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

New Report Finds Ad Blockers are Quickly Spreading and Costing $Billions in Lost Revenue

"Stop Sign", Image by Kt Ann

“Stop Sign”, Image by Kt Ann

The global usage of ad blocking software is rapidly rising and the cost in 2015 so far has been $21.8 billion in lost revenue. This amount is projected to nearly double in 2016. These are the key conclusions of a new 17-page report entitled The Cost of Ad Blocking, co-authored by Adobe and PageFirst (a startup working to analyze and counter ad blocking technology). The report assesses the technological, economic and geographic impacts of this phenomenon.

A concise summary and analysis of this was posted on BusinessInsider.com on August 10, 2015 entitled Ad Blocking Has Grown 41% in the Past Year and It’s Costing Publishers Tens of Billions of Dollars by Lara O’Reilly. I will sum up, annotate, and add a few unblocked questions of my own.

I highly recommend clicking through reading both the actual report and Ms. O’Reilly’s article together for a fuller perspective on this subject.

Other leading data points among the report’s findings include:

  • Ad blocking software usage has increased 41% in the last year, now totaling 198 million active users each month.
  • While this represents only 6% of web-wide activity, it is the dollar equivalent of 14% of the “global ad spend”.
  • In 2016, the revenue lost to ad blocking is expected to reach $41.4 billion.
  • The usage of ad blockers began to rise significantly in 2013 (as shown in the chart on Page 4 of the report).
  • Ad blocker users tend to be “young, technically savvy, and more likely to be male”.
  • The rates of ad blocking varies widely within specific countries (as shown in the graphic on Page 5 of the report), and likewise from country to country (as shown on Page 6 displaying the countries in Europe).

Dr. Johnny Ryan, an executive at PageFirst, views the growth of ad blocking as being “viral” in its characteristics and anticipated continuance. As stated in the 2014 report on ad blocking, this software spreads both by word of mouth and users’ online research.

Currently, most ad blocking activity is on desktops. Despite the 38% of total web browsing occurring on mobile devices, ad blocking is now only present in 1.6% of this traffic. (See Page 10 of the report for the indicators of potential increases turning it into a “mainstream phenomenon”.)

As well, Apple’s pending release of its IOS9 mobile operating system will permit developers to create ad blocking apps. Both Apple and PageFirst stated this could be a “game changer” insofar as Apple’s deep and wide global reach of its mobile products. (See the bottom of Page 11 of the report.)

Regarding users’ motivations for using ad blockers, a survey of 400 US users, displayed on Page 12, found the leading reason was their concern over the handling of their personal data.

In another survey of UK users by the Internet Advertising Bureau, a majority found that ad blockers increased the speed and performance of their browsers (although this was not listed as one of the reasons in the Adobe and PageFirst report). Nonetheless, Mr. Ryan does not consider this to be an important factor is motivating the use of ad blockers.

My own questions are as follows:

  • Are the people motivated enough to install an ad blocker more than likely to not be uninterested in the ads and thus not potential consumers to the degree that the claims of huge lost revenues are not really all that lost?
  • The report’s underlying assumption is that if these blocked ads were otherwise viewed more sales would have been generated. Where’s the actual harm and where’s the real foul if these “lost” users are more unlikely to become paying consumers in the first place?
  • If ad blocking is so pervasive and growing at such a steep rate, are online advertisers now seeing this phenomenon as a just a cost of doing business to be factored into their accounting and reporting systems?
  • How can truly savvy and inventive e-commerce marketers and content strategists possibly use ad blocking their advantage? That is, can they somehow recast their web advertising content and formats to be less intrusive, more informative, and better protective of personal data to incentivize users enough to not use ad blockers?

For additional informative coverage of Adobe’s and PageFirst’s report with further links to useful references, I also suggest clicking through to read a report posted on the Wall Street Journal’s Digits blog  on August 10. 2015 entitled Ad-Blocking Software Will Cost the Ad Industry $22 Billion This Year by Elizabeth Dwoskin.

Latest Census on Virtual Senses: A Seminar on Augmented Reality in New York

"3D Augmented Reality Sculpture 3", Image by Travis Morgan

“3D Augmented Reality Sculpture 3”, Image by Travis Morgan

I stepped out of the 90-degree heat and through the front door of Adorama, a camera, electronics and computer store on West 18th Street in Manhattan just before 6:00 pm on July 28, 2015. I quickly felt like I had entered another world¹ as I took my seat for a seminar entitled the Future of Augmented Reality Panel with Erek Tinker. It was the perfect venue, literally and figuratively to, well, focus on this very exciting emerging technology. (Recent trends and developments in this field have been covered in these six Subway Fold posts.)

