‘I meet concepts differently’: James Damore on his autism and the Google memo

He was shot from Google for underlining the fact that husbands may be more suited to working in tech than women. Now James Damore opens up about his sadness and how autism may have influenced its own experience of the world

James Damore conforms to the stereotype. He’s happy to admit he fits the mould of an awkward computer geek and the moment we assemble in a Silicon Valley coffee shop, he knocks a flaunt stand of metal flasks that sink clattering to the storey. The din gleans strange glances at the 6ft 3in software engineer, but Damore is used to strangers distinguishing him; he’s the guy who was fired by Google this summer after he argued that males are more psychologically suited to working in technology than women.

No one recognises the woman standing beside him. She is Damore’s girlfriend: a feminist and a data scientist who works in tech.

The couple make a surprising duet, as I discovered where reference is sat down and talked about some of the questions they usually escape: the gender pay gap, whether boys are more suited to board games than daughters, and the 10 -page memo that turned Damore, nearly overnight, into a pariah in their industry.

The document he ran, designation Google’s Ideological Echo Chamber, argued that mental gender gaps could explain why 80% of Google’s technologists, and the majority of members of the company’s presidents, are humen. In one of the most inflammatory sections, Damore wrote that dames, on average, have” higher levels of neuroticism “, something that may” contribute to the lower number of women in high-pitched stress places “. The aims of the memoranda, he said, was to question Google’s approach to improving diversification, and to argue that the company’s leftwing bias silences alternative vistums.

On 7 August, two days after his memoranda was leaked, Damore was shot for” advancing damaging gender stereotypes “.” I obviously didn’t think that it would explode like it did ,” the 28 -year-old says now.” I lost a lot of sleep and didn’t eat much .”

We are in Mountain View, dwelling to Google’s headquarters. Damore’s girlfriend has agreed to meet simply after being assured that, like her, I disagree with her boyfriend’s considers. She does not want to be identified or immediately quoted: she is keen to remain in the darkness. Damore, meanwhile, has appeared to bask in the attention; in the months since he left Google, he has become a commentator on political issues that extend well beyond the tech manufacture, becoming one of “the worlds largest” polarising fleshes in Silicon Valley.

At the same time, the experience has caused some introspection. In such courses of various weeks of conversation using Google’s instant messaging service, which Damore prefers to face-to-face communication, he opened up about an autism diagnosis that may in part explain the difficulties he knowledge with his memo.

He belief he has a problem understanding how his paroles will be interpreted by other people. Even now, still out of work and coming to the conclusion he has in effect been “blacklisted” from any significant tech corporation, Damore spots it hard to comprehend how his opinions provoked such intense disagreement.” My biggest inaccuracy and forte may be that I witness situations quite differently than ordinary ,” he tells me.” I’m not necessarily the best at predicting what would be contentious .”

* * *

Words were never James Damore’s strong suit. As a child growing up in Romeoville, a outskirt of Chicago, “hes taken” longer than customary to be involved in complete sentences. His parents were concerned; it was several years before they discovered that their son’s verbal rigors were accompanied by some astonishing genius.

By the age of about 11, Damore was coding escapade games on his TI-8 3 calculator. He also discovered chess. Within a year he was able to compete in four recreations of chess simultaneously while wearing a blindfold. He came second in a national chess tournament at 14, and in his teens became the world’s highest-ranking actor in Rise of Nations, personal computers programme play.

It wasn’t until his mid-2 0s, after completing investigate in computational biology at Princeton and MIT, and starting a PhD at Harvard, that Damore was diagnosed with autism, although he was told he had a milder form of the condition known as” high-functioning autism “.

Psychiatrists, he says, assured him “it didn’t matter”. Yet one occurrence around that time hints otherwise. Damore was on a two-day recede for PhD students, which committed an annual habit of inviting students to act skits that thinly poked fun at profs. Damore’s performance included an awkwardly delivered masturbation joke that offended some female students. Two professors subsequently wrote to students apologising for the” uneasiness, discomfort or offense” he had caused. Damore still experiences it hard to see why his skit was objectionable, but abides he may sentiment it differently,” because I’m on the range “.

