looks at the world of business with a skeptical eye and a firmly rooted tongue in cheek.
We were all idealists once.
Life, though, has a way of injecting a little reality into our thinking.
This process has come very slowly to Silicon Valley.
The Valley’s vast self-regard and tiny sense of how real people think and live has meant too many tech types believe they’re on a singular crusade to improve the world.
Slowly, it’s beginning to dawn on at least a few of them that the world may not be that much better at all.
A highly symbolic moment seems to have occurred in the past few weeks, under cover of darkness.
Google appears to have largely removed its most idealistic slogan from its code of conduct.
As Gizmodo reported, the phrase “Don’t be evil” has suddenly — and unaccountably — disappeared from the vast majority of Google’s employee instructions.
Once, the code of conduct read:
“‘Don’t be evil.’ Googlers generally apply those words to how we serve our users. But ‘Don’t be evil’ is much more than that.”
Now, the same section begins:
“The Google code of conduct is one of the ways we put Google’s values into practice. It’s built around the recognition that everything we do in connection with our work at Google will be, and should be, measured against the highest possible standards of ethical business conduct.”
“The highest possible standards.” Which might now include, one assumes, being a little evil.
If it’s entirely necessary, you understand.
The change has surely been a long time coming.
When you reveal that a Google Duplex robot can book a reservation for you and — at least as the demo showed it — make the human at the other end of the call think the robot is a person, how can ethical purity even try to make its last stand?
Yes, Google now says the robot will introduce itself as a robot.
Oddly, it didn’t seem to cross the company’s mind to think about that before presenting its demo.
Once you’ve shown that duplicity — I’m sorry, I mean “Duplexity” — is possible, clinging to ethically pure apron strings may be no longer be wise.
When asked, a Google spokesperson did insist the last line of the code of conduct still leaves a small mention of the company’s past idealism.
It reads: “And remember… don’t be evil, and if you see something that you think isn’t right — speak up!”
But let’s speak up and be a touch frank.
Google was never such a pure company, one in which saintly practices ruled.
From the moment word slipped out that its Street View cars were collecting people’s Wi-Fi data, it wasn’t hard to see Google as just like any other Valley company.
Or, some might mutter, sometimes worse.
Its cavalier attitude toward privacy has rivaled Facebook’s. Its focus not on what real people want but on what engineers think is cool has tended to render security and privacy as irrelevant concepts.
Indeed, even at the recently concluded Google I/O developer conference, the words “security” and “privacy” were absent.
Now Google employees are being asked to do the right thing. This is the very same thing that one of the Valley’s more reviled companies, Uber, is asking of its employees.
Oh, if only everyone had the same definition of what the right thing is.
That would be progress.