New Job De-/script/-ions for Attorneys with Coding and Tech Business Skills

"CODE_n SPACES Pattern", Image by CODE_n

“CODE_n SPACES Pattern”, Image by CODE_n

The conventional wisdom among lawyers and legal educators has long been that having a second related degree or skill from another field can be helpful in finding an appropriate career path. That is, a law degree plus, among others, an MBA, engineering or nursing degree can be quite helpful in finding an area of specialization that leverages both fields. There are synergies and advantages to be shared by both the lawyers and their clients in these circumstances.

Recently, this something extra has expanded to include very timely applied tech and tech business skills. Two recently reported developments highlight this important emerging trend. One involves a new generation of attorneys who have a depth of coding skills and the other is an advanced law degree to prepare them for positions in the tech and entrepreneurial marketplaces. Let’s have a look at them individually and then what they might means together for legal professionals in a rapidly changing world. I will summarize and annotate both of them, and compile a few plain text questions of my own.

(These 26 other Subway Fold posts in the category of Law Practice and Legal Education have tracked many related developments.)

Legal Codes and Lawyers Who Code

1.  Associates

The first article features four young lawyers who have found productive ways to apply their coding skills at their law offices. This story appeared in the November 13, 2015 edition of The Recorder (subscription required) entitled Lawyers Who Code Hack New Career Path by Patience Haggin. I highly recommend reading it in its entirely.

During an interview at Apple for a secondment (a form of temporary arrangement where a lawyer from a firm will join the in-house legal department of a client)¹, a first-year lawyer named Canek Acosta was asked where he knew how to use Excel. He “laughed – and got the job” at Apple. In addition to his law degree, he had majored in computer science and math as an undergraduate.

Next, as a law student at Michigan State University College of Law, he participated in the LegalRnD – The Center for Legal Services Innovation, a program that teaches students to identify and solve “legal industry process bottlenecks”.  The Legal RnD website lists and describes all eight courses in their curriculum. It has also sent out teams to legal hackathons. (See the March 24, 2015 Subway Fold post entitled “Hackcess to Justice” Legal Hackathons in 2014 and 2015 for details on these events.)

Using his combination of skills, Acosta wrote scripts that automated certain tasks, including budget spreadsheets, for Apple’s legal department. As a result, some new efficiencies were achieved. Acosta believes that his experience at Apple was helpful in subsequently getting hired at the law firm of O’Melvany & Myers as an associate.

While his experience is currently uncommon, law firms are expected to increasingly recruit law students to become associates who have such contemporary skills in addition to their legal education. Furthermore, some of these students are sidestepping traditional roles in law practice and finding opportunities in law practice management and other non-legal staff roles that require a conflation of “legal analysis and hacking skills”.

Acosta further believes that a “hybrid lawyer-programmer” can locate the issues in law office operational workflows and then resolve them. Now at O’Melvany, in addition to his regular responsibilities as a litigation associate, he is also being asked to use his programming ability to “automate tasks for the firm or a client matter”.

At the San Francisco office of Winston & Strawn, first-year associate Joseph Mornin has also made good use of his programming skills. While attending UC-Berkeley School of Law, he wrote a program to assist legal scholars in generating “permanent links when citing online sources”. He also authored a browser extension called Bestlaw that “adds features to Westlaw“, a major provider of online legal research services.

2.  Consultants and Project Managers

In Chicago, the law firm Seyfarth Shaw has a legal industry consulting subsidiary called SeyfarthLean. One of their associate legal solutions architects is Amani Smathers.  She believes that lawyers will have to be “T-shaped” whereby they will need to combine their “legal expertise” with other skills including “programming, or marketing, or project management“.² Although she is also a graduate of Michigan State University College of Law, instead of practicing law, she is on a team that provides consulting for clients on, among other things, data analytics. She believes that “legal hacking jobs” may provide alternatives to other attorneys not fully interested in more traditional forms of law practices.

