Google’s Hollywood ‘interventions’ made on-screen coders cooler

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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. ®

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