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Of Algorithms, People and Knowledge

A Declaration of Independents

When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for some of the people some of the time and all of the people all of the time to reaffirm the political bands which have connected them with one another.

Real Billions and Real Trillions

While I was searching for images of life in the soil, I came upon the following on Sweet Bay Farm’s website (see above). They’re working to restore soils depleted by decades of monoculture—the continual cultivation of a single crop, in this case tobacco—so this picture of several earthworm tunnels in a clod does not yet suggest anything teeming.

A Conversation With Jeff Moyer

Jeff, before we begin, I want to thank you for the images of the jars of water, one with soil rich in organic matter and one with the dissolved murkiness of soil that is deficient in carbon. Ever since you showed those images during a public talk a decade or so ago, the comparison has stuck with me.

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  3. What makes this story so resonant and odd is appointing a computer program as a Board Member. It’s like a bad scene from the Matrix Trilogy. It’s totally understandable to launch a venture where the board is guided by an algorithm. Internal Rate of Return is an algorithm and most Boards are guided by this algorithm when making decisions or deciding whether to award a Fund Manager their share of profits or “carry.” Hence, algorithms are not new to finance and fiduciary duty. However, switching from the posture where the algorithm is evaluated by the human Board Members to a scenario where the algorithm is a decision-maker — equal to the Board — is entierly perverse. It’s more like a publicity stunt than a sensible financial control. First, a computer program is subject to gross manipulation by those who select the data inputs. In addition, the architecture of the program is probably not transparent to be evaluated by shareholders for conflicts and prejudices. Second, there is a good chance that the algorithm architecture is protected as Intellectual Property of the Third Party Licensor. And, Third, even if the Architecture of the Algorithm were public and transparent, what investor would be able to discern the nature of the structure of the equations in a manner that would allow him or her to evaluate the risk of entrusting his or her funds to this decision maker. I know it seems crazy to delve into the specifics of the “deal”. But the nature of the fund is troubling on many levels. Thanks for bringing out this example for discussion.

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