I ask if he obtains interacting with beings difficult. He responds:” It’s hard for me to say what’s’ difficult’ because I don’t know what the average is .” But he meets small talk tiring and can see behavioural characters in himself that may be linked to the condition, such as” having fewer acquaintances due to maybe social awkwardness “.

It was Damore’s outstanding conduct in coding problems that allured Google recruiters. He was offered a summer internship on a stipend of more than $100,000 and, in December 2013, dropped out of Harvard to connected the tech giant’s horde of 25,000 chiefly male engineers.

Damore exceeded at Google. His act examines were excellent, and he was promoted twice in two years. By early 2017, he was a senior engineer at the company, facilitating lead programmes related to Google’s search engine. It is a persona that, once inventory is taken into account, can come with a stipend of as much as $300,000. Then in June, on a study flight to China, Damore opened his laptop and started typing.” Google has several biases and honest discussion about these biases is being stillness by the dominant dogma ,” he wrote.” What follows is by no means the ended tale, but it’s a perspective that urgently needs to be told .”

* * *

The idea that any employee can challenge firm orthodoxy has played an important role in Silicon Valley, which shuns the hierarchies that reign in other parts of corporate America. Nowhere is this more the client than Google, which raises open debate on millions of internal discussion groups and online gatherings. Google likewise vigorously promotes a culture of” mental security” among its personnel, imagining it imperative that employees feel empowered to tone minds without feeling humiliated or judged.

Company insiders say most employees are savvy enough to know it is unwise to take that mantra extremely literally. But when the organizers of internal fits about Google’s policies on diversity and inclusion invited feedback, Damore made a decision to relay his thoughts.

For some months, he had been harbouring grievances over the route Google was seeking to increase the number of minority and women employees, with mentoring schemes and hiring practices that Damore felt could be tantamount to reverse discrimination.

Sundar
Sundar Pichai, Google’s chief executive, said Damore’s memo infringed the company’s code of conduct. Picture: Akintunde Akinleye/ Reuters

He had also been doing a lot of personal study about politics. He knew he was a centrist with libertarian inclinings but, he tells me, he” wanted to understand the world and why people seem to have such different perspectives and minds “.

He had been speaking writers such as Jonathan Haidt, the psychologist who disagrees people’s political creeds derive not from reason but from their inclinations and insights, and says more endeavor should be put into understanding opposing scenes. Damore too read more about evolutionary perspectives in psychology and anthropology, in notebooks by professors including Steven Pinker and Avi Tuschman.

The Google engineer bought a mimic of William Farrell’s contentious 1992 notebook, The Myth of Male Power, known as the bible of the men’s rights change. He watched The Red Pill, a documentary released last year in which the presenter Cassie Jaye vacates her connect to feminism after being persuaded by Farrell and other men’s rights activists.

But it was Jordan Peterson, a psychologist at the University of Toronto, who seems to have been particularly influential. Notorious in Canada for refusing to use gender-neutral pronouns for those individuals who don’t link as male or female, Peterson has acquired a huge following online by railing against political correctness. Damore watched his YouTube teaches and admired the professor.” He’s very good at expressing his thoughts ,” he says.” Which I need to improve at .”

* * *

Damore’s memo was a jumble of ideas and proposals for Google, which he reasoned should” de-emphasize empathy” and be more accept of republican perspectives. Such documents enclose citations that led to Wikipedia introductions and mind sections, as well as various peer-reviewed psychological articles. His principal statement was about gender. He did not argue that servicemen were better at maths or coding than ladies, as others have done. Instead, he wrote that men and women ” on average” have differing mental idiosyncrasies, and these might be explained that so little ladies elect engineering, and why so many humankinds rise to the top of Google.

Women, Damore quarrelled, are generally more concerned with” beings rather than concepts” and have” more openness is directed towards concerns and aesthetics “. Both of those factors, he said, could account for why ladies wish jobs in” social or artistic neighborhoods” rather than, say, coding software.

