In Blockchain we trust

adult-bitcoin-blockchain-1037914 (1)The first thing we do, let’s disintermediate all the lawyers.

 

Imagine a virtuous world where someone says they would do something and then actually did it. Blockchain promises to revolutionize the economy since the need for virtue simply disappears. Advocates claim that Blockchain immensely raises the level of trust in the system. Alternatively, one could argue that it removes the need for trust.

 

Presently, we are more of a trust but verify type of society. If you want to buy a car, you search for comparable vehicles, haggle for the best price and sign pages of legal documents. Banks have you sign reams of paperwork and generally place a security interest on the car. The Bank also confirms the car is free of any liens. You then generally pay on time for the next four years. If you miss a couple of payments, then the bank may have to launch some proceedings for collection.

 

Undoubtedly you have heard of Bitcoin somehow in conjunction with Blockchain. Let’s ignore the Bitcoin frenzy for now and focus on what drives it.

 

Blockchain comprises a continuously growing list of records called blocks. These blocks link together using cryptography that are resistant to data modification. So instead of a single ledger of transactions held by one organization, it creates an open distributed ledger that can record transactions between parties in a verifiable way. One earlier block cannot be altered without the consensus of later blocks.

 

Blockchains can be public or private. MasterCard’s Blockchain can’t be viewed and may not have any purpose outside of marketing since all of its transactions run through the existing infrastructure. This harkens back to the time when companies advertised they were Y2K compliant.

 

You clamber down the rabbit hole and you encounter smart contracts. The name again seems a bit of a misnomer since the contracts operate a simple logic of if this happens then that happens next.

 

Smart contracts use computer protocols intended to enforce the performance of a contract. They can be fully or partially self-executing. Once various conditions are fulfilled, assets are transferred and funds are released. This transaction appears visible to all users but all parties remain anonymous.

 

We can look to Ethereum as having one of the better systems for establishing these smart contracts. Ethereum uses its own cryptocurrency called Ether. In our car example the history of the car and the dealer’s transactions reside on the Blockchain which is public. You contact your bank which has instant access to your credit history. The bank can transfer funds immediately and the dealer can arrange for the vehicle transfer by the time you get back from your test drive.

 

So long as you continue to authorize payments to the bank, all remains well. If you decide to stop payments, then the car’s systems could be disabled the next time you try to start it. Welcome to the internet of things.

 

The Blockchain concept does have the potential to extend to all types of commercial transactions. House purchases could be reduced down to days from the existing weeks it presently takes. This would require a public ledger of real estate titles, planning permissions and certificates of title. Sweden’s land-ownership authority conducts Blockchain property transactions in various staged pilot projects. A three to six month transaction could take hours instead. All that extra efficiency must come out of some intermediary’s pocket.

 

The removal of intermediaries impacts large swathes of job categories.  Any sort of job category that involves creating trust in a transaction may no longer be required. The Association of Certified Fraud Examiners strongly claims that Blockchain is no mere hype train. This strong endorsement may have the effect of reducing the need for Certified Fraud Examiners by using Blockchain instead.

 

One paper suggested that insurance payouts could applied to Blockchain. They suggested that an automated system could indicate if an insured fell within an area that was recently flooded. Insurance payments would then be automatically issued.

 

Ultimately, Blockchain can be seen as a foundational change. Immense barriers remain for its adoption for businesses, government and individuals. The incorporation of Blockchain may take years.

 

However, a major function of lawyers includes the trust but verify aspect. As real estate transactions become more blockchainish, then the role of the lawyer would be substantially reduced.  This may finally drive the concept of hourly billing into a strict transactional fee type of relationship with clients.

 

Harvard Business Review goes so far as to say intermediaries such as lawyers, brokers and bankers may no longer be necessary. Not so much a ‘the first thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers’ as ‘let’s disintermediate all the lawyers.’ This may not have the same emotive content, but the result would be same, lawyer wise.

 

From Lawyers Daily

GoogleLaw and creative destruction of the legal profession

beating-construction-crushing-37409 (1)Google and artificial intelligence may not be the end of the legal profession, but, boy, can you see it from here.

I anticipate encountering what Joseph Schumpeter euphemistically called creative destruction. Innovation destructs archaic business models and creatively releases capital to be deployed elsewhere — a benign description of being out on the street with your law degree.

Perhaps it’s too hyperbolic, but, for example, Google has made a database of federal and state case law and legal journal articles available via its Google Scholar search. In their defence, lawyers can now purchase on Amazon the “Please Do Not Confuse Your Google Search With My Law Degree” coffee mug.

For a simpler DIY approach, YouTube displays more than 146 videos on family law. This also includes shuffle playlist for greater variety.

