matches users to other users who want to converse on a topic in the target language, but I find the initial signup cumbersome and irritating - as the app wants access to your social network profile or won’t let you become a member without uploading your photo. My opinion of Tandem is that is structured like a dating profile app, asking all sorts of annoying questions even before you can start to utilise the app. Whereas, in Duolingo, the signup process is easy, and learners can also have the option to join small groups limited to 20 members in which one can get acquainted with the serious learners who are in the group over time. In this way, Duolingo has bypassed the problems of other learning sites such as LiveMocha (which shut down in 2016) in which one feels drowned in a sea of endless learners (or rather spammers) in which it becomes difficult to even find someone to practice a target language.
Another wish list feature I would like is if Duolingo launched a way for members in the group to launch a group chat, so that members can actually ask each other questions or ask for advice. Currently, in the group setting feature, members can’t really communicate to each other except posting comments from a pulldown list of canned responses, much like the Lark app, which is a personal trainer assistant AI app that analyses your physical activity and eating habits. I find I don’t like the pulldown selection of responses, because it limits my ability to communicate and also puts me in a psychological state of mind in which I and forced to choose responses that is not reflective of my personality type.
Where’s the AI?
There are other apps that I like to utilise as well - which have more of a visual element. Three I like to use together are:
3D Brain is fascinating on its own due the way touch is utilised to examine part of the brain in an 180 degree rotating manner without all the cumbersome technical problems of the Complete Anatomy 2018 +Courses which has a tendency to crash a lot and take up a lot of memory. However, 3D Brain, although stable, is very limited in what it can do and only shows where each part belongs without any other sort of multi-player interaction or explanation of each section. I think if the app is able to utilise this visual form in addition to how the brain also looks on an MRI scan, such as in Brain MRI Atlas, using different sections, such as coronal or horizontal slices, it would really give insight into how the brain can be analysed by lab technicians and neuroscientists.
Brain Anatomy is an app I like because it has a quiz feature in which one can take tests to memorise sections of each brain based on different angles and views of the brain. However, this app, like the other apps, lack a gamification feature and an interactive, multi-player element which can make learning of the brain a collaborative process.
Previous gamification of the medical sector through board games in the the 1960s. The "Operation" board game for children was launched in 1964.
If Duolingo decides to expand past the language sector, I think the medical sector, in particular to human anatomy, analysis of brain MRI and cognitive neuroscience can be a lucrative field with many learners in the medical sector willing to pay for apps that can gamify this learning process as currently, there is no “meat” or AI being utilised in the leading EdTech apps in the medical sector except for those who are already practicing in the field, in which these programmes are not available to the general public.
Building Emotional Intelligence
Currently in our era, in particular to American media, apps and video games are being utilised to desensitise our youth to become ideal soldiers but not ideal citizens. The perfect soldier is one who learns to shoot on command, does not question his/ her orders and to associate violence with something pleasurable, such as sex. In the iconic book, On Killing: The Psychological Cost of Learning to Kill in War and Society, the author, Lieutenant Colonel Dave Grossman describes how in previous eras, such as in World War I and World War II, how only a small percentage of soldiers would actually fire their guns at the “enemy” and engage in hand-to-hand combat (less than 10%). Much has been theorised in the past, by philosophers, sociologists and psychologists alike, and they have determined that it is against human nature to kill, and there is an innate tendency in all of us, to protect others. However, a lot of our natural instincts have been reconditioned by our media, especially in film, television, popular music lyrics and violent video games, to go against our natural instincts; and to act in ways that is beneficial for the US Military Industrial Complex to recruit and build perfect soldiers, starting from when we are children.
One of many growing acid attack victims in London. A 16 year old boy was charged with 15 acid attacks in the London area in a period of one month.
“Autism” has become a common aspect of our population, yet much of the definition of autism points to a lack of emotional intelligence and ability to empathise with our peers. Our current media makes it “cool and edgy” to make fun of others, exploit weaknesses in other people, and to have a lack of respect for other people, in particular to the elderly population. Through our media, we have heightened the popularity of people who often exploit, ridicule or bully others, who have no regard for the human condition and for human life, and many children have learned this kind of behaviour through popular media.