Damore also described women as more agreeable and little forceful than souls, which he said answers in ladies ” generally having a harder epoch negotiating salary, asking questions promotes, speaking up, and producing “. Men, on the other hand, care less about work-life balance, he wrote, and are more likely to be motivated by status, driving them toward” higher-paying, less quenching responsibilities “. Damore said these differences were” exactly what we would prophesy from an evolutionary psychology attitude” and played down the notion that they were the result of culture or social influences.

He seemed at the least reasonably aware he was participating a minefield, emphasizing he was only talking about median mental differences:” So you can’t say anything about private individuals … I hope it’s clear that I’m not saying that diversity is bad, that Google or society is 100% exhibition, that we shouldn’t try to correct for subsisting biases, or that minorities have the same suffer of those in the majority ,” he wrote.” My bigger time is that we have an intolerance for new ideas and evidence that don’t fit a certain dogma .”

Damore emailed his memo to the organisers of Google’s diversity fits in early July. When there was no response, he started mailing the document to Google’s internal mailing lists and meetings, anxiou for a reaction.

The document spread like wildfire. Some Google hires supported Damore’s plans, and some protected his right to voice them. But many faculty were simply amazed.” You’re a misogynist and a terrifying human ,” one colleague emailed him.” I will stop trace you until one of us is fuelled. Fuck you .”

Leaked berths from Google’s internal word cards show that some of Damore’s most vocal reviewers were mid-ranking managers.” It has expenditure me at the least 2 day of productivity and wrath, and I am not even the target of its bigoted attacks ,” said one administrator, swearing he would never work with Damore again. Another said:” I intend to silence these views. They are violently offensive .”

Many women who work elsewhere in tech were appalled by Damore’s memo, written from the heart of an industry that is notoriously male predominated. It came amid a cascade of reports about sexual harassment in Silicon Valley and a class-action litigation was put forward by wives employed at Google alleging the company systematically remunerates wives less than mortals for similar work.

Damore’s girlfriend was overseas on 5 August, the working day she received text words from pals pushing her to click on a link to the tech website Gizmodo, where the memo had been leaked for the purposes of the headline” Here’s The Full 10 -Page Anti-Diversity Screed Circulating Internally at Google “.

Damore had not told her about his record, and her initial impression was that it was horrible. But after read it a few days, and discuss the matter with him, her berth softened; she even came to agree with one or two of his places. She maintains Damore was, for “the worlds largest” role, naive and wrong, but in the process of representing him “shes lost” friends. She believes there was no would be required for Google to fire him; they could just as readily have taken corrective action.

Google
Google both the employees and guests walk through the company’s headquarters in Mountain View. Damore’s memo angered peers at the company and beyond. Photo: Smith Collection/ Gado/ Getty Images

Damore is engaging action at law against Google and has registered individual complaints with the National Labor Relations Board. He points out his document was flowing for weeks, but he was only fuelled after the leak caused a public relations crisis.

Google’s chief executive, Sundar Pichai, told faculty that Damore was rejected because parts of his memoranda violated the company’s code of conduct.” Our profession is to build enormous concoctions for useds that make a difference in their own lives ,” he said.” To propose a group of our colleagues have traits that construct them less biologically suited to that work is offensive and not OK .”

* * *

What do psychologists shape of the memoranda? Richard Lippa of California State University, whose design the engineer cited, tells me it enclose a” reasonably accurate” summing-up of studies and research on psychological differences between men and women.” I think there are ways and means to arguing against James Damore, from political viewpoints, for ideological reasons, and you are able to criticise the science, too ,” he says.” But the immediate response-‘ This is counterfeit science’- I don’t think that is doing any of us right .”

Lippa insists there is obliging proof that women on average tend to be more “people-oriented”, whereas souls are more “things-oriented”, a difference he feels could be highly relevant to career decisions.

