Leadership #2 – My best leadership experience – USP|Debate

When I was in my undergrad, I was a student at the University of Sao Paulo (USP), Brazil. At that time, there was a great political polarization in the country and that could be seen at the university. It was hard to find a group where discussion was evidence based and I realized that we, students of the best university of the country, were not prepared to discuss politics and were not prepared to deal with the extent of the seriousness of the political polarization.

I remember one friend telling me she was walking on the street and she was pushed and spat on because she was wearing a pin of one of the country 35 political parties, mostly divided between left and right. I also went to some of the discussion of the students about decisions at the university. The discussions lasted up to 7 hours and only the people who stayed until the end could vote. Usually, the discussions were not structured and the diversity of opinion was low. Good ideas usually were not expressed well were lost and bad ideas that could capture the mood of the crowd would be carried on.

Also, I realized that I didn’t have enough information to make decisions about important things that were happening at the university and at the country. This was extremely worrying, but I saw the others students also lacked a north. Not a political opinion, but a method to gather information from different sources, analyze them and take decisions with sureness enough to be question their peers.

Then, I met a group which was trying to begin a debate group in the university. In Europe and the USA, these groups are common, but in Brazil they were unknown.  The founder of the group at the University was Henrique Vitta, who had met debate groups from other universities that were recently created. Vitta was an undergrad from economics and he had been the president of FEA Junior, one of the few companies in Brazil ran by undergrads that has a yearly profit of more than R$1 mi. The idea was introducing the debates in Brazil was originated from the Law school of the Federal University of Minas Gerais (UFMG) and was coordinated by Renato Ribeiro.

In the begging, the debate group at the University was small, many people would come from one of the meetings that interested them but then would not return to the other meetings. Because we were not an official group from the university, we had to pay all of the expenses with our own money and had to do meetings at open spaces, because we couldn’t have a room at the university. A philosophy professor,  Prof. Cícero de Araújo helped us to deal with formalities, but still our resources were extremely limited.

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The Faculty of Architecture of the University of Sao Paulo, where USP|Debate started their meetings. We could not reserve rooms of the university, so we used the open space of the building. The place open and busy, so the meetings were often disrupted. 

For more than a year, we tried to gather more and more people, going to the classrooms and inviting the new students. But they had never heard of debate, it is not common at the schools and it is perceived as a bad thing because of the way debate is carried on by the politics. Also, we followed a model of debate in which people are stimulated to exercise defending an opinion opposite from what they believe. And this is such a discomfort that most people would be reluctant to try. When I went to the classrooms, people whispered: “God forbid someone hear me defending the policitian XXX” or “How can they decide who wins the debate. It is always subjective!”.

At this moment, I tried to explain that we don’t defend ideas that go against ethical principles, and that we only discuss ideas that have reasonable pros and cons and that there are objective ways to judge the quality of a debate. Anyway, we had to fight against the standard the politicians had set of what debate was. This nonsensical standard had direct effects in our lives and at the decisions made at the university. When terrible decisions were made by politicians, people didn’t realize that rejecting a proposal is not enough, but it was necessary to reject a method of thinking to be able to navigate a scenario as complex as the one we were living.
Resultado de imagem para biblioteca brasiliana
After the Faculty of Architecture, the meeting of USP|Debate were hosted by a new building at the campus, the Biblioteca Brasiliana Guita e José Mindlin. Bianca Checon managed to get a room reserved for us in the underground. The building was well equipped and we found a perfect place for our meetings. 

With the years passing, our group was becoming smaller and smaller. We had good people coming, like Bianca Checon, a PhD student that in the future would be the new president of the USP|Debate. Bianca would always bring so much information to the meetings and she was responsible for arranging a perfect place for our meetings, a room in the new library in the campus, one of the most beautiful and most coveated places to be.

Then,  there was a feud between the 3 founders of the group, splitting it in two groups. Henrique Vitta continued to lead one of the groups, but for a long time the project seemed faded to failure. We not only had two groups, but we had two groups that were competing to be called USP|Debate.  As time passed, one of the groups faded and USP|Debate restarted with new people, but we had lost almost all progress we had made up to this poins.  At one moment, we had a core of 8 people that always came to the meetings: Henrique Vitta, Bianca Checon, Felipe Bragança, Lucas ***, Bruno Fochesato, Renato Bispo,  Gabriel Vieira and I (Marcos Masukawa).

