Data Analysis and Visualizations of All U.S. Presidential State of the Union Addresses

"President Obama's State of the Union Address 2013", Word cloud image by Kurtis Garbutt

“President Obama’s State of the Union Address 2013”, Word cloud image by Kurtis Garbutt

While data analytics and visualization tools have accumulated a significant historical record of accomplishments, now, in turn, this technology is being applied to actual significant historical accomplishments. Let’s have a look.

Every year in January, the President of the United States gives the State of the Union speech before both houses of the U.S. Congress. This is to address the condition of the nation, his legislative agenda and other national priorities. The requirement for this presentation appears in Article II of the U.S. Constitution.

This talk with the nation has been given every year (with only one exception), since 1790. The resulting total of 224 speeches presents a remarkable and dynamic historical record of U.S. history and policy. Researchers at Columbia University and the University of Paris have recently applied sophisticated data analytics and visualization tools to this trove of presidential addresses. Their findings were published in the August 10, 2015 edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences in a truly fascinating paper entitled Lexical Shifts, Substantive Changes, and Continuity in State of the Union Discourse, 1790–2014, by Alix Rule, Jean-Philippe Cointet, and Peter S. Bearman.

A very informative and concise summary of this paper was also posted in an article on Phys.org, also on August 10, 2015, entitled in a post entitled Big Data Analysis of State of the Union Remarks Changes View of American History, (no author is listed). I will summarize, annotate and post a few questions of my own. I highly recommend clicking through and reading the full report and the summary article together for a fuller perspective on this achievement. (Similar types of textual and graphical analyses of US law were covered in the May 15, 2015 Subway Fold post entitled Recent Visualization Projects Involving US Law and The Supreme Court.)

The researchers developed custom algorithms for their research. They were applied to the total number of words used in all of the addresses, from 1790 to 2014, of 1.8 million.  By identifying the frequencies of “how often words appear jointly” and “mapping their relation to other clusters of words”, the team was able to highlight “dominant social and political” issues and their relative historical time frames. (See Figure 1 at the bottom of Page 2 of the full report for this lexigraphical mapping.)

One of the researchers’ key findings was that although the topics of “industry, finance, and foreign policy” were predominant and persist throughout all of the addresses, following World War II the recurring keywords focus further upon “nation building, the regulation of business and the financing of public infrastructure”. While it is well know that these emergent terms were all about modern topics, the researchers were thus able to pinpoint the exact time frames when they first appeared. (See Page 5 of the full report for the graphic charting these data trends.)

Foreign Policy Patters

The year 1917 struck the researchers as a critical turning point because it represented a dramatic shift in the data containing words indicative of more modern times. This was the year that the US sent its troops into battle in Europe in WWI. It was then that new keywords in the State of the Union including “democracy,” “unity,” “peace” and “terror” started to appear and recur. Later, by the 1940’s, word clusters concerning the Navy appeared, possibly indicating emerging U.S. isolationism. However, they suddenly disappeared again as the U.S. became far more involved in world events.

Domestic Policy Patterns

Over time, the researchers identified changes in the terminology used when addressing domestic matters. These concerned the government’s size, economic regulation, and equal opportunity. Although the focus of the State of the Union speeches remained constant, new keywords appeared whereby “tax relief,” “incentives” and “welfare” have replaced “Treasury,” “amount” and “expenditures”.

An important issue facing this project was that during the more than two centuries being studied, keywords could substantially change in meaning over time. To address this, the researchers applied new network analysis methods developed by Jean-Philippe Cointet, a team member, co-author and physicist at the University of Paris. They were intended to identify changes whereby “some political topics morph into similar topics with common threads” as others fade away. (See Figure 3 at the bottom of Page 4 of the full paper for this enlightening graphic.*)

As a result, they were able to parse the relative meanings of words as they appear with each other and, on a more macro level, in the “context of evolving topics”. For example, it was discovered that the word “Constitution” was:

  • closely associated with the word “people” in early U.S. history
  • linked to “state” following the Civil War
  • linked to “law” during WWI and WWII, and
  • returned to “people” during the 1970’s

Thus, the meaning of “Constitution” must be assessed in its historical context.

My own questions are as follows:

  • Would this analytical approach yield new and original insights if other long-running historical records such as the Congressional Record were like subject to the research team’s algorithms and analytics?
  • Could companies and other commercial businesses derive any benefits from having their historical records similarly analyzed? For example, might it yield new insights and recommendations for corporate governance and information governance policies and procedures?
  • Could this methodology be used as an electronic discovery tool for litigators as they parse corporate documents produced during a case?

 


*  This is also resembles the methodology and appearance to the graphic on Page 29 of the law review article entitled A Quantitative Analysis of the Writing Style of the U.S. Supreme Court, by Keith Carlson, Michael A. Livermore, and Daniel Rockmore, Dated March 11, 2015, linked to and discussed with the May 15, 2015 Subway Fold post cited above.

New Startup’s Legal Research App is Driven by Watson’s AI Technology

"Supreme Court, 60 Centre Street, Lower Manhattan", Image by Jeffrey Zeldman

[New York] “Supreme Court, 60 Centre Street, Lower Manhattan”, Image by Jeffrey Zeldman

May 9, 2016: An update on this post appears below.


Casey Stengel had a very long, productive and colorful career in professional baseball as a player for five teams and later as a manager for four teams. He was also consistently quotable (although not to the extraordinary extent of his Yankee teammate Yogi Berra). Among the many things Casey said was his frequent use of the imperative “You could look it up”¹.