An expert panel of four speakers involved in developing augmented reality (AR) discussed the latest trends and demo-ed an array of way cool products and services that wowed the audience.  The moderator, Erek Tinker ( the Director of Business Development at an NYC software development firm The Spry Group), did an outstanding job of presenting the speakers and keeping the audience involved with opportunities for their own insightful questions.

This just-over-the-horizon exploration and displays of AR-enhanced experiences very effectively drew everyone into the current capabilities and future potential of this hybridization of the real and the virtual.

So, is AR really the next big thing or a just another passing fad? All of the panel members made their captivating and compelling cases in this order:

  • Dusty Wright is a writer, musician, and has recently joined FuelFX as the Director of Business Development in AR and VR. The company has recently worked on entertainment apps including, among others, their recent collaboration on a presentation of AR-enhanced images by the artist Ron English at the 2015 SXSW festival.²
  • Brian Hamilton, the head Business Development for the eastern US for a company DAQRI, spoke about and presented a video on the company’s recently rolled out “Smart Helmet“. This is a hardhat with a clear visor that displays, using proprietary software and hardware,  AR imagery and data to the worker wearing it. He described this as “industrial  POV augmented reality” and believes that AR will be a part of the “next industrial revolution” enabling workers to move through their work with the data they need.
  • Miguel Sanchez is the Founder and Creative Director of Mass Ideation, a digital creative agency working with AR, among its other strategic and design projects. He sees a bright future in the continuing commercialization and application of AR, but also believes that the public needs to be better educated on the nature and capabilities of it. He described a project for a restaurant chain that wanted to shorten the time their customers waited for food by providing AR-enabled games and videos. He thinks that in the right environments, users can hold up their smartphones to objects and soon sees all manner of enhanced visual features onscreen.
  • Anthony Mattana is the founder of Hooke Audio which has developed an app and wireless headphones for recording and playing “immersive 3D audio”. The technology is build upon the concept of binaural audio which captures sound identically as it is heard. He showed this video of a band’s live performance contrasting the smartphone’s standard recording capabilities with the company’s technology. The difference in sound quality and depth was quite dramatic. This video and five others appear on Hooke’s home page. He said their first products will be shipped within a few months.

Mr. Tinker then turned to all of the panelists for their perspectives on the following:

  • Adoption Forecasts: When shown a slide of AR’s projected market growth of companies producing this hardware, everyone concurred on this predicted 10-year upward inclination. Mr. Sanchez expects the biggest breakthroughs for AR to be in gaming systems.
  • Apple’s Potential Involvement: Mr. Wright noted that Apple has just recently acquired an AR and computer vision company called Metaio. He thus expects that Apple may create a version of AR similar to their highly popular Garage Band music recording system. Mr. Sanchez added that he expects Apple to connect AR to their Siri and Maps technologies. He further suggested that AR developers should look for apps that solve problems and that in the future users may not even recognize AR technology in operation.
  • AR versus VR: Mr. Mattana said that he finds “AR to be more compelling than VR” and that it is better because you can understand it, educate users about it, and it is “tethered to powerful computing” systems. He thinks the main challenge for AR is to make it “socially acceptable”, noting the much publicized awkwardness perceived awkwardness of Google Glass.

Turning to the audience for Q&A, the following topics were addressed:

  • Privacy: How could workers’ privacy be balanced and protected when an AR system like the Smart Helmet can monitor a worker’s entire shift? Mr. Hamilton replied that he has spoken with union representatives about this. He sees this as a “solvable concern”. Furthermore, workplace privacy with respect to AR must include considerations of corporate policy, supporting data security, training and worker protection.
  • Advertising:  All of the panel members agree that AR content must be somehow monetized. (This topic was covered in detail in the May 25, 2015 Subway Fold post entitled Advertisers Looking for New Opportunities in Virtual and Augmented Spaces.)
  • Education Apps: Mr. Wright believes that AR will be “a great leveler” in education in many school settings and for students with a wide range of instructional requirements, including those with special needs. Further, he anticipates that this technology will be applied to gamify education. Mr. Mattana mentioned that blind people have shown great interest in binaural audio.
  • New Sources and Online Resources: The panelists recommended the following
  • Medical Application: Mr. Wright demo-ed with the use of a tablet held up to a diagram, an application called “Sim Man 3D” created for Methodist Hospital in Houston. This displayed simulated anatomical functioning and sounds.
  • Neural Connections: Will AR one day directly interface with the human brain? While not likely anytime soon, the panel predicted possible integration with electroencephalograms (EEG) and neural interfaces within 10 years or so.
  • Media Integration: The panel speculated about how the media, particularly in news coverage, might add AR to virtually place readers more within the news being reported.