A scene from the video game: FragHero
A scene from the video game: Postal.
A female character, Katana from the immensely popular video game: Mortal Kombat. Women in violent video games are often depicted as scantily dressed sex objects, influencing the way young children think about gender roles and leading young children and adults to associate sex with violence.
A scene from the video game: Wolfenstein: The New Order. Violent video games desensitise people from human suffering and create a reward points-based associations of excitement and "winning" with murder and cruelty in the frontotemporal parts of the developing brain of young children and adults.
Not a video game. A video leaked by WikiLeaks in 2009 showed trigger happy soldiers who shot at innocent civilians during the Iraq War. Victims included journalists and young children.
To counteract the actions of the US Military Industrial Complex, and its pervasive pattern of the desensitisation of young children from human suffering through popular media, our generation holds the particular honour, of the burden of responsibility to change this course in history; to alter our collective history. Do we want to create a future world with every citizen becoming the perfect soldier, as Lieutenant Grossman asks, or do we want a society that values human life?
Game of One
An app that I became obsessed with when it first launched was Churchill’s Solitaire. I often go through these phases where I like a mobile app game and play it for hours on end, then suddenly lose interest due to a lack of an interactive, multi-player element. This was true for Angry Birds and Disney’s Where’s My Water? apps.
When Churchill’s Solitaire first launched, I spent 22.5 hours straight, without sleeping, to play this game on the weekend. There is a cinematic component to the game, with the overarching dramatic musical composition, to the former Prime Minister’s soundbites to the overall sound and graphic design, in which I found myself transfixed with pattern recognition in this version of Solitaire. Of course, there is no multi-player element; one can’t compete with one’s friends, one can’t invite friends to the game, and there is no interactive element; it’s just you against the Solitaire programme. However, I think it is one of the most brilliant casual games of our generation in an era in which more people prefer to play Candy Crush or some other type of inane, mind-stultifying game that only requires hand-eye coordination and a sore thumb.
Initially, in Churchill’s Solitaire, there was a bug with some of the cards sticking and not moving when you attempted to slide them into position, but I found tapping on the card twice automatically moved the chosen card into the right position. However, aside from the bugs, I think the way this particular game was programmed, designed and conceived is simply beyond amazing. A wish list for this game is if there is an option to join an online “team” such as in a potential online global Olympics, where a group of people can compete against another group. Therefore, the entire team competes by rank, through individual scores for the overall team in a score that can be comparable against other global teams. Like-minded individuals who prefer these kinds of games can socialise and message each other, such as in the early days of other multiplayer games, such as Diablo and League of Legends.
Of course, the intent of Solitaire is to challenge you against yourself, but over time, it is not as interesting as being part of a collaborative effort, much like life itself.
Humans Are Social Beings
Despite the fact that we are often separated by geography, by culture, through upbringing, and perhaps also through socio-economic class and education, I think the great potential of AI is to break down the barriers of communication. Although AI is also currently primarily being utilised for the purposes of perpetuating the war machine, my hope is that AI will also open the lines of communication, in order to no longer make language a barrier in the way we interact with each other everyday.
We tend to be less alone, when we know someone else is going through similar circumstances somewhere else in the world, even if the person lives on the other side of the planet from us. My belief is that AI will unite us, because through language and communication, we will understand each other better, and find more things in common than focus on the things that divide us.
By Sierra Choi
Bitcoin first launched in 2009, and was developed by its iconic founder Satoshi Nakamoto, an elusive persona that could be representative of several different organisations in which Bitcoin was developed at first, as a philosophical inquiry as to the value of currency and virtual currencies, and also to avoid govt scrutiny of the movement of capital, in addition to avoidance of transactional fees generated from global banking industries and national taxes. Since Bitcoin also allowed users complete anonymity, similar to what the numbered account in Switzerland had been until 2009, when several international govt agencies, led by the Obama Administration, made a crackdown to restrict anonymity in order to increase government scrutiny. (Note: up until 2009, anyone in Switzerland could walk into a bank and open a numbered account without proof of identity; however after 2009, most numbered accounts were either closed or turned into regular bank accounts).
