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IBM ‘not cooperating’ with discovery in discrimination case • The Register

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IBM has been accused of trying to avoid its legal discovery obligations in Kinney v. IBM, one of many age discrimination lawsuits that have been brought against the IT titan in the past few years.

In a motion [PDF] to compel discovery filed on February 28, 2022, attorneys for the current plaintiffs – who claim [PDF] IBM fired them as part of a company-wide effort to get rid of older workers – accuse Big Blue of trying to avoid providing relevant documents by insisting that layoffs were relevant to specific corporate groups and weren’t part of a company-wide scheme.

“To date, IBM has refused to provide the requested discovery in part by arguing it is overbroad and should be limited – once again – to smaller layoff sub-units,” the attorneys from Wright & Greenhill, P.C., and Kaplan Law Firm wrote in their court filing.

IBM has refused to provide the requested discovery in part by arguing it is overbroad and should be limited – once again – to smaller layoff sub-units

That motion followed revelations arising two months ago from a different age discrimination case, Lohnn v. IBM [PDF], initially filed in July 2021 on behalf of former IBM employee Jorgen Lohnn, who took his own life after being laid off from the company.

The Lohnn complaint against IBM, brought by his widow, contends Lohnn’s termination followed from “a years-long companywide discriminatory scheme implemented by IBM’s top management to build a younger workforce, by reducing its population of older workers in order to make room for the hiring of younger workers.”

Such allegations came to public attention in 2018 following a joint report from ProPublica and Mother Jones that claimed IBM had undertaken a company-wide campaign to get rid of older workers. In 2020, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) concluded “top-down messaging from IBM’s highest ranks directing managers to engage in an aggressive approach to significantly reduce the headcount of older workers to make room for Early Professional Hires.”

Though the Lohnn case recently settled – a sign the discrimination claim had some merit – documents disclosed prior to the case’s conclusion painted IBM in a particularly bad light. They describe how IBM aimed to “correct” its “seniority mix” by weeding out older workers it called “dinobabies” and called for efforts to change the company’s “dated maternal workforce.”

The publication of these documents proved sufficiently damaging that IBM’s chief human resources Officer Nickle LaMoreaux published a lengthy defense of the company.

“Discrimination of any kind is entirely against our culture and who we are at IBM, and there was (and is) no systemic age discrimination at our company,” said LaMoreaux in a public statement posted to the company’s website.

‘Gerrymandering’ internal teams

The critical word here is systematic. LaMoreaux’s wording allows for the possibility that isolated instances of age discrimination may have occurred – though the company has not acknowledged such incidents, it has nonetheless settled age discrimination claims without admitting guilt while requiring silence from those winning settlements. But LaMoreaux is emphatic that de-aging the workforce was never part of a grand corporate plan.

IBM’s defensive legal strategy against age discrimination claims has relied on this divide and conquer approach. Legal limits on the scope of discovery requests have made it difficult to trace a specific termination up through the conveniently compartmentalized corporate structure to executive leadership.

But lately efforts to keep cases contained look strained. The company’s response to news coverage of the Lohnn case led to its disclosure of company-wide age data about its workforce, something it stopped publishing for layoffs in 2014.

In Kinney v. IBM, attorneys for the plaintiffs argue in their motion to compel that IBM should not be allowed to limit discovery “to gerrymandered layoff sub-units” instead of providing broader data on its workforce. The attorneys asked for “names and ages of all IBM employees contemplated and selected for three specific layoffs – Concord, Maple, and Palm – that resulted in their respective terminations.”

IBM can produce extensive employee age information when it suits its own purposes to counter unfavorable publicity but claims to be unable … to produce it for legitimate litigation purposes

The lawyers noted that the demographic data the company produced in response to coverage of the Lohnn case shows “that IBM can immediately produce extensive employee age information when it suits its own purposes to counter unfavorable publicity but claims to be unable – or just unwilling – to produce it for legitimate litigation purposes.”

IBM’s opposition to that motion [PDF] offers a variety of reasons why its Resource Actions – layoffs – were properly carried-out decisions of isolated corporate units. And the company’s legal team maintains the company has already gone above and beyond what’s required to assist discovery.

‘[A]llegations of a ‘pattern’ of discriminatory actions do not give plaintiffs carte blanche to demand company-wide discovery,” the IBM brief declares.