For comparison, AI factors into more than 38 per cent of regular enterprise planning for mainly customer interfaces. As for law firms, it’s likely not so much. Most of law firm and in-house planning centres on how to augment regular legal work with new AI tools to make this more effective and efficient.

JPMorgan Chase & Co., apparently, eliminated 360,000 hours of legal work creating legal security documents by the use of COIN, for Contract Intelligence, to review commercial loan agreements. The bank plans to use AI to analyze credit default swaps . . . since things worked out so well last time.

Other forms of AI can review entire contracts, interpret sections and even recommend sections that are not there. These recommendations can depend on which side of a particular transaction you happen to be. Similar to customizing streaming music systems, one can imagine the type of customization that can occur as you adjust the lever from buyer focused over to seller focused. We await the ultimate customization that includes sliding the scale either to the far left or far right into the “jerk” setting.

I tried a contract review application one time with a simple release. No comments came back. I imagine legal associates would be ecstatic to receive something back from a senior lawyer without any comments. I was hoping for at least one “atta boy” type of meme.

Instead of augmenting legal practice, another perspective suggests a client-based focus where the system asks questions and directs the client to certain resources. For example, The DoNotPay website helped users successfully appeal hundreds of thousands of parking tickets by having the client answer a number of questions. The system then interprets the situation and prints out a draft letter to send to the authorities.

I tested DoNotPay over the weekend and can confidently assert that the experience replicated that of retaining some legal firms. The site took in my request, said it was sorry to hear that and told me if I could email more information it would get back to me in 24 hours. Nice immediate reply, but a solution may come a bit later. Notwithstanding the delay, the value proposition — benefits divided by total costs — cannot be beat. The system is free.

So, where do the law societies stand among all of this creative destruction? Their mandate includes the protection of the public. However, the other two mandates generally include advancing the cause of justice and the rule of law, which requires the public disclosure of legal codes and processes. Societies also facilitate access to justice. This suggests making it as easy as possible for the general public unable to afford a lawyer access to some form of legal information.

This type of access does not mean providing paper or online brochures but a more customized response. In other businesses, chatbots can ask an advancing series of questions and provide a more “intelligent” and applicable answer. This forms the entire basis behind a customer-focused type of interface.

A new client-driven model suggests perhaps an Uber approach. Uber does not own cabs and tries not to employ drivers. The courts have imposed some obligations here. Generally, Uber is a simple platform that connects customers and drivers. A similar approach could connect a client and a lawyer providing the most cost-effective service. Cost is not everything, but as the law becomes more commoditized, then perhaps being “the better lawyer” may not carry the day if everyone uses the same type of AI platform to research and provide a result. And, yes, everyone shall likely have their respective settings maximized over to jerk, so there will still be plenty to argue about.

From a policy analysis perspective, one appreciates the different approaches each law society brings to the table and the complicated socio-economic analysis that would be required to balance justice access and public protection. The 2014 CBA Legal Futures Initiative outlined a number of areas that the legal profession could take to remain relevant. Implementation of the recommendations may be slow in coming.

The various law societies currently have authority over who can practise law. One can easily imagine a public lobbying effort to storm the ramparts to allow some form of AI system that can ask questions and guide the individual to a possible area where help could be found. There is nothing like a bit of urgency to assist in the legal change management process.

 

 

Canadian Lawyer November 6, 2017

Technology wants to be friends!

blank-destination-geography-437646

Hit the road Jack and don’t you come back
No more, no more, no more, no more
Hit the road Jack and don’t you come back
No more

 

Ray Charles

 

Generally, technology provides certain expected benefits. Other benefits appear totally unexpected.  As an early adopter of technology, I tried using an automotive navigation system a couple of times. Driving in a large unknown city can be intimidating, so I like to have some gentle guidance on where to go. Anything more than this level of guidance causes my frontal cortex to freeze up. As you know, numerous people ended up in rivers, lakes and oceans simply following navigation system directions with no further frontal cortex involvement of their own.

 

For example the WAZE application allows you to avoid traffic tie-ups, but it expects you to think about what you are doing. Their terms of reference includes the following exclusion;

You agree and acknowledge that you assume full, exclusive and sole responsibility for the use of and reliance on the Service, and you further agree and acknowledge that your use of or reliance on the Service is made entirely at your own risk. You further acknowledge that it is your responsibility to comply with all applicable laws (including traffic laws) while using the Service.

 

I rented a car in Toronto along with a nurturing navigation unit without even a cursory review of the terms and conditions. I find the street layouts somewhat intimidating. Where I come from, whenever you have a street, with an overpass on top, iced with a further freeway on top of that, I believe myself in a futuristic metropolis.

