The Volokh Conspiracy

Mostly law professors | Sometimes contrarian | Often libertarian | Always independent

Why does Google hate mothers?

Episode 404 of the Cyberlaw Podcast


This week in Silicon Valley bias: Google is planning to tell enterprise users of its word processor that words like "motherboard" and "landlord" are insufficiently inclusive for use in polite company. We won't actually be forbidden to use those words. Yet. Though that future has apparently already arrived in Mountain View, where at least one source says that "mainboard" is the only acceptable term for the electronics that used to honor the women who raised us. In another blow for freedom, as it's now defined in the Valley, Twitter will suppress all climate ads that contradict the views a panel of government-appointed scientist-politicos. Apparently suppressing talk that contradicted CDC scientist-politicians worked so well that Twitter is rushing to double down, presumably under the slogan, "You'll pry these red pencils from our cold, dead fingers, Elon!"

In other cyber news, Megan Stifel sums up the last week of cyberwar news: It was a lot like the week before. We're still waiting – nervously -- for Russian hackers to lift their eyes from the near target in Ukraine and focus on far targets in the West. The Five Eyes security agencies are doing their best to make sure US critical infrastructure is ready. Well, except for US cloud providers, who were exempted from the definition of really critical infrastructure in the Obama administration and successfully fought off any change in their status for the better part of a decade. Sultan Meghji and I support Congressional efforts to recognize the criticality of securing cloud providers, but it is a heavy lift, especially among Republicans.

Is DJI sabotaging Ukraine's drone fleet, presumably at China's behest? The evidence is hardly airtight, but Ukraine is understandably not taking any chances, as it moves to more expensive drones sourced from the U.S. and elsewhere. Jamil Jaffer delivers a heartfelt plea to American hobbyists to do the same.

A group of former security officials are warning that pending antitrust bills could cause national security problems by handing advantages to Chinese tech companies. POLITICO responds with a hit piece claiming (with evidence ranging from plausible to laughable) that they are influenced by their ties to Silicon Valley. I'm pretty cynical about Silicon Valley's effort to hide behind the national security interests they've mostly dismissed for the last decade, but I end up agreeing with Jamil that the antitrust bills should be amended to allow national security to moderate the trustbusters' zeal. 

Sultan and I review some of the week's stories about Artificial Intelligence (AI). We complain that a promising War on the Rocks piece about China's Plans for AI and Cognitive Warfare failed to deliver the goods. We were intrigued by a new way of imperceptibly hacking AI by corrupting its datasets. And we were interested in the story but put off by the dime-store Marxism in an MIT Technology Review story that explains how AI dataset labeling is providing a bare living for dispossessed Venezuelans.

Has Steve Ballmer been sneaking onto Microsoft's Redmond campus and whispering dreams of world domination and ruthless tactics into Satya Nadella's ear? Sultan and I think that may be the most plausible explanation for Microsoft's greedy and boneheaded demand that the federal government pay extra for a crucial security feature. 

Finally, in short hits:

Download the 404th Episode (mp3) 

You can subscribe to The Cyberlaw Podcast using iTunes, Google Play, Spotify, Pocket Casts, or our RSS feed. As always, The Cyberlaw Podcast is open to feedback. Be sure to engage with @stewartbaker on Twitter. Send your questions, comments, and suggestions for topics or interviewees to Remember: If your suggested guest appears on the show, we will send you a highly coveted Cyberlaw Podcast mug!

The views expressed in this podcast are those of the speakers and do not reflect the opinions of their institutions, clients, friends, families, or pets.

4/26 edit: "ads" in place of "talk" after cite check.


NEXT: Today in Supreme Court History: April 26, 1995

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. 1984 was supposed to be a warning, not an instruction manual, Google. Stop trying to create Newspeak!

    1. 1984 invocations are more tired than Philippides at the end of his run.

      1. O'Brien felt the same way, I'm sure.

        1. Who had doubling down on Brett's Hyperbole Bingo Card?

          1. You're the one who doesn't want people mentioning 1984 when Google tries to edit the language.

            1. Maybe because Google isn't the big-bad govt depicted in 1984.

              1. No, that's true; Google isn't strapping caged rats to people's faces.

                Yet. Of course, ten years ago, who'd have guessed you could lose your job over refusing to humor some dude pretending to be a girl? These things change, the absurd can become real with terrifying speed sometimes.

                My own opinion is that, if you don't want oak trees, you must object to acorns being planted. It's too late once the tree is grown.

    2. with the failure of the Soviet Union and Russia's plunge into disaster the Left was without a champion in rewriting language and history.

      1. "a champion in rewriting language and history."

        Dunning School, Frank Luntz, etc.

      2. rewriting language and history.