After the closure of numbered accounts in Switzerland, Bitcoin was launched in the same year, which allowed a new online transactional way for users to be able to transfer or hold funds, allowing them complete anonymity, bypassing the Federal Reserve, International Monetary Fund (IMF), London Interbank Offered Rate (LIBOR) and govt control of money.
"Bitcoin will be stopped and become worthless."- Jamie Dimon, CEO of JP Morgan Chase
"Nobody can stop Bitcoin." - Bill Gates
In 2015, a new virtual currency was launched, Ethereum, and an Ethereum Alliance, backed by JP Morgan and Microsoft amongst many other organisations gave new resources, funding for research and financial backing to rival Bitcoin soon after.
Obviously there are a lot of cryptocurrencies that have launched since Bitcoin, including Litecoin, Zcash, Dash, Ripple, Monero in addition to Ethereum et al. There are new cryptocurrencies cropping up every day, but how safe are these exchanges and trading platforms?
Tulipmania of the 17th century in Europe. By 1634 the demand for tulips created a boom, driving prices sky high. The price of one tulip bulb was 10x the annual pay of a skilled craftsman.
Although blockchain is quite secure and stable, and prevents hackers from altering information on the blockchain network due to the collective dissemination of transactional information, the problem is with the instability of virtual currency trading platforms. One of the earliest and largest Bitcoin exchanges, Mt. Gox, suddenly shut down in Feb 2014, and users collectively lost $473 million in Bitcoin. Previously, GBL, a bitcoin trading platform based in China suddenly shut down the year before, and customers lost $5 million in Bitcoin.
DAO was hacked in 2016, leading to $55 million in missing funds of ethereum (ETH) and in this year, other hackings, such as CoinDash’s $7 million in lost funds of ETH and Parity’s security breach leading to a $32 million heist along with individuals whose accounts were targeted and a total of $225 million of ETH has been stolen from customers this year alone.
Hackings of cryptocurrency exchanges: a common event in our contemporary era.
Cody Brown, founder of IRL VR production studio recently gave a first hand account of how his bitcoin became compromised on Coinbase after he had been targeted by individuals who had ported his Verizon mobile number, reset his password, added new devices to his account and took off with all his bitcoin.
The problem with cryptocurrency exchanges is that they do not insure nor guarantee a return of funds for fraudulent activity. Unlike a traditional bank account or stock exchange account, there is no way to recover those lost funds because the cryptocurrency exchanges do not financially back lost products, although if you are a US resident, some exchanges such as Coinbase insures your USD wallet via FDIC for up to $250K from a breach of Coinbase’s physical or cyber security but does not cover losses as above such as in Cody Brown’s case from a personal account being compromised.
So what is going on with Bitcoin? To understand Bitcoin’s current price action, its history may present some insights.
Here is a chart of Bitcoin in 2013 - although it may look eerily similar to what is currently going on with Bitcoin now. In a period of less than 2 months, Bitcoin gained 968.3% from 120.11 to 1163 during October 7, 2013 to November 30, 2013. It then entered a bear cycle in the next year and a half and fell to 152.40 on January 12, 2015 where it began a period of consolidation.
After Bitcoin stabilised after the downcycle, a couple of anomalous events occurred in the week of Jan 12 and Nov 2 2015 in which a large volume of Bitcoin was exchanged, suggesting something about to happen. Usually I see transactions of this sort to imply multiple international organisations transferring funds from one bank to another. Then from May-June 2016, we see a strong precursor to an uptrend. These green bars of uniform size without a long tail or head on the weekly chart suggest that many different financial institutions, hedge funds and investment banks suddenly began steadily buying Bitcoin during these two months in anticipation of an uptrend.
This is the Bitcoin/USD chart at present. In a period of one year, Bitcoin gained 895% from Aug 2016 to Aug 2017, very similar to the movement from Bitcoin in 2013, when it gained 968.3%. If we examine the fibonacci retracement line, currently Bitcoin is in the general area of the 1.618 line at 4381.78. If Bitcoin isn’t able to hold this area for the next two or three weeks, this could suggest a similar price/action history set in 2013, and could signal a potential pullback to the 100% fibonacci level at 2925.12. However, this week’s candlestick formation is not yet complete, but a combination of the long head from last week’s formation with this week’s formation could be the determinant in what happens to the price of Bitcoin for the next year. If Bitcoin were to enter a potential downtrend, then I extrapolate the next opportune time to buy Bitcoin would be Jan 2019.