Transposing this gem of wisdom from baseball to law practice², looking something up has recently taken on an entirely new meaning. According to a fascinating article posted on Wired.com on August 8, 2015 entitled Your Lawyer May Soon Ask for This AI-Powered App for Legal Help by Davey Alba, a startup called ROSS Intelligence has created a unique new system for legal research. I will summarize, annotate and pose a few questions of my own.

One of the founders of ROSS, Jimoh Ovbiagele (@findingjimoh), was influenced by his childhood and adolescent experiences to pursue studying either law or computer science. He chose the latter and eventually ended up working on an artificial intelligence (AI) project at the University of Toronto. It occurred to him then that machine learning (a branch of AI), would be a helpful means to assist lawyers with their daily research requirements.

Mr. Ovbiagele joined with a group of co-founders from diverse fields including “law to computers to neuroscience” in order to launch ROSS Intelligence. The legal research app they have created is built upon the AI capabilities of IBM’s Watson as well as voice recognition. Since June, it has been tested in “small-scale pilot programs inside law firms”.

AI, machine learning, and IBM’s Watson technology have been variously taken up in these nine Subway Fold posts. Among them, the September 1, 2014 post entitled Possible Futures for Artificial Intelligence in Law Practice covered the possible legal applications of IBM’s Watson (prior to the advent of ROSS), and the technology of a startup called Viv Labs.

Essentially, the new ROSS app enables users to ask legal research questions in natural language. (See also the July 31, 2015 Subway Fold post entitled Watson, is That You? Yes, and I’ve Just Demo-ed My Analytics Skills at IBM’s New York Office.) Similar in operation to Apple’s Siri, when a question is verbally posed to ROSS, it searches through its data base of legal documents to provide an answer along with the source documents used to derive it. The reply is also assessed and assigned a “confidence rating”. The app further prompts the user to evaluate the response’s accuracy with an onscreen “thumbs up” or “thumbs down”. The latter will prompt ROSS to produce another result.

Andrew Arruda (@AndrewArruda), another co-founder of ROSS, described the development process as beginning with a “blank slate” version of Watson into which they uploaded “thousands of pages of legal documents”, and trained their system to make use of Watson’s “question-and-answer APIs³. Next, they added machine learning capabilities they called “LegalRank” (a reference to Google’s PageRank algorithm), which, among others things, designates preferential results depending upon the supporting documents’ numbers of citations and the deciding courts’ jurisdiction.

ROSS is currently concentrating on bankruptcy and insolvency issues. Mr. Ovbiagele and Mr. Arruda are sanguine about the possibilities of adding other practice areas to its capabilities. Furthermore, they believe that this would meaningfully reduce the $9.6 billion annually spent on legal research, some of which is presently being outsourced to other countries.

In another recent and unprecedented development, the global law firm Dentons has formed its own incubator for legal technology startups called NextLaw Labs. According to this August 7, 2015 news release on Denton’s website, the first company they have signed up for their portfolio is ROSS Intelligence.

Although it might be too early to exclaim “You could look it up” at this point, my own questions are as follows:

  • What pricing model(s) will ROSS use to determine the cost structure of their service?
  • Will ROSS consider making its app available to public interest attorneys and public defenders who might otherwise not have the resources to pay for access fees?
  • Will ROSS consider making their service available to the local, state and federal courts?
  • Should ROSS make their service available to law schools or might this somehow impair their traditional teaching of the fundamentals of legal research?
  • Will ROSS consider making their service available to non-lawyers in order to assist them in represent themselves on a pro se basis?
  • In addition to ROSS, what other entrepreneurial opportunities exist for other legal startups to deploy Watson technology?

Finally, for an excellent roundup of five recent articles and blog posts about the prospects of Watson for law practice, I highly recommend a click-through to read Five Solid Links to Get Smart on What Watson Means for Legal, by Frank Strong, posted on The Business of Law Blog on August 11, 2015.


May 9, 2016 Update:  The global law firm of Baker & Hostetler, headquartered in Cleveland, Ohio, has become the first US AmLaw 100 firm to announce that it has licensed the ROSS Intelligence’s AI product for its bankruptcy practice. The full details on this were covered in an article posted on May 6, 2016 entitled AI Pioneer ROSS Intelligence Lands Its First Big Law Clients by Susan Beck, on Law.com.

Some follow up questions:

  • Will other large law firms, as well as medium and smaller firms, and in-house corporate departments soon be following this lead?
  • Will they instead wait and see whether this produces tangible results for attorneys and their clients?
  • If so, what would these results look like in terms of the quality of legal services rendered, legal business development, client satisfaction, and/or the incentives for other legal startups to move into the legal AI space?

1.  This was also the title of one of his many biographies,  written by Maury Allen, published Times Books in 1979.

2.  For the best of both worlds, see the legendary law review article entitled The Common Law Origins of the Infield Fly Rule, by William S. Stevens, 123 U. Penn. L. Rev. 1474 (1975).

3For more details about APIs see the July 2, 2015 Subway Fold post entitled The Need for Specialized Application Programming Interfaces for Human Genomics R&D Initiatives

Google is Giving Away Certain Patents to 50 Startups In Their Latest Effort to Thwart Patent Trolls

"She Runs Neon Fraction of a Second", Image by Wonderlane

“She Runs Neon Fraction of a Second”, Image by Wonderlane

In the highly competitive world of creating, monetizing, defending and challenging tech-based intellectual property, “free” is neither a word often heard nor an offer frequently made.

However, Google has just begun a new program, for a limited time, to give away a certain types of patents they own to an initial group of 50 startups.  This is principally being done in an effort to resist time and resources devouring litigation with “patent trolls“, companies that purchase patents for no other purpose than to litigate infringement claims in their attempts to win monetary judgments. (We first visited this issue in an April 21, 2015 Subway Fold post entitled New Analytics Process Uses Patent Data to Predict Advancements in Specific Technologies.)