 

The rental agency gently explained how the global positioning system (GPS: godforsaken poor sap) worked. I later sat in the car while the system accessed the satellites. I believed that they could have been talking, planning or eventually scheming about how they intended to take over the world, starting with me.

 

My propensity to allow an authority figure to tell me what to do becomes a factor here. I expressed a bit of free will and left the parking lot before the GPS managed to access its cabal of satellites. The cement parking lot seemed to block access. I will remember that for when the machine apocalypse finally comes.

 

The unit gave me a choice of a nurturing female voice or a big brother type of male voice. I went with the female voice thinking that I would need more understanding while driving in the big city. The GPS “Gennie” located its conspirator satellites and told me to continue driving forward. Any sort of takeover requires complicity in the subject, so I started to relax. Gennie’s female voice softly directed me to drive downtown and gave me fair warning of upcoming exits, merging highways and veering lefts or rights. She comforted me and appeared to be on my side.

I followed her directions to the letter and found myself between a series of pylons and within an area exclusively for trains. She continue to console me by saying how close I was to my destination. I eventually found an exit to this apparent train trap.   The machines showed their cleverness. But just not clever enough.

 

Time heals all wounds apparently. Rather, stupid never learns. I rented another Gennie when I flew to the west coast. The Victoria airport is at the tip of a peninsula and you have to travel south for 20 miles before you can eventually travel north up the island. I thought with no rail lines around and no stacked concrete freeways, I would be relatively safe.

 

I wanted to find a slightly shorter route that would hug the coastline and allow me to shoot up north faster. The Victoria rental agency parks its cars outside and the new Gennie found its conspirator satellites easily. Too easily.

 

I followed the traditional highways down the peninsula, and as I hoped, Gennie got me off the highway quickly. We turned, I say ‘we’ since I thought Gennie and I were off on an adventure of sorts. A safe adventure. More of a Walt Disney type of adventure with guardrails, standard safety features and no lines.

 

The new route turned out to be far quainter than the traditional highway route. The maximum road speeds became lower than highway speeds. However, one must slow down to appreciate the beauty of the area.

 

We made another turn down another street. Even quainter, more suburban and slower. However, one must slow down to a crawl in order to read the various historical site signs. Life goes too quickly not to absorb the local flavor.

 

We made another turn down a gravel road. This area now epitomized quaintness, and at complete stop now, I could even get out and smell the roses without fear of drive-by rose thorn scratches.

 

The very short line of stopped cars ahead of me had people inside that appeared to be waiting. Looking ahead, I could now see that the road actually ended up into the ocean. Another car stopped behind me. They cut off my escape route. I admonished myself for being so gullible for falling into another GPS trap. Although this one seemed to be a fairly low speed trap. A quick mind should be able to figure out an escape.

 

Perhaps Gennie thought I would be driven by peer pressure to drive my vehicle into the water to drown. I scope out alternate escape routes.

 

The best place to start seemed to be the corner store beside me where they sold coffee. And ferry tickets. I realize that Gennie wanted me to take the ferry and not to drive my car into the water. Although this has been known to happen.

 

I bought a coffee and a ferry ticket while making nonchalant conversation as to the timing of the next ferry. I then squeezed in a further question as to what the weather might be like where we were going with the hope I would find out where we were going. One of the more helpful quaint inhabitants gestured to a far point on the other side of the channel and suggested that whatever I saw across the way would likely be what the weather would be like. His mouth smiled, but I could sense that his eyes suggested ‘dumb-ass’. I went back to the car.

 

The ferry ride turned out to be very pleasant, uneventful and short. This gave me a good chance to get out of the car, watch the sea and feel the wind. Having seen the sights, read the historical markers and smelled the roses, I appreciated the new experience. Technology provided these unexpected benefits.

 

I took the ferry less travelled.

 

 

Gary Goodwin

garywgoodwin@gmail.com

204 232 3916

Triskelion Tattoo

IMG_4408This was a piece from a couple of years ago that was published in the Globe.

 

I finally reached that age when it was time to get a tattoo. There is a fine balance between the years you can appreciate your tattoo and the years that you finally regret it. Turning 60, my years of tattoo appreciation seemed likely to exceed the years of tattoo regret. Only 10% of my age bracket, the baby boomers have a tattoo. Moving from the middle of the pig in the python, I was on the verge of being an outlier.

My spouse got her own tattoo as a 50th birthday present. A nice Celtic knot on the side of calf. I have admired her determination to show who she was and an insight into her heritage. The only thing that people could tell about my heritage was that I came from nice hair.

Getting a tattoo would reveal my inner rebel. Getting a tattoo, and a motorbike, would go hand-in-hand. My spouse did point out the error of that logic, and a tattoo was a stand-alone rebel stance and would not require a motorbike. My rebel was appropriately schooled.

