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Google antes up $2.6M to settle pay, job discrimination case



Google antes up $2.6M to settle pay, job discrimination case

SAN RAMON, Calif. — Google will pay $2.6 million to more than 5,500 employees and past job applicants to resolve allegations that the internet giant discriminated against female engineers and Asians in California and Washington state.

The settlement announced Monday closes a 4-year-old case that the Labor Department brought as part its periodic reviews of the pay practices at federal government contractors such as Google.

That inquiry resulted in accusations that during a period spanning from 2014 to 2017, Google paid female engineers less than men in similar positions. The pay discrepancies were cited in several Google offices in its home state of California, as well as at locations in Seattle and Kirkland, Washington.

Google had fiercely contested the allegations as unfounded before reaching the settlement without acknowledging any wrongdoing.

“We believe everyone should be paid based upon the work they do, not who they are and invest heavily to make our hiring and compensation processes fair and unbiased,” Google said Monday. The Mountain View, California, company also said it has conducted internal audits during the past years to address any inequities in the pay of its male and female employees.

Nevertheless, the settlement will require Google to pay $1.35 million to more than 2,500 of its female engineers to compensate them for past discrimination alleged by the Labor Department. Another $1.23 million is earmarked for more than 1,700 women and Asians who unsuccessfully applied for engineering jobs at Google.

The settlement also requires Google to contribute $250,000 annually for five years to create a reserve to cover any necessary adjustments still needed in the future.

“Regardless of how complex or the size of the workforce, we remain committed to enforcing equal opportunity laws to ensure non-discrimination and equity in the workforce,” said Jane Suhr, who oversees the Labor Department’s federal contract compliance programs in San Francisco.

The settlement will barely put at dent in Google or its corporate parent Alphabet Inc., which generates more than $130 billion in annual revenue.

But news of settlement may further blemish Google’s once-cherished reputation as an employer that pampers its workers to the point of spoiling them with cushy paychecks, free food and other plush perks.

In recent years, more of Google’s own employees have been openly blasting management’s practices, including allegations of coddling powerful male executives who harassed female employees. More recently, thousands of Google employees have protested the December departure of an artificial intelligence researcher who says she was fired over a research paper that didn’t sit well with the company.

The growing unrest inside Google culminated in hundreds of employees forming a labor union in last month, a rarity in the tech industry.

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Twitch gamer Sodapoppin quits fake GTA jobs: ‘It’s too much’




Twitch gamer Sodapoppin quits fake GTA jobs: 'It’s too much'

Sometimes being a fake fast-food restaurant manager can be as taxing as being a real one.

This is especially true when you also have pretend side gigs managing a virtual casino and a vineyard while engaging in a wide range of criminal activities and violent altercations – including bribing law enforcement and fighting aliens who want to control your mind — that exist only in the all-consuming Grand Theft Auto (GTA for short) role-playing game.

The multitasking streamer in question, Chance “Sodapoppin” Morris, whose game-name is Kevin Whipaloo, announced Sunday that he is quitting his fake jobs and forsaking his imaginary life of crime.

“It got overwhelming to the point I don’t enjoy it anymore,” the 27-year-old said via livestream on Twitch, a streaming platform made popular by gamers. “I overestimated myself, and I don’t like it anymore.”

To those in the GTA world, Sodapoppin’s departure is a big deal. He has an enormous online presence thanks to his over-the-top personality, mad gaming skills and a willingness to do stupid things (twerking, being bullied by his dog, peeing on himself and getting yelled at by his dad, and writing all over his face with a Sharpie). There are 570,000 Twitter followers who hang on his every post. He has one of the largest Twitch fan bases out there — 6.2 million strong, with some 350 million views — and his YouTube channel subscribers top 1 million.

He made a name for himself as a topflight World of Warcraft player who began streaming his play on Twitch in 2012. Then, he showed off his blackjack prowess (or lack thereof) by gambling via online casinos and once dropping $5,000 on one hand as 43,000 fans stood witness through Twitch. Most recently, he handled his array of Grand Theft jobs and cackled his way through role-playing sessions on Twitch.

The problem, as he announced Sunday, is that all the fake jobs began to seem too much like real work. Maybe he was gamed by the game, but as reported on Kotaku, Sodapoppin has tendered his resignation (for real).