The details of this initiative were carried in a most interesting new article on TechCrunch.com posted on July 23, 2015 entitled Google Offers To Give Away Patents To Startups In Its Push Against Patent Trolls by Ingrid Lunden. I will summarize, annotate, and pose some free questions of my own.

In April 2015, Google successfully started a temporary program for companies to offer to sell them (Google) their patents. Then on July 23, 2015, they launched a reciprocal program to give away, at no cost, “non-organic” patents (that is, those purchased by Google from third parties), to startups.

The recipients of these giveaways are required to abide by two primary conditions:

  • They must join the LOT Network for two years.  This is a tech industry association of patent owners dedicated to reducing the volume of patent troll-driven litigation.
  • The patents can only be used defensively to “protect a company against another patent suit”. Thus, the patents cannot be used to bring a case “against another company” or else its ownership “reverts back to Google”.

Kurt Brasch, one of Google’s senior patent licensing managers who was interviewed for the TechCrunch story, expects other members of the LOT Network to start their own similar programs.

For any of the 50 startups to be eligible for Google’s program, another key requirement is that their 2014 revenues must fall between $500,000 and $20 million. Next, if eligibility is determined, within 30 days they will receive “a list of three to five families of patents”, from which they can make their selection. Still, Google “will retain a broad, nonexclusive license to all divested assets”, as these patents might still be important to the company.

For those startups that apply and are determined to be ineligible, Google will nonetheless provide them with access “to its own database of patents”. These are presumed to alas be categorized as “non-organic”. The unselected startups will be able to ask Google to consider “the potential purchase of any such assets”.

Back in April, when Google began their acquisitions of patents, they were approached by many operating companies and patent brokers. Both types of entities told Mr. Brasch about a “problem in the secondary market“. These businesses were looking for an alternative means to sell their patents to Google and Mr. Brasch was seeking a means to assist interested buyers and sellers.

Google eventually purchased 28% of the patents they were offered that the company felt could potentially be used in their own operations. As these patents were added to Google’s patent portfolio, a portion of them were categorized as “non-organic” and, as such, the company is now seeking to give them away.

Both sides of Google’s latest patent initiative demonstrate two important strategic points as the company is now:

  • Taking more action in enabling other tech firms to provide assistance against litigation brought by troll-driven lawsuits.
  • Presenting the company as a comprehensive “broker and portal” for patents matters.

Last week, as another part of this process, Google substantially upgraded the features on its Google Patents Search. This included the addition of search results from both Google Scholar and Google Prior Art Finder.  (For the full details and insights on the changes to these services see Google’s New, Simplified Patent Search Now Integrates Prior Art And Google Scholar, also by Ingrid Lunden, posted on TechCrunch.com on July 16, 2015.)

While both the purchasing and selling operations of Google’s effort to test new approaches to the dynamics of the patent marketplace appear to be limited, they might become more permanent later on depending on the  results achieved. Mr. Brasch also anticipates continuing development of this patent market going forward either from his company or a larger “group of organizations”.  Just as Google has moved into other commercial sector including, among others, “shopping, travel and media”, so too does he expect the appearance of more new and comparable marketplaces.

My own questions are as follows:

  • In addition to opposing patent troll litigation, what other policy, public relations, technical and economic benefits does Google get from their new testbed of marketplace services?
  • What other industries would benefit from Google’s new marketplace? What about pharmaceuticals and medical devices, materials science (see these four recent Subway Fold posts in this category),  and/or automotive and aerospace?
  • Should Google limit this project only to startups? Would they consider a more expansive multi-tiered approach to include different ranges of yearly revenue? If so, how might the selection of patents to be offered and other eligibility requirements be decided?
  • Might there be some instances where Google and perhaps other companies would consider giving away non-organic patents to the public domain and allowing further implementation and development of them to operate on an open source basis? (These 10 Subway Fold posts have variously touched upon open source projects and methods.)

On Location Filming of a New Movie About the Kitty Genovese Case

See the end of this post below for two updates on the Kitty Genovese Case on April 5, 2016 and May 31, 2016.


In May 1964 there was an absolutely horrific murder of a young woman in Queens, New York, named Kitty Genovese. Late at night as she was returning home from work, an attacker viciously stabbed her twice and then returned about ten minutes later to brutalize her again and murder her.

Winston Moseley was later arrested, tried and convicted for this crime. He remains in jail to this day.

At first, the crime did not receive that much attention in the press. Several weeks later, a metro writer for The New York Times reported that as many as 37 witnesses in the surrounding apartment had seen the crime and heard the victim’s cries for help but did nothing to assist or protect her. The Kitty Genovese Case as it came to be known (the link is to a concise summary on Wikipedia of the facts, history and lasting impact), turned into a decades long shameful story and commentary about the indifference of the neighbors who were alleged to have not acted when someone’s life was at stake. Over the many years since this crime, it was also often cited as a symbol for the callousness of New Yorkers.

In 2007, a new study carefully re-examined the records and evidence, concluding much of the case’s legacy was wrong. Last year in 2014, on the 50th anniversary of the crime, two books were published and critically well-received about how the reporting was incorrect and how the public’s outrage over her neighbors’ behavior had tragically taken root in US culture. The two books are Kitty Genovese: A True Account of a Public Murder and Its Private Consequences by Catherine Pelonero, published by Skyhorse Publishing, and Kitty Genovese: The Murder, the Bystanders, the Crime that Changed America, by Kevin Cook published by W.W. Norton & Company. On March 14, 2014, Mr. Cook was interviewed on New York radio station WNYC about the case in a podcast entitled What Really Happened on the Night Kitty Genovese Was Murdered?

