Sundar Pichai

© Image Copyright : Photo from Wikimedia Commons / Author of Photo: World Economic Forum / Source of Photo: An Insight, An Idea with Sundar Pichai | DAVOS 2020 (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7sncuRJtWQI)

Background

Sundar Pichai was born July 12, 1972 in Madras (now Chennai), India, as Pichai Sundararajan. He is CEO of the Mountain View, California-based Alphabet Inc. and its subsidiary, Google Inc.  Alphabet was created in October 2015 when Google, by far the most popular search engine in the world, was restructured.

Pichai grew up in India, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in metallurgy and a silver medal from the Indian Institute of Technology (Kharagpur) in 1993. He then received a scholarship to study in the United States and earned a master’s degree in engineering and materials science from Stanford University in 1995.

Pichai briefly worked for the California-based corporation Applied Materials, which supplied semiconductor materials, and earned a master’s degree in business administration from the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School in 2002. He also worked briefly for the management consulting firm McKinsey & Co., an incubator of sorts for left-wing careerists.

Pichai began working for Google in 2004 as head of product management and development. His early work focused on the Google Toolbar which made it easy for users of the Microsoft Internet Explorer and Mozilla Firefox web browsers to gain access to Google’s search engine services. He later worked on Google’s web browser, Chrome, which was offered to the public in 2008. That year, Pichai became the company’s vice president of product development, a move that elevated his public profile. In 2012 he became Google’s senior vice president, and in 2014 he became product chief at Google and with respect to the Android smartphone operating system.

Goggle gave Pichai generous financial packages that headed off Twitter’s reportedly aggressive efforts to recruit him in 2011, and Microsoft’s reported 2014 attempt to lure him into becoming its CEO. Pichai played a role in negotiating Google’s $3.2 billion purchase of Nest Labs, a smart-home-products maker, in 2014.

In August 2015 Pichai became CEO of Google, which at the time was in the process of becoming a subsidiary of the new corporate parent, Alphabet.

Pichai & Google’s Political Bias

Soon after the 2016 presidential election in which Donald Trump defeated Hillary Clinton, an anonymous source sent a video recording of Google’s first post-election, all-hands meeting to the conservative news website Breitbart.com. In that video, Pichai and other Google leaders — including co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin, Vice Presidents Kent Walker and Eileen Naughton, and CFO Ruth Porat — can be seen disparaging the motives of Trump voters and planning ways to derail the Trump agenda. Some examples:

  • Pichai states that the company will develop machine learning and artificial intelligence to combat what an employee characterized as “misinformation” shared by “low-information voters.”
  • In response to a question about so-called “filter bubbles,” Pichai pledges to work towards “correcting” Google’s role in them
  • When an employee asks how Google plans to combat “misinformation” and “fake news” shared by “low-information voters,” Pichai says that “investments in machine learning and AI” represent a “big opportunity” to address that problem.
  • Pichai and his five fellow executives applaud a Google employee who urges “white men” at the company to: (a) recognize that “there’s an opportunity for you right now to understand your privilege”; (b) “go through the bias-busting training, read about privilege, read about the real history of oppression in our country”; and (c) “discuss the issues you are passionate about during Thanksgiving dinner and don’t back down and laugh it off when you hear the voice of oppression speak through metaphors.”
  • When an audience member asks if the executives see “anything positive from this election result,” Pichai and the other executives on stage simultaneously burst into laughter, and Brin says: “Boy, that’s a really tough one right now.”