Yet another Michigan State law graduate, Patrick Ellis, is working as a legal project manager at the Michigan law firm Honigman Miller Schwartz and Cohn. In this capacity, he uses his background in statistics to “develop estimates and pricing arrangements”. (Mr. Ellis was previously mentioned in a Subway Fold post on March 15, 2015, entitled Does Being on Law Review or Effective Blogging and Networking Provide Law Students with Better Employment Prospects?.)

A New and Unique LLM to be Offered Jointly by Cornell Law School and Cornell Tech

The second article concerned the announcement of a new 1-year, full-time Master of Laws program (which confers an “LLM” degree), to be offered jointly by Cornell Law School and Cornell Tech (a technology-focused graduate and research campus of Cornell in New York City). This LLM is intended to provide practicing attorneys and other graduates with specialized skills needed to support and to lead tech companies. In effect, the program combines elements of law, technology and entrepreneurship. This news was carried in a post on October 29, 2015 on The Cornell Daily Sun entitled Cornell Tech, Law School Launch New Degree Program by Annie Bui.

According to Cornell’s October 27, 2015 press release , students in this new program will be engaged in “developing products and other solutions to challenges posed by companies”. They will encounter real-world circumstances facings businesses and startups in today’s digital marketplace. This will further include studying the accompanying societal and policy implications.

The program is expected to launch in 2016. It will be relocated from a temporary site and then moved to the Cornell Tech campus on Roosevelt Island in NYC in 2017.

My Questions

  • What other types of changes, degrees and initiatives are needed for law schools to better prepare their graduates for practicing in the digital economy? For example, should basic coding principles be introduced in some classes such as first-year contracts to enable students to better handle matters involving Bitcoin and the blockchain when they graduate? (See these four Subway Fold posts on this rapidly expanding technology.)
  • Should Cornell Law School, as well as other law schools interested in instituting similar courses and degrees, consider offering them online? If not for full degree statuses, should these courses alternatively be accredited for Continuing Legal Education requirements?
  • Will or should the Cornell Law/Cornell Tech LLM syllabus offer the types of tech and tech business skills taught by the Michigan State’s LegalRnD program? What do each of these law schools’ programs discussed here possibly have to offer to each other? What unique advantage(s) might an attorney with an LLM also have if he or she can do some coding?
  • Are there any law offices out there that are starting to add an attorney’s tech skills and coding capabilities to their evaluation of potential job candidates? Are legal recruiters adding these criteria to job descriptions for searching they are conducting?
  • Are there law offices out there that are beginning to take an attorney’s tech skills and/or coding contributions into account during annual performance reviews? If not, should they now considering adding them and how should they be evaluated?

May 3, 2017 Update:  For a timely report on the evolution of new careers emerging in law practice for people with legal and technical training and experience, I highly recommend a new article publish in the ABA Journal entitled  Law Architects: New Legal Jobs Make Technology Part of the Career Path, by Jason Tashea, dated, May 1, 2017.


1.  Here is an informative opinion about the ethical issues involved secondment arrangements issued by the Association of the Bar of the City of New York Committee on Professional and Judicial Ethics.

2.  I had an opportunity to hear Ms. Smathers give a very informative presentation about “T-shaped skills” at the Reinvent Law presentation held in New York in February 2014.

The Growing Need to Standardize and Validate Online Education Credentials for the Job Market

"Graduation Caps", Image by John Walker

“Graduation Caps”, Image by John Walker

Near the end of The Matrix, right after Neo and Trinity have their epic battle with the agents on the rooftop , he turns to her and asks whether she “can fly that thing”, referring to a nearby helicopter. They need to do this in order proceed to rescue Morpheus. She doesn’t know how to … just quite yet. Then she takes out her mobile phone to call Apoc and ask him to quickly upload a program to her virtual self that will enable her to pilot the chopper.