“GTA RP [role-play], in the position Kevin was in, was a true job,” he said during the livestream. “It was an actual job. It was brutal. It was ‘manager this, manager that,’ f–kin’ ‘employee this, cop problem that.’ I can think of five scenarios I actually got to do whatever I felt like, and that was going on the alien hunt and the couple of times I got to go to the police station. But the only reason I got to go to the police station was because I told my managers, ‘Hey, handle it. Handle the shop while I’m gone.’”

Being a fake wage-slave became such a drag that Sodapoppin hoped to have Kevin killed off in the game. But, as reported on Kotaku, that opportunity never availed itself. So Sodapoppin took virtual matters into his real hands.

“The fault is mainly on me,” said the social-media titan, who made enough money to buy into the esports league Northern Gaming (now owned by the much larger NRG Esports) and shot up his net worth with his own merch. “I simply put myself in a position of serious obligations. It’s too much. I like doing stupid things. I like dumb RP [role-playing]. I like playing with a lot of my friends outside of RP. But when I play Kevin, I’m not in a position to be able to do that because I have employees. I have f–king customers. I can’t just be like, ‘Hey, I feel like going on a bike ride.’ I can’t do that.”

Despite his popularity, Sodapoppin is not alone in realizing the emotional rigors of online gaming. As The Post reported Monday, Snoop Dogg also threw in the towel — but he did it after just 14 minutes of playing EA Sports’ Madden NFL ’21 live on Twitch. His session ended in a “rage quit” after the beloved stoner found himself losing 21-0 in no time. “Look at this s- -t. F- -k,” he is seen venting from the bottom-right corner of the frame (apparently not realizing he was still going out on Twitch). “I came in this room and everything went bad.”

Maybe Snoop Dogg is just figuring out something that Sodapoppin gleefully opined in a 2019 doc about him: “Twitch is a giant, glorified mental hospital.”

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Volvo plans to make only electric vehicles by 2030




Volvo plans to make only electric vehicles by 2030

Volvo says it will make only electric vehicles by 2030. But if you want one, you’ll have to buy it online.

The Swedish automaker said Tuesday that it is phasing out the production of all cars with internal combustion engines — including hybrids.

“There is no long-term future for cars with an internal combustion engine,” said Henrik Green, Volvo’s chief technology officer.

Volvo’s announcement follows General Motors’ pledge earlier this year to make only battery-powered vehicles by 2035.

Volvo also said that, while its all-electric vehicles will be sold exclusively online, dealerships will “remain a crucial part of the customer experience and will continue to be responsible for a variety of important services such as selling, preparing, delivering and servicing cars.”

As part of the announcement Tuesday, the Swedish automaker will unveil its second fully electric car, a follow-up to last year’s XC40 Recharge, a compact SUV. Volvo said its goal is to have half of its global sales to be fully electric cars by 2025, with the remaining half made up of hybrids.

Automakers around the world are ramping up production of electric vehicles as charging technology improves and governments impose stricter pollution regulations.

“We are firmly committed to becoming an electric-only car maker,” Green said. “It will allow us to meet the expectations of our customers and be a part of the solution when it comes to fighting climate change.”

Despite the rising number of EVs available in the US, fully electric vehicles accounted for less than 2 percent of new vehicle sales last year. Americans continue to spend record amounts on gas-powered trucks and SUVs.

About 2.5 million electric vehicles were sold worldwide last year and industry analyst IHS Markit forecasts that to increase by 70 percent in 2021.

Volvo says it sold 661,713 cars in about 100 countries cars worldwide in 2020. According to Autodata Corp., 107,626 of those vehicles were sold in the US.

Founded in 1927, Volvo Cars has been owned by China’s Zhejiang Geely Holding Group since 2010.

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AI panel urges US to boost tech skills amid China’s rise




AI panel urges US to boost tech skills amid China's rise

An artificial intelligence commission led by former Google CEO Eric Schmidt is urging the US to boost its AI skills to counter China, including by pursuing “AI-enabled” weapons – something that Google itself has shied away from on ethical grounds.

Schmidt and current executives from Google, Microsoft, Oracle and Amazon are among the 15 members of the National Security Commission on Artificial Intelligence, which released its final report to Congress on Monday.