For more examples of Google’s anti-Trump bias, see footnote #1 below.[1]

In August 2017, Pichai fired James Damore, a Google engineer who had written a 10-page essay known as “Google’s Ideological Echo Chamber” criticizing the company’s left-wing political bias and its so-called ‘diversity’ policies. Some notable excerpts from Damore’s essay include the following:

  • “Considering that the overwhelming majority of the social sciences, media, and Google lean left, we should critically examine these prejudices.”
  • “Differences in distributions of traits between men and women may in part explain why we [at Google] don’t have 50% representation of women in tech and leadership. Discrimination to reach equal representation is unfair, divisive, and bad for business.”
  • “At Google, we’re regularly told that implicit (unconscious) and explicit biases are holding women back in tech and leadership…. [But] distribution of preferences and abilities of men and women differ in part due to biological causes and … these differences may explain why we don’t see equal representation of women in tech and leadership.”
  • “I strongly believe in gender and racial diversity, and I think we should strive for more. However, to achieve a more equal gender and race representation, Google has created several discriminatory practices: Programs, mentoring, and classes only for people with a certain gender or race; A high priority queue and special treatment for ‘diversity’ candidates; Hiring practices which can effectively lower the bar for ‘diversity’ candidates by decreasing the false negative rate; Reconsidering any set of people if it’s not ‘diverse’ enough, but not showing that same scrutiny in the reverse direction (clear confirmation bias) […] These practices are based on false assumptions generated by our biases and can actually increase race and gender tensions.”

An indignant Pichai sent a memo to Google employees saying that Damore’s essay crossed a line “by advancing harmful gender stereotypes in our workplace.” “[T]o suggest [that] a group of our colleagues have traits that make them less biologically suited to that work is offensive and not OK,” he added.

Damore, for his part, said that his Google ordeal was emblematic of how things really work in the world of Big Tech:

“The Google memo controversy has exposed and opened people’s eyes to how politicized Silicon Valley, the media and even science has become. While it increased awareness, real change has been slow. Most of the media still claims that basic psychological facts are sexist pseudoscience. Tech has doubled down on their discrimination and ideological programs. Conservatives in Silicon Valley fear for their jobs now more than ever. […]

“My controversy, though, is symptomatic of a growing divide in our country…. Intolerance on one side only breeds intolerance on the other. While divisive rhetoric may seem like a harmless short-term win, it’s actually a long-term loss for us all.”

On December 11, 2018, Pichai testified before the U.S. House Judiciary Committee about political bias on Google’s platforms, claiming that it was “not possible” for the company’s employees to influence search results in any way by manipulating computer algorithms. Google “provides users with the best experience and the most relevant information,” he said, denying that the company engaged in viewpoint discrimination in its search results. “We don’t manually intervene on any particular search result,” he emphasized.

Nearly seven months later, on July 2, 2019, former Google engineer Mike Wacker claimed in a blog post that Pichai’s December 2018 testimony to Congress was filled with lies. Reporting on the results of his own investigation into Google’s search algorithm, Wacker wrote: “I eventually found the smoking gun: the exact change where Google had altered the search results for abortion. My initial reaction was a mix of excitement and shock.” Specifically, he explained precisely how YouTube — a Google-owned company — had altered its search results for the term “abortion” shortly after April Glaser, a pro-choice writer for Slate, had asked YouTube in an email “why anti-abortion videos saturated the search results for ‘abortion.’” Wrote Wacker:

“To reference the infamous phrase ‘alternative facts,’ the change essentially used an alternative algorithm that delivers alternative search results. A special file named youtube_controversial_query_blacklist could be used to manually trigger this alternative algorithm. For any search or query that matched an entry on that blacklist, YouTube would blacklist the normal search results, switching over to the alternative search results instead. The smoking gun I had discovered was a change that added two entries to that blacklist: ‘abortion’ and ‘abortions.’  As a result of this change, searches for those terms displayed the alternative search results. The change had been made at Dec 14, 2018, 3:17 PM PST, mere hours after April Glaser of Slate had emailed YouTube.”