His research is similar to the” empathising-systemising thought” created by Simon Baron-Cohen, prof of developmental psychopathology at Cambridge University. He bickers the female psyche is” mainly hard-wired for empathy”, whereas” the male mentality is chiefly hard-wired for understanding and improving structures “.

These gaps, he says, may explain why more boys choice professings in science, engineering, engineering and maths. Baron-Cohen likewise proposes beings on the autism range have an” extreme male psyche “.

However, the methodologies and presumptions underlying these asserts have demonstrated that they highly controversial. Many psychologists would take issue with Damore’s interpretation of personality idiosyncrasies he associates with women, such as “agreeableness” and “neuroticism”.

” Part of the questions is, he’s a software engineer ,” says Janet Hyde, a psychologist at the University of Wisconsin.” He affixed himself to what is actually a relatively low clump of the mental existing literature and was unduly were affected by it .”

Hyde is the author of a widely quoted its consideration of 46 meta-analyses of gender differences, which found that men and women are in fact same on most, but not all, mental variables, and agreed overinflated claims of gender differences” carry substantial expenditures in areas such as the workplace “. She lends:” There’s every reason to think these gender differences in interests are caused by socialisation parts .”

Unfortunately for Damore, even some of the professors cited in his memo take issue with different contexts in which he exploited their study. Catherine Hakim, a British sociologist based at the thinktank Civitas, says that while her investigate on gender penchant conjecture was correctly referenced, she feels his attempt to association vocation outcomes to psychological copulation changes was ” nonsense “.

The
Google is known for promoting a culture of’ psychological refuge’ among its personnel. Photograph: Jeff Chiu/ AP

Juri Allik, an experimental psychologist from Estonia’s University of Tartu, says Damore went too far in stirring extrapolations from his own contemplate into identity variations across countries; it is risky, he says, to join average personality characters to issues like job options. Besides, Allik contributes, the gender differences in his research were” extremely, very small “, if not ” microscopic “.

Damore likewise referred statements in evolutionary psychology was why males outnumber women in elderly characters at Google. He cited a newspaper underlining the fact that humen situate more importance on the physical attractiveness of a potential teammate, while women price a potential partner’s deserving ability. Hence, he wrote, gentlemen may be motivated to seek higher-paying jobs.

Michael Wiederman, a psychologist at the University of South Carolina School of Medicine who imparted that research, tells me that Damore made a reasoned argument about why males could be more attuned to” clambering the hierarchy “:” The hypothesi for evolutionary psychologists is that this is in our cognitive application .”

But it is not hard to destroy this course of debate. Cordelia Fine, a prof of psychology at the University of Melbourne, tells me these suggestions fall into the common bias of assuming that” whatever we tend to see more often in males is what the job necessitates “. And while it is true, she says, that wives tend to attach greater importance to a partner’s sources, there are obvious reasons why.” Given that , not so long ago, females could be legally shot when they got married or are pregnant, it’s hardly surprising that females had traditionally attended more about a partner’s fortune .” Neither is it clear, Fine says, that any such mental characters will be” set in stone for the rest of epoch “.

Despite authoring two acclaimed volumes on gender, Fine, a leading feminist discipline columnist, feels” snapped in many different directions” by Damore. She speculates his memoranda became numerous questionable premises and ignored enormous swaths of research that depict pervasive discrimination against women. But his summing-up of the differences between the sexes, she says, was ” more precise and nuanced than what the hell are you sometimes find in the popular literature “.

Some of Damore’s thoughts, she adds, are” very familiar to me as part of my day-to-day study, and are not seen as especially controversial. So there was something quite extraordinary about someone “losing ones” task for to be presented by a view that is part of the technical debate. And then to be so publicly dishonor as well. I felt somewhat sorry for him .”

* * *

I tell Damore what the psychologists said about his memoranda: that there is no agreement among the experts about the fullest extent to which men and women have different psychological charts; nor is there any consensus of determining whether significant differences can be explained by sort, nourish or a complex desegregate of the two. The psychologists do not agree on what, if any, blow these differences might have on profession outcomes.

