Thursday, June 13, 2013

The Internship

Last weekend I took my teenage daughters to see The Internship, the Vince Vaughn-Owen Wilson vehicle where they play two forty-year old interns at Google. It basically follows the standard underdog story Vince Vaughn so greatly spoofed in Dodgeball.

We went since most of the Google scenes were filmed at Georgia Tech last summer, with the climatic final meeting filmed in the atrium of the Klaus building that houses the School of Computer Science.

The movie was at best mildly amusing and not too often do you see an Emacs vs Vi discussion in a major motion picture. Mostly the movie played as an homage to Google, what a wonderful magical place it is and all the great things they do for the world. To some extent that worked: Both of my daughters came out of the movie wanting to work at Google.

Larry Page, talking about the movie said "The reason we got involved with the movie ‘The Internship’ is that computer science has a marketing problem. We're the nerdy curmudgeons." I do think CS has a marketing problem, though recently of a very different nature.

The US government is using big data as big brother. The US-China discussions on cyber attacks remind me of the US-USSR talks on nuclear weapons in the 70's. Let's not mention how some people believe computers are destroying jobs and widening the gap between the haves and have-nots.

But of course I remain very bullish on computer science and the great things we can achieve with computing. And sometimes it takes silly movies like The Internship to drive that point home.


  1. Lance affirms [with emphasis & examples added] 

    Of course I remain very bullish on computer science [quantum computing, genomics, connectomics, regenerative medicine, etc.] and the great things we can achieve with computing [algorithms both quantum and classical, hardware both quantum and classical, fast gene sequencing, whole-brain databases, stem cell therapies, etc.].

    Perhaps it is prudent practice not to begin affirmations in this class with the prefacing phrase "of course", for the common-sense none of these affirmations are in any sense obvious or trivial … indeed, are there not plenty of substantial emerging reasons to conceive that these affirmations may not even be true?

    In this regard, please allow me to commend this week's essay by Charlie Jane Anders titled Are Paul Krugman's 1996 predictions about 2096 already coming true?

    "When something becomes abundant, it also becomes cheap. A world awash in information is one in which information has very little market value. In general, when the economy becomes extremely good at doing something, that activity becomes less, rather than more, important. Late-20th-century America was supremely efficient at growing food; that was why it had hardly any farmers. Late-21st-century America is supremely efficient at processing routine information; that is why traditional white-collar workers have virtually disappeared." […]

    "With vast improvements in information technology, employers may now seek a small number of specialized, technically trained experts rather than a large number of versatile, diversified liberal arts graduates.… If the bears are right, we may be moving toward a stage of capitalism less dependent on a growing supply of home-grown human capital. In that case, many of those bullish on higher education investments in the United States could end up as red meat."

    These sobering considerations encompass computer science "of course" … along with every other STEM discipline too!

    Conclusion  Lance's bullish views regarding computer science (and other STEM disciplines) would be substantially more thought-provoking if the needlessly weakening (and even outright misleading!) prefacing phrase "of course" were omitted.

    Suggestion  Dijkstra, Edsger's curmudgeonly yet justly celebrated computer science essay " 'GOTO' Considered Harmful" could serve as a template for a follow-up Computational Complexity essay titled " 'Of Course' Considered Harmful".

    Such an essay might help to accelerate the necessary and urgent process of evolving optimistic affirmations of professional faith and institutional loyalty — which today's students appreciate as vacuous prima facie — into reasoned considerations of the pressing issues of our 21st century.

  2. Whenever a new technology threatens jobs in an existing one
    (EXAMPLES: People who copied documents by hand before the printing press, MOOCS may be an example now, Computers for lots of stuff)
    the question to ask is what to do during the TRANSITION.

    YES- things will be better in the LONG term (I would have said
    `of course things will be better in the LONG term' but I've heard
    that `of course' is considered harmful) however what do you do
    about the people who (say) were REALLY GOOD at copying documents and are now out-of-a-job. I, of course, do not pretend to know
    the answers (Government provides job training? Companies who
    fire them to? Extend Unemployment benefits? Student loans/grants
    for older students? Other stuff I haven't thought of? Cost-benefit
    tradeoffs?) But at least I think thats one of the important questions.

    1. To GASARCH's thoughtful remarks, please let me add that Herman Melville's tragic short story Bartleby, the Scrivener (1853) is an extended meditation upon human and social themes that considerably overlap those of The Internship.

      Conclusion  History and art alike show us that these issues are ancient and difficult.

      Question  Can the 21st Century's The Internship be viewed as a comedic expression of the same tragic themes as the 19th Century's Bartleby?

    2. As a followup, the essayist David Frum recently posted on David's Bookclub: Bartleby the Scrivener (Nov 26, 2012) an accounting of the reasons why we in the 21st Century can aptly echo Melville in exclaiming "Ah Bartleby! Ah humanity"!

      A great hope-and-promise of the 21st Century's STEM enterprises is ("of course!") that they will enable us to smile while we exclaim "Ah Google! Ah humanity"!

      The STEM-founded promise of that smiling hope is why I have asked *my* daughter to take me (on Father's Day) to see The Internship! :)

    3. Watching The Internship inspired a STEM-centric essay that I have posted on Dick Lipton and Ken Regan's Gödel's Lost Letter and P=NP as the comment "Ah Google! Ah Humanity! Are we Bartlebies or are we ”Fronk-en-steens”? ".

      Caveat  The essay is written for a tough-minded audience that includes writers, historians, warriors … and computer-science professionals.

  3. Your marketing problem is that "computer scientists are mainly portrayed as programmers in the film(?)"?