Alibaba Goes for It

But while Google slowly rolls out [their interactive voice chat service] in a limited public launch, Alibaba’s own voice assistant has already been clocking overtime. On December 2 at the 2018 Neural Information Processing Systems conference, one of the largest annual gatherings for AI research, Alibaba demoed the AI customer service agent for its logistics company Cainiao. Jin Rong, the dean of Alibaba’s Machine Intelligence and Technology Lab, said the agent is already servicing millions of customer requests a day.

Alibaba already has a voice assistant way better than Google’s

Anyone jealous that Alibaba can just roll this out and start running? While Google manages PR and privacy concerns? Anyone feel growth slowing?

You Can’t Train for Everything

“It was just like, ‘We found a seal with an eel stuck in its nose. Do we have a protocol?’ ” Littnan told The Post in a phone interview.

There was none, Littnan said, and it took several emails and phone calls before the decision was made to grab the eel and try pulling it out.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/nation/2018/12/07/make-better-choices-endangered-hawaiian-monk-seals-keep-getting-eels-stuck-up-their-noses-scientists-want-them-stop/?utm_term=.1d97dc16653a

For some reason this reminds me of a lot of legal work.

Cybersecurity Ethics

At an MLCE today and got this hypothetical:

Your Company learns that a bug in one of your apps could have provided bad guys with access to confidential user information, but you do not have evidence that anyone actually obtained such information. You’ve fixed the bug. Arguably, privacy statutes require the Company to make disclosure to users and/or regulators. Management makes decision not to disclose, because no indication of actual breach. Ethical issue?

The audience of lawyers split 75% / 25% (live polling) calling this an ethical issue. Fascinating.

Two points: (1) I think the right answer is no. If the statute “arguably” does not require disclosure (i.e. reasonable people disagree) then this is not an ethical issue. But also (2) this scenario is almost certainly true all the time for all companies with confidential user data and internet-facing systems. Should they all be disclosing all the time? Is that even realistic?

Just take a look at the National Vulnerability Database, do a blank search, and look at the security bugs listed today. Awful security bugs are being found, published, and fixed every day for every major application everywhere. If you have confidential user information and internet-facing applications, you may face this hypothetical every single day.

Permian Extinction Resolved / Replicated

So this is bad:

On Thursday, a team of scientists offered a detailed accounting of how marine life was wiped out during the Permian-Triassic mass extinction. Global warming robbed the oceans of oxygen, they say, putting many species under so much stress that they died off. 

And we may be repeating the process, the scientists warn. If so, then climate change is “solidly in the category of a catastrophic extinction event,” said Curtis Deutsch, an earth scientist at the University of Washington and co-author of the new study, published in the journal Science.

https://www.nytimes.com/2018/12/07/science/climate-change-mass-extinction.html

Feels like this should be bigger news.

The Complexity of the Legal Domain

How to comply with legal rules? It’s even worse in other countries.

Speaking personally, I recently spent about a year living in Spain (helping out our Barcelona office) and I read everything I could on Spain visas before I went but I knew that I still didn’t know enough to do it on my own. So I hired a really good and really expensive Spain immigration lawyer and in about three hours she totally set me straight and I walked out of her office knowing exactly what to do and I did it and it worked. 90 percent of what I had read about Spain visas on the internet was true but ten percent that was either dead ass wrong or had changed recently changed or just did not apply to our specific situation. Had I gone with just what I had learned on the internet, I likely would have been booted out of Spain in 90 days. Despite all that I had learned by going through all of this, when it came time for another American lawyer in my firm to take my place in Spain, he too went to this same Spain immigration lawyer and he reported back to me the same result. She saved him huge amounts of time and huge amounts of problems.

And the whole point of this excerpt is that China is way worse.

Link

Impactful Legal Technology

One of the simplest (conceptually) but potentially most impactful areas of legal technology is just easier access to data and services that are already available. From Business Insider, a story on DoNotPay:

First Joshua Browder went after parking tickets, building a bot that helped hundreds of thousands of users challenge their fines.

Then, the 21-year-old student broadened his focus, expanding into everything from landlord disputes to chasing compensation for lost luggage on flights.

In 2018, Browder  took aim at Equifax after a data breach exposed the personal data the firm held on tens of millions of Americans, and his app DoNotPay was used to help file 25,000 lawsuits against the company.

See also Bad Landlord? These Coders Are Here to Help.

Can software tools help non-experts effectively navigate domains that experts have created and maintained? First step: access the underlying data.

Life Advice

Ran across this Twitter thread from Patrick McKenzie and thought it was great. Here are some lines for emphasis:

Companies find it incredibly hard to reliably staff positions with hard-working generalists who operate autonomously and have high risk tolerances. This is not the modal employee, including at places which are justifiably proud of the skill/diligence/etc of their employees.

and

Technologists tend to severely underestimate the difficulty and expense of creating software, especially at companies which do not have fully staffed industry leading engineering teams (“because software is so easy there, amirite guys?”)

and

There is no hidden reserve of smart people who know what they’re doing, anywhere. Not in government, not in science, not in tech, not at AppAmaGooBookSoft, nowhere. The world exists in the same glorious imperfection that it presents with.

Your Lawyer’s Email Advice is Wrong

What do your lawyers tell you about email? Don’t write bad emails, right?

Here’s a bad email:

“OMG we totally infringe this patent.”

And the response:

“Hey guys, the lawyers told us not to discuss patents on email. Let’s take this discussion offline.”

So now it looks like discussion, offline, about how much they infringe the patent. And that’s probably not what happens.

It’s fine to email. The mistake is speculating and exaggerating in email.

The truth is the author has no idea if they infringe the patent. They are expressing a fear. Infringement is a legal analysis and almost always requires a full technical investigation.

Email is fine. But don’t fucking speculate. Don’t panic. State the facts and loop in your lawyer.

Guaranteed Patent Validity vs No Permanent Injunctions

Fascinating and bold proposal by Professor Paul Janicke of the University of Houston Law Center to fix the U.S. patent system:

(1) Continue to allow prosecution of as many claims as desired, but after allowance require the applicant to choose no more than three for issuance. During the first three years from grant, attacks on these claims can be made in the PTO or the courts, to the same extent as now. After three years from the issue date, validity of the claims becomes incontestable.

(2)  In exchange for (1), the remedy of permanent injunction disappears, except in ANDA cases. It will be replaced by a revised financial remedy: equitable sharing in the infringer’s revenues from the infringing activity, as set by the judge.

He anticipates the objections but argues radical change is needed. And it is certainly appealing to think about a fundamental rebalancing. The patent system is broken.

Cryptocurrency Hype Cycle Part 3

The hype cycle of cryptocurrency may be hitting another inflection point. I tend to believe it’s going to stay down for some time.

The Economist reports:

Economists define a currency as something that can be at once a medium of exchange, a store of value and a unit of account. Lack of adoption and loads of volatility mean that cryptocurrencies satisfy none of those criteria. That does not mean they are going to go away (though scrutiny from regulators concerned about the fraud and sharp practice that is rife in the industry may dampen excitement in future). But as things stand there is little reason to think that cryptocurrencies will remain more than an overcomplicated, untrustworthy casino.