Anne Frank: Too Hot For TechCrunch Disrupt

Our TechCrunch Disrupt Hackathon entry was blocked from the submission gallery.

Here’s what we made:

Build-a-Buddy: Create Your Own Virtual Friend with a Custom Personality

We characterized over a hundred different personalities using the autobiographies of famous people from Anne Frank to Donald Trump.

When a user creates a new buddy profile, we match it to the closest existing personality in our database using the shortest total Euclidean distance between all the personality traits.

Then, we load the dialog file corresponding to the matching personality. We enable conversation using the IBM Watson Dialog Service API.

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We had chosen to include Anne Frank to illustrate diversity. There’s no shortage of autobiographical material to profile powerful white males. With Anne Frank, we gain the personality of a persecuted 13-year-old girl.

But fine whatever. We had been up for over 24 hours and had no desire to argue. I replaced Anne Frank with Ben Franklin, a noncontroversial Anglo-Saxon slaveowner.

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Screen Shot 2015-09-20 at 10.23.01 PM

The Diary of Anne Frank was on my fourth grade reading list. It tells the story of six million genocide victims through the voice of a child.

When it came time for presentations, three separate hackathon organizers approached our team to ensure we would not include or display anything about “Anne Frank”. A TechCrunch editor stopped us (and only us) to review the app before we could be allowed on stage.

How did one of the most important cultural figures of the 20th century become grounds for controversy?

I’m sad about the state of Silicon Valley. I’m sad that an event that awards $5000 to a Donald Trump drinking game finds Anne Frank “potentially offensive”. I’m sad that an industry that bills itself as “disruptive” needs to police its public image.

And most of all I’m sad that writers for a leading tech publication can’t even spell “Anne Frank”.

Build-A-Buddy: Create Your Own Virtual Friend with a Custom Personality

11 thoughts on “Anne Frank: Too Hot For TechCrunch Disrupt

      1. It’s ‘PC’ to force a developer to remove a benign reference to a historical figure because it is “potentially offensive”. How ignorant and/or sensitive do you have to be to be offended by the mere mention of Ann(e) Frank?

  1. For some reason, whenever you write “I’m sad that…”, either “It’s sad that…” or “I’m pissed that…” seems more appropriate. Anyway, I’m curious about whether you think they would have approved youngest-ever Nobel Prize laureate Malala Yousafzai in place of Anne Frank.

  2. Just remember, there’s a group of lefties who are fighting against the mainstream left and this culture of perpetual offense and nonsense. The group is slowly getting bigger but it’s pretty obvious we’ve got a long way to go before we bring some sanity back to this.

  3. Maybe you should reply to them directly with your complaint rather than leaving a passive aggressive note on your blog? Also there was really no other more tasteful avatar to create than a 13 year old holocaust vicitim?

    1. I actually understand where TechCrunch is coming from. They have been accused of sexism and discrimination in the past, and need to be careful or they might lose their sponsors.

      My complaint is with the industry as a whole, where technology takes a backseat and everything needs to be sanitized before public consumption.

      See Also: Politics.

    2. Probably lots of more tasteful avatars. We had 24 hours to write a lot of machine-learning code, we didn’t spend time optimizing the avatars.

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