Then, Henrique Vitta proposed that we make a debate with the candidates to mayor of Sao Paulo, the largest city of Latin America. The idea seemed absurd, we couldn’t even bring student to come to our group! How could we bring candidates that were some of the most important politicians in the country in a time when they are the busiest doing their campaign? Besides, Henrique Vitta, who was leading USP|Debate until this point had to leave for work to the other side of the country. It would be only 7 of us. Still, we believed in the idea. If it failed, it failed, but if it worked it would be a way to get the eyes of the University Dean, so we could get a good space for our meetings, maybe a some money for printing. And, most importantly, show that the politicians could also have a productive debate if we had set an environment for the conversation.

Bianca Checon and I were the olders members of the group After Vitta left, Bianca became the president of the group and this was the right decision. Our strategy was to do a partnership with the radio of the university. Radio USP. It was a great decision. That way, we could use the fact that Radio USP was an official Institution of the University and could make reservation of spaces, besides, the radio could record and broadcast the debate, making it more attractive for the candidates. Also, the radio could ask the lawyers of the university what were possible legal risks of what we were trying to do.

After a meeting with the Radio, we, from the USP|Debate were responsible for everything. We started calling the candidates and we mostly were politely ignored at first. Lucas *** and Bianca Checon were responsible for calling the Personal Relation groups of the candidates. The work was exhaustive and they had to make calls and send emails for months without stop until hours before the actual day so that the largest number of candidates could come.

Because of Radio USP, we could reserve the largest and most beautiful auditorium of the University, the  Center for International Diffusion. But that was just one part of the challenge. In the months before the event, we designed flyers, posters, we sent emails, made phone calls, glue posters throughout the campus, plan every step of the big day of the debate. One of my roles was to get the coffee break for the candidates. I called about 50 companies that could give us the coffee break for free. However, at this time, the economic crisis was already at a very bad point and I had to hear a NO from all the companies I called and visited. That was frustrating. Then, we also found out that Radio USP was using the name we created for our event – Jornada eleitoral (Elector journey) – to other events they were organizing based on our event without consulting us. Also in some occasions they failed to mention us (the creators of the event!), and our blood boiled a little when credit was due. Still, we had to communicate our discomfort without putting in risk the whole partnership and chose to do it after the event. Afterall, it was only possible because of Radio USP and we were very thankful.

The last preparations for the debate of the candidates to Sao Paulo city elections.

One the week before, we had the partial confirmation of most of the candidates. A partial confirmation meant the candidate would go in case there was not another event for the day. However, on the day before, one of the candidates announced she was not going  and on the day of the event another candidate decided not to go.  On the top of that, just a couple hours before the event, the place was empty. Would anyone come? Bruno and I took flyers and went to the cafeteria because that is where we hopes we would find more people. We gave flyers and screamed (literally) about the event until we had to go back because the event was about to start.

People arriving to the debate.

Only about 1/5 of the auditorium was full. We didn’t think this would happen because the candidates were very well known and because the week before there was one event at the university with one of the candidates that had thousands of people. Also, we did thousands of posters and flyers and glued them in all institute of the campus. Quickly, the workers from Radio USP helped us to sit people only at the center of the auditorium. Besides, the main goal of the event was for it to be recorded, so we tried to give the impression to the candidates that it was purposeful that the room was not so full.

Then, the event happened. It was perfect. Probably not perfect, but I don’t remember of any major failure. The University dean came, made a speech. At the end of the talk, the candidates received acrylic paperweight of the USP|Debate that I had handcrafted one by one. Then, the event ended and we felt a sense of relief that was unmatched to any other. We were extremely proud.

We had spent our own money in the event and we have done something that would have taken a full company and probably thousands of dollars to do it. And only 7 people did it.  I am still amazed of how we were able to bring the candidates together at this beautiful building and to broadcast it for the whole state. Yet, we had no money to give them coffee.

The group from USP|Debate that organized the debate.
The autograph of the candidates that came to the Debate.

Some days after the high had passed, we realized there was still so much to do. The event didn’t mean USP|Debate would be successful from one day to the other and at the time we were so exhausted by the event that we didn’t use all the lever we had access right after the event. I had to leave Brazil and soon other members were leaving and new ones were coming. USP|Debate still had a lot of work to do to become a household name at the University.  It is still smaller than other debates groups, but now it has gained new vitality and it is being coordinated by Kleber Henriques.

I hope that in the future debate will be a common activity in the schools and universities in Brazil.