Damore bristles when I accuse him of cherry-picking surveys that support his view and ignoring the mountains of proof that belie it.” Even if I presented both sides evenly, the very information that I presented the’ evil’ back would have caused disagreement .” He still stands by the empirical allegations in his memo, but repents expending the word “neuroticism”, a personality measure often used in mental investigate but a word he now realizes has pejorative connotations. The psychologists’ commentaries of his memoranda” have certainly included subtlety” to his views, he adds.

If he could go back in time, would he write the memoranda differently? “Yeah,” he responds. “Probably.”

Damore also seems to question some of the decisions he took in the weeks after he was fired. One of his first moves was to had participated in a YouTube interview with Jordan Peterson, the contentious Canadian psychologist who informed much of his thinking. Peterson reigns the conversation in the video, which chiefly consists of long speeches from the prof interspersed by gestures and short answers from Damore. Peterson recommends Damore to take on a public chart to become a spokesperson for the campaign.” Stick to your damn firearms ,” Peterson tells him.” You’re well-spoken, you’re quiet, you’re convincing, you’re rational, you come across as a decent person .” He adds:” There’s no reason not to let parties attend who you are .”

Jordan
Jordan Peterson, a Canadian psychologist, the negotiations with James Damore during a YouTube interview. Photo: screengrab from youtube/ screengrab/ youtube

Two days later, Damore went to meet Peter Duke, a photographer who had offered him a free” professional hit” to replace the poor-quality personas being used by the media. Duke drew a T-shirt on which Google’s logo had been rearranged to form the word “Goolag”, which Damore put on; he too posed with a cardboard mansion Duke rendered him, with the slogan” Fired for truth “.

It was only later, Damore says, that he discovered Duke is known as ” the Annie Leibovitz of the alt-right “~ ATAGEND for his likable paintings of far-right activists and plot theoreticians. Duke circulated the photos on social media for the purposes of the caption” not all heroes wear capes”, fuelling a cascade of far-right memes and favourable Breitbart narratives. Within a matter of days, the Washington Post had anointed Damore” one of the most difficult personalities on the republican internet “. That honour was compounded when, taking Peterson’s advice, Damore took its participation in interviews with various other YouTube starrings, variously links with contrarian, anti-feminist and “alt-right” movements.

Watching these videos, I notice that Damore has a strange garb: when he disagrees with something an interviewer says, he does not interject but instead moves his head mutely from side to side. His girlfriend find the same event, and feels Damore’s interviewers were often use him to project their own opinions.

Damore admits now that he” wasn’t really skilled enough to push back on anything” in some interrogations. It’s frustrating, he includes, that he’s now associated with the “alt-right” when he’s ” more of a centrist “. He admits he did not look too deep into Duke’s background when the photos were taken, and asks me not to publish the image of him in a “Goolag” T-shirt with this article. “ I can definitely see how it was damaging, but it was a free professional photo shoot and I wasn’t really familiar with politics then ,” he says.” I was pretty busy and ignorant .”

Was his interview with the “alt-right” personality Milo Yiannopoulos an error? ” It’s hard to say ,” he responds.” I don’t really know what the long-term the effects of any of my any measures were .”

* * *

In September, Damore tweeted:” The KKK is atrocious and I don’t support them in any way, but can we admit that their internal title appoints are cool, e.g.’ Grand Wizard ‘?” The tweet was accompanied by an online poll in which Damore invited other users to express their views.

There was an immediate outcry amid headlines such as” Fired Google Memo Guy Too Has Bad Opinions About KKK “. Damore removed the tweet and acknowledges he poorly overestimated how it would be viewed but has not stopped tweeting about contentious issue such as hasten relations and cultural appropriation. Wary of making another mistake, he now impedes a document of draft tweets that he refines before posting. His lover implores him to testify her these drafts, but he does not like to be told what to do and appreciates applying his 91,000 followers as a sounding board:” I try to leverage my Twitter following to hear other perspectives and correct me when I’m wrong .”