A movie is being currently made about this terrible crime and its aftermath in an attempt to revise the misconceptions surrounding it. During a walk yesterday morning, I happened upon movie company filming this famous story on location and took a series of pictures wile they were filming. The working title of the film listed on the local notices about the filming  posted on the street signs is “37”. I am not certain whether this will be for a theatrical, television or web release.

Nonetheless, below are five of the pictures I took as I walked down the street. They are sequenced in the order I took them.

Moving further down the block, the filming is going on in front the large white screen in the background. Notice all of the cars are from the 50's and 60's.

The actual filming is going on in front the large white screen in the background. Notice all of the cars are from the 50’s and 60’s.

This was taken directly across the street from the filming of a scene in front of a private house.

This was taken directly across the street from the filming of a scene in front of a private house.

Zooming in closer here. The actors where placed in front of the row of trees to the right.

Zooming in a bit closer, the actors and the director where working in front of the row of trees to the right.

IMAG0075

Another view of the filming in progress taken a bit further to the right.

A better view of that beautiful old purple Plymouth.

A better view of that beautiful old purple Plymouth.

 I am looking forward to seeing this film when it is finally completed and released.


April 5, 2016 Update:

Today’s edition of The New York Times carries an article entitled Winston Moseley, Who Killed Kitty Genovese, Dies in Prison at 81, by Robert D. McFadden. This report concisely covers the original crime, trial, Winston’s 52 years in jail, and the very inaccurate reporting in 1964 and its decades-long consequences afterwards. A postscript well worth reading if you have an opportunity to this terribly tragic story.

May 31, 2016 Update:

For a very different and poignant perspective on the Kitty Genovese case, today’s (May 31, 2016) edition of The Wall Street Journal carries a feature about the lifelong work and personal sacrifices made by Ms. Genovese’s brother, Bill, in getting to the truth of what really happened to his sister and making a new documentary film about it entitled The Witness. I very highly recommend reading this article entitled Kitty Genovese’s Brother Re-Examines Her 1964 Murder in Documentary Film, by Steve Dollar.

The Successful Collaboration of Intuit’s In-House Legal Team and Data Scientists

"Data Represented in an Interactive 3D Form", Image by Idaho National Laboratory

“Data Represented in an Interactive 3D Form”, Image by Idaho National Laboratory

Intuit’s in-house legal team has recently undertaken a significant and successful collaborative effort with the company’s data scientists. While this initiative got off to an uneasy start, this joining (and perhaps somewhat of a joinder, too), of two seemingly disparate departments has gone on to produce some very positive results.

Bill Loconzolo, the Intuit’s VP of Data Engineering and Analytics, and Laura Fennel, the Chief Counsel and Head of the Legal, Data, Compliance and Policy, tell this instructive story and provide four highly valuable object lessons in an article entitled Data Scientists and Lawyers: A Marriage Made in Silicon Valley, posted on July 2, 2015 on VentureBeat.com. I will sum up, annotate, and pose a few questions of my own requiring neither a law degree nor advanced R programming skills to be considered.

Mr. Loconzolo and Ms. Fennel initially recognized there might be differences between their company’s data scientists and the in-house Legal Department because the former are dedicated to innovation with “sensitive customer data”, while the latter are largely risk averse. Nonetheless, when these fundamentally different mindsets were placed into a situation where they were “forced to collaborate”, this enabled the potential for both groups to grow.¹

Under the best of circumstances, they sought to assemble “dynamic teams that drive results” that they could not have achieved on their own. They proceeded to do this in the expectation that the results would generate “a much smarter use of big data”. This turned out to be remarkably true for the company.

Currently, the Data Engineering and Analytics group reports to the Legal Department. At first, the data group wanted to move quickly in order to leverage the company’s data from a base of 50 million customers. At the same time, the Legal Department was concerned because of this data’s high sensitivity and potential for damage through possible “mistake or misuse”. ² Both groups wanted to reconcile this situation where the data could be put to its most productive uses while simultaneously ensuring that it would be adequately protected.

Despite outside skepticism, this new arrangement eventually succeeded and the two teams “grew together to become one”. The four key lessons that Mr. Loconzolo and Ms. Fennel learned and share in their article for teaming up corporate “odd couples” include:

  • “Shared Outcome”:  A shared vision of success held both groups together. As well, a series of Data Stewardship Principles were written for both groups to abide. Chief among them was that the data belonged to the customers.
  • “Shared Accountability”:  The entire integrated team, Legal plus Data, were jointly and equally responsible for their outcomes, including successes and failures, of their work. This resulted in “barriers” being removed and “conflict” being transformed into “teamwork”.
  • “Healthy Tension Builds Trust”: While both groups did not always agree, trust between them was established so that all perspectives “could be heard” and goals were common to everyone.
  • “A Learning Curve”: Both groups have learned much from each other that has improved their work. The legal team is now using the data team’s “rapid experimentation innovation techniques” while the data team has accepted “a more rigorous partnership mindset” regarding continually learning from others.

The authors believe that bringing together such different groups can be made to work and, once established, “the possibilities are endless”.

I say bravo to both of them for succeeding in their efforts, and generously and eloquently sharing their wisdom and insights online.