Leadership #1 – Photo collage – ‘Soft leadership’

This post is an exercise for the Global Leadership practice 

Five pictures that capture leadership practices

When looking for examples of leadership, it is common to look for historical figures of political or military importance. But I  was wary of the fact that those  who have set strong policies and made a dent in history did so because of the magnitude of their disruption and because the consequences – often unplanned –  came to have a positive light in the after event. For example, when Paris was reformed by Georges-Eugène Haussmann, thousands of families and businesses were moved for the construction of new boulevards. The disruption had a positive perduring effect but the unilateral decision to reform a major city today in the same way could be seen as a bad leadership practice.

So, it is a requirement to put leaders as people of their time. That way, we can at least  be partially satisfied to deal with inconsistencies when praising leadership actions, that is, praising a leader for a certain decision and disproving the next for similar decisions at another date. That also happens when leaders of their time were found to be racist, homophobic or to support ideas that make less sense today. This, in my opinion, comes with a practice to examine specific action of the leaders, instead a praise for their personality.

Another neglected aspect of leadership  is to admire how much work and effort is needed to carry smooth transitions and reforms. We are seriously biased towards the great events that cause change, those which are depicted in paintings and highlighted at biographys. But, because of this bias, we loose a large number of references of leaders that made their way to their goals with less friction. So, in this post, l tried to capture some of the leaders that had great impact with calculated disruption. This is a list to address  largely neglected acts of leadership.

To make this list, I came with my definition for five aspects of leadership first . Then, I thought of a leader that represented it and tried to see what they had done that caused me to think they represent this leadership aspect. I did so to avoid a cult of personality and so we can truly learn with their examples. Because this soft leadership has less historical record, these figures are from contemporary history, but I wish historians could collect more examples of soft leadership that spanned back in time.

Model the way

Someone who can gather information, define a guideline and implement it.

Linus Torvalds

Image result for linus torvalds linux

Linus was the creator os Linux, an open source operation system used in computers and servers worldwide.

Linus Torvalds created the basic code for the operation system Linux. The creation of an operation system, which is an impossible task by an individual, could only be achieved  because of management of open source software that could be developed by individuals and by enterprises.

Inspire a shared vision

Someone who has a plan and can describe it clearly so the end goal is distant enough from the problem presented but yet is doesn’t look utopic and unreachable.

Allain the botton
Image result for alain de botton school of life

Allain de Botton makes a speech at Sidney.

Why: Alain is a philoshopher that makes youtube videos on his channel School of Life about philosophy, sociology, pop cultures and other topics. He uses all the sources of human knowledge to produce  extremely practical content and explores the current resources in technology and media  to reach people.

Challenge the process

Someone that can keep a rebel at heart and have the patience to learn the processes to disrupt it from inside.

Pope Fransisco

Image result for pope francis throne

Pope Fransisco respects the traditions of the church while keeping his ascetic style.

Why: Fransisco brought simplicity and humility to the Vatican and within a few years changed the perception of the catholic church. So far he has gained enough support from within the church to tackle tabu problems such as pedophilia and corruption at the higher ranks of the church.

Enable others to act

Set the environment so people can feel their opinions count and their actions have actual effects on a larger picture.

Peter Drucker

Image result for peter drucker

Peter Drucker helped the leader of Japanese companies to rebuild the country after the war.

Why: Peter Drucker was a manager consultant that wrote a about the human aspect of business. He wrote a book called Managing oneself, which is one of the greatest discussions about how to manage knowledge and to understand  ambitions and abilities of oneself.

Encourage the heart

Someone that can cultivate and channel non-destructive human feelings to a common project.

Oprah Winfrey

Image result for oprah winfrey school africa

Oprah Winfrey open her leadership academy for girls in South Africa.

Why: Oprah Winfrey is best known for hosting her talk show until 2011. During the show, she brought to the television problems that resonated with the whole country and discussed them in an open and empathetic manner.

Strategy of Japanese robot industry

Essay submitted for the class Strategical Management of Technology – Jun 17

An investigative essay about how the government of Japan is shaping the business strategy of national robot manufactures. *The original work submitted has been slightly altered.

Main conclusions of this work

  1. The robot industry of Japan is the largest of the world, however the domestic market is decreasing.
  2. A Robot revolution is articulated by the government via funding, easing regulations and bond buying.
  3. The Bank of Japan is on a program of bonding buying and has a major shareholder position on the robot sector.
  4. It is unclear if the government directly influences the strategy of the robot industry.
  5. The industry has mostly adhered to the Robot revolution plan established by the government, but it demonstrates resistance to incorporate changes related to opening software.

