The Value of Loyalty

Yesterday I amplified Juan Pablo Villarino’s comments on the importance of being able to demonstrate your value to your community.

Also yesterday, David Brooks wrote these words about the philosophy of Josiah Royce, a late 19th century American historian / philosopher:

Royce argued that meaningful lives are marked, above all, by loyalty. Out on the frontier, he had seen the chaos and anarchy that ensues when it’s every man for himself, when society is just a bunch of individuals searching for gain. He concluded that people make themselves miserable when they pursue nothing more than their “fleeting, capricious and insatiable” desires.

So for him the good human life meant loyalty, “the willing and practical and thoroughgoing devotion of a person to a cause.”

A person doesn’t have to invent a cause, or find it deep within herself. You are born into a world of causes, which existed before you were born and will be there after you die. You just have to become gripped by one, to give yourself away to it realizing that the cause is more important than your individual pleasure or pain.

. . . . .

Royce’s philosophy is helpful with the problem we have today. How does the individual fit into the community and how does each community fit into the whole? He offered a shift in perspective. When evaluating your life, don’t ask, “How happy am I?” Ask, “How loyal am I, and to what?”

Your Loyalties Are Your Life

What are the rules for AI?

No one knows. But lots of folks are asking.

Microsoft has one answer. Google has another, similar answer. The Future of Life organization has another (23 point!) list of ethical rules.

These rules have a lot of overlap, but also a lot of noise. Of course systems should be safe and reliable and just and secure. This is marketing noise and no one disagrees. We need to figure out the hard rules. How transparent should we require AI systems to be? How explainable? This could be hard.

In any case, this year seems the one for forming advisory boards to figure out what rules we should have around (1) letting AI’s defend / kill us; (2) letting AI’s treat us; and (3) maintaining US dominance in AI.

Transaction costs

Transaction costs seem to be poorly understood by the general public. For example, it costs money to buy a house. It costs money to sell a house. People often don’t take these costs into consideration when they imagine their house investment. If you buy/sell a house every few years, that’s a major hit to your bottom line. It might even destroy your investment. (Houses should not be investments, but that’s a rant for another time.)

The common 1% financial advisor fee is another example. It is deceptively large and in general you should avoid it.

Big, sophisticated companies should know all about transaction fees. Maybe?

The Japanese tech conglomerate, run by billionaire Masayoshi Son, spent a staggering $894 million on investment-banking fees in 2018, according to financial-data company Refinitiv, securing financial advice on deals and procuring an array of bonds, loans, and equity investments. 

That’s not the highest total for any company just last year but the highest in at least the past decade. 

The next highest fee payer in 2018, German pharmaceutical giant Bayer, is leagues behind at $384 million — 57% less than SoftBank

SoftBank spent $900 million on investment-banking fees in 2018

You have to make a lot of money on your investments to make up for a one-year $894M investment fee. That’s not just $894M now. That’s more than $1B in three years at 3% returns. That’s well over $2B in 10 years at 10% returns. Take whatever you were going to make on those investments and lop off a few billion immediately.

Maybe Softbank knows what it’s doing? Maybe?

Pets aren’t just property: divorce edition

A new California law means pets don’t need to be treated as “just” property in a divorce.

Legal experts said the law means judges can take into consideration factors like who walks, feeds and plays with the pet when deciding who the animal should live with.

“Before it was an issue of who owns the dog and how you distribute the property,” Favre said. “But pets aren’t quite the same thing as china and sofas. They’re more like children, in that they’re living beings who have their own preferences.”

And as with children, he said, divorce can be “a trauma for animals as well.”

The law doesn’t just apply to dogs — it defines “pet” as “any animal that is community property and kept as a household pet.”

New California divorce law: Treat pets like people — not property to be divided up

This is an attention grabbing premise, but the law is about treating people better, not pets. Given the terrible incentives embedded in family law, I suppose we should be welcoming any improvement.

Too good to not post

Matt Levine is awesome.  The first topic of his editorial is just fantastic. If you don’t subscribe to his newsletter oped newspaper thing, you’re very much missing out. You don’t even need to subscribe to Bloomberg to get it for free gratis!

The article does a great job of capturing the job of thinking like a lawyer – and where people go wrong on their thinking.

A modern lawyer’s life

I found this Slate Money podcast fascinating.  A lot of this is about the abdication of morals in the process of growing a business – and how business schools and consultancies have helped this along.

I’m sure my enjoyment of this is wrapped up in my belief that in-house lawyers are now the moral core of a company and have a prominent role in manipulating guiding the company into doing the “right” thing.

I’ve definitely found this true in my career, what about you?

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.

Here, let me rewrite that for you

This from Forbes:

Blockchain is the latest innovation to take over vacation planning. It’s expected to disrupt the industry as much as when Expedia, Airbnb, and Priceline took vacation planning online.

A company is attempting to apply blockchain to the travel industry.  To be successful it needs to outcompete other entrenched rivals such as Expedia, Airbnb, and Priceline in a historically very low margin business. At the time of this writing, blockchain has not been found to be a competitive advantage in any industry outside of blackmarket transactions.

These sentences have no meaning

From Law360 (paywall):

“The data-driven lawyer is the lawyer of the future,” said Josh Becker, Lexis head of legal analytics and chairman of Lex Machina. “This is still very early days and these pioneers are critical. They’re evangelists within their firms and they bring data with them each step of the way.”

To save you the subscription, Law360 (which is owned by the same parent as Lex Machina), says lawyers using data is the future.

Just so you’re aware.  Lawyers have always used data, and those that used it better usually got ahead.  In 2007 you might build a script to download info from the USPTO, and in 2018 you now might pay a subscription fee for someone to do that for you.  This has been going on forever, you’ve only added marketing.

And, from what I’ve seen from Lex Machina (which is now dated by a few years) I’m unimpressed.  At that time, it could tell you an insight such as: only 10% of motions to dismiss have been granted in a certain jurisdiction.  So what?  That’s still a 10% chance.  It’s a shot on goal.

The future for lawyers is competency and intelligence. Let’s make that happen.

AI and Tattoo Identification

Somewhat of an old story raised anew this past month.  The use of AI to identify tattoos and what they mean.  This raises all sorts of serious concerns as pointed out in the article (but take with a grain of salt given the advocacy group behind it).

I just like the idea of this needing to be explained in court as a way to establish reasonable suspicion or probable cause.  There are ways to get around that need by just using police officer testimony, but someone is going to go after the algorithm.