The very first time I saw this groundbreaking sci-fi film, at the Regal Union Square Stadium 14 on Broadway and 13th Street in Manhattan, the audience laughed at the absurdity of this dialog. While they were utterly dazzled by the rest of the narrative and strikingly original special effects (especially the astonishing and brain-melting sequence known as “bullet time” where Neo fights and clearly proves he’s no neophyte), this was still an awkward moment because people were laughing at this otherwise captivating film.

While I doubt that anyone would still laugh at this line in today’s world of all things networked and digital, we still have not reached anywhere near the point where people can have new skills and knowledge uploaded right to our brains. Well, at least not anytime soon and, to say the least, doing so would redefine the whole notion of an “upgrade”.

Nonetheless, there has been an enormous revolution in the breadth and diversity of webwide learning platforms. These are now available to anyone anywhere anytime with online access and a desire to learn. The benefits and the potential of online education were first taken up here in a Subway Fold Post on February 15, 2015 entitled A Real Class Act: Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) are Changing the Learning Process. I have taken MOOCs on everything from content strategy to project management to basic programming and have learned a great deal from them.

Standards Still Lacking for Online Education Credentials

However, in today’s highly competitive economy and job market, employers are just not sure how to evaluate prospective workers when they list online courses on their resumes and discuss them at interviews. There is no standardization yet in the requirements and weighting of these credentials. This critical issue was taken up in a very timely and informative feature in the November 18, 2015 edition of The Wall Street Journal entitled Online Skills Are Hot, But Will They Land You a Job? by Lauren Weber. I will summarize and annotate it, and pose some of my own non-academic questions.

Employers are currently searching for people with latest “technical and digital skills”. As a result, there has been a significant increase in the services rendered by course providers including Udemy and Lynda.com, coding bootcamps, and MOOCs such as Coursera and edX. These online learning platforms aim to assist workers in enhancing their skills or to provide “experience they didn’t get in college”. Nonetheless, many managers still neither trust nor recognize these new providers and their course offerings.

According to Anthony Carnevale, the director of Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce, there is no central authority setting any standards for these online educational providers. Some of the job seekers who have taken these online classes are likewise frustrated by this situation.

Independent Groups Trying to Create Credential Standards

An effort to create such standards has recently been undertaken by a group of academic researchers with additional assistance from trade groups including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation. Support for this also includes a $2.25 million grant from the Lumina Foundation, whose stated goal is for 60% of Americans to gain post-high school training by 2025. This project involves creating an online registry for use by both employers and workers to research credentials. This is intended for either group to “see exactly what skills they reflect”.

The creation of this credential registry is currently being done as a joint project by George Washington University, Southern Illinois University and the American National Standards Institute. A pilot of the directory is expected to be rolled out sometime during mid-2016.

The working group plans to assure employers that an online educator’s credentials (or “badges”) are “a sign of rigorous training”, by surveying employers about the credentials held by employees in specific roles. This will be done in an effort to provide validation for particular courses and badges.

(I also searched and found a position paper entitled Connecting Credentials: Making the Case for Reforming the U.S. Credentialing System, published by The Lumina Foundation in June 2015. I highly recommend a click-through and full read of this for the clear and compelling case it makes for this project.)

Similar initiatives have also been developed by:

  • LinkedIn which is engaged in a pilot program in Phoenix and Denver. The company is canvassing area employers about the skills they are seeking and the credentials of the workers they have recently hired. Using this information, the job networking site will permit users to learn the skills they will need for a particular job and the classes and training that “recent hires in that role have had”. This service will launch in early 2016.
  • TechHire which is a new U.S. government venture launched earlier this year by the Obama administration, whose mission is to expedite training and employment opportunities “for people without traditional academic backgrounds”. It is expected to accelerate the validity of the credentials it is offering by persuading “employers to review their skill requirements” and coordinate with training providers of “nontraditional coursework” including coding boot camps and online classes.