Throughout the seminar, all of the speakers emphasized that AR is still at its earliest stages and that many opportunities await in a diversity of marketplaces. Judging from their knowledge, enthusiasm, imaginations and commitments to this nascent technology, I left thinking they are quite likely to be right.


June 5, 2017 Update: For latest development’s on DAQRI’s AR technology and products, see this June 3, 2017 post entitled Why Daqri Has Spread Its Bets with Augmented Reality Technology, by Dean Takahashi, on VentureBeat.com.


1.  Not so ironically, when someone from the audience was asking a question, he invoked an episode of from the classic sci-fi TV series The Outer Limits. Does anyone remember the truly extraordinary episode entitled Demon with a Glass Hand?

2.  See the March 26, 2015 Subway Fold Thread entitled Virtual Reality Movies Wow Audiences at 2015’s Sundance and SXSW Festivals for extensive coverage on VR at both of these festivals.

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.)

Prints Charming: A New App Combines Music With 3D Printing

"Totem", Image by Brooke Novak

“Totem”, Image by Brooke Novak

What does a song actually look like in 3D? Everyone knows that music has always been evocative of all kinds of people, memories, emotions and sensations. In a Subway Fold post back on November 30, 2014, we first looked at Music Visualizations and Visualizations About Music. But can a representation of a tune now be taken further and transformed into a tangible object?

Yes, and it looks pretty darn cool. A fascinating article was posted on Wired.com on July 15, 2015, entitled What Songs Look Like as 3-D Printed Sculptures by Liz Stinson, about a new Kickstarter campaign to raise funding for the NYC startup called Reify working on this. I will sum up, annotate and try to sculpt a few questions of my own.

Reify’s technology uses sound waves in conjunction with 3D printing¹ to shape a physical “totem” or object of it. (The Wired article and the Reify website contain pictures of samples.) Then an augmented reality² app in a mobile device will provide an on-screen visual experience accompanying the song when the camera is pointed towards it. This page on their website contains a video of a demo of their system.

The firm is led by Allison Wood and Kei Gowda. Ms. Wood founded it in order to study “digital synesthesia”. (Synthesia is a rare condition where people can use multiple senses in unusual combinations to, for example, “hear” colors, and was previously covered in the Subway Fold post about music visualization linked to above.) She began to explore how to “translate music’s ephemeral nature” into a genuine object and came up with the concept of using a totem.

Designing each totem is an individualized process. It starts with analyzing a song’s “structure, rhythm, amplitude, and more” by playing it through the Echo Nest API.³ In turn, the results generated correspond to measurements including “height, weight and mass”. The tempo and genre of a song also have a direct influence on the shaping of the totem. As well, the musical artists themselves have significant input into the final form.

The mobile app comes into play when it is used to “read” the totem and interpret its form “like a stylus on a record player or a laser on a CD”. The result is, while the music playing, the augmented reality component of the app captures and then generates an animated visualization incorporating the totem on-screen.  The process is vividly shown in the demo video linked above.

Reify’s work can also be likened to a form of information design in the form of data visualization4. According to Ms. Wood, the process involves “translating data from one form into another”.

My questions are as follows:

  • Is Reify working with, or considering working with, Microsoft on its pending HoloLens augmented reality system and/or companies such as Oculus, Samsung and Google on their virtual reality platforms as covered in the posts linked to in Footnote 2 below?
  • How might Reify’s system be integrated into the marketing strategies of musicians? For example, perhaps printing up a number of totems for a band and then distributing them at concerts.
  • Would long-established musicians and performers possibly use Reify to create totems of some their classics? For instance, what might a totem and augmented reality visualization for Springsteen’s anthem, Born to Run, look like?

1.  See these two Subway Fold posts mentioning 3D printing.

2.  See these eight Subway Fold posts covering some of the latest developments in virtual and augmented reality.

3API’s in a medical and scientific context were covered in a July 2, 2015 Subway Fold Post entitled The Need for Specialized Application Programming Interfaces for Human Genomics R&D Initiatives.

4.  This topic is covered extensively in dozens of Subway Fold posts in the Big Data and Analytics and Visualization categories.

The Need for Specialized Application Programming Interfaces for Human Genomics R&D Initiatives

"DNA Molecule Display, Oxford University", Image by allispossible.org.uk

“DNA Molecule Display, Oxford University”, Image by allispossible.org.uk

The term of art for the onscreen workspaces containing the sophisticated tools used by software developers and engineers is called the application programming interface (API).¹ It is where code is written, assembled, tested and revised.

