Technically Incorrect offers a slightly twisted take on the tech that’s taken over our lives.
When you were little, your mom told you not to be a bad boy.
But when you grew up, you knew you were going to be bad sometimes. What you had to hope is that when it mattered you’d at least do the right thing. Or at least know what that was.
This seems to have been the logic involved when writing the code of conduct for Google’s new holding company, Alphabet.
Alphabet had its official launch yesterday and with it came a new code of behavior. It reads: “Employees of Alphabet and its subsidiaries and controlled affiliates should do the right thing — follow the law, act honorably, and treat each other with respect.”
One person’s honor is another person’s sneaky path to profit. Who will define what is honorable? Google didn’t respond to a request for comment.
The code goes on to say that if someone accuses you (or someone else) of wrong or dishonorable behavior, you must still follow the code of conduct: “Never retaliate against anyone who reports or participates in an investigation of a possible violation of the Code.”
This language of course omits the most famous line in Google’s diabolically famous code of conduct, the opener “Don’t Be Evil.”
The sentences that come after that opener, however, are very similar to Alphabet’s. They read: “But ‘Don’t be evil’ is much more than that. Yes, it’s about providing our users unbiased access to information, focusing on their needs and giving them the best products and services that we can. But it’s also about doing the right thing more generally — following the law, acting honorably and treating each other with respect.”
So there we have it. Honorable behavior has been part of Google’s rules for a long time.
Over the years, though, as the company has been caught in one slightly evil-looking act or another — for example, the scraping of Wi-Fi data from unsuspecting citizens by its Street View cars — the “Don’t Be Evil” mantra has felt at best naive and at worst downright cynical.
Steve Jobs was once said to have observed: “This ‘don’t be evil’ mantra: It’s bull****.”
Even Google seems to have become uncomfortable with it over the years. In 2014, Larry Page mused that the company’s whole mission statement needs something of a polish.
Still, even in removing “Don’t Be Evil,” Alphabet — which incorporates some of the most far-reaching Google projects, such as self-driving cars — has a mission that isn’t merely technological. It’s socio-political. The company doesn’t want simply to change how people behave. It wants to change how human brains operate.
Witness Google’s director of engineering, Ray Kurzweil, declaring that once you have a little robot in your brain, you’ll be “godlike.”
Ultimately, whether it’s “Do the Right Thing” or “Don’t Be Evil,” there’s a fundamental belief at Google that the company is the moral arbiter of what a just future should look like.
Making people happy just isn’t enough.