Warren Buffett has some time proven stock advice: Buy low, sell high. Obviously, a lot of people make things much more complicated than they actually are and make multiple unnecessary transactions. Although currently there is psychological momentum of cryptocurrencies, and the media is reporting about all these newly minted multi-millionaires who had invested just $5-10K of Bitcoin in the early days, and now have more than $2-3 million worth of Bitcoin, it is important to remember that most of these early innovators who bought Bitcoin lost their entire capital during the Mt. Gox hacking and shutdown, which was the largest exchange at the time. Currently, Bitcoin is at an all time-high and it would be taking a substantially large risk for people to jump on the cryptocurrency bandwagon and start investing large amounts of capital in Bitcoin at this present time.
Now, let’s look at Ethereum.
Ethereum had a phenomenal uptrend from April to June 2017, and in a period of 2 months, had a gain of 858% from 48.94 to 420. (Sound familiar?) However, currently, on the daily chart, ETHUSD seems to be making a double mountain formation, which may be a possible downtrend indicator. In the next month, if ETH does not hold the bottom support around the 226 area, then this could signal a further decline.
As cryptocurrencies become more regulated, and subject to govt scrutiny, it will become like any other currency. However, the difference is that cryptocurrencies are not backed by insurance, such as FDIC, so the disappearance or shutdown of an exchange will result in a complete loss of funds. This is the same for (initial coin offerings) ICO. Quite frankly, I am not a fan of ICOs and think it’s taking on an unnecessarily large risk for temporary, volatile and unstable gains. Of course, if a company’s stock isn’t doing particularly well, it’s easy to think for investors to have bought Bitcoin or ETH instead, especially during its all time highs. This is usually called “the missing out” psychology of investors, and they begin to invest large amounts of capital after the uptrend momentum has already occurred. The best time to invest is usually after the consolidation period, when the stock has been moving sideways for a while and begins to show signs that an uptrend might occur. As Warren Buffett says: Buy low, sell high.
Disclosure: I have no holdings in cryptocurrencies, so have no conflict of interest in writing this article.
Disclaimer: This article is for educational purposes only and should not be taken as any investment advice.
By Sierra Choi
I have found that one of the key areas that is underrepresented in the workplace is having keen negotiation skills. Negotiation skills infiltrate all aspects of life, from one’s most personal relationships to being able to effectively communicate with colleagues in the more formal workplace environment. A few years ago, I took an online course on the NovoEd platform by Stanford Lecturer-in-Law David Johnson called Introduction to Negotiation. This was effectively one of the best courses I have taken because the information I took away was extremely valuable in the way I utilise these skills every day, from the mundane to the professional level.
David Johnson, Lecturer-in-Law, Stanford University.
David Johnson is an attorney working in Silicon Valley. He is also a Lecturer at Stanford Law School, as well as at Stanford’s d.school (formally, The Hasso Plattner School of Design). David has tried cases in state and federal court; represented Apple, Cisco, Electronic Arts, Sankyo Pharmaceuticals and other tech companies; and has been a general counsel for private, public and non-profit companies.
David has given me very good advice over the years in regards to working in technology, and recently we had a discussion regarding the stories coming out of Silicon Valley about sexual harassment and gender discrimination, most notably in the context of recent stories about venture capital firms and tech companies. See also, The challenges of tacking sexual harassment among investors.
“The unfortunate reality is this: there is great risk of personal and professional harm in speaking hard truth to the very power that can cause that harm.” - David Johnson, Stanford Law School
Certainly, there has been an increasing awareness of the corporate culture at tech companies in the last few years. In one report, senior Uber executives allegedly co-mingled with sex workers during an employee entertainment outing. In another, a former Google employee was attacked by online trolls for speaking out about the sexual harassment she had endured whilst working for 4 years at the internet giant’s main offices in Mountain View. Most recently, a male Google engineer was fired for voicing his opinion that biological differences between gender were one of the reasons for the lack of diversity in high profile engineering jobs. Also, tales of the sordid actions of a venture capitalist at Binary Capital, alleged that Mr. Caldbeck had targeted female founders and used his position of power to continually harangue them with unwanted sexual advances.
