Google's Hollywood 'interventions' made on-screen coders cooler

But not by much: shows Google touched still had lonely hoodie-wearing white male geeks


Google operates a “Computer Science in Media Team” that stages “interventions” in Hollywood to steer film-makers towards realistic and accurate depictions of what it's like to work in IT.

The company announced the team in 2015 and gave it the job of “making CS more appealing to a wider audience, by dispelling stereotypes and showcasing positive portrayals of underrepresented minorities in tech.” Google felt the effort was worthy because typical depictions of techies on screen used geeky stereotypes and mostly featured men, “leading to particularly girls and underrepresented boys not seeing themselves in the field.” It also wants to have more people to hire: like just about every tech company it struggles to find good people to hire. But the company has noticed that “Five years after the premiere of the original CSI television series, forensic science majors in the U.S. increased by 50%, with an over index of women.”

The efforts of that team have now been detailed in a study [PDF], Cracking the Code: The Prevalence and Nature of Computer Science Depictions in Media.

The study says Google has worked “to intersect the decision-making process that ultimately leads to the on screen representation of computer science” and “Through engagements with show creators and corporate representatives … has attempted to integrate computer science portrayals into TV movies and ongoing series that deviate from stereotypes and showcase diversity.”

The study finds those efforts have mostly worked. While computer science rarely makes it into films and tellie, “The sample of Google influenced content (5.9%, n=61 of 1,039) had a higher percentage of characters engaging in computer science than a matched sample of programming (.5%, n=4 of 883).” While the study finds that a character involved in computer science is still overwhelmingly likely to be a white man, content that Google influenced featured more women than in shows it didn't engage.

As it happens, El Reg may well already have reported on the Team's work: back in 2015 we spotted an episode of made-for-kids cartoon The Amazing World of Gumball, a show the study says Google has “advised.” In the episode we reported, a character says the following:

I bypassed the storage controller, tapped directly in to the VNX array head, decrypted the nearline SAS disks, injected the flash drivers into the network's FabricPath before disabling the IDF, routed incoming traffic through a bunch of offshore proxies, accessed the ESXi server cluster in the prime data center, and disabled the inter-VSAN routing on the layer-3.

The authors of the study think Google still has work to do, because the content it influenced resulted in shows depicting women as “praised for intelligence rather than attractiveness, and were more often rewarded for their CS activities than males”>. But both the stuff Google influenced and shows it didn't touch “still primarily depict White, male characters engaging in CS, who are often stereotypically attired. The nature of these depictions also reflects CS stereotypes, namely that friendships are primarily with other CS individuals and a lack of children or romantic relationships.”

Overall, the study's authors declare the effort worthwhile and say Google's efforts have been well-received in Hollywood, even if stereotypes persist and CS remains something seldom depicted by the entertainment industry.

Shows Google influenced include Miles from Tomorrowland, The Fosters, Silicon Valley, Halt and Catch fire, The Amazing Gumball, The Powerpuff Girls and Ready, Jet, Go. ®

Similar topics

Broader topics


Other stories you might like

  • Experts: AI should be recognized as inventors in patent law
    Plus: Police release deepfake of murdered teen in cold case, and more

    In-brief Governments around the world should pass intellectual property laws that grant rights to AI systems, two academics at the University of New South Wales in Australia argued.

    Alexandra George, and Toby Walsh, professors of law and AI, respectively, believe failing to recognize machines as inventors could have long-lasting impacts on economies and societies. 

    "If courts and governments decide that AI-made inventions cannot be patented, the implications could be huge," they wrote in a comment article published in Nature. "Funders and businesses would be less incentivized to pursue useful research using AI inventors when a return on their investment could be limited. Society could miss out on the development of worthwhile and life-saving inventions."

    Continue reading
  • Declassified and released: More secret files on US govt's emergency doomsday powers
    Nuke incoming? Quick break out the plans for rationing, censorship, property seizures, and more

    More papers describing the orders and messages the US President can issue in the event of apocalyptic crises, such as a devastating nuclear attack, have been declassified and released for all to see.

    These government files are part of a larger collection of records that discuss the nature, reach, and use of secret Presidential Emergency Action Documents: these are executive orders, announcements, and statements to Congress that are all ready to sign and send out as soon as a doomsday scenario occurs. PEADs are supposed to give America's commander-in-chief immediate extraordinary powers to overcome extraordinary events.

    PEADs have never been declassified or revealed before. They remain hush-hush, and their exact details are not publicly known.

    Continue reading
  • Stolen university credentials up for sale by Russian crooks, FBI warns
    Forget dark-web souks, thousands of these are already being traded on public bazaars

    Russian crooks are selling network credentials and virtual private network access for a "multitude" of US universities and colleges on criminal marketplaces, according to the FBI.

    According to a warning issued on Thursday, these stolen credentials sell for thousands of dollars on both dark web and public internet forums, and could lead to subsequent cyberattacks against individual employees or the schools themselves.

    "The exposure of usernames and passwords can lead to brute force credential stuffing computer network attacks, whereby attackers attempt logins across various internet sites or exploit them for subsequent cyber attacks as criminal actors take advantage of users recycling the same credentials across multiple accounts, internet sites, and services," the Feds' alert [PDF] said.

    Continue reading

Biting the hand that feeds IT © 1998–2022