Employer Initiative to Test Applicant’s Job-Specific Skills

Employers on their own initiatives may soon be testing job applicants’ tech and marketing skills with simulations. These could be given in conjunction with interviews. During an HR conference in 2014, a number of companies demo-ed such tests for a wide range of specific skills from “basic math to drafting legal contracts”.¹

According to Dennis Yang, the CEO of Udemy, if these gain wide acceptance, college degrees or technical certificates might no longer be relevant. Rather, for him, the two key criteria are the ability and the willingness to learn new things.

Currently, recruiters believe that badges and credentials from online education programs indicate someone’s receptivity to learning. For example, Melkeya McDuffie, the Senior Director of Talent Acquisition recently promoted an employee at Waste Management, Inc. partly because he had taken some relevant MOOCs on Coursera. She was impressed that he had taken the initiative to do so and could demonstrate his knowledge.²

My Questions

  • Would a hybrid of credential standardization and skills simulations be another viable approach? That is, could the groups involved in each of these efforts could inform, influence and shape each others’ work?
  • How would either or both of these processes be affected in jobs requiring state or federal licensing?
  • Should employees in certain jobs be somehow incentivized by their employers to take duly certified online courses in order to remain current in their fields? Should companies factor online courses taken into an employee’s annual performance review?

 


1.  See also a September 12, 2014 post on Lawyerist.com entitled The Legal Tech Audit Proves Lawyers Are Terrible at Technology, by Lisa Needham.

2.  See also an October 23, 2015 article in the Houston Chronicle entitled Waste Management Overhauls Its Recruiting by Sarah Scully, where Ms. McDuffie is also quoted several times.

New Manual Transmission: Creating an Augmented Reality Car Owner’s Guide

"Engine_Cut-away_SEMA2010", Image by Automotive Rythms

“Engine_Cut-away_SEMA2010”, Image by Automotive Rythms

Like most training and support documentation, car owner’s manuals are usually only consulted when something goes wrong with a vehicle. Some people look through them after they purchase a new ride, but usually their pages are about as interesting to read as watching paint dry on the wall. Does anyone really care about spending much quality time immersed in the scintillating details of how the transmission works unless you really must?

Not unsurprisingly, the results of a Google search on “car owner’s manuals” were, well, manifold as there exists numerous free sites online that contain deep and wide digital repositories of this highly detailed and exhaust-ively diagrammed support.

Now comes news that the prosaic car owner’s manual has been transformed into something entirely new with its transposition into an augmented reality (AR) application. This was the subject of a fascinating report on CNET.com on November 10, 2015 entitled Hyundai Unveils an Augmented-Reality Owner’s Manual by Andrew Krok. I will summarize and annotate it, and then pose a clutch of my own questions.

As well, the press release from the auto manufacturer entitled Hyundai Virtual Guide Introduces Augmented Reality to the Owner’s Manual was also released on November 10th. Both links contain photos of the app being used on a tablet. It can also be seen in operation in this brief video on YouTube. (Furthermore, these eleven Subway Fold posts have recently covered a range of the latest developments and application concerning augmented reality in other fields.)

Adding an entirely new meaning to the term “mobile” app, it is officially called the Hyundai Virtual Guide and can be used on a smartphone or tablet. It will soon be available for downloading on both Google Play and Apple’s App Store. It compresses “hundreds of pages of information” into the app and, in conjunction with the owner’s mobile device’s camera, can recognize dozens of features and several basic maintenance operations. This includes 82 videos and 50 more informational guides. Its equivalent, if traditionally formatted on paper, would be hundreds of pages.

The augmented reality implementation in the app consists of six 3D images. When the user scans his or her mobile over a component of the car such as the engine or dashboard, the screen image will be enhanced with additional “relevant information”. Another example is pointing the mobile’s camera and then clicking on “Engine Oil”, which is then followed by instructions on how to use the dipstick to check the oil level.

To start off, the app will only be available at first for the 2015 Hyundai Sonata model. Other models will later be made compatible with the app.