My own questions are as follows:

  • What are the differences in lawyers’ concerns and the data scientists’ concerns about the distinctions between correlation and causation in their conclusions and actions? (Similar issues have been previously raised in these six Subway Fold posts.)
  • Is the Legal Department collecting and analyzing its own operation big data? If so, for what overall purposes? Are the data scientists correspondingly seeing new points of view, analytical methods and insights that are possibly helpful to their own projects?
  • What metrics and benchmarks are used by each department jointly and separately to evaluate the successes and failures of their collaboration with each other? Similarly, what, if any, considerations of their collaboration are used in the annual employee review process?

1.  Big data in law practice has been covered from a variety of perspectives in many of the 20 previous Subway Fold posts in the Law Practice and Legal Education category.)

2.  For the very latest comprehensive report on data collection and consumers, see Americans’ Views About Data Collection and Security, by Mary Madden and Lee Rainie, published May 20, 2015, by the Pew Research Center for Internet Science and Tech.

A Legal Thriller Meets Quantum Physics: A Book Review of “Superposition”

"Gyroscope", Image by Frank Boston

“Gyroscope”, Image by Frank Boston

Quantum physics is not a subject for the scientifically faint of heart. Those nutty particles and waves are behaving in some very weird ways down there at the nanoscale level. They probably think no one is looking so they can party all they want. However, plenty of students, professors, engineers, scientists and cryptographers have variously been watching them for many years. Even the old comedy troupe called The Firesign Theater named one of their albums, albeit unintentionally, with the spot on quantum descriptive title How Can You be In Two Places at Once When Not Anywhere at All.

Undeterred by the many brain-bending challenges of this highly specialized field of physics, those involved in it in any manner are keenly aware of the fundamental principle that merely observing any of this activity can change can change the quantum state of things. This puts a whole different, well, spin on those pesky electrons.

Taking these principles and integrating them into a wildly imaginative plot, writer David Walton, himself an engineer, has just spun this volatile mixture into a delightfully over-the-top new novel called Superposition (Pyr, 2015). He has craftily thrown sci-fi, mystery and trial drama ingredients into his literary blender and poured out a very cool smoothie of a story. Moreover, he has given his narrative and characters enough original twists and turns to make the producers of Lost envious.

The story gets off to a furious start, set sometime in the near future. A college professor named Jacob Kelly receives a visit a home one night from one of his colleagues named Brian Vanderhall. Although it is anything but a “Hi, how ya doing?” stop over, but rather, he is brandishing a gun and claiming to be pursued by an intelligent alien who has crossed over from the quantum universe. Brian then demonstrates several seemingly impossible physical actions, starting with a gyroscope, that offer proof of his seemingly delusional claims. Then he points the gun at Jacob’s wife and that when things get really bizarre in both the normal and quantum realms. Joe allegedly kills Brian while protecting his wife and family but a second and identical Brian is also soon found murdered at a nearby abandoned physics research lab at their university where Joe and Brian work.

But this is all just getting started because a second and identical Joseph likewise appears. One is arrested and put on trial for murdering Brian while the second one is free and, along with his surviving daughter (his wife and two other children were later found inexplicably dead), trying to solve this infuriating and thickening skein of puzzles.

Could Brian have been telling the truth about his breakthrough into the quantum universe where he learned to control seeming impossible phenomena and drawn the murderous attention of a highly intelligent alien who inhabits that “place”? Are the two Josephs and Brians the same “people” or are they different beings? Could Joe’s family be dead in one universe only to have possibly survived in another and, if so, can he bring them back across the breach? Do the events in one universe somehow “entangle” (in quantum physics speak) and affect events in the other?

While Einstein expressed his doubts about entanglement, famously calling it “spooky action at a distance” (see Footnote 4 in the link immediately above), Walton’s novel provides an abundance of spooky action way up close and personal. The novel is split along two timelines, one for the trial and the other as, well, the “other” Jacob, his daughter and his brother-in-law race off to track down the alien, the other members of their family, and the Brian’s real murderer. Both tracks are highly compelling as the narrative pivots between the nearly hallucinatory events of the sci-fi mystery and the more firmly grounded murder trial unfold. Walton very cleverly transports the reader back and forth between these extremely familiar and unfamiliar environments while carefully opening and resolving tricky plot points on both sides of this dimensional divide.

Besides deftly mashing up what would otherwise seem to be the unmashable, the author’s equally shrewd accomplishment is the valuable tutorial on quantum physics woven into his text. Speaking through his characters, he explains these often difficult to grasp concepts with enough clarity to draw his readers into the underlying science and, in turn, his plot lines been built upon it. College physics professors could both enlighten and entertain their students by assigning this novel as reading. It would very likely put them in a rather, well, super position going into the final exam.

Sci-fi, mystery and legal thriller fans will find the book satisfying and worthwhile because its audacity and creativity succeed on all levels. Furthermore, it raises some very intriguing issues of first impression about evidence, procedure and professional ethics during the course of the trail. Jacob’s lawyer becomes fully aware of reality-defying events surrounding his client and does his best to defend him in court. However, there is no standard defense strategy where several of the victims and the accused may have been divided in two and one of the other suspects is from alternative world.

How can a scientific foundation be presented to the court for phenomena that no one knows exists much less can be tested in any way? How can an expert be qualified to testify under such bizarre circumstances? Does the attorney/client privilege attach to only the Joseph in jail who is being tried or to the second but identical Joseph who is trying to help the defense attorney? Do both of Joseph’s iterations receive the exactly the same constitutional rights and protections? How can the prosecution rebut any evidence that these splits and dual events have even occurred? The author has done his research well in constructing a story where these issues arise.