Scientists working on various aspects of the human genome have recently expressed a comparable need for the development of specialized APIs to assist in a wide range of projects in their field.² A very informative and compelling  piece about this by Prakash Menon (CEO of BaseHealth) entitled Developing An Application Programming Interface for the Genome was posted on VentureBeat.com on June 27, 2015. I will sum up, annotate, and then pose some questions that will not require their own specialized API to be considered.

The article begins by citing to a quote from Gholson Lyon, a genomics scientist at the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory in New York, about the existing lack of a “killer app to interact” with DNA. He very recently raised this in another article entitled Apple Has Plans for your DNA by Antonio Regalado, posted on May 5, 2015 on MIT’s technologyreview.com. (The article appears in print in the July/August 2015 issue of MIT’s Technology Review.) This fascinating piece is about Apple’s new ResearchKit, an open source medical research framework for researchers to create iPhone apps for medical studies.³ Such an API technology, as Gholson described it, would make access and interpretation the genome universal, as well as make it more “programmable”.  (I highly recommend reading both Menon’s and Regalato’s articles together in their entirety.) 

Menon parses the three waves of genomics computing in the following manner:

  • First Wave:  During the 1990’s, this was the “sequencing era” when the human genome was first fully mapped. Rapid technological advances have enabled scientists to do this increasingly faster and cheaper. This has resulted in the emergence of the field of personalized medicine where diagnostics and treatments are designed by using more accurate genomic data of patients.
  • Second Wave: The current state of genomic technologies with faster (termed “high-throughput”), more accurate, and less expensive genome sequencing for treating diseases.
  • Third Wave: This is currently evolving with an emphasis is upon “integrating genomic data with other types of data”. This will soon permit advances such as “connect variants to environmental, lifestyle, dietary, and activity” data for the benefit of people who are well as well as those who are suffering from genetically based illnesses.

He believes that creating APIs for genomic science to be used by “developers everywhere” would put genomic data into a “wider context” and, in turn, enable new insights to be integrated into daily medical practice. Furthermore, timely innovations become more likely. As he sees this situation, the genome is a “database that we have constructed and curated”, and as such requires new interfaces to obtain the most value from its vast contents.

This also raises the prospect of genomic APIs becoming yet another addition in a growing conceptual framework dubbed the “API Economy”. (See Six Ways to Get a Grip on the API Economy by Serdar Yegulap, posted on InfoWorld.com on April 20, 2015, for a concise summary and the latest indicators of this emerging trend.)

Perhaps the Fourth Wave of genomics computing will be ushered in by a new generation of software and hardware developers who will “think about personalization at the molecular level”, and not require any further involvement by skilled bioinformatics specialists.

The author acknowledges the need for “privacy, security and the ethical implications” of his proposals, but believes that the potential benefits will result in these concerns being resolved.

Potential new software-driven innovations from Menon’s proposed genomic APIs include:

  • Pharmacy systems that integrate with a patient’s genomic data so that prescribed drugs are the best choices for the individual, including a reduction in side effects.
  • Improved organ and bone marrow donor matching systems.
  • Optimizing food ingredients, supplements and diets, as well as activity and rest periods.
  • Adding genomic data to “build worlds around each player” in online games.

In Menon’s assessment of these four waves, he sees the third wave presently “playing out” and the fourth wave arriving but “it’s not yet widely distributed”.Today, the first genomic APIs are starting to appear. In the US, developers are immersing themselves in the key concepts of molecular biology to more fully enable their work. He further predicts that in the next wave of “billion-dollar businesses” will involve the human genome, only some of which will be specifically in health care.

As to the needs and desires of individuals concerning their genomic data, Menon believes that they want to use it for their own advantage, combine and compare it with the data of others, and to create “wholly new capabilities”.  Indeed, we have seen already numerous applications of genomic data that could not possibly have been imagined by James Watson and Francis Crick, the Nobel Prize winning discoverers of the structure of DNA.

My questions are as follows:

  • Should genomics APIs be developed and circulated on a fully open source basis? If so, what intellectual property issues may still arise and how, and by whom, should they be settled, arbitrated or litigated?5
  • Will developers from other fields, as well as non-affiliated scientifically curious individuals, be drawn into using the APIs for original research and development projects?
  • What, if any, scientific, ethical and regulatory guidelines might be needed as oversight for genomic APIs?
  • Will such APIs lead to a surge in startup company formation in genomics and other related biotechnology businesses?
  • Are there unique elements of design and functionality in genomic APIs that might lead to innovations in API development in other fields? That is, is there some form of beneficial and/or symbiotic effect that may emerge?