Hyundai chose which systems of the car to include in the app by surveying buyers on “the most difficult features to figure out”. Because everyone today is so accustomed to accessing information on a screen, the company determined that this was among the best ways to inform buyers about their new Sonatas.

The company has previously created other virtual means to access some of their other manuals. These have included an iPad configured with the owner’s manual of their Equus sedan and another app that displays the manual inside the passenger compartment on the “infotainment system’s touchscreen”.

My questions are as follows:

  • While this AR app is intended for consumers, is Hyundai considering extending the scope of this development to engineer a more detailed and sophisticated app for car dealers and service stations for maintenance and repairs?
  • Could an AR app make the process of yearly state car inspections faster and more economical?
  • Are the heads-up displays that project some of the dashboard’s information into the lower part of the windshield for drivers to see in some production models another form of automotive AR that could somehow be used together with the new AR manual app?
  • Would other consumer products such as, among others, electronics and recreational equipment benefit from AR manuals?
  • Just as we now see traditional car owner’s manuals gathered, cataloged and accessed online as described above, will future automotive AR apps similarly be imported into dedicated online libraries?
  • What entrepreneurial opportunities might be forming in the design, production and implementation of AR manuals and other automotive AR apps?
  • Could other important personal items such as prescription drug packaging benefit from an AR app because so few people every read the literature accompanying their medicines? In other words, would an AR app increase the probability that important information on dosages and potential adverse reactions will be read because of the more engaging and interactive format?

Artificial Fingerprints: Something Worth Touching Upon

"030420_1884_0077_x__s", Image by TNS Sofres

“030420_1884_0077_x__s”, Image by TNS Sofres

Among the recent advancements of the replication of various human senses, particularly for prosthetics and robotics, scientists have just made another interesting achievement in creating, of all things, artificial fingerprints. They can actually sense certain real world stimuli. This development could have some potentially very productive – – and conductive – – applications.

Could someone please cue up The Human Touch by Bruce Springsteen for this?

We looked at a similar development in artificial human vision just recently in the October 14, 2015 Subway Fold post entitled Visionary Developments: Bionic Eyes and Mechanized Rides Derived from Dragonflies.

This latest digital and all-digit story was reported in a fascinating story posted on Sciencemag.org on October 30, 2015 entitled New Artificial Fingerprints Feel Texture, Hear Sound by Hanae Armitage. I will summarize and annotate it, and then add some of my own non-artificial questions.

Design and Materials

An electronic material has been created at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, that, while still under development in the lab “mimics the swirling design” of fingerprints. It can detect pressure, temperature and sound. The researchers who devised this believe it could be helpful in artificial limbs and perhaps even enhancing our own organic senses.

Dr. John Rogers, a member of the development team, finds this new material is an addition to the “sensor types that can be integrated with the skin”.

Scientists have been working for years on these materials called electronic skins (e-skins). Some of them can imitate the senses of human skin that can monitor pulse and temperature. (See also the October 18, 2015 Subway Fold post entitled Printable, Temporary Tattoo-like Medical Sensors are Under Development.) Dr. Hyunhyub Ko, a chemical engineer at Ulsan National Institute of Science and Technology in South Korea and another member of the artificial fingerprints development team noted that there are further scientific challenges “in replicating fingertips” with their ability to sense very small differences in textures.

Sensory Perceptions

In the team’s work, Dr. Ko and the others began with “a thin, flexible material” textured with features much like human fingerprints. Next, they used this to create a “microstructured ferroelectric skin“. This contains small embedded structures called “microdomes” (as shown in an illustration accompanying the AAAS.org article), that enable the following e-skin’s sensory perceptions*:

  • Pressure: When outside pressure moves two layers of this material together it generates a small electric current that is monitored through embedded electrodes. In effect, the greater the pressure the greater the current.
  • Temperature: The e-skin relaxes in warmer temperatures and stiffens in colder temperatures, likewise generating changes in the electrical current and thus enabling it to sense temperature changes.
  • Sound: While not originally expected, the e-skin was also been found to be sensitive to sound. This occurred in testing by Dr. Ko and his team. They electronically measured the vibrations from pronouncing the letters in the word “skin” right near the e-skin. The results show this affected the microdomes and, in turn, the electric current to register changes.