Overview of the Japanese robot industry, market and government management

The Japanese robot industry is the largest of the world. In the last report of the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, Japanese robot industry accounted for 50.2% of a $8.49 bi market. Despite the overall growth, Japan saw a decrease of 25% of the domestic market between 2008 and 2013 [1]. However, the growth of robot use by China, Germany, South Korea and the US led a strong increase of the market size of about 60% between 2008 and 2013. These countries plus Japan account for more than 75% of all robot purchases [2].

To understand the reasons behind the decline in the Japanese domestic market, we can apply the Porter’s five forces analysis (Fig. 1). On one hand, Japanese companies have two main aspects in their favour: suppliers have low bargain power and the threat of new entrants is low/medium. A low threat of the suppliers exists because the semiconductor and electronic supplier industry in Japan is extremely competitive and diversified, making it easy to look for alternative suppliers. More than that, many large companies hold shares on the supplier companies. This strategy model is known as “keiretsu” and helps to stabilize price fluctuations. Two examples are the Sumitomo corporation (owner of Sumitomo bank, NEC, Mazda, among others) and Dai-Ichi Kangyo corporation (owner of Mizuho bank, Fujistsu, Hitachi, among others), which are clients of Trend Micro software company and, at the same time, are indirectly major shareholders of the company via multiple subsidiary fund accounts (Japan Trustee Services Page, subsidiary of Sumitomo Mitsui Trust Holdings and Trust and Custody Services Bank, subsidiary of Mizuho Financial Group)[3].

Figure 1: Main features of the Fiver forces Porter analysis for the domestic scenario of robot industry in Japan.

The other aspect in favor of the Japanese robot industry is the low threat of new entrants. The robot industry requires a set of core competencies which is expensive to develop. As a consequence, only major companies have been able to give continuity to serious robot programs. Additionally, the Japanese corporate market has strong brand loyalty [4] and new companies need high differentiation and focus strategy to be able to place a product. As a result, the robot industry in Japan is composed of previously existing traditional organizations, with research made in national centers and a very modest start-up scenario in comparison with the Europe and North-America. Among the new companies, the one of the most prominent is Cyberdyne, a venture firm which makes robotic suits and exoskeletons. The firm was initially funded with technology developed at Tsukuba University and funded by transfer aids from the Ministry of Economy, trade and industry (METI) and New energy and industrial technology development organization (NEDO) with the purpose of developing robots that can be worn, aiding impaired people to walk or helping to weight heavy lifts (Fig. 2). The company has been valued at about $2.6 bi and had relatively successful penetration in European markets, but, it has been struggling to make profits [5].

On the other hand, the domestic market of Japanese robots face three serious issues: the threat of substitute product, the rivalry among competitors and the bargaining of buyers. One central point is that currently most robots are used for industrial applications [6]. In the case of Japan, it is the country with the second highest incorporation of robots (after South Korea). For each 10,000 employees, there are about 300 robots [2]. But manufacturing jobs have been decreasing according to METI [7] and wages have remained stable in the last 10 years differently from other countries like China, South Korea, US and Germany [8], which have pressure to substitute workers due to rising salaries. As a unique case, the substitute products from Japan is traditional labour, which disfavor further robot incorporation.

Figure 2: Similar robots produced by major Japanese companies.

The government is trying to change this situation with a plan for a Robot revolution [9], which aims to turn Japan into a “robot superpower” and is part of the plan devised by the government to revitalize Japan’s economy [10], which we synthesized in a PEST graph (Political, Economical, Social, Technological points of view of the Japanese government about the robot industry 3). The main idea is that robots will be incorporated in areas not saturated by robot use, such as healthcare, food and agriculture. The plan also contains a set of actions to be taken by the government to stimulate the robot industry and to position it on the international market. The government hopes that the Robot revolution will help at the same time to solve the problem of aging population in Japan and of the escalating healthcare costs, which are estimated to increase by about 1 trillion yen per year [11].

 

Figure 3: PEST analysis of the robot industry in Japan according to the Robot revolution planned by the Japanese government.

 

Companies have apparently complied with the government plan, which led to the development of very similar products such as in Fig. 2 by major Japanese companies. Although each products claims differentiations and niche markets, there is clear competition, since they were designed with a general purpose in mind. Most seriously, although the Robot revolution plan has been a well defined set of actions to tackle serious problems of Japan, the market for consumer robots such as in Fig. 2 has not been fully deployed, which means large R&D projects have to be conducted with the perspective of a potential market without actual profits. According to Minoru Asada from Osaka University, “Japan has been a technology leader, especially in hardware, but when it comes to strategies for making robots more available to society at large, we are behind” (via The Financial Times) [12]. As a consequence, customers who are unsure if they need or want a certain product have higher purchase power and are part of a smaller market, which increases the rivalry and competition between similar products.