Wacker then gave additional examples of when Google, through its so-called “Trust and Safety team,” had deliberately suppressed certain information:

“It didn’t end there. Herein lies the key point: it’s not about where the blacklist begins, but where the blacklist ends…. Two other additions to the blacklist deserve additional scrutiny. The first one is related to a member of Congress. On December 14, 2017, ‘maxine waters‘ was added to the blacklist. This change had been made because a single employee had complained that search results for her [Waters] were low quality. The potential motivations and biases of that employee are not known. Another employee then compared the normal search results and the alternative search results for ‘maxine waters’ and decided to switch over to the alternative search results. The criteria used to determine which search results are better are also not known.

“The consequences of this change would then carry over into the 2018 midterm election. During that election, users who searched for Maxine Waters on YouTube would have received the alternative search results, whereas users who searched for her opponent, Omar Navarro, would have received the normal search results.”

Wacker arrived at the following conclusions regarding Pichai’s contention that Google employees could not intentionally or manually alter any search results based on their political or ideological orientation:

“Based on this information, it is clear that Google CEO Sundar Pichai did not tell the truth to Congress when he said, ‘We don’t manually intervene on any particular search result.’ […] It was not an algorithm that decided to switch over to the alternative search results for abortion; it was a human who manually made that decision behind the curtain. It was … the Trust and Safety team who manually made that decision behind the curtain. […] If [Pichai] had disclosed these forms of manual intervention, Congress would have been afforded the opportunity to ask additional questions about these manual processes. For example, it could have asked what safeguards exist to prevent the biases of Google’s employees from seeping into these manual processes. However, since [Pichai] said that Google does not manually intervene, he denied Congress the opportunity to ask these questions, questions that are of vital importance to both Congress and the general public. In that respect, he obstructed Congressional oversight of Google.“

During an appearance before the House Judiciary Committee’s antitrust panel on July 29, 2020, Pichai was questioned by Republican Congressman Greg Steube regarding Google’s removal of video footage of a recent press conference sponsored by the conservative Tea Party Patriots, in which the organization America’s Frontline Doctors had touted the benefits of the drug Hydroxychloroquine as a treatment for COVID-19. At that time, left-wing critics of Donald Trump were highly critical of the drug’s use for that purpose — chiefly because the president, whom they despised, was publicly touting its efficacy. Discussing the removal of the video, Steube said to Pichai:

“Mr. Pichai, there are rioting groups [Black Lives Matter and Antifa] that are going unchecked with the posting of what I would contend is very violent video, yet yesterday a video about doctors discussing Hydroxychloroquine and discussing the dangers of children [not] returning to school, and when I clicked on the link it was taken down and then I was sent a different link on YouTube and it was taken down, and I just checked again to make sure, and it says ‘this video has been removed for violating YouTube’s community guidelines’. How can doctors giving their opinion on a drug that they think is effective for the treatment of COVID-19, and doctors who think it’s appropriate for children to return back to school, violate YouTube’s community guidelines when all these videos of violence are posted to on YouTube?”

Pichai replied: “Congressman, we believe in freedom of expression, and there is a lot of debate on YouTube about effective ways to deal with COVID and we allow robust debate, but during a pandemic we look to local health authorities. So for example in the U.S. it would be the CDC, for guidelines around medical misinformation in a narrow way which could cause harm in the real world. And so, for example, if there is [sic] aspects of a video and it explicitly states something could be a proven cure and that doesn’t meet CDC guidelines, we would take that down.”

During an October 2020 congressional hearing where Pichai was questioned, senators accused Google and other Big Tech companies of politically motivated bias and suppression, and warned those companies that lawmakers were considering removing longstanding legal protections that shield them from liability for what users post on their platforms. “The time has come for that free pass to end,” Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) said at the hearing.

During that same congressional hearing, Republican U.S. Senator Marsha Blackburn criticized Pichai for allegedly having suppressed the visibility of the conservative website Breitbart News in Google search results pertaining to Democrat presidential candidate Joe Biden. Said Blackburn: “Google searches for ‘Joe Biden’ generated approximately 30,000 impressions for Breitbart links … on May 1. And after May 5th, both the impressions and the clicks went to zero. I hope what you all realize from this hearing is that there is a pattern … of subjective manipulation of the information that is available to people from your platforms…. Because of this, more people are realizing that you are picking winners and losers [in political elections].”