As an example, David notes, a woman in a venture capital firm certainly understands the environment she is working in and is cognizant of a built-in bias against women. “It is well-understood that women often have to work better and harder than the men they are competing with, and develop superior ways to communicate their added value as a venture partner or as when holding a seat on a portfolio board.”
Founder, Chairwoman and CEO of Care.com Shiela Lirio Marcello, has said she had to hide her pregnancy in order not to be passed up for projects at her former workplace before she left and founded Care.com.
More specifically, I asked David: Do you think in general, that women often do not attempt to negotiate their position or salary and instead accept the first reasonable offer they are given?
“My best answer to this is that I’m not the person to ask! I’d suggest the appropriately titled book: “Women Don’t Ask,” by Linda Babcock and Sara Laschever.” David continued, “…for both men and women, it is important to first assess the level of the job, and their alternatives at that moment. In the entry to mid-level [jobs], companies often have several qualified candidates for a given position. Moreover, most companies have tightly constrained job families that limit salary ranges. Where one or both of these are true, their incentive to position bargain on salary with any given candidate is quite low.”
Regarding an employee’s alternatives, David adds: “If the employee really wants to work at that particular company, there is real risk in countering aggressively on a salary point. If the offered salary is reasonable, in my view the smarter play is usually to ask for some intangibles that are easier for the company to give, while signaling that, with those, you will be comfortable with the offered salary point. Then…secure the job, perform well, and build your reputation in the first year – at annual review, claim your additional value when you have more leverage.”
“It is well-understood that women often have to work better and harder than the men they are competing with, and develop superior ways to communicate their added value as a venture partner or as when holding a seat on a portfolio board.” -David Johnson, Stanford Law School
For senior management, the situation is quite different. “Negotiation for the total compensation package, including equity, expense accounts, and even available department budget is very important at the senior levels,” David says. He reminds me of Sheryl Sandberg’s telling of her own story: that she wanted to accept Mark Zuckerberg’s first offer to become Facebook’s COO. Her husband, the late Dave Goldberg, the CEO of SurveyMonkey, insisted that she negotiate. She ended up doing so, with a favourable outcome.
“In the C-Suite roles,” David noted, “being willing to negotiate a compensation package is not only about the comp per se but also about demonstrating strength, independence and self-worth.”
I related to David this story:
A couple of years ago, a Google employee circulated an internal spreadsheet regarding her salary and compensation, and thousands of employees added their compensation to this list, which ultimately resulted in a lot of people asking for raises and fairer pay.
Erica Baker, a former Google employee, was criticised for publishing a shared internal document in 2015 which listed the compensation of employees and was denied peer recommended bonuses by her supervisor when the internal document revealed the salary discrepancy between men and women at Google.
I asked: How might a woman find out if she is being offered or paid less than a similar male colleague with the same experience? Do you think we should have public tax records such as in Norway or Finland to avoid these kinds of salary discrepancies between women and men?
“Personally, no, I wouldn’t favor a law requiring such publication in the US. I’d like to think there is a better pathway to solving the problem. The norm, in my experience, is that most people prefer to keep their compensation private, particularly within the company. Still, there is some information out there. In the US, public companies publish the details of compensation of senior management in SEC filings. For mid to upper level employees, there are good metrics available from consultancies that aggregate information in industry sectors. At the entry level, it’s likely that there are sources in social media, for example Glassdoor, that can provide strong clues to comp levels.”
The Cultural Biases of Gender Discrimination
I recall one of the best working environments I ever had was in San Francisco, where I was one of two females on the team. Although the company itself has since come to a demise due to the owner’s mishandling of taxes, my coworkers were open, funny and direct communicators.