As METI recognized, “Should Japan lag behind such trend in terms of ideas about robot development or perspectives of business models, Japan will be isolated from the rest of the world in the field of robotics as well and be eyed as Galapagos which will draw more concerns over the situation in Japan where craftsmanship enjoys a victory but business suffers a defeat.” [13]. The analogy to Galapagos is a reference to the isolated island in the Pacific ocean where animals evolved unique characteristics due to the lack of competition and predators and means that it is not necessary only for Japan to have the best robots, but also to find profitable business models. At the moment, the market for consumer robots in Japan is promising, but elusive.

Paradoxically, both the most relevant strengths and weakness of the industry lie in the idiosyncrasies of the Japanese domestic robot market. If we do the SWOT analysis of the robot industry in Japan (Strength, Weakness, Opportunities, Threat), it becomes clearer that Japan is in a very unique position. One main strength of the Japanese robot industry is the advanced hardware industry which has been developed trough decades of R&D in related technology sectors and has allowed high incorporation of robots in the industry, most notably in the automotive sector [14]. A second main strength is related to the openness of Japanese people to robots as part of society. That means that even if consumer robots have not yet become a hit product, Japanese society is more comfortable interacting with humanoid robots than people from western cultures [15]. And it may as well not be a choice, given the aging population in Japan. Japan currently has the highest ratio of dependents/working force in the world and it is set to increase significantly by 2030 [16]. Prime minister Shinzo Abe said “Japan’s demography, paradoxically, is not an onus, but a bonus.” [17]. In that sense, the urgency to solve the aging problem and the low productivity rates of Japan is an incentive to the robot industry translated in government financing and regulatory support. $100 bi yen have been reserved for the Robot revolution project [13] and the robot regulations have been eased. According to Reuters, “The trade ministry has convinced health ministry officials to relax certification procedures for medical devices and introduce affordable robots to nursing homes on a trial basis.” and cites Kiyoshi Sawaki, head of the trade ministry’s industrial machinery division: “The approval process is being simplified. […] So companies can’t use the same excuses that they did before.” [18].

Figure 4: SWOT analysis of the robot industry in Japan in an international scenario.

The incentives given by the government try to overcome the high risks associated with the emerging market of robots for consumers. That is probably necessary given that major Japanese companies tend to be risk averse [4], which can be a weakness in a fast changing market. Another reported weakness of the Japanese robot industry is over-engineering, a gap between what engineers envision and the minimum product required, causing delays in releases and increase in the price and complexity of the product [19]. Naturally, many of the robots developed by the companies such as depicted in Fig. 2 are made to develop competencies for future projects, but Bruno Maisonnier, CEO of the french company Aldebaran, which developed the robot Pepper for Softbank points: “Honda makes an impressive robot [Asimo], but where can I buy it?”.

As a result, while Japanese industrial robots thrive, there has been a grey area for assistant robots such as in Fig. 2. Critics say one of the causes of the delay in the market deployment is the resistance of Japanese companies to open the software and allow outside programmers to develop software. Japan robot industry is regarded as a hardware power, but software has lagged behind [12]. The government pointed in the Robot revolution plan that this issue must be addressed choosing robots with open software for the companies to work together, but major Japanese companies usually do not have experience in handling open software and this seems to be one of the few aspect of the government guidelines which were ignored.

This poses a great threat from other robot exporters which have experience in managing open software like Germany, France and the US. On the case of China and South Korea, the threat arises from the geographical proximity: a report from Moody’s shows that most of the robot trade is inter-regional. Therefore, in order to Japan to establish its position as a robot superpower, it is not enough to do well on a global scale but to surpass regional competitors China and South Korea, which are heavily investing to achieve the same position (China 1.9% of GDP and South Korea 4%) [2].

This raises the question: are Japanese companies heading further away from a blue ocean? This seems to be happening not only because of fierce international competition, but also but also because of the domestic compliance to the Robot revolution, which comes with advantages – financing, easing of regulations – and burdens – heavy R&D expenditure, development of low profit products, risk taking. By itself, it is remarkable that the government was able to engage the companies in this policy. Traditionally, Asian companies prefer to keep good relations with the government while western companies don’t mind being disruptive, but there might be another another aspect that could be considered.