Dr. Ko said his next challenge is how to transmit all of these sensations to the human brain. This has been done elsewhere using optogenetics (the use of light to control neurons that have been genetically modified) in e-skins, but he plans to research other technologies for this. Specifically, in the increasing scientific interest and development in skin-mounted sensors (such as those described in the October 18, 2015 Subway Fold post linked above), this involves a smart groups of “ideas and materials” to engineer these.

My Questions

  • Might e-skins have applications in virtual reality and augmented reality systems for medicine, engineering, manufacturing, design, robotics, architecture, and gaming? (These 11 Subway Fold posts cover a range of new developments and applications of these technologies.)
  • What other fields and marketplaces might also benefit from integrating e-skin technology? What entrepreneurial opportunities might emerge here?
  • Could e-skins work in conjunction with the system being developed in the June 27, 2015 Subway Fold post entitled Medical Researchers are Developing a “Smart Insulin Patch” ?

 


For an absolutely magnificent literary exploration of the human senses, I recommend A Natural History of the Senses by Diane Ackerman (Vintage, 1991) in the highest possible terms. It is a gem in both its sparking prose and engaging subject.


See this Wikipedia page for detailed information and online resources about the field known as haptic technology.

Semantic Scholar and BigDIVA: Two New Advanced Search Platforms Launched for Scientists and Historians

"The Chemistry of Inversin", Image by Raymond Bryson

“The Chemistry of Inversion”, Image by Raymond Bryson

As powerful, essential and ubiquitous as Google and its search engine peers are across the world right now, needs often arise in many fields and marketplaces for platforms that can perform much deeper and wider digital excavating. So it is that two new highly specialized search platforms have just come online specifically engineered, in these cases, for scientists and historians. Each is structurally and functionally quite different from the other but nonetheless is aimed at very specific professional user bases with advanced researching needs.

These new systems provide uniquely enhanced levels of context, understanding and visualization with their results. We recently looked at a very similar development in the legal professions in an August 18, 2015 Subway Fold post entitled New Startup’s Legal Research App is Driven by Watson’s AI Technology.

Let’s have a look at both of these latest innovations and their implications. To introduce them, I will summarize and annotate two articles about their introductions, and then I will pose some additional questions of my own.

Semantic Scholar Searches for New Knowledge in Scientific Papers

First, the Allen Institute for Artificial Intelligence (A2I) has just launched its new system called Semantic Scholar, freely accessible on the web. This event was covered on NewScientist.com in a fascinating article entitled AI Tool Scours All the Science on the Web to Find New Knowledge on November 2, 2015 by Mark Harris.

Semantic Scholar is supported by artificial intelligence (AI)¹ technology. It is automated to “read, digest and categorise findings” from approximately two million scientific papers published annually. Its main objective is to assist researchers with generating new ideas and “to identify previously overlooked connections and information”. Because of the of the overwhelming volume of the scientific papers published each year, which no individual scientist could possibly ever read, it offers an original architecture and high-speed manner to mine all of this content.

Oren Etzioni, the director of A2I, termed Semantic Scholar a “scientist’s apprentice”, to assist them in evaluating developments in their fields. For example, a medical researcher could query it about drug interactions in a certain patient cohort having diabetes. Users can also pose their inquiries in natural language format.

Semantic Scholar operates by executing the following functions:

  • crawling the web in search of “publicly available scientific papers”
  • scanning them into its database
  • identifying citations and references that, in turn, are assessed to determine those that are the most “influential or controversial”
  • extracting “key phrases” appearing similar papers, and
  • indexing “the datasets and methods” used

A2I is not alone in their objectives. Other similar initiatives include:

Semantic Scholar will gradually be applied to other fields such as “biology, physics and the remaining hard sciences”.