What tattoo could do this, without the motorbike? Latin phrases such as carpe diem have been done to death. The best approach would be a symbol. I was looking for something that spoke to me and represented what being human was all about. No easy task since people search all their lives for personal meaning, and I was looking for something like that that could fit on my slightly increasing, soon to be decreasing body size.

In the time that it would have taken to gestate five consecutive baby elephants, I finally set upon a design. A triskelion. A three part symbol that even predates the Celts. The interesting aspect is that you can apply any meaning you want to a trinity. Past present future, mind body spirit, grande decaf latte. The last is a bit of stretch, but the symbol is multipurpose. I wanted to include my wife’s initials in between the spokes of the triskelion. My spouse smiled. My adult children mildly rolled their eyes. PDAs, parental displays of affection, are to be avoided.

The placement of a tattoo also makes a statement. Men prefer arms while woman prefer upper back and legs. Each placement makes a different statement. A facial location would make the statement that I was not happy with my present employment. A deltoid shoulder placement was more in keeping. Not too shy, not obvious at work, and would integrate well with the yoga crowd when I wore my lululemon tank top.

This was the way to show my free spirit. I copied out varioustattoo sizes and taped them to various body locations. Apparently my free spirit likes to be guided like a slow moving trolley on tracks.

After contacting my local tattoo parlor, and checking out needle safety, I had my consultation. I veered away somewhat from the artists that would otherwise have been comfortable providing prison tattoos, while in prison. I settled for a more artistic looking artist.

The fateful day arrived and I was feeling flushed and decided to walk to the tattoo parlor instead of driving. I loaded up on ibuprofen. Upon arriving, I signed the necessary forms. There was no legal jargon to pour through. A good sign. I sat down in the dental looking chair, not a good sign, and my artist explained the process. He applied the stencil and I checked the mirror. This was the one last chance to bail, but I smiled and said ‘hey, it’s exactly what I was thinking of’. This may have been true at some point, but my mind was blank. I leaned back and closed my eyes. I can just about fall asleep when getting my teeth cleaned. I decided that I should try to stay awake and become more ‘fully engaged’ in the moment. But I was more concerned about my tattoo artist. If he nodded off and didn’t move from a certain spot after a minute, I wondered if I would be left with a large black splotch. And if so, what would this very unhappy looking death balloon symbolize?

The entire process took less than 90 minutes. I had been warned that getting a tattoo was like getting scratched by a cat. My previous scratching experience was rescuing a friend’s cat from a tree. The cat was terrified, but I coaxed it to leap into my arms. Yes, mistake, scratch wise. Fortunately getting the tattoo was way less painful.

When my artist was finished I paid the balance of my account. I gave him a nice tip. Even though the experience is almost the same, countless small punctures, I don’t usually tip my lawyer or my accountant.

Afterwards, I did feel different. After thinking about the meaning of the design, I understood how people can feel that their totem, crystals and the like are channeling another power. We all like to be attached to something greater. The triskelion reminds me to work on all aspects of myself continuously, a permanent conscious guide.

I like how they worked my spouse’s Celtic initials into the design which shows how our past, present and futures are intertwined.  I have committed to things that are important and to leave aside things that are not. There is no time like the present. Why wait?

IMG_4408

Dragon vs Nazgul mount

bokeh-daylight-dragon-208326 (2)I thought, erroroneously, that a dragon and a nazgul mount were about the same. However, we can clearly see that Smaug from the Hobbit’s tale, could speak, covet gold, fly and breathe fire.

Tolkien once wrote that “he did not intend the steed of the Witch-king to be what is now called a pterodactyl, while acknowledging that it was ‘obviously… pterodactylic and owes much  to the new mythology of the Prehistoric’ “. Peter Jackson changed the  beak from the book into teeth for the movie.

The Nazgul mount apparently does not even have a proper name. It could fly and apparently it stank. Not the type of beast you would invite to dinner. Unlike Smaug who apparently could make great dinner converstation if he could be trusted not to take away the gold plated servers.

https://onedailyprompt.wordpress.com/2019/03/31/your-daily-word-prompt-dragon-march-31-2019/

1000 books to read before you die

blur-books-close-up-159866I bought this book recently. I had hoped that this book would have made the list so I would only have to go through another 999. No such luck.

I always enjoy creating a list and discovering that a few item were previously completed so now I have less to do and I have that sense of moral accomplishment.

I just ordered 100 Years of Solitude. I thought I had to read this since Netflix was coming out with a series beforehand. Not sure if its better to read then watch, or watch then read. This assumes you intend to do both. Alway a conundrum.