In the last years, the Bank of Japan has become the major buyer in the stock Japanese stock market and is now the a Top 5 owner of 81 companies listed and on course to become major shareholder of 55 companies. The mass purchase is said to be done to help to achieve the 2% inflation rate established by “Abenomics” policy and reinforced by the Bank of Japan [20]. According to prime minster Shinzo Abe, “The government and the BOJ will work as one in close coordination to accelerate ’Abenomics’”. These purchases are distributed along strategical sector of the Japanese economy, including robotics, as shown in Table 1. There is no evidence that the Bank of Japan or the government indirectly influences the strategy of these companies, but it would be odd if a government shareholder would oppose the plan established by the government. So, Table 1 suggests there is another factor to account on the reasons the robot industry is following the Robot revolution plan and reveals also a collateral way the government can support the industry with higher security and stable price of suppliers. These actions are consistent with the ambitions of the Robot revolution plan, however, they might help to steer companies away from a blue ocean towards a common goal and they make the sphere of influence of the government unclear.

References

[1] Ministry of Economy Trade Industrial Machinery Division, Manufacturing Industries Bureau and Industry. Trends in the market for the robot industry in 2012 summary of survey results. http://www.meti.go.jp/english/press/2013/pdf/0718_01.pdf, July 2013. (Accessed on 06/09/2017). [2] MOODY’S INVESTORS SERVICE. Robotics’ Impact on Emerging Market High-Tech Exporters Depends on their Technology Absorption Capacity. Technical report, MOODY’S INVESTORS SERVICE, 2017. [3] Trend micro. Trend micro investor relantions fact guide. https://www.trendmicro.com/ content/dam/trendmicro/global/en/about/investor-relations/IR_FactSheet2017_ E_final.pdf. (Accessed on 06/27/2017). [4] Rohit Deshpandé, John U Farley, and Frederick E Webster Jr. Corporate culture, customer orientation, and innovativeness in japanese firms: a quadrad analysis. The journal of Marketing, pages 23–37, 1993. [5] No profit? no problem. japan’s cyberdyne an instant stock darlingnikkei asian review. http://asia.nikkei.com/Markets/Tokyo-Market/ Cyberdyne-pulled-off-an-impressive-stock-market-debut-but-has-yet-to-make-profits. (Accessed on 06/09/2017). [6] Dana Neumann. Human assistant robotics in japan-challenges and opportunities for european companies. 2016. [7] Ministry of Economy Trade and Industry. Japan’s Manufacturing Industry. Technical report, Ministry of Economy Trade and Industry, 2010. [8] Average annual wages. https://stats.oecd.org/Index.aspx?DataSetCode=AV_AN_WAGE. (Accessed on 06/10/2017). [9] Ministry of Economy Trade and Industry. Action Plan for FY 2015 Robot Revolution Initiative Council. Technical report, Ministry of Economy Trade and Industry, 2010. [10] Prime minister of Japan and his cabinet. Japan revitalization strategy 2016. Technical report, Prime minister of Japan and his cabinet, 2010. [11] Yoritomo Wada. 2015 healthcare outlook japan. https://www2.deloitte. com/content/dam/Deloitte/global/Documents/Life-Sciences-Health-Care/ gx-lshc-2015-health-care-outlook-japan.pdf, 2015. (Accessed on 06/10/2017). [12] Jonathan Soble. Japan’s robot makers under threat. https://www.ft.com/content/ ca019040-f083-11e3-8f3d-00144feabdc0?mhq5j=e3, 2014. (Accessed on 06/10/2017). [13] New robot strategy, japan’s robot strategy – vision, strategy, action plan -. Technical report.[14] Yoshihiro Kusuda. Robotization in the japanese automotive industry. Industrial Robot: An International Journal, 26(5):358–360, 1999. [15] Frédéric Kaplan. Who is afraid of the humanoid? investigating cultural differences in the acceptance of robots. International journal of humanoid robotics, 1(03):465–480, 2004. [16] Anirban Nag. Robots may help defuse demographic time bomb in japan, germany. https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2017-05-29/ robots-may-help-defuse-demographic-time-bomb-in-japan-germanys. 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Original PDF file: RobotStrategy_masukawa

Coding into cracks – How inherent flaws of law can be exploited by artificial intelligence

Essay submitted for the 47th Saint Gallen Symposium.