 


1 An API for the depository of TED Talks was recently discussed in the May 13, 2015 Subway Fold post entitled IBM’s Watson is Now Data Mining TED Talks to Extract New Forms of Knowledge.

2.  See also the June 12, 2015 Subway Fold post entitled Scientists Are Developing Massive Storage Systems Based Upon Minute Amounts of DNA and Polymers for a related story on using DNA as a dramatically different information storage medium.

3.  For a full exploration of current efforts and proposals to use smartphones as medical platforms, please see the March 3, 2015 Subway Fold post entitled Book Review of “The Patient Will See You Now”. To follow this area of development on a daily basis I highly recommend following the book’s author, Dr. Eric Topol, on Twitter at @EricTopol.

4.  This point invokes master sci-fi writer William Gibson’s often quoted line “The future is here already — it’s just not very evenly distributed.

5.  The United States Supreme Court declined to hear an appeal of a case involving Google and Oracle concerning the ownership of an API . See Supreme Court Declines to Hear Appeal in Google-Oracle Copyright Fight by Quentin Hardy, in the June 29, 2015 edition of The New York Times for full coverage.

 

Companies Are Forming Digital Advisory Panels To Help Keep Pace With Trending Technologies

"Empty Boardroom", Image by reynermedia

“Empty Boardroom”, Image by reynermedia

As a result of the lightening-fast rates of change in social media, big data and analytics, and online commerce¹, some large corporations have recently created digital advisory panels (also called  “boards”, “councils” and “groups” in place of “panels”), to assist executives in keeping pace with implementing some of the latest technologies. These panels are being patterned as less formal and scaled-down counterparts of traditional boards of directors.

This story was covered in a fascinating and very instructive article in the June 10, 2015 edition of The Wall Street Journal entitled “Companies Set Up Advisory Boards to Improve Digital Savvy” (subscription required, however, the article is fully available here on nasdaq.com). I will sum up, annotate and add a few questions of my own.

These digital advisory panels are often composed of “six outside experts under 50 years old”. In regularly scheduled meetings, their objective is to assist corporate managers in reaching diverse demographics and using new tools such as virtual reality² for marketing purposes. The executives whom the panels serve are appreciative of their “honest feedback”, access to entrepreneurs, and perspectives on these digital matters.

George L. Davis at the executive recruiting firm Egon Zehnder reports that approximately 50 companies in the Fortune 500 have already set up digital advisory panels. These include, among others, Target Corp. (details below) and American Express. However, not all such panels have not continued to stay in operation.

Here are the experiences of three major corporations with their digital advisory panels:

1. General Electric

GE’s digital advisory panel has met every quarter since its inception in 2011. Its members are drawn from a diversity of fields such as gaming and data visualization³. The youngest member of their 2014 panel was Christina Xu. She is a co-founder of a consulting company called PL Data. She found her experience with GE to be “an interesting window” into a corporate environment.

Ms. Xu played a key role in creating something new that has already drawn eight million downloads. It’s called the GE Sound Pack, a collection of factory sounds recorded at their own industrial facilities, intended for use by musicians4.  In effect, with projects like this the company is using the web in new ways to enhance its online presence and reputation.

GE’s panel also participated in the company’s remembrance of the 45th anniversary of the first moon landing. Back then, the company made the silicon rubber for the Apollo 11 astronauts’ boots. To commemorate in 2014, the panel convinced GE to create and market a limited edition line of “Moon Boot” sneakers online. They sold out in seven minutes. (For more details but, unfortunately, no more chances to get a pair of these way cool sneakers, see an article with photos of them entitled GE Modernizes Moon Boots and Sells Them as Sneakers, by Belinda Lanks, posted on Bloomberg.com on July 16, 2014 .)

2.  Target Corporation

On Target’s digital advisory council,  Ajay Agarwal, who is the Managing Director of Bain Capital Ventures in Palo Alto, California, is one of its four members. He was told by the company that “there were ‘no sacred cows’ “. Among the council’s recommendations was to increase Target’s staff of data scientists faster than originally planned, and to deploy new forms of in-store and online product displays.

Another council member, Sam Yagin, the CEO of Match.com,  viewed a “showcase” Target store and was concerned that it looked just like other locations. He had instead expected advanced and personalized features such as “smart” shopping carts linked to shoppers’ mobile phones that would serve to make shopping more individualized. Casey Carl, the chief strategy and innovation officer at Target, agreed with his assessment.

3.  Medtronic PLC

This medical device manufacturer’s product includes insulin pumps for people with diabetes.5 They have been working with their digital advisory board, founded in 2011, to establish a “rapport” on social media with this community. One of the board’s members, Kay Madati, who was previously an executive at Facebook, recommended a more streamlined approach using a Facebook page. The goal was to build patient loyalty. Today, this FB page (clickable here), has more than 230,000 followers. Another initiative was launched to expand Medtronics’ public perception beyond being a medical device manufacturer.