Google Fires Timnit Gebru

In early December 2020, Google fired a famous black female artificial intelligence (AI) scientist, Timnit Gebru, whose termination was protested by outside researchers and thousands of the company’s employees. More than 2,000 Google employees subsequently signed an open letter characterizing Gebru’s dismissal as “research censorship” and a “retaliatory firing,” and demanding an explanation for her firing. The letter stated:

“Until December 2, 2020, Dr. Gebru was one of very few Black women Research Scientists at the company, which boasts a dismal 1.6% Black women employees overall. Her research accomplishments are extensive, and have profoundly impacted academic scholarship and public policy…. Instead of being embraced by Google as an exceptionally talented and prolific contributor, Dr. Gebru has faced defensiveness, racism, gaslighting, research censorship, and now a retaliatory firing.”

Gebru, for her part, said she had been shown the door following a dispute over a research paper and a note sent to other employees attacking the company over the way it treated women and nonwhites, especially with respect to hiring. Pichai apologized on December 9, 2020, saying in a company email to employees: “I’ve heard the reaction to Dr. Gebru’s departure loud and clear: it seeded doubts and led some in our community to question their place at Google. I want to say how sorry I am for that, and I accept the responsibility of working to restore your trust.”

Pichai Is Sued by Former President Trump

On July 7, 2021, former President Donald Trump announced that he, as the lead plaintiff, was launching, on behalf of the victims of “cancel culture,” a class action lawsuit against Facebook CEO Mark ZuckerbergTwitter CEO Jack Dorsey and Google CEO Sundar Pichai. Specifically, Trump said he was demanding the end of “shadow banning” and “blacklisting,” and that “we are asking the court to impose punitive damages on these social media giants.” “There is no better evidence that big tech is out of control than the fact that they banned the sitting President of the United States earlier this year, a ban that continues to this day,” he added.

Additional Information

In December 2019, Google co-founder Larry Page stepped down as CEO of Alphabet and was replaced by Pichai.

Pichai was honored as one of Time magazine’s “100 Most Influential People” in September 2020.

Pichai has a history of donating mostly, but not exclusively, to Democrat Party candidates such as Barack Obama, Kamala Harris, Ro Khanna, and Charles Schumer. He also has given money to pro-Democrat organizations like ActBlue and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.

Further Reading:Sundar Pichai” (Britannica.com)

Footnotes

  1. Additional examples of Google’s anti-Trump bias:
    – Brin states that “most people here are pretty upset and pretty sad.”
    – Brin says that he is “deeply offen[ded]” by Trump’s election victory, which “conflicts with many of [Google’s] values.”
    – Brin praises an audience member’s suggestion that Google should increase its matching of employee donations to progressive organizations.
    – Brin likens Trump supporters to fascists and extremists who are motivated by a toxic blend of malevolence and boredom, and then asserts that the company must do everything in its power to ensure a “better quality of governance and decision-making.”
    – Walker claims that supporters of Trump and other populist campaigns are motivated by “fear, xenophobia, hatred, and a desire for answers that may or may not be there.”
    – Walker describes Trump’s victory as a sign of “tribalism that’s self-destructive [in] the long-term.”
    – Walker says that Google should strive to ensure the populist movement never grows into anything larger than a “blip” and a “hiccup” in “the moral arc of history bends towards progress.”
    – Porat appears to break down in tears when discussing Trump’s election.
    – Porat vows that Google will “use the great strength and resources and reach we have to continue to advance really important values.”
    – Asserting that “we all need a hug,”Porat instructs the audience of Google employees to hug the person nearest to them.
    – Naughton assures the audience that Google’s policy team in D.C. is “all over” the immigration issue and that the company will “keep a close watch on it.”
    – Naughton discusses the options available to Google employees who wish to move out of the U.S.

Additional Resources

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