My two managers at the time -- Chris, who now is a manager at an asset firm in New York City and Travis, who is now a product manager at eTrade Financial -- created a stress-free environment where our team was constantly collaborating. I recall initially that Chris had been concerned about me being the only female on the team and (somewhat) jokingly told me: “I don’t think many of these guys have seen a woman before,” as we were working in a male-dominated sector. But, my managers at the time created a company culture that was respectful of women. I recall an instance in which one of my male colleagues had said, “Hey Sierra, if I unwittingly make a sexist joke and it makes you uncomfortable, just let me know… ” It was an open, collaborative environment where we were not afraid to express opinions, where we gave each other advice and emotional support, and had carpooled together, ate together, and hung out together, but one thing in common that we had was that we were all direct communicators.
In fact, some of the harassment and discrimination I had faced in my career surprisingly came directly from other women, not men. I recall an article by Sallie Krawcheck on why women don’t help each other in the workplace.
Play Video. Jeanne Sullivan, a Venture Capitalist, who has worked in the industry for more than 20 years, gives advice about fielding bozos, bullies and buffoons of both genders in the workplace.
I’m also reminded of the 2012 case brought by Ellen Pao against Kleiner Perkins. After initially reading through the online legal documents and case history, it seemed to me that this was actually a case about a workplace romantic relationship gone awry. Obviously when two colleagues have a romantic affair and one is the rejected party, then there’s going to be a degree of anger and frustration within both parties that makes working together very difficult and uncomfortable. Ellen Pao has also recently published an insightful account of her story in which she details senior partners getting the best seats on private jets, a starstuck partner excited about meeting a porn star, to women not being offered cookies at meetings; and although her story is filled with these accounts of "microaggressions", I'm not entirely certain these are necessarily indicative of gender discrimination, but perhaps more of a generalised type of workplace bullying that can be present in hierarchical institutions in which senior partners naturally are given more deals and better seats than junior partners, and perhaps even of nerdy men who might brag about meeting a female celebrity because it might be the only attention they have gotten from women they find attractive.
However, what seemed clear to me from her detailed account, and also in the legal documents, was that it was possible that many of the frustrations she had felt was due to a workplace romance that ended badly with a couple of the senior partners unsuccessfully attempting to reconcile the two parties, which then catapulted into a loss of team morale.
It also seemed to me that perhaps young women and men should be taught early on not to engage in workplace romances; however, this is a grey area, because there are many people who actually meet their future spouses at work.
Many workplace romances end badly, as in the highly publicised Ellen Pao gender discrimination case; however many couples also meet their future spouses at work and it can be a grey area to navigate.
Another consideration is that we expressly make the important distinction between gender discrimination vs. sexual harassment. In other nations, such as South Korea, gender discrimination is very visible and widespread. It is such an active part of the culture that many people believe it is simply normal there to discriminate against women on a national scale, in many sectors including, science, medicine and technology. I recall once attending a VC funding pitch session in Seoul as part of the management team for an EdTech startup, in which I was literally the only female there out of hundreds of people. When we were asked to present, the coordinator didn’t have enough chairs, and so specifically targeted me, the only female in the room, and asked me to sit in the back of the room. Of course, I did not comply, but I know many women in South Korea who wouldn’t have thought twice to sit in the back of the room if they had been asked.
A Christian Dior advert in 2016 portraying a South Korean woman standing on a typical downtown street in Seoul with a luxury handbag. In the background are advertisements and signs for sex clubs, massage parlours and karaoke/ hostess bars which are known to traffick young women into prostitution. Many gender stereotypes present in South Korean media and pop culture negatively affect women by creating a pervasive atmosphere of gender discrimination.
Simply put, in South Korean culture, women are often frequently represented as either virginal future housewives or tawdry sex objects, and any woman attempting to start a business or work in a male dominated industry will face extreme discrimination against them. I spoke with a female engineer friend of mine, Hyekyung Hwang who has started her own co-working startup called Hive Arenaand she has told me that working in technology in South Korea is filled with gender discrimination on all levels - from women being denied funding, to South Korean VCs who won’t even meet with female founders, to many men in management positions attempting to take advantage of their female employees. Many women leave the tech, medical and science sectors, not because they aren't career minded, but due to the pervasive culture of gender discrimination in which they find no hope of justice nor retribution.