Yet, the public disclosure of internal files calling for efforts to “fund an influx of [early professionals] to correct [the] seniority mix” undercut arguments that company layoffs were conducted without regard to employee age. These files and other charts were presented as evidence in Langley v. IBM, an age discrimination claim filed in 2018 that settled two years later. And they recently reappeared in an exhibit [PDF] in Rusis et al. v. IBM [PDF], a class action brought by a group of nine former IBM employees who claim they were fired. And the Kinney attorneys, some of whom were involved in the Langley case, know this only too well.

On Tuesday, the Kinney lawyers filed a reply [PDF] in support of their February motion to compel IBM to be more cooperative. They’re seeking documents related to Maple, Concord, and Palm, which the plaintiffs say are Resource Actions – layoffs.

IBM however has resisted providing such documents on the basis that it used four-letter codes for its resource actions – GMST, HYCD, CGTZ, CDWP, CGMP, SYMP, and DCPL – and that Maple, Concord, and Palm “refer not to resource actions but to pools of restructuring funds.”

The Kinney legal team contends these four-letter groups “are not the real and relevant populations” and have cited IBM’s own attorney-provided spreadsheets to show that the names within these groups are inconsistent. They urged the judge not to limit discovery to “IBM’s fantasy world.”

“IBM’s own executives and the discovery produced in this case accordingly demonstrates that the true RA populations were the companywide codenamed ‘Projects,'” the reply filing this week says. “As demonstrated in the Motion to Compel – Maple, Concord and Palm were the RA’s that affected these Plaintiffs.”

“IBM’s discriminatory scheme to fire older workers and replace them with younger workers both domestically and through off-shoring was controlled at by IBM’s CHQ and its HR department. To execute the plan, CHQ issued ‘targets’ to the various IBM Groups with HR and Finance driven parameters and restrictions designed to make it impossible for frontline managers not to fire their older workers and still comply with CHQ’s parameters. This is the definition of a cat’s paw discriminatory scheme – merely modernized for the 21st century.”

IBM maintains this is all much ado about nothing and insists the law doesn’t require it to indulge such extensive discovery.

“Even if IBM did conduct companywide resource actions (it did not, and does not), Plaintiffs still would not be entitled to companywide demographic data,” the company said in its opposition brief.

It now falls to the judge hearing the case to decide whether to grant or deny the motion to compel IBM to be more forthcoming. ®

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.NET 6 comes to Ubuntu 22.04 • The Register

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Ubuntu and Microsoft have brought .NET 6 to the Ubuntu repositories, meaning that you can install it without adding any extra sources to the OS.

The announcement means that Ubuntu 22.04 is catching up with the Red Hat Linux family. As per Microsoft’s online docs, you could already do this on Fedora 36 as well as the more business-like variants: RHEL 8, CentOS Stream 8 and 9, and via scl-utils on RHEL 7.

Microsoft’s blog post about the news also mentions the ability to install the runtime, or the full SDK, into Ubuntu containers. Canonical also has new versions of these. It describes Ubuntu ROCKs as “new, ultra-small OCI-compliant appliance images, without a shell or package manager,” smaller than existing Ubuntu container images thanks to a new tool called chisel.

.NET 6 is Microsoft’s cross-platform toolchain for building apps to run on multiple platforms, including Windows, Linux, macOS, and mobile OSes. Essentially, it’s Microsoft’s answer to Oracle’s JVM – the increasingly inaccurately named Java Virtual Machine, which now supports multiple languages, including Clojure, Kotlin, Scala, and Groovy.

Microsoft’s own list of .NET languages is relatively short – C#, F#, and Visual Basic – although there are many others from outside the company. The list arguably should include PowerShell, but that already has its own Linux version.

Since 2014 or so, .NET primarily means what was formerly called .NET Core. According to Microsoft’s own diagram, that means the .NET Common Language Runtime, the bit which allows “managed code” to execute, and Microsoft’s web app framework ASP.NET.

There are three separate packages: dotnet-sdk-6.0, the SDK; dotnet-runtime-6.0, the CLR runtime; and aspnetcore-runtime-6.0, the runtime for ASP.NET. All three can be installed at once via the dotnet6 metapackage.

The notable bits of .NET that aren’t included in Core are the venerable Windows Forms framework or the slightly more modern Windows Presentation Framework, WPF.