        Good thing someone finally killed that leftist nonsense about the Confederacy being a noble cause, led by the oh-so honorable Robert E. Lee.

  2. "You'll pry these red pencils from our cold, dead fingers, Elon!"

    More like "you will retain the company property of red pencils when you throw us out on our worthless asses, Elon!".

  3. PS.
    Google hates mothers because when they look at their babies, they see individuals, not members of a collective.

  4. Thanks for sprinkling several non-libertarian takes throughout the article I go to a libertarian website for...

  5. From the, "A group of former security officials are warning that pending antitrust bills could cause national security problems. . .," link:

    "But recently proposed congressional legislation would unintentionally curtail the ability of these platforms to target
    disinformation efforts and safeguard the security of their users in the U.S. and globally. Legislation from both the House and Senate requiring non-discriminatory access for all “business users” (broadly defined to include foreign rivals) on U.S. digital platforms would provide an open door for foreign adversaries to gain access to the software and hardware of American technology companies."


    I've spent the past 30 years work national security and gotta say this goes too far.

    We definitely have to do a better job securing our networks, databases, and information; at the same time, we simply cannot just shut the "internet door" at the borders.

    We have a global economy which doesn't recognize borders.

  6. Does that mean that muddafukka is out too?

  7. I suppose this means we can't call secondary boards daughterboards anymore either.

    1. Actually, you can still call motherboards motherboards.
      Despite their delusions, Alphabet has no legislative powers.

      Men are men.
      Women are women.

      1. Despite their delusions, Alphabet has no legislative powers.

        It's not Alphabet who is delusional.

  8. You say, "Jamil isn't shocked to find Israeli spyware on phones in the U.K. prime minister's office." The article which this comment is linked to explains that the U.K. suspects that the U.A.E. is spying on the Brits using software developed by an Israeli company. I respectfully suggest that your phrasing should be adjusted so that it will not inadvertently mislead readers into thinking that the Israelis themselves are suspected of spying on the Brits.

  9. Sorry, computers have motherboards and here's a real shocker: Certain drive configurations are called Master and Slave.

  10. "words like "motherboard" and "landlord" are insufficiently inclusive"
    Typical woke bullshit. Also your car no longer has a master cylinder and slave cylinders for its braking system.
    We used to laugh at the Victorian's and their avoidance of words that might reference in any way to sex. He criticize the "primitive" Islamist societies for their exaggerated sense of blasphemy, yet our American society has become no better with corporations leading the charge to pander to those who claim to be terminally upset by such language.

    As for those who have "them" and "their" as pronouns, The proper first person nominative is "we," just as it is for Her Majesty (not Their Majesty) the Queen.

    1. You know, I also find that kind of thing irksome.

      But I think Baker is overstating what Google is doing. It's part of an "assistive writing" feature in Google Docs that you can (and should) turn off at the first opportunity. The linked article contains many other irritating examples of other types, and the whole thing seems to a work in progress, not a set of rules imposed by Google.

      Let's not have another major culture battle over some pointless stupidity.

      1. It's still worth a round of pointing and laughing before we move on.

        1. I don't disagree.

          Ridicule, appropriately aimed, can do wonders.

      2. Right, at this point we can still shut the damn thing off. Will Google always permit that? I suspect that depends in part on how much push-back they get.

        1. I think you're being paranoid again.

          Let's see, Google decide that users of its word-processing software have to write a certain way. Yeah. That's good for business. Sort of like Microsoft deciding it doesn't like the equations you are putting into Excel and changing them.

          Look. Somebody at Google did something you and I agree is dumb. Happens all the time, and is not part of some conspiracy or master plan to send us to the gulag because we refer to the motherboard, or the mother ship or something. Read the linked article. The "feature" does a lot of stupid stuff that is not part of some left-wing plot.

    2. Don,

      We used to laugh at the Victorian's and their avoidance of words that might reference in any way to sex. He criticize the "primitive" Islamist societies for their exaggerated sense of blasphemy, yet our American society has become no better with corporations leading the charge to pander to those who claim to be terminally upset by such language.

      Interesting point. Where does the RW pseudo-panic over any references to homosexuals fit in your thinking?

      1. I don't pay any attention to it. When my son and daughter were 7 or 8, they asked my wife about gays. She told them that they are "guys who like to fuck each other up the ass." That satisfied them and as adults they are no worse off for wear.
        We are very much of the live and let live school. We also don't like others to try to rub our noses in their subculture.
        I used to keep a leather pride sticker on my video display at work. For those who recognized it fine, for those who didn't also fine. In either case I was never asked about it.

      2. Thank you for asking.

  11. Would it be OK if we called it a birthingpersonboard?

  12. What a bunch of main fuckers!

Please to post comments