His tweets are not always provocative; sometimes they are more reflective. Recently, he posted:” Laughter is often used to show that although there is a criterion was interruption, things are OK .” Another affirmed:” Like a fowl, society needs a functional left and right wing. If one is too reigning, our trajectory will be biased and we’ll inevitably descend .”

Like many parties in engineering, and like technology itself, Damore explains a complex social macrocosm through seemingly logical systems, decorations and multitudes. It can seem like a rational way of thinking but it can also have contributed to judgments that absence subtlety or sophistication. The same cognitive blueprints underlie the algorithms that supremacy social media, where complicated one around gender and psychology are reduced to simple shorthand.

Damore conceives technology influenced the behavior he was adjudicated.” Journalists and commentators were incentivised to falsify points to generate resentment ,” he says. Meanwhile, on social media, Damore guesses consumers wanted” to hear certainty, stimulating the more extreme express to be the loudest “.

Platforms such as YouTube, Facebook and Twitter can be risky situates for anyone wanting to express a belief on a sensitive topic. Damore’s experience indicates they may commit specific challenges for some people on the autism spectrum.

He does not once, nonetheless, use his autism to condone his actions. He is ferociously resistant to showing himself as all types of casualty, and says he never informed Google of his autism diagnosis.” I’m not sure you’re expected to ,” he says,” or how I would even do that .”

James
James Damore in San Francisco.’ My biggest mistake and forte is the possibility that I look acts very differently than normal ,’ he says. Photograph: Winni Wintermeyer for the Guardian

One in 68 children in the US has autism spectrum disorder, according to federal judgments. And while there are no reliable people on the prevalence of autism in Silicon Valley, anecdotally, beings in service industries say it is common.

Experts are wary of the destructive illusion that everything parties on the spectrum are geniuses , not least when study in the UK expresses only 16% of autistic parties are in full-time paid act. But there is no doubt that some autistic people have extraordinary abilities and fortes that can allure business like Google, Facebook and Microsoft.

Bryna Siegel, a psychiatrist who runs the not-for-profit Autism Center of Northern California, says she has come across many engineers who have been fired by big-hearted tech corporations after misreading social clues or unwritten criteria in an office.

” Employers need to be accommodating when they hire people who are on the autism spectrum ,” she says. That includes, Siegel says, being more pardon of autistic employees who unknowingly offend parties. Company-wide debates of the species Google supports, she includes, can be especially difficult for some autistic beings to navigate.

One such discussion appears to have contributed to the downfall of another autistic Google engineer who does not want to be identified because, like Damore, he is still looking for work.

He was shot last year in the wake of a dispute with a female colleague and unrelated commentaries he made at a company-wide assembling themed around LGBT rights.

The engineer queried the purposes of applying non-binary pronouns during the fit and bluntly questioned whether gender is on a range. After complaints from several hires, the engineer was given a disciplinary telling-off and banned from future assemblies. He alleges his eviction is explained by Google’s failure to understand how autism generates him to talk or act in ways that others misinterpret. Google declined to comment on his dismissal.

” Fellow hires need to be educated that being on the range means we’ll occasionally step on people’s toes ,” the engineer tells me.” Being on the spectrum hands some of us unique experiences that guide us in unusual tacks, ideologically. If Google can’t handle that, it needs to depoliticise itself .”

Damore argues that Google’s focus on evading “micro-aggressions” is” much harder for someone with autism to follow “. But he stops short of saying autistic employees please give more leniency if they unintentionally pique beings at work.” I wouldn’t necessarily consider person differently ,” he interprets.” But it obviously helps to understand where they’re coming from .”

I ask Damore if, looking back over the last few months, he feels that his difficult know with the memo and social media may be related to being on the spectrum.

” Yeah, there’s definitely been some self-reflection ,” he says.” Predicting contentions necessitates predicting what emotional reaction people will have to something. And that’s not something that I exceed at- although I’m working on it .”

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