And then there is another spectrum of sexual harassment, in which an argument can be made for common sense. Although women who come forward with stories of sexual harassment should be treated with the greatest respect, and it is important that they tell their stories, I wondered about a couple of these cases in which a woman would meet up for drinks late at night with VCs or even go back to a hotel room to drink more wine with a male colleague? I wondered if perhaps both men and women could be coached to understand and avoid these types of sensitive situations?
I asked David if he thought these could be instances in which women could use their better judgment and simply not comply?
“No person, male or female, should be forced out of their way to accommodate or actively avoid the conduct of a harasser,” David began. “That said, of course there are normative lines beyond which responsibility becomes shared even when there is an imbalance of power. In terms of most professional-social situations, however, women are far more likely to be at the default disadvantage because, in the male-dominated corporate culture, there is the expectation that the women are the burdened party.”
Common sense dictates that late night meetings should be reserved for friends, family or work colleagues one knows well, not for first-time meetings with VCs or for general business meetings.
As for my personal experiences, I recall a couple of times in the past when I had been asked by management executives at media and tech companies to meet them late at night for a drink as a first-time meeting. I simply told them that I was only available during the day; I never received a reply back. I only reserve meetings of that sort with people whom I trust and know well, or a group happy hour in which I will not be alone with a person I do not know well. I think there will always be the kind of predatory individual who attempts to instigate uncomfortable situations, and in my experience, with even a little bit of attentiveness, it’s fairly easy to spot them. I asked David if he thought that perhaps being aware of one's own instincts and common sense can be equally important in quickly recognising these kinds of situations in the first place?
“Well, sure, common sense is important in all aspects of life,” David says, “however, in the context we’re discussing, women are put into the position of having to be unduly cognizant of the inherent biases present in male-dominated industries, in order to first identify and then to be able to step away from those types of situations. This is what I mean by being the burdened party. Most men, and perhaps I’m included in this, most men don’t fully get the degree of that burden.”
From my personal experience, having worked in many cities, I would have believed the Bay Area to be a more ideal place to work for women, compared to places like Seoul, where gender discrimination is much more of a cultural norm. And yet, we see these stories coming out of the Bay Area indicating the problem is real there, as well, but perhaps less publicised – until now.
What is also becoming ever more visible is discrimination against women on the internet, especially in social media and discussion sites, and perhaps these roots in online culture have led to the growing widespread discrimination of women in real life, especially in the workplace. A female friend of mine had been a member of a popular and public discussion group site on reddit where many male entrepreneurs and businesspeople frequently visited to share stories about their lives. However, she had been banned from the group without notice because, as one of the moderators wrote:
The woman in question did not break any of the subreddit rules and was enjoying conversing with like-minded males there when suddenly one of the moderators banned her for simply being a woman. When my friend wrote a message to the reddit admin management team, the only reply she got back was that she should find another reddit group to join and that the moderator had complete control over who could be members of this very public group, even if he was openly discriminating against women. This kind of online discrimination against women may serve to set in place a psychology in how men translate online interaction that spills into how they view and treat women in the workplace. When these types of actions go unchecked, it seems to send a clear message that discrimination against women is OK.
This story is a bit ironic since Ellen Pao was, for awhile at least, the interim CEO of reddit. Although her case of gender discrimination was made very public, and she was invited in to lead the management team at reddit, they, themselves had possibly created an online culture at reddit that would tolerate open discrimination against women of this sort.
In the US, and in California specifically, there is a law against discrimination of women who want to become members of a public group or club. This was set as a precedent in 1987 when the high court ruled that rotary clubs in California must admit women and also in 1990, when a woman’s membership to a golf club had been revoked under her husband’s membership and the court ruled against the gender bias and discrimination.
Women were not allowed to join Rotary Clubs (clubs whose stated purpose is to bring together business and professional leaders in order to provide humanitarian services, encourage high ethical standards in all vocations, and to advance goodwill and peace around the world) until a woman won a gender discrimination case in high court which set a precedent in 1987.
So how is it that online, these same rules don’t apply? Or can they? Do you think sites like reddit, which has 1.6 billion visits in the last 6 months, is the 10th most visited site in the United States, and has just received another $200 million in VC funding, has a duty and responsibility to curb gender discrimination on their public subreddits that actively recruits members?