Compare and contrast: .NET Framework versus .NET Core

Diagram showing .NET Core design

Click to enlarge

So don’t get excited and think that the inclusion of .NET in Ubuntu means that graphical .NET apps, such as Windows Store apps, can now be built and run natively on Linux. Limit your expectations to server-side stuff. This is a mainly a way to deploy console-based C# and ASP.NET apps into Ubuntu servers and Ubuntu containers.

When we asked Canonical about this, a spokesperson responded: “WPF is not currently supported in .NET 6 on Ubuntu. So, you’re correct that .NET 6 on Ubuntu is aimed at developers building text/server apps rather than graphical/GUI apps.”

We’ve also asked Microsoft if they have any additional information or details, and will update when they respond.

There are cross-platform graphical frameworks for .NET, including the open-source Avalonia and as well as Uno, which got on board in .NET 5. There is also Microsoft’s own Multi-platform App UI, or MAUI, which evolved out of Xamarin Forms.

The origins of .NET lie in Microsoft’s 1996 acquisition of Colusa Software for its OmniWare tool, which Colusa billed as “a universal substrate for web programming.” As Microsoft faced off against the US Department of Justice and European Commission, and the possibility of being broken into separate apps and OS divisions, it came up with Next Generation Windows Services, which then turned into .NET: a way to use Microsoft tools to build apps for any OS.

There is still controversy over exactly how open .NET really is, as exemplified by the aptly named isdotnetopen site. ®

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How cognitive science can be used to bring AI forward

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Dr Marie Postma spoke to SiliconRepublic.com about misconceptions around AI as well its relationship with human consciousness.

AI and robots are getting ‘smarter’ all the time. From Irish-made care robot Stevie to Spot the robot dog from Boston Dynamics, these tech helpers are popping up everywhere with a wide range of uses.

The tech beneath the hardware is getting smarter too. Earlier this year, Researchers at MIT developed a simpler way to teach robots new skills after only a few physical demonstrations. And just this week, Google revealed how its combining large language models with its parent company’s Everyday Robots to help them better understand humans.

However, the advances in these areas have led to recent discussions around the idea of sentient AI. While this idea has been largely rebuffed by the AI community, an understanding of the relationship between cognitive science and AI is an important one.

Dr Marie Postma is head of the department of cognitive science and artificial intelligence at Tilburg School of Humanities and Digital Sciences in the Netherlands.

The department is mainly financed by three education programmes and has around 100 staff and between 900 and 1,000 students.

‘Technology is not the problem; people are the problem’
– MARIE POSTMA

The team focuses on different research themes that combine cognitive science and AI, such as computational linguistics with a big focus on deep learning solutions, autonomous agents and robotics, and human-AI interaction, which is mainly focused on VR and its use in education.

Postma was a speaker at the latest edition of the Schools for Female Leadership in the Digital Age in Prague, run by Huawei’s European Leadership Academy.

Postma spoke to the 29 students about cognitive science and machine learning, starting with the history of AI and bringing it up to the modern-day challenges, such as how we can model trust in robots and the role empathy could play in AI.

“We have research where we are designing first-person games where people can experience the world from the perspective of an animal – not a very cuddly animal, it’s actually a beaver. That’s intentional,” she told me later that day.

Sentient AI

Her talk brought about a lot of discussion around AI and consciousness, a timely discussion following the news that Blake Lemione, a Google engineer, published an interview with the AI chatbot and claimed that it had become sentient.

Postma said much of the media coverage around this story had muddied the waters. “The way it was described in the media was more focused on the Turing test – interacting with an AI system that comes across as being human-like,” she said.

“But then at some point they mention consciousness, and consciousness is really a different story.”

Postma said that most people who research consciousness would agree that it’s based on a number of factors. Firstly it’s about having a perceptual basis, both the ability to perceive the world around us but also what’s happening inside us and being self-aware.

Secondly, the purpose of consciousness is being able to interpret yourself as someone who has feelings, needs, actionability in the world and a need to stay alive. “AI systems are not worried about staying alive, at least the way we construct them now, they don’t reflect on their battery life and think ‘oh no, I should go plug myself in’.”

Possibilities and limitations

While AI and robots don’t have consciousness, their ability to be programmed to a point where they can understand humans can be highly beneficial.

