Tag Archives: discrimination

Discrimination: less is more

‘Discrimination’ can mean all sorts of things. One of the main ones, and what it will mean in this post, is differential treatment of people from different groups, due to real or imagined differences in average group features.  Discrimination is a problem because the many people who don’t have the supposed average features of a group they are part of are misconstrued as having them, and offered inappropriate treatment and opportunities as a result. For instance a capable and trustworthy middle aged man may miss out on a babysitting job for which he is truly the best candidate because the parents take his demographic information as reason not to trust him with their children.

This means that ‘discrimination’ is really a misnomer; this problem is due to lack of discrimination. In particular lack of discrimination between members of the groups. For instance if everyone could instantly discriminate between women with different levels of engineering ability, generalizations would be useless, assuming engineering ability is really the issue of interest to the discriminators. Generalizations aren’t even offensive when enough discrimination is possible. Telling a 6’5” Asian man that he’s probably short since he’s Asian is an ineffective and confusing insult.  Even if observers can’t discriminate perfectly, more ability to discriminate means less misrepresentation. For instance a test score doesn’t perfectly determine people’s abilities at engineering, but it is much more accurate than judging by their gender. This is assuming the generalizations have some degree of accuracy, if they are arbitrary it doesn’t make much difference whether you use false generalizations of larger groups or smaller ones.

The usual solution suggested for ‘discrimination’  is for everyone to forget about groups and act only on any specific evidence they have about individuals. Implicitly this advice is to expect everyone to have the average characteristics of the whole population except where individual evidence is available. Notice that generalizing over a larger group like this should increase the misrepresentation of people, and thus their inappropriate treatment.  Recall that that was the original problem with discrimination.

If the parents mentioned earlier were undiscriminating they would be much more trusting of middle aged men, but they would also be less trusting of other demographics such as teenage girls. All evidence they had ever got of any group or type of person being untrustworthy would be interpreted only as weaker evidence that people are untrustworthy. This would reduce the expected trustworthiness of their best candidate, so more often they would not find it worth going out in the first place. Now the man still misses out on the position, but so does the competing teenage girl plus the parents don’t get to go out. Broadening group generalizations to the extreme makes ‘discrimination’ worse, which makes sense when we consider that discriminating between people as much as possible (judging them on their own traits) is the best way to avoid ‘discrimination’.

It may be that something else about discrimination bothers you, for instance if you are most concerned with the equality status of competing social groups, then population level generalizations are the way to go. But if you want to stop discrimination because it causes people to be treated as less than they are, then work on making it easier to discriminate between people further, rather than harder to discriminate between them at all. Help people signal their traits cheaply and efficiently distinguish between others. In the absence of perfect discrimination between individuals, the other end of the spectrum is not the next best thing, it’s the extreme of misrepresentation.

Why is gender equality so rude?

I don’t see much anti-female sexism in my immediate surrounds; I notice more that is anti-male. But one place I have been continually put off by anti-female sexism is in attempts to promote gender equality. It seems especially prominent in efforts to seduce me to traditionally non-feminine academic areas. If my ratio of care about interesting subjects vs. social situations were different I might have been put off by the seeming prospect of being treated like a defective sacrifice to political correctness.

Some examples from the advertising and equity policies of various academic places I’ve been:

‘Women can make valuable contributions to …’ implies that this is an issue of serious contention. If most people thought women were of zero value in some fields, this would be a positive statement about women, but they don’t. Worse, the author can’t make a stronger statement than that it is possible for women to create more than zero value.

Appeals to consider myself capable of e.g. engineering despite being female make the same error but this time suggesting that the viewer herself is likely in doubt. Such a statement can only be useful to women so ignorant of their own characteristics that they need to rely on their gender as deciding evidence in what career to devote their lives to, so it suggests the female audience are clueless. The smartest women have likely noticed that they are smart, and will not be encouraged by the prospect of joining a field where others expect them to be intellectually insecure special people to be reassured and included for human rights purposes.

Statements such as women are valuable because they can provide a different perspective on computer science, imply that women can’t understand a computer the usual way, but might help figure out how to make it more personable or something. If this is true, why not just say ‘women are not that valuable in computer science’?

Policies of employing a certain number of female staff to provide role models or leadership for female students imply that females would rather aspire to femalehood than to superior ability (presumably the decision criteria forgone).

Recommendations that courses like mathematics should be more focussed on women say that while existing mathematics is about completely gender neutral abstract concepts, not men, it is unsuitable for women. Presumably either women are not up to abstract concepts, or women can’t be motivated to think about something other than women. Despite whichever inadequacy, they should be encouraged to do mathematics anyway by being taught to work out the mean angle of their cleavage or something.

Why do so many attempts at equality seem so counterproductive?  The above seem to fall into two processes: first, assuming that society believes women might be useless, advertising this, and arguing against it so badly as to confirm it, and second, trying to suck up to women by making things more female related at the cost of features capable women would care for. Perhaps those more concerned about anti-female sexism make these errors more because they have an unusually strong impression of society being anti-female and their own obsession with femininity makes it easy to overestimate that of most women.

Might law save us from uncaring AI?

Robin has claimed a few times that law is humans’ best bet for protecting ourselves from super-intelligent robots. This seemed unlikely to me, and he didn’t offer much explanation. I figured laws would protect us while AI was about as intellectually weak as us, but not if when it was far more powerful. I’ve changed my mind somewhat though, so let me explain.

When is it efficient to kill humans?

At first glance, it looks like creatures with the power to take humans’ property would do so if the value of the property minus the cost of stealing it was greater than the value of anything the human might produce with it. When AI is so cheap and efficient that the human will be replaced immediately, and the replacement will use resources enough better to make up for the costs of stealing and replacement, the human is better dead. This might be soon after humans are overtaken. However such reasoning is really imagining one powerful AI’s dealings with one person, then assuming that generalizes to many of each. Does it?

What does law do?

In a group of agents where none is more powerful than the rest combined, and there is no law, basically the strongest coalition of agents gets to do what they want, including stealing others’ property. There is an ongoing cost of conflict, so overall the group would do better if they could avoid this situation, but those with power at a given time benefits from stealing, so it goes on. Law  basically lets everyone escape the dynamic of groups dominating one another (or some of it) by everyone in a very large group pre-committing to take the side of whoever is being dominated in smaller conflicts. Now wherever the strong try to dominate the weak, the super-strong awaits to crush the strong. Continue reading

How does raising awareness stop prejudice?

Imagine you are in the habit of treating people who have lesser social status as if they are below you. One day you hear an advertisement talking about a group of people you know nothing about. It’s main thrust is that these people are as good as everyone else, or perhaps even special in some ways which the advertisement informs you are good, and that therefore you should respect them.

ANTaR informs us that Aboriginals do not get enough respect

ANTaR informs us that Aboriginals do not get enough respect

What do you infer?

  1. These people are totally normal except for being special in various exciting ways, and you should respect them.
  2. These people are so poorly respected by others that somebody feels the need to buy advertising to rectify the situation.

What about the next day when you hear that other employers are going to court for failing to employ these people enough?

I can’t think of any better way to stop people wanting to associate with someone than by suggesting to them that nobody else wants to. Low social status seems like the last thing you can solve by raising awareness.