For more than 50 years, researchers have been developing the theoretical foundations to use Artificial Intelligence (A.I.) in law. But, only recently, the first A.I.’s made their way into big law companies. For now, A.I. systems act as assistants, however, it is expected that their responsibilities grow in the next years. As they do so, computers will face the complicated challenge of understanding human language and, more specifically, law. But could it be that they also do that better than us? A common opinion is ”yes, because laws are sets of logical hierarchical rules, which computers can handle well” and, conversely, ”no, because computers follow fixed instructions and therefore can’t reason”. We will know the answer in the foreseeable future, but both justifications are wrong. In this essay, we will try to show why laws can not be interpreted as simple mathematical statements and how computers are able to cope with it, possibly posing a challenge to the judiciary system procedures and helping us to see flaws in today’s making and amendment of laws.

The cracks

It is often believed that law is a logic and consistent set of rules or, more modestly, that the inconsistencies in legislation compose a small set among the vast universe of laws discussed and written by a parliamentary institution based on democratic principles and constantly under review. However, this is not strictly true. Holmes, an associate justice from the USA supreme court in the early XX century, famously wrote: ”The life of the law has not been logic; it has been  experience”.

Seminal work of philosophers Jacques Derrida, Niklas Luhmann and Rudolf Wiethölter originally discussed the fact that law is ridden with inconsistencies[1], even though civilian instinct may insist that the laws are subject to strict logical reasoning and so are accepted and legitimated. Although there are many examples of such contradictions, which can be sourced from the discussions on the book ”Paradoxes and Inconsistencies in the Law”[2], we would like to avoid the interpretation that flaws are due to a specific law or country or political inclination and will discuss law on the broadest sense possible.

Some reasons why laws contain inconsistencies are, for instance, because legislation adapts in reaction to the historical/social context and usually there isn’t extended thought before laws have to be changed. This is directly related to the fact that there are close ties between law and traditions. Such relation is concomitantly cause and palliative solution for inconsistencies: at the same time laws have no compromise to mathematical rigour, they are subject to further judgment, review and iteration that makes them adequate and legitimate. And, most importantly for this essay, laws contain inconsistencies because they are almost always made and interpreted using classical logic [3], which can not be used in systems with paradoxical definitions. As a surprise to many people, there are other logic systems, some of which can handle inconsistencies better such as paraconsistent [4] and defeasible logic [5].

But the stated reasons on why laws are flawed are by no means nihilistic and do not implicate that laws should be disregarded. In a context in which law is made by humans and interpreted by humans, the vagueness is what allows laws to conform [6]. Furthermore, in order to make sense of the legislation, it becomes necessary to have an extensive knowledge not only of laws, but also of the current political situation and human reasoning and nature. This knowledge is cumulative and, because of that, so extensive, that it takes years to train a lawyer to be able to reason a complex law case and, most importantly, to express her or his own reasoning understandably and convincingly. For the complexity and importance of this job, the lawyer profession has been for many centuries praised and subject of much esteem. Fairness and persuasion were commodities that few could offer, let alone computers. But this was to change in this decade.

The code

The attempts to automatize the activities related to law date back to the 70’s [7, 8, 9]. But, until recently, researchers could not tell whether or not computers would abide unable to do tasks such as collecting evidence, ordering data by relevance, synthesizing unstructured text and image, interacting with lawyers, sensing political and public moods, creating and supporting thesis and conveniently exposing the summary in a human understandable way. Computer still don’t excel at some of this tasks, but not long ago many researchers from the A.I. field believed it would be impossible for computers to execute such tasks even on a basic level [7, 10, 11].

As consequence, the practical use of A.I. until the 90’s was limited to simple tasks such as counting the frequency of words, simple word context guessing and matching short text excerpts to input keywords [7, 12]. The technology at this time was highly experimental and it took a 50 years hiatus until A.I.  software and humans shared tasks in big companies.

Ross, for example, is a modern software lawyer already employed in law companies to do the same job as junior lawyers. Ross searches relevant cases and is able to extract facts and conclusions from documents [13]. And it can only do so because it uses multiple techniques of natural language processing, information retrieval, machine learning, computational linguistics, knowledge representation and knowledge reasoning [14]. Theoretical studies on these areas are relatively recent and this is the first reasons why A.I. software felt short of expectations until now. The second reason is that the computational power needed for such intensive tasks was not available a couple of years ago.

So, what would be a scenario in which A.I. is completely integrated with law and used in the judiciary system? Prof. Richard Susskind, from University of Oxford and one of the earliest promoters of use of A.I. in law, suggests that in the beginning, two parallel processes will occur: the use of A.I. as assistants and the progressive increase in A.I. autonomy in judiciary tasks [15]. At the moment, the first seems to be true as Ross is already used with this purpose, but Susskind proposes that soon people will use A.I. online platforms as consultants and that the role of A.I. in law will be to democratize access to law advice. This scenario is optimistic but feasible, since many technology companies today adopt a business model of democratic access to technology. But a much less discussed aspect of this scenario is how our laws and public workers will cope
with it.