A famous thought experiment in study of quantum physics is called Schrödinger’s Cat. It is used to explain what “superposition” actually means in quantum physics and there is a reference to it in some dialog in the book. It is used to illustrate and interpret different possible quantum states, in this case whether the cat, under certain experimental circumstances involving a radioactive source and a flask of poison inside the box, is alive and dead or else alive or dead. Walton predicates the fates of Joseph and his family upon this concept and pulls it off with great finesses and drama. Any further explanation here would only give paws to letting that cat out of the box inside of this very impressive novel.


Superposition is not the first sci-fi novel to use quantum physics as part of a plot involving a murder mystery. This was done previously in a novel entitled Spin State (Spectra 2004) by Chris Moriarty. This is a vastly different type of story set far in the future. I highly recommend it to any and all dedicated sci-fi fans. As well, it was the just first installment in an outstanding trilogy that later included Spin Control (Spectra 2007) and Ghost Spin (Spectra, 2013).

Recent Visualization Projects Involving US Law and The Supreme Court

"Copyright Sign in 3D", Image by Muses Touch

“Copyright Sign in 3D”, Image by Muses Touch

There have been many efforts over the past few decades to use visualization methods and technologies to create graphical representations of the law. These have been undertaken by innovative lawyers in diversity of settings including public and private practice, and in legal academia.

I wrote an article about this topic years ago entitled “Graphics and Visualization: Drawing on All Your Resources”, in the August 25, 1992* edition of the New York Law Journal. (No link is currently available.) Not to paint with too broad a brush here, but things have changed dramatically since then in terms of how and why to create compelling legal visualizations.

Two very interesting projects have recently gotten significant notice online for their ingenuity and the deeper levels of understanding they have facilitated.

First are the legal visualizations of Harry Surden. He is a professor at the University of Colorado School of Law. He teaches, researches and writes about intellectual property law, legal informatics, legal automation and information privacy.

I had the opportunity to hear the professor speak at the Reinvent Law NYC program held in New York in February 2014. This was a memorable one-day event with about 40 speakers who captivated the audience with their presentations about the multitude of ways that technology is dramatically changing the contemporary marketplace for legal services.

On Professor Surden’s blog, he has recently posted the following three data visualization projects he built himself:

  • US Code Explorer 1 consisting of a nested tree structure for Title 35 of the US Code covering patents. Clicking on each levels starting with Part I and continuing through V will, in turn, open up to the Chapters, Sections and Subsections. This is an immediately accessible interactive means to unfold Title 35’s structure.
  • US Code Explorer 2 Force Directed Graph presents a different form of visualization for Title 17 of the US Code covering Trademarks. It operates as a series of clickable hub-and-spoke formations of the Code’s text whereby clicking on any of the hubs will lead you to the many different sections of Title 17.
  • US Constitution Explorer is also presented in a nested tree structure of the Constitution. Clicking on any of the Articles will open the Sections and then the actual text.

Professor Surden’s visualizations are instantly and intuitively navigable as soon as you view them. As a result, you will immediately be drawn into exploring them. For legal professionals and the public alike, he impressively presents these displays in a clear manner that belies the complexities of the underlying laws. I highly recommend clicking through to check out and navigate all of these imaginative visualizations. Furthermore, I hope his work inspires others to experiment with additional forms of visualization of the other federal, state and local codes, laws and regulations.

For a related visualization of the networks of law professors on Twitter, please see the February 5, 2015 Subway Fold post entitled Visualization, Interpretation and Inspiration from Mapping Twitter Networks.

The second new study containing numerous graphics and charts is entitled A Quantitative Analysis of the Writing Style of the U.S. Supreme Court, by Keith Carlson, Michael A. Livermore, and Daniel Rockmore, Dated March 11, 2015. This will be published later in Washington University Law Review 93:6 (2016). The story was reported in the May 4, 2015 edition of The New York Times entitled Justices’ Opinions Grow in Size, Accessibility and Testiness, Study Finds, by Adam Liptak. This article focused upon the three main conclusions stated in the title. I highly recommend click-throughs to read both.

The full-text of the Law Review article contains the very engaging details and methodologies employed. Moreover, it demonstrates the incredible amount of analytical work the authors spent to arrive at their findings. Just as one example, please have a look at the network visualization on Page 29 entitled Figure 5. LANS Graph of Stylistic Similarity Between Justices. It truly brings the author’s efforts to life. I believe this article is a very instructive, well, case where the graphics and text skillfully elevate each other’s effectiveness.


To get online then you needed something called a Lynx browser that only displayed text after you connected with a very zippy 14.4K dial-up modem. What fun it was back then! 

IBM’s Watson is Now Data Mining TED Talks to Extract New Forms of Knowledge

"sydneytocairns_385", Image by Daniel Dimarco

“sydneytocairns_385”, Image by Daniel Dimarco

Who really benefited from the California Gold Rush of 1849? Was it the miners, only some of whom were successfully, or the merchants who sold them their equipment? Historians have differed as to the relative degree, but they largely believe it was the merchants.

Today, it seems we have somewhat of a modern analog to this in our very digital world: The gold rush of 2015 is populated by data miners and IBM is providing them with access to its innovative Watson technology in order for these contemporary prospectors to discover new forms of knowledge.

So then, what happens when Watson is deployed to sift through the thousands of incredibly original and inspiring videos of online TED Talks? Can the results be such that TED can really talk and, when processed by Watson, yield genuine knowledge with meaning and context?

Last week, the extraordinary results of this were on display at the four-day World of Watson exposition here in New York. A fascinating report on it entitled How IBM Watson Can Mine Knowledge from TED Talks by Jeffrey Coveyduc, Director, IBM Watson, and Emily McManus, Editor, TED.com was posted on the TED Blog on May 5, 2015. This was the same day that the newfangled Watson + TED system was introduced at the event. The story also includes a captivating video of a prior 2014 TED Talk by Dario Gil of IBM entitled Cognitive Systems and the Future of Expertise that came to play a critical role in launching this undertaking.