"I have to be honest here and say that I don’t deal much with reddit," David says, "and I don’t have an answer for this, in part because the question is quite broad; and in part because the law for internet communication in the US is different than in other countries. The law in the US provides a broad safe harbor from liability when social media companies elect not to edit content – thus, we see that sites avoid, or claim to avoid, editing content, as a result, that informs the degree to which they tolerate abuse."
As an aside, it also seemed to me that Silicon Valley could be said to have discriminatory views against people of both genders without engineering degrees or MBAs, resulting in a distinct bias towards funding people with those degrees. Some prominent VCs have publicly come out to criticise a liberal arts education.Whereas, in other nations, such as the UK, a liberal arts education that focuses on critical and analytical thinking and which could be applicable towards any sector, is more publicly valued.
Navigation of Interpersonal Dynamics
Aside from gender discrimination and harassment, I think one of the more common problems in the workplace is simply knowing how to effectively deal with difficult people. In an ideal world, everyone is polite and thoughtful and efficient at their jobs, but in reality, there are people who can be difficult to work with, always late or missing meetings without notice, have poor communication skills, poor listening skills, often suffer from “selective amnesia”, and cannot work in a team environment. Sometimes these people are difficult to spot straight away because they may have great résumés, or “interview well” in the short term. The reality is, how to effectively manage and deal with difficult people is one of the more challenging aspects of the workplace; so much so, that there emerged in startups the No Asshole Rule. I asked David how one can manage or avoid the stress that is created when having to deal with hostile or difficult people in the workplace.
“The truth is that we have to take ownership, and control our stress in the workplace. Much of the stress that we feel can be managed by our own attitude and behavior. One way to overcome these stresses, when working or communicating with difficult people, is to develop our tools for managing our reaction to what are called stressor events." - David Johnson, Stanford Law School
“With difficult or angry people, I’ve trained myself to develop and deploy several layers of emotional engagement or, more accurately, disengagement, so that certain externalities can be kept at bay, to minimize their impact on me...For people who simply don’t communicate well, or live up to their word,” David added, “I tend to document things, usually in email. This way, someone who is a poor communicator, or has selective amnesia, or even a cognitive bias, can be made to look back on the evidence of a conversation, so that there is no question what was expected of them and vice versa."
Co-working space in Bali. In the end, people simply want to work with people they like and get along with. I recall Brad Feld’s previous blog entry Contentment in which he wrote that people can either choose to be agitated or amused at work: “Choose amused. Think about the real issues. Embrace contentment.”
“Think of all the successful people you know,” David says, “they generally don’t let little things bother them. They note them, they are aware that these things occurred; its just that these things don’t get through. There is a Latin phrase in the law, well there’s a lot of them, but one of them is: de minimus non curat lex. ‘The law doesn’t deal in trifles.’ If we train ourselves similarly, we can reduce our stress reactions in many professional and personal situations.”
Navigation of interpersonal dynamics is one of the crucial aspects of a leader who sets the right company culture. However, there will always be people who are inconsiderate and rude, who act unprofessionally, and who are difficult to communicate with. They may even be dishonest and have a history of engaging in a negative feedback culture. Opportunity cost in economic theory is when you spend more time focused on negative events, so that you lose the opportunity to find like-minded individuals who share your goal.
As an entrepreneur and as a woman who doesn't fit neatly into society's gender norms, the modern woman is going to be faced with a lot of criticism and perhaps some unwanted attention at times. This also could refer to men as well, who choose alternate career paths that do not follow cultural normative values. However, as David says, developing several layers of (dis)engagement to avoid being put in a position by someone else, to deal with others' trifles, is one of the key aspects of negotiation skills, in addition to developing psychological strength.
David Johnson will be teaching Negotiation by Design: Applied Design Thinking for Negotiators, at the Stanford d.school this fall. He teaches Advanced Negotiation/Transactions at Stanford Law School every Spring. His online NovoEd course Introduction to Negotiation is currently in session and the next run begins in October 2017. You can sign up through www.novoed.com.
By Sierra Choi