BigDIVA Searches and Visualized 1,500 Year of History

The second innovative search platform is called Big Data Infrastructure Visualization Application (BigDIVA). The details about its development, operation and goals were covered in a most interesting report posted online on  NC State News on October 12, 2015 entitled Online Tool Aims to Help Researchers Sift Through 15 Centuries of Data by Matt Shipman.

This is joint project by the digital humanities scholars at NC State University and Texas A&M University. Its objective is to assist researchers in, among other fields, literature, religion, art and world history. This is done by increasing the speed and accuracy of searching through “hundreds of thousands of archives and articles” covering 450 A.D. to the present. BigDIVA was formally rolled out at NC State on October 16, 2015.

BigDIVA presents users with an entirely new visual interface, enabling them to search and review “historical documents, images of art and artifacts, and any scholarship associated” with them. Search results, organized by categories of digital resources, are displayed in infographic format4. The linked NC State News article includes a photo of this dynamic looking interface.

This system is still undergoing beta testing and further refinement by its development team. Expansion of its resources on additional historical periods is expected to be an ongoing process. Current plans are to make this system available on a subscription basis to libraries and universities.

My Questions

  • Might the IBM Watson, Semantic Scholar, DARPA and BigDIVA development teams benefit from sharing design and technical resources? Would scientists, doctors, scholars and others benefit from multi-disciplinary teams working together on future upgrades and perhaps even new platforms and interface standards?
  • What other professional, academic, scientific, commercial, entertainment and governmental fields would benefit from these highly specialized search platforms?
  • Would Google, Bing, Yahoo and other commercial search engines benefit from participating with the developers in these projects?
  • Would proprietary enterprise search vendors likewise benefit from similar joint ventures with the types of teams described above?
  • What entrepreneurial opportunities might arise for vendors, developers, designers and consultants who could provide fuller insight and support for developing customized search platforms?

 


October 19, 2017 Update: For the latest progress and applications of the Semantic Scholar system, see the latest report in a new post on the Economist.com entitled A Better Way to Search Through Scientific Papers, dated October 19, 2017.


1.  These 11 Subway Fold posts cover various AI applications and developments.

2.  These seven Subway Fold posts cover a range of IBM Watson applications and markets.

3A new history of DARPA written by Annie Jacobsen was recently published entitled The Pentagon’s Brain (Little Brown and Company, 2015).

4.  See this January 30, 2015 Subway Fold post entitled Timely Resources for Studying and Producing Infographics on this topic.

Movie Review of “The Human Face of Big Data”

"Blue and Pink Fractal", Image by dev Moore

“Blue and Pink Fractal”, Image by dev Moore

What does big data look like, anyway?

To try to find out, I was very fortunate to have obtained a pass to see a screening of a most enlightening new documentary called The Human Face of Big Data. The event was held on October 20, 2015 at Civic Hall in the Flatiron District in New York.

The film’s executive producer, Rick Smolan, (@ricksmolan), first made some brief introductory remarks about his professional work and the film we were about to see. Among his many accomplishments as a photographer and writer, he was the originator and driving force behind the A Day in the Life series of books where teams of photographers were dispatched to take pictures of different countries for each volume in such places as, among others, the United States, Japan and Spain.

He also added a whole new meaning to a having a hand in casting in his field by explaining to the audience that he had recently fallen from a try on his son’s scooter and hence his right hand was in a cast.

As the lights were dimmed and the film began, someone sitting right in front of me did something that was also, quite literally, enlightening but clearly in the wrong place and at the wrong time by opening up a laptop with a large and very bright screen. This was very distracting so I quickly switched seats. In retrospect, doing so also had the unintentional effect of providing me with a metaphor for the film: From my new perspective in the auditorium, I was seeing a movie that was likewise providing me with a whole new perspective on this important subject.