Let’s have a look and see what we can learn from the initial results. I will sum up and annotate this report, and then ask a few additional questions.

One of the key objectives of this new system is to enable users to query it in natural language. An example given in the article is “Will new innovations give me a longer life?”. Thus, users can ask questions about ideas expressed among the full database of TED talks and, for the results, view video excerpts where such ideas have been explored. Watson’s results are further accompanied by a “timeline” of related concepts contained in a particular video clip permitting users to “tunnel sideways” if they wish and explore other topics that are “contextually related”.

The rest of the article is a dialog between the project’s leaders Jeffrey Coveyduc from IBM and TED.com editor Emily McManus that took place at Watson World.  They discussed how this new idea was transformed into a “prototype” of a fresh new means to extract “insights” from within “unstructured video”.

Ms. McManus began by recounting how she had attended Mr. Dario’s TED Talk about cognitive computing. Her admiration of his presentation led her to wonder whether Watson could be applied to TED Talks’ full content whereby users would be able to pose their own questions to it in natural language. She asked Mr. Dario if this might be possible.

Mr. Coveyduc said that Mr. Dario then approached him to discuss the proposed project. They agreed that it was not just the content per se, but rather, that TED’s mission of spreading ideas was so compelling. Because one of Watson’s key objectives is to “extract knowledge” that’s meaningful to the user, it thus appeared to be “a great match”.

Ms. McManus mentioned that TED Talks maintains an application programming interface (API) to assist developers in accessing their nearly 2,000 videos and transcripts. She agreed to provide access to TED’s voluminous content to IBM. The company assembled its multidisciplinary project team in about eight weeks.

They began with no preconceptions as to where their efforts would lead. Mr. Coveyduc said they “needed the freedom to be creative”. They drew from a wide range of Watson’s existing technical services. In early iterations of their work they found that “ideas began to group themselves”. In turn, this led them to “new insights” within TED’s vast content base.

Ms. McManus recently received a call from Mr. Dario asking her to stop by his office in New York. He demo-ed the new system which had completely indexed the TED content. Moreover, he showed how it could display, according to her “a universe of concepts extracted” from the content’s core. Next, using the all important natural language capabilities to pose questions, they demonstrated how the results in the form of numerous short clips which, taken altogether, were compiling “a nuanced and complex answer to a big question”, as she described it.

Mr. Coveyduc believes this new system simplifies how users can inspect and inquire about “diverse expertise and viewpoints” expressed in video. He cited other potential areas of exploration such as broadcast journalism and online courses (also known as MOOCs*). Furthermore, the larger concept underlying this project is that Watson can distill the major “ideas and concepts” of each TED Talk and thus give users the knowledge they are seeking.

Going beyond Watson + TED’s accomplishments, he believes that video search remains quite challenging but this project demonstrates it can indeed be done. As a result, he thinks that mining such deep and wide knowledge within massive video libraries may turn into “a shared source of creativity and innovation”.

My questions are as follows:

  • What if Watson was similarly applied to the vast troves of video classes used by professionals to maintain their ongoing license certifications in, among others, law, medicine and accounting? Would new forms of potentially applicable and actionable knowledge emerge that would benefit these professionals as well as the consumers of their services? Rather than restricting Watson to processing the video classes of each profession separately, what might be the results of instead processing them together in various combinations and permutations?
  • What if Watson was configured to process the video repositories of today’s popular MOOC providers  such as Coursera or edX? The same as well for universities around the world who are putting their classes online. Their missions are more or less the same in enabling remote learning across the web in a multitude of subjects. The results could possibly hold new revelations about subjects that no one can presently discern.

Two other recent Subway Fold posts that can provide additional information, resources and questions that I suggest checking out include Artificial Intelligence Apps for Business are Approaching a Tipping Point posted on March 31, 2015, and Three New Perspectives on Whether Artificial Intelligence Threatens or Benefits the World posted on December 27, 2014.


*  See the September 18, 2014 Subway Fold post entitled A Real Class Act: Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) are Changing the Learning Process for the full details and some supporting links.

Flashpoint Presents Its “Demo Day” in New York on April 16, 2015

3883340152_f45b377f9d_z

“Fishbowl Jump”, Image by Kay Kim

Flashpoint is a startup accelerator at Georgia Tech in Atlanta, Georgia. Using a well-defined program, they apply engineering-based methods to nurture new and scalable companies with the intention of addressing unmet demands in the marketplace.

I had the great pleasure of attending their Demo Day presentation in New York, yesterday on April 16, 2015, at the outstanding SUNY Global Center. It was indeed inspiring to see such smart and creative new companies providing innovative products and services. A metric ton of thanks to everyone involved in this special event.

This was part of a series of Flashpoint Demo Days currently touring a number of cities across the US. They are showcasing eight of their current startups, each of whom is seeking additional funding from investors. At this event, one representative from each gave a concise five-to-ten minute speech to the audience about the particulars of their ventures.

The proceeding began with a talk by Professor Merrick Furst of the Georgia Tech College of Computing. He gave a compelling explanation of Flashpoint’s guiding principles, methodologies and results. Among other things, he shared his perspectives about starting up a new firm, including two imperative elements: “Authentic demand” needed in the market and “authentic innovation” provided by startups to meet it. I believe that the audience, many of whom are involved in startup financing, learned much from him.

