Friday, December 14, 2018

Google CEO Sundar Pichai Faces an Unprepared House Judiciary Committee

After hours of off-topic and confused questioning, partisan bickering, attempts to pin him on supposed "political bias", and almost insultingly uneducated claims and queries about Google's technology, Sundar Pichai left the House Judiciary Committee on Tuesday not having had answered any actual concerns of citizens and governments worldwide.
Sundar Pichai at the Tuesday hearing in Washington, D.C. Credit: Alex Wong, Getty Images
It was an odd sight, seeing the man being questioned remain mild-mannered and level-headed while the politicians in front of him grew agitated by the minute. Topics like political bias were brought up time and time again, with Republican representatives demanding answers about why their search results were negative. "Does someone at your office control these articles?", they ask, as if there is a job position at Google HQ in Mountain View called "Head of Picking Search Results One-by-One in 0.5 seconds".

As Pichai struggled to explain to people who apparently don't know the different between iPhone and Google that search results are generated by a complex algorithm that takes into account hundreds of factors, and that even if Google tried to hire a person to influence it, no single person or team of people could, people around the nation and indeed the world laughed on at the sight of uneducated public officials making a fool of themselves and a fool of the citizens they represent.

Let’s have people who can’t differentiate between Google and iPhone regulate the world’s most innovative and robust industries, what could go wrong?! Consumers need protection from Silicon Valley companies and other tech firms. In this era, digital rights and protections have become every bit as important as our other ‘physical’ rights. We must demand a degree of knowledge about mainstream technologies and processes from our elected officials. Watching this hearing between Sundar Pichai and the committee in charge of interviewing him, I’m shocked at the amount of missed opportunities. The wasted time being confused, asking misguided questions, refusing to understand BASIC tech principles, is embarrassing. Do these people not have teams full of experts or people to do research for them? As American industries innovate, the government has to, as well. We need to have better tech literacy as a nation.

Further, it's not exactly like Pichai or Google are innocent martyrs for the rest of the industry. Google has had its fair share of messes in the past year, including a massive data breach affecting over 50 million users, company wide discomfort over plans to create a censored search engine called Dragonfly in China, and sexual harassment scandals incredibly telling of Silicon Valley's culture. Pichai's deflective and vague answers regarding plans to start search engines in China among other issues, which should be an extremely worrying and telltale sign, are overshadowed by the incompetence of the people interviewing him to hone in on those issues.

As the world innovates and moves forward with leaps and bounds, innovation doesn’t necessarily find itself in America anymore (which is good; competition is needed). I hope our government’s lack of education about technology and years-behind understanding does not stand in the way of American citizens’ protection from abuse from tech firms (like Facebook, whose recent scandals are BEGGING for some kind of punishment) or in the way of tech companies to continue innovating and propelling the world forward.

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