The First Dot

In this blog, I’m going to explain why in-house counsel needs a “first dot” in order to identify a litigation, product or other form of risk.

But here’s the bottom line: In order to avoid the high costs of settlements or verdicts; attorney, e-discovery and expert fees; brand and personal reputation damage; and, in extreme situations, a criminal conviction, corporate counsel needs a “first dot.”

Where are those dots? That’s the easy question. They’re in the enterprise’s internal communications, such as emails. Now for the hard question: How can anyone peer into these communications in near real-time in order to find even a single “first dot”?

Intraspexion’s patented answer to that question is “artificial intelligence” in the form of deep learning. But I’m going to stay away from the “tech” in this blog. Here, I just want to cover the importance of First Dots. 

Remember Connect the Dots, a game for children? How about BMEWS, a billion-dollar Cold War strategy?

Do you recall the criticism of the CIA and FBI after the September 11 attack in 2001?

And did you know that the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention has had a program since 2014 to prevent various forms of violence? In the first training session I watched, I finally got the point of it all: it’s the First Dot that matters. 

Let me explain.

In the game that I played before 1958, and which we still present to children, a cluster of dots forms some pattern that isn’t recognizable until the dots are connected. The dots may be numbered or lettered, and kids learn to start with “1” or “A” and go from there to “2” or “B”.

Here’s a collection of over 50 of these games (free and last updated on October 5, 2018):

But in 1958, BMEWS was the acronym for finding a First Dot. It was a radar, computer and software system that was built between 1958 and 1961 as a strategy to give our military a 15 to 25 minute early warning of an intercontinental ballistic missile attack by the Soviet Union.

Here’s the Wikipedia link to BMEWS (last updated on October 2, 2018):

The First Dots, of course, would have been the detection of missiles coming at us from over the horizon.

Now fast forward to September 11, 2001. I was in Los Angeles and awake early. I turned on the TV to see the news was one of the Towers in New York had been hit by a jet and was on fire. My wife Lois was traveling to San Diego and I called her. While I was on the phone with her, I saw the second plane fly into the other Tower. Lois stopped to go into a diner. The TV was on but wasn’t tuned to a news channel. She knew what others didn’t.

I learned from her that it’s mentally difficult to know about a First Dot and know that it’s true when others don’t have a clue.

But 9/11 wasn’t the First Dot. Although the CIA and FBI were criticized for not sharing their respective stores of data and connecting the dots, the problem was opaque because the First Dot didn’t come with a number or a letter. It had to be tracked down and evidently wasn’t apparent until the plot’s organizer, Ramzi Yousef, was arrested. With enough puzzle pieces, the story could be re-assembled.

And for a step-by-step of the dots that led to 9/11, and how they were connected, see the PBS’s Frontline episode, “Connecting the Dots.” According to this look in the rear-view mirror, 9/11 had its genesis with the World Trade Center attack … in 1993.

So if you’re curious, here’s the link to the PBS Frontline webpage and the “Connecting the Dots” episode. The webpage allows you to take a step-by-step tour through the dots:

Now, more recently, the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention has developed a training program to teach the public how to recognize the links between multiple forms of violence. The first training session begins in the same way I started this article – with the game that children play. The first training session is here:

Evidently launched in October of 2014, the Veto Violence trainings address the violence due to child abuse & neglect, intimate partner violence, sexual violence, suicide and youth violence.

Here’s the link to that first training video (1:13):

From this video, it dawned on me that the First Dot was critically important for risk detection and avoidance.

But what if the First Dot is a false alarm? Well, history shows us that even our missile defense systems can suffer from false alarms. Had we not found their causes within a matter of minutes, the disaster could have been catastrophic on a global scale.

For this topic, see the New York Times article - Causes of False Missile Alerts: The Sun, the Moon and a 46-Cent Chip (January 13, 2018) - here:

Now let me translate. When an artificial intelligence (AI) model for a specific risk reports a high-scoring email as being “related” to the risk, and corporate counsel reads that email and assesses it as being a True Positive, that email is a candidate for further consideration as a First Dot … and only then will anyone authorize an internal investigation.

But what if there is no early recognition of a First Dot and so no early warning? That’s entirely possible and is more often the case than not. After all, corporate attorneys are busy; they tend to be slow adopters of new technologies like AI; and they tend to be resisters of change.

My point is this: Without AI as way for a human being to recognize a potential First Dot, there’s no reason for anyone to even try to sift through the cluster of yesterday’s emails to find the risky ones. 

Ah, but what about whistleblowers and hotlines?

The good and bad of hotlines are that companies sometimes have them but don’t encourage their use. And, while some employees may use hotlines, many may not use them for fear of reprisals (as in “kill the messenger”).

Are they the best we can do? No. And, in my view, AI disrupts them.

Are you trying to find First Dots? Probably not.

But that’s what Intraspexion’s patented deep learning system can do for you: It takes your company’s emails from yesterday, scores them against a previously identified pattern for a specific risk, and provides you with candidates for an internal investigation.

Then, after you conduct that investigation, you’ll learn whether one of those high-scoring emails was the First Dot.