Next, in the order that they appeared, one speaker for each of the following Flashpoint startups addressed the audience:

  • GalliumGroup (and on @datawhipper):   A data-driven service to assist in warranty analysis, claims efficiency and payment optimization for heavy equipment manufacturers in construction, transportation and farming.
  • DecisionIQ (and on @DecisionIQ):  A data management, analytics and decision-support firm whose software platform spots potential equipment failure well in advance of its occurrence in the health, energy and transportation industries. The application presented was for industrial turbine engines.
  • Generation DyNAmics (@generationDNA): A firm working on creating an environment where everyone (ideally 90%), in a specific geographical area receives genomic screening in order to halt the spread of preventable genetic diseases.
  • Visit:  A firm establishing a platform to enable customers to meet with actual creators of limited edition handmade goods such as food and clothing. For example, a small producer of gin attached labels to his bottles encouraging his buyers to meet with him for a tasting.
  • Acivilate (and on @acivilate): A firm seeking to change the management and coordination of the delivery of public and social services. For example, parolees need help with their documents, housing and employment. Acivilate prepares a master case file for these purposes which is owned by the client.
  • Vault (and on @VaultStemCell): A firm that provides “a medical concierge service” to gather and store a client’s own stem cells if and when they might be needed for regular medical procedures or else in the future to treat illnesses. An example of a target market is professional and amateur athletes.
  • GetLawyer (and on @getlawyer):  A firm aiming to assist in “clearing the legal markets” by using its software to match and deliver clemency eligibility cases to the appropriate attorneys in order to provide support for such filings for  prisoners (often first-timers), being held non-violent charges.
  • Florence Healthcare (and on @FlorenceHCare): A firm providing a data management software solution (including  collection, processing and sharing), for clinical trials of pharmaceuticals under development.

All of the presenters greatly impressed me with their visions, passions and sincerity for the objectives and potentials of their startups. I highly recommend clicking through on the above links to view at the full details of their endeavors.

Bravo! and the very  best of good luck and good fortune to all of them as they move forward.

“Hackcess to Justice” Legal Hackathons in 2014 and 2015

8812567121_f31c46101c_z

Image by Sebastiaan ter Burg

 

[This post was originally uploaded on August 14, 2014. It has been updated below with new information on February 15, 2015 and again on March 24, 2015.]

August 14, 2014 Post:

Last week, the American Bar Association held its 2014 annual meeting in Boston. Among many other events and presentations, was one called Hackcess to Justice, a two-day hackathon held at Suffolk School of Law. The goal was to produce tools and apps to enable greater access to legal services for people who otherwise might not be able to obtain assistance or legal representation. A number of these problems seeking technological solutions were first identified by the Legal Services Corporation. A fully detailed report was posted on ABAnet.org on August 8, 2014, entitled Winning Apps in ‘Hackcess to Justice’ Help Write Wills, Navigate Disasters and Calculate Jail Time.

Prize money was awarded to the first, second and third place winners. The winning entries were apps, respectively, for creating and distributing living wills and health care proxies; proving information and resources to people in natural disasters; and to determine eligibility for legal help in MA and to calculate the length of state prison terms.

Recently, there have been other legal hackathons around the US. Two of them include one held at Brooklyn Law School in April 2014 and another held MIT in June 2014.

I hope to see more of these events in the future as I anticipate that they will continue to produce interesting results potentially benefiting clients and attorneys alike. I also think it will be interesting to track whether any of the tools and apps resulting from these legal hackathons gain acceptance in the marketplace for legal services.

February 15, 2015 Update:

A new Hackcess to Justice legal hackathon will be held in New Orleans on March 21 and 22, 2015. It is being presented by the ABA Journal and the New Orleans Bar Association. The details and a link to the registration page appeared in an article on ABAnet.org on February 12,, 2015 entitled Registration Opens for Hackcess to Justice New Orleans, by Lee Rawles. The event will be held at Loyola University New Orleans College of Law. Here is the link on the law school’s calendar to the event. The objectives, procedures and presentations appear to be very similar to the first Hackcess to Justice event held at Suffolk School of Law discussed above.

Once again, I am delighted to see another legal hackathon in the works. I believe that many tangible and positive results can come from such events for clients, law students, law schools, lawyers, bar associations, and the entire legal profession. My best wishes for its success in New Orleans and I hope to see these events spreading to other areas in the US and elsewhere.

March 24, 2015 Update:

A fanfare, please!

The top three winners of Hackcess to Justice competition (described in the February 15, 2015 post above), were announced on the Daily News page on the ABAJournal.com site yesterday, March 23, 2015. The article entitled Winning App at Hackess to Justice New Orleans Helps Clients Preserve Evidence, was written by Victor Li. I highly recommend clicking through and reading this for all of the details of these imaginative and innovative apps. It also has an embedded deck of tweets (with the links and hashtags remaining clickable), from the event that provide a vivid sense of this competition and the enthusiasm of its entrants.

Briefly summing up the top three winners:

  • First place went to an app called Legal Proof by a Omega Ortega LLC. This enables users to photograph documents and other evidence, generate metadata for it, and record additional relevant data.
  • Second place was awarded to attorneys William Palin and Ernie Svenson for a document generation app they call Paperless. This is designed specifically for legal aid attorneys to ascertain client eligibility, exchange legal documents, and transmit reminders concerning legal dates and issues.
  • Third place was won by a New Orleans non-profit called Operation Spark that promotes careers in software for young people. Their winning app is called ExpungeMe. This helps users to generate documents needed to prepare an expungement request without an attorney.

Massive amounts of congratulations to all of the winners!

Let’s continue to track these important events and the exciting new apps that are emerging from them.