This film proceeded to provide an engrossing and informative examination of what exactly is “big data”, how it is gathered and analyzed, and its relative virtues and drawbacks.¹ It accomplished all of this by addressing these angles with segments of detailed expositions intercut with interviews of leading experts. In his comments afterwards, Mr. Smolan described big data as becoming a form of “nervous system” currently threading out across our entire planet.

Other documentarians could learn much from his team’s efforts as they smartly surveyed the Big Dataverse while economically compressing their production into a very compact and efficient package. Rather than a paint by, well, numbers production with overly long technical excursions, they deftly brought their subject to life with some excellent composition and editing of a wealth of multimedia content.

All of the film’s topics and transitions between them were appreciable evenhanded. Some segments specifically delved into how big data systems vacuum up this quantum of information and how it positively and negatively affects consumers and other demographic populations. Other passages raised troubling concerns about the loss of personal privacy in recent revelations concerning the electronic operations conducted by the government and the private sector.

I found the most compelling part of the film to be an interview with Dr. Eric Topol, (@EricTopol), a leading proponent of digital medicine, using smart phones as a medical information platform, and empowering patients to take control of their own medical data.² He spoke about the significance of the massive quantities and online availability of medical data and what this transformation  mean to everyone. His optimism and insights about big data having a genuine impact upon the quality of life for people across the globe was representative of this movie’s measured balance between optimism and caution.

This movie’s overall impression analogously reminded me of the promotional sponges that my local grocery used to hand out.  When you returned home and later added a few drops of water to these very small, flat and dried out novelties, they quickly and voluminously expanded. So too, here in just a 52-minute film, Mr. Smolan and his team have assembled a far-reaching and compelling view of the rapidly expanding parsecs of big data. All the audience needed to access, comprehend and soak up all of this rich subject matter was an open mind to new ideas.

Mr. Smolan returned to the stage after the movie ended to graciously and enthusiastically answer questions from the audience. It was clear from the comments and questions that nearly everyone there, whether they were familiar or unfamiliar with big data, had greatly enjoyed this cinematic tour of this subject and its implications. The audience’s well-informed inquiries concerned the following topics:

  • the ethics and security of big data collection
  • the degrees to which science fiction is now become science fact
  • the emergence and implications of virtual reality and augment reality with respect to entertainment and the role of big data in these productions³
  • the effects and influences of big data in medicine, law and other professions
  • the applications of big data towards extending human lifespans

Mr. Smolan also mentioned that his film will be shown on PBS in 2016. When it becomes scheduled, I very highly recommend setting some time aside to view it in its entirety.

Big data’s many conduits, trends, policies and impacts relentlessly continue to extend their global grasp. The Human Face of Big Data delivers a fully realized and expertly produced means for comprehending and evaluating this crucial and unavoidable phenomenon. This documentary is a lot to absorb yet an apt (and indeed fully app-ed), place to start.

 


One of the premiere online resources for anything and everything about movies is IMDB.com. It has just reached its 25th anniversary which was celebrated in a post in VentureBeat.com on October 30, 2015, entitled 25 Years of IMDb, the World’s Biggest Online Movie Database by Paul Sawers.


1These 44 Subway Fold Posts covered many of the latest developments in different fields, marketplaces and professions in the category of Big Data and Analytics.

2.  See also this March 3, 2015 Subway Fold post reviewing Dr. Topol’s latest book, entitled Book Review of “The Patient Will See You Now”.

3These 11 Subway Fold Posts cover many of the latest developments in the arts, sciences, and media industries in the category of Virtual and Augmented Reality. For two of the latest examples, see an article from the October 20, 2015 edition of The New York Times entitled The Times Partners With Google on Virtual Reality Project by Ravi Somaiya, and an article on Fortune.com on September 27, 2015 entitled Oculus Teams Up with 20th Century Fox to Bring Virtual Reality to Movies by Michael Addady. (I’m just speculating here, but perhaps The Human Face of Big Data would be well-suited for VR formatting and audience immersion.)