This digital advisory board was suspended following the company’s acquisition and re-incorporation in Ireland. Nonetheless, an executive expects the advisory board to be revived within six months.

My questions are as follows:

  • Would it be advisable for a member of a digital advisory panel to also sit on another company’s panel, given that it would not be a competitor? Would both the individual and both corporations benefit by the possible cross-pollination of ideas from different markets?
  • What guidelines should be established for choosing members of such panels in terms of their qualifications and then vetting them for any possible business or legal conflicts?
  • What forms of ethical rules and guidelines should be imposed panel members? If so, who should draft,  approve, and then implement them?
  • What other industries, marketplaces, government agencies, schools and public movements might likewise benefit from their own digital advisory panels? Would established tech companies and/or startups likewise find benefits from them?
  • Might finding and recruiting members for a digital advisory panel be a new market segment for executive search firms?
  • What new entrepreneurial opportunities might emerge when and if digital advisory panels continue to grow in acceptance and popularity?

 


1.   All of which are covered in dozens of Subway Fold posts in their respective categories here, here and here.

2.  There are six recent Subway Fold posts in the category of Virtual and Augmented Reality.

3.  There are 21 recent Subway Fold posts in the category of Visualization.

4.   When I first read this, it made me think of Factory by Bruce Springsteen on his brilliant Darkness on the Edge of Town album.

5.   X-ref to the October 3, 2014 Subway Fold post entitled New Startups, Hacks and Conferences Focused Upon Health Data and Analytics concerning Project Night Scout involving a group of engineers working independently to provide additional mobile technology integration and support for people using insulin pumps.

Advertisers Looking for New Opportunities in Virtual and Augmented Spaces

"P1030522.JPG", Image by Xebede

“P1030522.JPG”, Image by Xebede

Are virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) technologies about to start putting up “Place Your Ad Here” signs in their spaces?

Today’s advertising firms and their clients are constantly searching for new venues and the latest technologies with which to compete in evermore specialized global marketplaces. With so many current and emerging alternatives, investing their resources to reach their optimal audiences and targeted demographics requires highly nimble planning and anticipating risks. Effective strategies for both of these factors were recently explored in-depth in the March 22, 2015 Subway Fold post entitled What’s Succeeding Now in Multi-Level Digital Strategies for Companies.

Just such a new venue to add to the media buying mix might soon become virtual worlds. With VR is the early stages of going more mainstream in the news media (see the May 5, 2015 Subway Fold post entitled The New York Times Introduces Virtual Reality Tech into Their Reporting Operations), and even more so in film (see the March 26, 2015 Subway Fold post entitled Virtual Reality Movies Wow Audiences at 2015’s Sundance and SXSW Festivals), it seems inevitable that VR might turn out to be the next frontier for advertising.

This new marketplace will also include augmented reality, involving the projection of virtual/holographic images within a field of view of the real world. Microsoft recently introduced a very sleek-looking headset for this called the HoloLens, which will be part of their release of Windows 10 expected sometime later this year.

A fascinating report on three new startups in this nascent field entitled Augmented Advertising, by Rachel Metz, appeared in the May/June 2015 edition of MIT Technology Review. (Online, the same article is entitled “Virtual Reality Advertisements Get in Your Face”.) I will sum up, annotate and pose a few additional questions to this. As well, I highly recommend clicking through on the links below to these new companies to fully explore all of the resources on their truly innovative and imaginative sites.

As the VR and AR headsets are set to enter the consumer marketplace later in 2015, manufactured by companies including Oculus, Sony, Microsoft (see the above links), Magic Leap and Samsung, consumers will soon be above to experience video games and movie formatted for these new platforms.

The first company in the article working in this space is called Mediaspike. They develop apps and tools for mobile VR. The demo that the writer Metz viewed with a VR headset placed that her in a blimp flying over a city containing billboards for an amusement ride based on the successful movie franchise that began with Despicable Me. The company is developing product placement implementations within these environments using billboards, videos and other methods.

One of the billboards was showing a trailer for the next movie in this series called Minions. While Metz became a bit queasy during this experience (a still common concern for VR users), she nonetheless found it “a heck of a lot more interesting” than the current types of ads seen on websites and mobile.

