Questioning My Sanity and Ethics

Lately, I have been questioning my own actions. Actually, for the majority of the last month I have been bogged down by a lot of work, and a lot of work means I start questioning myself a lot more – my sanity, my ethics, etc. I meditate a lot, and I can quite confidently say that I am quite fully aware and mindful of my own thoughts, which of late has become more of the “YOU ARE A CRAZY PERSON” thoughts.

So, I decided to write them down, and today I am publishing it, because hey, the Internet needs more pollution, amiright?

In the past, when I faced exams, I rarely panicked, even if I was severely underprepared (incidentally the only exam I ever panicked for was also the only exam I failed). The moment after the exam though, the panic sets in. Thankfully for me, I had fairly solid basics – toss me any derivatives and given enough time I could work it out. Which worked out okay for me in exams – because you know, there was a set syllabus, and the curviest of curveballs I ever had was a sneaky metric spaces question in a microeconomics mid-semester exam.

Right now, my life is going past me at breakneck speed, and like exams in the past, I am not panicky.  And this troubles me greatly. 

Unlike exams though, life can and will throw you curveballs that are way outside your syllabus. Nassim Taleb called these Black Swan events. And I would be totally unprepared for such curveballs. To this effect, I’ve been questioning my own sanity for a bit. Specifically, I’ve started wondering if I might be a bit of a psychopath[1].  I have analysed my own decision making process for the last month or so, and they have went from totally benign to downright creepy. I had been in the past quite unwilling to push people to do work, but in recent months I have started pushing more and more people to get more work done. I have looked into my own thought processes and found that I am suddenly more willing to take advantage of people who are willing to work, for my personal benefit.

And because of that, I am starting to question my own ethics. I work in online advertising[2]. And online advertising actually exposed me to a lot more dodginess than expected. This is not to say the company I work for is a dodgy-ass CPA network – it’s surprisingly the opposite, which makes it an interesting and refreshing. In the company I work for, we strive for ridiculous quality on various fronts, including brand safety (that is to say, if you have a good brand, you probably don’t want to run ads on dodgier websites like porn or filesharing services[3]), but it is the antics of the entire market place that shits me a lot.

Yes, I am aware that Real Time Bidding platforms are addressing this issue, but that’s not my point. Things that our competitors do to get ahead of us are stuff that on an ethical basis, we would not touch (for example – spoofing URLs or click/conversion fraud). One part of my job description is to find funny things that other people are doing – like click fraud for example – this is where my statistical skillset comes in handy. And all I can say is knowing what goes on in the background is distressing, really. Click fraud is rampant and common, but usually treated with one eye closed. Conversion/CPA fraud happens from time to time, and we do take a lot of action on those. We had to take ridiculous amounts of precaution, using up to three different verifiers (including one written by yours truly) to verify impressions.

Don’t get me wrong though. I love my job dearly. Being a statistician/economist/mathematician behind the scenes, planning large scale machine learning systems etc is fun and challenging, and exactly what I want out of the job. The reasons for doing them however, does indeed dim my view on humanity and humanity’s moralities.

The worst part is after some prolonged exposure, I am starting to be okay with these things to. And it’s scaring me that I can rationalize myself into such an ethical position. The postmodernist in me however goes bing! and says “ah, but all ethical positions are rationalized into, and heck you are the one who thinks porn sites are actually good for society”.

And then there are ethical questions that come in on a day to day basis that severely bug me from time to time. For example, I have a big problem with Saudi Arabia as a country as a whole. Their laws are barbaric, they don’t respect basic human rights, and so on and so forth – there is a whole laundry list of stuff they do that don’t sit well with me. Every time we have an insertion order to run something in Saudi Arabia, the internal demons start fighting.  On the one hand there is a part of me that says “there is nothing wrong with bleeding these motherfuckers dry”, which is quite instantly countered by the thought “but they’re human, and they have different environments which led to their current behaviours and attitude – you should understand and probably put some work into educating them, also, stop generalizing kthxbai”. On the other hand there is a part of me that says “we should honestly just punish them and boycott everything about them”, which is instantly countered by the thought “but you’re bringing that little bit of enlightenment to them, also why are you punishing everyone for the sins of the few?” (yes you can probably guess what kind of campaigns are run there).

The amount of conversations that go in my head with myself has reached a staggering height.  And of course, I am now doubting my own sanity as well – normal people don’t talk to themselves as much. And a lot of times too, I feel like a bloody fraud. I think I think I know statistics and machine learning well, but I feel on more times that I don’t actually know much, and that I am just conning myself. And even worse, very often I feel like I am conning everyone at work that I know what I am doing. Sure, I am sure that my SVM code will run, and will nicely classify the clicks into potentially converting clicks and potentially non-converting clicks but it just feels like I’ve copied someone’s answers in an exam – you know that feeling, sinking, feeling absolutely lame. Every time I embark on something new, I research, and find that someone has already done something like my idea, only better. This can be quite demoralizing at times.

Ah well, I am done ranting here. I had been feeling a bit crazy – my head had been full of plans that I would classify as purely diabolical, but I guess it’ll pass after a good long bath. Good night.

  1. [1]ahem, according to the DSM IV, it’s called antisocial behaviour
  2. [2]So, if I am working in online advertising, why is this blog so unknown? It’s because I’m a hipster, dude, I do things before they were cool
  3. [3]Note: as my personal opinion, I think there is absolutely nothing wrong with porn sites or filesharing services. In fact I think that these sites exist for the greater good. I’ll explain it later

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