“To win in AI we need more money, more talent, stronger leadership,” Schmidt said Monday.

The report says that machines that can “perceive, decide and act more quickly” than humans and with more accuracy are going to be deployed for military purposes — with or without the involvement of the US and other democracies. It warns against unchecked use of autonomous weapons but expresses opposition to a global ban.

It also calls for “wise restraints” on the use of AI tools such as facial recognition that can be used for mass surveillance.

“We have to develop technology that preserves our Western values, but we have to be prepared for a world in which not everyone is doing that,” said Andrew Moore, a commissioner and the head of Google Cloud AI.

The group has the ear of top lawmakers from both parties but has attracted criticism for including many members who work for tech companies with big government contracts and who thus have a lot at stake in federal rules on emerging technology.

The report calls for a “White House-led strategy” to defend against AI-related threats, to set standards on how intelligent machines can be used responsibly and to boost US research and development to maintain the nation’s technological advantage over China.

“We believe we are one or two years ahead of China, not five or 10,” Schmidt told the Senate Armed Services Committee last week. He clarified Monday that that he was expressing his personal opinions and not necessarily those of the commission.

It’s not yet clear whether President Joe Biden’s administration is on board with the commission’s approach. It’s still awaiting confirmation of a new director for the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, which Biden has elevated to a Cabinet-level position.

“AI policy tends to be very bipartisan,” said Michael Kratsios, who was US chief technology officer under President Donald Trump and led a push to pump more resources into AI development across federal agencies. The greatest imperative, he said, is that “the next great AI technologies are developed in the West.”

One big difference between the two administrations is likely to be the approach to building AI talent. The commission recommends a more open immigration policy than what Trump favored.

Congress formed the AI panel in 2018 and appointed 12 of its 15 commissioners, with the others picked by Trump’s Defense and Commerce secretaries. A judge later compelled the commission to make its meetings and records more accessible to the public after a civil liberties group, the Electronic Privacy Information Center, challenged its secrecy.

It’s been led by Schmidt, who was Google’s CEO and later the executive chairman of its parent company Alphabet. He previously helped lead the Defense Innovation Board, which advises the Pentagon on new technology.

That brought some conflict in 2018 when Google backed out of Project Maven, a US military initiative using AI-based computer vision technology to analyze drone footage in conflict zones. The company, responding to internal activism from employees, also pledged not to use AI in any weapons-related applications.

“I did not agree with the Google decisions on Maven,” Schmidt told senators last week, calling it an “aberration” compared to the tech industry as a whole, where he says there are plenty of companies that want to work with the military. He said AI and machine vision systems are particularly good at “watching for things,” which is something the military spends a lot of time doing.

The commission also includes executives like Safra Catz, the CEO of software giant Oracle and Amazon’s incoming CEO, Andy Jassy, who currently runs its cloud computing division, as well as top AI experts at Microsoft and Google. All four companies have competed against each other for federal cloud computing contracts. The representatives from Microsoft and Google joined other members in approving the final report Monday, but abstained from the section relating to government partnerships with the private sector.

Excluding human rights groups and rank-and-file tech experts from the commission has led the group to more easily frame this policy issue as a “democracy versus authoritarianism” competition against China while skirting more difficult topics, like the use of AI technologies on the US-Mexico border, said Jack Poulson, a former Google researcher who now directs industry watchdog Tech Inquiry.

“The nominal reason to have these tech CEOs on these committees is they’re experts in the technology. But they’re also, subject to shareholder requirements, acting in the interests of their companies,” Poulson said. “They don’t want significant regulation or antitrust enforcement.”

The government-industry partnership may be important for the US and its allies to help set standards for the responsible use of AI, said Megan Lamberth, a research associate at the Center for a New American Security.

“AI has the potential to really transform not only how militaries fight wars, but how economies operate and how societies and people interact with each other,” Lamberth said. “If there’s a gap in leadership, another country is going to fill that void.”

The American Civil Liberties Union said in a statement Monday that the commission made useful recommendations but it should have gone further by establishing civil rights protections now, before AI systems are widely deployed by intelligence agencies and the military.

The commission asked Congress to make new laws requiring federal agencies to conduct human rights assessments of new AI systems used on Americans. But it didn’t recommend the binding surveillance limits sought by activists.

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