For example, Postma’s department has been conducting research that concerns brain-computer interaction, with a focus on motor imagery. “[This is] trying to create systems where the user, by focusing on their brain signal, can move objects in virtual reality or on computer screens using [electroencephalography].”

This has a lot of potential applications in the medical world for people who suffer from paralysis or in the advancements of prosthetic limbs.

Last year, researchers at Stanford University successfully implanted a brain-computer interface (BCI) capable of interpreting thoughts of handwriting in a 65-year-old man paralysed below the neck due to a spinal cord injury.

However, Postma said there is still a long way to go with this technology and it’s not just about the AI itself. “The issue with that is there are users who are able to do that and others who are not, and we don’t really know what the reasons are,” she said.

“There is some research that suggests that being able to do special rotation might be one of the factors but what we’re trying to discover is how we can actually train users so that they can use BCI.”

And in the interest of quelling any lingering fears around sentient AI, she also said people should not worry about this kind of technology being able to read their thoughts because the BCI is very rudimentary. “For the motor imagery BCI, it’s typically about directions, you know, right, left, etc.”

Other misconceptions about AI

Aside from exactly how smart the robots around us really are, one of the biggest falsehoods that Postma wants to correct is that the technology itself is not necessarily what causes the problems that surround it.

“What I repeat everywhere I go, is that the technology is not the problem, people are the problem. They’re the ones who create the technology solutions and use them in a certain way and who regulate them or don’t regulate them in a certain way,” she said.

“The bias in some AI solutions is not there because some AI solutions are biased, they’re biased because the data that’s used to create the solutions is biased so there is human bias going in.”

However, while bias in AI has been a major discussion topic for several years, Postma has an optimistic view on this, saying that these biased systems are actually helping to uncover biased data that would have previously been hidden behind human walls.

“It becomes explicit because all the rules are there, all the predictive features are there, even for deep learning architecture, we have techniques to simplify them and to uncover where the decision is made.”

While Postma is a major advocate for all the good AI can do, she is also concerned about how certain AI and data is used, particularly in how it can influence human decisions in politics.

“What Cambridge Analytica did – just because you can, doesn’t mean you should. And I don’t think they’re the only company that are doing that,” she said.

“I’m [also] concerned about algorithms that make things addictive, whether it’s social media or gaming, that really try to satisfy the user. I’m concerned about what it’s doing to kids.”

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‘I’m buying Manchester United’: Elon Musk ‘joke’ tweet charges debate over struggling club’s future | Elon Musk

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Tesla billionaire Elon Musk briefly electrified the debate about the future of Manchester United by claiming on Twitter that he is buying the struggling Premier League club – before saying that the post was part of a “long-running joke”.

He did not make clear his views on new coach Eric ten Hag’s controversial insistence on passing out from the back, or whether unhappy star striker Cristiano Ronaldo should be allowed to leave, but he did say that if he were to buy a sports team “it would be Man U. They were my fav team as a kid”.

With the team rooted to the bottom of the league after a humiliating 4-0 away defeat to Brentford, the outspoken entrepreneur’s tweet offered hope – however –briefly – to fans who want to see the back of current owners, the Florida-based Glazer family.

Also, I’m buying Manchester United ur welcome

— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) August 17, 2022

Musk has a history of making irreverent tweets, and he later clarified the post by saying he was not buying sports teams.

No, this is a long-running joke on Twitter. I’m not buying any sports teams.

— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) August 17, 2022

Buying United, one of the biggest football clubs in the world, would have cost Musk at least £2bn, according to its current stock market valuation.

Manchester United’s recent on-pitch woes have led to increased fan protests against the Glazers, who bought the club in a heavily leveraged deal in 2005 for £790m ($955.51m).

The anti-Glazer movement gained momentum last year after United were involved in a failed attempt to form a breakaway European Super League.

But a takeover by Musk would have been a case of out of the frying pan and into the fire for the club, given the billionaire’s tendency for off-the-cuff remarks and falling foul of market regulators.

Many were quick to point out that Musk had also promised to buy Twitter for $44bn before the deal collapsed in July, and has also boasted about colonising Mars and boosting birthrates on Earth.

That’s what you said about Twitter.

— Sema (@_SemaHernandez_) August 17, 2022

Fans responded with a mixture of bafflement and optimism given the lowly status of a club used to occupying the top places in the league rather than the bottom.

Manchester United did not immediately respond to a request for comment.



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