The second new firm is called Airvertise. They are developing “virtual 3-D models that are integrated with real world locations”. It uses geographic data to create constructs where, as a virtual visitor, you can readily walk around in them. Their first platform will be smartphone apps followed by augmented reality viewers. At the SXSW Festival last March (please see the link again in the third paragraph above to the post about VR at SXSW), the company demo-ed an iPad app that, using the tablet’s motion sensors, produced and displayed a virtual drone “hovering above the air about 20 feet away” with a banner attached to it. As the user/viewer walks closer to it the relative size and spatial orientation of it correspondingly increases.

The third startup is called Blippar. Their AR-based app permits commercial content to be viewed on smartphones. Examples include seeing football players when the phone is held up to a can of Pepsi, and shades of nail polish from the cosmetics company Maybelline. The company is currently strategizing about how to create ads in this manner that will appropriately consumers engage consumers but not put them off in any way.

My questions are as follows:

  • Will VR and AR advertising agencies and sponsors open up this field to user-generated ads and commercial content which has already been successful in a number of ad campaigns for food and cars? Perhaps by open-sourcing their development platforms, crowdsourcing the ads, and providing assistance with such efforts this new advertising space can gain some additional attention and traction.
  • What is exactly about VR and AR experience that will provide the most leverage to advertising agencies and their clients? Is it only limited to the novelty of it – – that might well wear off after a while – – or is there something unique about these technologies that will inform and entertain consumers about goods and services in ways neither previously conceived of nor achieved? Is a critical must-have app or viral ad campaign going to be needed for this to reach a tipping point?
  • Might countering technologies also appear to block VR and AR advertising? For example, Ad Block Plus is a very popular browser add-on that enables users to filter out today’s banner ads and pop-ups online. How might advertisers positively reaction to such avoidance?
  • Just as the leading social media services such as, among others, Facebook (which now owns Oculus), Twitter and Intagram, where advertisers have major presences, do VR and AR similarly lend themselves to being populated by advertisers on such a web-wide scale?

Book Review of “The Age of Cryptocurrency”

"bitcoinlogo", Image by Dennis Sylvester Hurd

“bitcoinlogo”, Image by Dennis Sylvester Hurd

Many college students have had the experience of needing to take a required course in finance or economics that they were reluctant to register for because of the complexity of the subject matter. Nonetheless, they were soon pleasantly surprised to find that a talented and motivated instructor could make the subject spring to life. Indeed, a skillful prof can light up just about any topic. Recently, I had this type of experience again.

I had developed my own, well, academic interest in bitcoin during the past few years, following various events and tech developments in the news. Not overly curious, but just keeping an eye on developments. I felt no particular need to go out and learn too much more about it.

This changed for me on the very cold evening of  February 9, 2015, when I attended a terrific presentation at the New York office of the law firm of Latham & Watkins entitled Bitcoin – No Boundaries: Innovation in Bitcoin. The event was very professionally and graciously organized by the financial firm Hedgeable. The agenda consisted of six brief demos by bitcoin startups followed by a panel discussion of experts. The link above contains full videos of the entire program, including links to the startups’ websites, all of which I highly recommend viewing.

My completely unscientific poll of the attendees whom I left with on the elevator on the way out was unanimous that they learned a great deal from all of the speakers and presenters and, in turn, were  motivated to go out and learn more about the bitcoin movement. Their enthusiasm reminded me of a favorite quote of mine attributed Nobel Prize winning physicist I.I. Rabi. I recalled it from years ago when I read Silicon Dreams: Information, Man and Machine  by Robert Lucky (St.Matin’s Press, 1989). To paraphrase it: When asked about the inspiration for his great scientific achievements, Rabi  recalled that each day when he returned home from school and his mother greeted him, rather than asking him whether he knew the answers to the teacher’s questions, instead she would ask him whether he asked any good questions.

New and intriguing questions, developments and events about bitcoin are now regularly covered by the media.

My own follow-up effort to further satisfy my heightened curiosity after the February 9th event was to soon thereafter acquire a copy of The Age of Cryptocurrency (St. Martin’s Press, 2015) by Paul Vigna and Michael J. Casey. Mr. Casey was one of the four panelists that night as he can be seen in the video. This book has done much to help me to better grok bitcoin, with its deep and wide explanations about virtual currencies’ fundamentals (including, among many others, “blockchain” “digital wallet”, and “hashrates”), markets and histories.

More specifically, although bitcoin has only been around for six years, grasping the entirety and significance of its remarkable origin and originator (Satoshi Nakatomo), operations, concepts, implications, leaders, investors, benefits, technical flaws, security, encryption protocols, entrepreneurs, communities, supporters, critics, regulations and politics seems to involve more angles than a geometry textbook. Nonetheless, despite the daunting challenge of carefully introducing and then logically mapping out all of this, the authors have constructed, in a very internally consistent manner, a finely detailed travel guide exploring this new world.