Suppose a litigation whose parts use both human and A.I. lawyers and which is arbitrated by a judge who also uses a A.I. aid. Now, it is not uncommon that very complex scenarios develop, which are further painted by the parts. As a consequence, it can happen that there are not clear precedents. The plaintiff and her or his A.I. colleague would be able to bring a statically chosen set of previous legislation and metadata (information that describes information) to be presented by the lawyer. This metadata, which will guide the lawyer on how to make the case, is not only about the law itself, but it will take into account the expertise of the judge and the defense lawyer, making accurate guesses on the probability of winning the case. For example, a software from the University of Liverpool developed by the group led by Prof. Katie Atkinson was able to guess the correct result of 31 out of 32 cases of real law cases sampled [16].

And, fairly, the judge and defendant lawyer will have the same awareness. In a case regarding a long standing law, the plaintiff will be able to find a few hundred related precedents/legislation, with a couple being more relevant. Only to find out those are themselves contradictory to other laws as indicated by the defense lawyer. In the end, the infinite loop will be inevitably terminated by a verdict. But the main problem is that all of this discussion will be added to the pile, increasing the risk of making the whole set of laws even more inconsistent.

One useful analogy to understand this situation is the Socratic method. Socrates would walk in the street market of Athens talking to different people. As soon as an interlocutor made an assertion, Socrates would ask what are the premises, usually 4 or 5 would suffice. Then, Socrates would show that based on these premises the thesis of the interlocutor does not hold. And the point is, the more promises one adds or the more original promises one changes from the beliefs the  interlocutor started with, the less likely it will untangle the inconsistencies pointed by Socrates. Back to the court case, if we imagine that we are trying to make the laws sound like one consistent system and courts decisions are the answer to Socrates’ questions, we would have one remarkable difference. Instead of a handful of premises, the law system of every country deals with literally dozens of millions of premises, which, in our analogy, encompass legislation and precedents. And one point that may have passed unnoticed in this anecdote is that computers played the role of Socrates.

The same way Socrates fostered his interlocutors to think critically by realizing inconsistencies, we might be forced to see by the use of A.I. that our law systems may in the long term not reflect what we expect from it. Maybe Socrates himself reached this conclusion before being ordered to poison himself by a jury in Athens 399 B.C. The point being, how will we react to the realization that law may become cumulatively less intuitive? And why would we hear computers if philosophers and jurists already pointed that?One of the reasons is that the use of A.I. will allow us to look at law in a broader scale rather than self-contained and, with that, inconsistencies will become much clearer and quantifiable. For example, a team from Griffith University, Australia, now seeks to work with the Australian Taxation Office on the detection of loopholes in taxation laws and regulations [5]. Now, as we said before, inconsistencies are often not a source from serious grieve due to the consensus that law should be interpreted and that those interpretations should be made hierarchical, archived and used for posterity. Therefore, the point is not the sole existence of inconsistencies, but their abundance in a way that inconsistencies can be criminally exploited and undermine public confidence in the law.

At the same time this may help to bring light on the romantic view on the fairness of law, it might diminish the confidence on it below the threshold required for legitimacy of the institutions, giving the feeling that as long as the law in old enough or complex enough and the chances of inconsistencies have been introduced are high, A.I. can be used as a tool to revert and postpone decisions. We may find a harsh way to realize that the same way a fruitful discussion requires common knowledge, consensus requires common ignorance. However, this seems-to-be-dystopian reality assumes the way we make and interpret law remains the same for the coming years.

Concluding remarks

In the book Artificial legal intelligence by Pamela Grey, it reads ”There is now an opportunity to review legal intelligence and consciously determinate any evolutionary leap in the form of codification [17]”. The author suggests that the challenging advance of A.I. in law is in fact an opportunity to reform the law system. Big changes on law systems are indeed rare and have only happened a few times in history in reaction to moments of huge turmoil. However, if it becomes imminent that reforms are made due to the use of A.I., it will be an advantage that we had thought beforehand on the implications of modifying our current law model. At this point, resistance should be expected from an institution which is largely based in tradition. In order to aid any transition, it is a requirement that world leaders, law makers and judiciary are acquainted with the ongoing changes of the use of A.I. in law and that population has a minimum degree of programming literacy to understand and concur. To have an uneducated opinion on this matter is willingly assuming the risk of choosing a sub-optimal solution when changes in what is law and how we do law become increasingly imperative.

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