Furthermore, The Age of Cryptocurrency can  benefit the different levels of understanding about bitcoin being sought by a wide spectrum of readers. From those with just a passing who/what/where/why curiosity and then scaling up to people seriously involving themselves in this emerging realm, there is plenty in this text to ponder and consume.

One of bitcoin’s technological operations involves setting up powerful computers (dubbed “mining rigs”), dedicated to solve difficult mathematical equations that will, in turn, release specific quantities of bitcoin on a regular basis. This process is called “mining”. So, too, have authors Vigna and Casey comprehensively mined their subject matter to produce an accessible, informative and spirited book.

New Analytics Process Uses Patent Data to Predict Advancements in Specific Technologies

"Crystal Ball", Image by Christian Schnettelker

“Crystal Ball”, Image by Christian Schnettelker

John Oliver did a brilliant and hilarious takedown of patent trolls on his April 19, 2015 edition of his Last Week Tonight show. He raved about the absurdity of such companies who buy up patents and yet produce nothing much themselves other than lawsuits to enforce theses patents. As he said, this is a form of “extortion” that impedes progress and ends up costing the defendants in these actions a great deal of money. If you did not see the show or have not seen the video yet, please have a look and a laugh.

Then compare and contrast that economic fear and needless cost of using patent data in such a negative manner with the publication of a paper last week about how US patent filings are now being used in an entirely opposite, innovative and productive manner. The contrast could not be more dramatic. Indeed, as presented in a new paper published online on April 15, 2015 on PLoS One entitled Quantitative Determination of Technological Improvement from Patent Data, by MIT researchers Christopher L. Benson and Christopher L. Magee, mining recent filings in the US Patent and Trademark Office’s (USPTO) massive database using their new methodology, can determine which technologies are genuinely advancing and at what relative rate.

This very exciting news was reported and analyzed in an article posted on Phys.org on April 15, 2015 entitled New Method Uses Patent Data to Estimate a Technology’s Future Rate of Improvement. I will sum up, annotate and add a few questions to this. I highly recommend clicking through on both this article for the details of how this prediction tool was developed and the full-text of the PLoS One paper for the granular details of how it actually works.

(For cross-reference purposes, this advancement follows on and partially mixes together the topics of two previous Subway Fold posts, one on April 9, 2014 entitled Comprehensive Visualization of Future Paths of Technological Innovations and another on August 8, 2014 entitled New Visualization Service for US Patent and Trademark Data.)

Benson and Magee have devised an analytical means to sift through the USPTO database for precisely choosing the latest patents that “best represent” 28 specific technological domains. These include, among others,  “solar photovoltaics, 3-D printing, fuel-cell technology, and genome sequencing”. Then, applying their methodology, based upon the number of subsequent citations in other new patent filings, they were able to determine those some of the relevant patents displayed an increased likelihood in predicting “a technology’s improvement rate”. In effect, the higher the rate of subsequent citation of Patent X, the higher the rate of innovation. The equations in their predictive tool also include some other patent characteristics.

Among the 28 technologies, those showing the highest rates of advancement were “optical¹ and wireless communications, 3-D printing, and MRI technology²“, while others with slower rates of advance included “batteries, wind turbines, and combustion engines”.

Benson believes that his prediction method could possibly be useful to venture capitalists, startups³. Magee hopes that it may be applied as a form of “rating system” for investors searching out potential “breakthroughs”. Both developers also foresee the possibility that public and private laboratories could use it to investigate potential new areas for research. Furthermore, Magee believes that their approach can be applied to lower the level of uncertainty about the future of a particular technology to “a more manageable number”.

My questions are as follows:

  • Would the accuracy of the predictions from this new system be enhanced by applying its underlying equations to add in other data sources such as online news, social media mentions, and citations to other relevant industry news publications? (X-ref to the December 2, 2014 Subway Fold post entitled Startup is Visualizing and Interpreting Massive Quantities of Daily Online News Content.)
  • Could the underlying equations be applied to other fields such as law to predict the possible outcomes of cases based upon the densities and propensities of cases cited in similar matters and jurisdictions? What about possible applications in medical research or the financial markets?
  • Can levels of probability be quantified with this new system? For example, can it derive a 70% probability that driverless cars will continue to gather technological momentum and then commercially succeed in the marketplace? If so, how might such probabilities be used by the public, governments, researchers and investors?

 


1Could references to patents for optical technologies also be considered, well, cites for sore eyes?

2.  X-ref a September 3, 2014 Subway Fold post entitled Applying MRI Technology to Determine the Effects of Movies and Music on Our Brains.

3.  There are currently 22 Subway Fold posts on a broad range of startups in many industries.