A Pandemic Enters Its 4th Decade : The Infection Of Bad Code

I read a recent Atlantic article about the “coming” software pandemic with some surprise — because the pandemic isn’t coming, it’s already here. Bad code has existed as long as there has been code, and we have been suffering the pandemic of bad code at scale for decades.

A question we should all be asking is: How many people have died from bad code? The answer is certainly not zero. But what is it? It’s a number we should probably know. If you want to have trouble sleeping at night, check out the Therac-25 mess in the mid-1980s.

From the flash crashes, to 911 service dropping in New York recently, to Equifax failing to patch a decades-old computer system, to autonomous driving accidents, to military systems missing their targets and killing civilians, to Russian hacking in the 2016 presidential election, we are living in a world of bad code.

The status quo for dealing with bad code is … well, there isn’t one. It’s left to organizations and individuals to clean up. It’s so random, in fact, that more than a few companies offer “bounties” for finding bad code. Google recently expanded its own bounty program to include third-party apps in the Play Store. An individual can impact thousands, and state-sponsored cyber activities can impact billions. So there is no status quo, just a massive technology industry that fights regulation no matter how many times things go pear-shaped. Even limited regulations are often met with significant pushback, to the point that recent “guidance” around medical devices is nonbinding. The scope of lobbying efforts from tech companies also increases daily.

Perhaps we can find the start of a solution by looking at the coordinated global response to other crises. HIV crossed from chimpanzees to humans around 1920 but did not get significant attention until the early 1980s, with the World Health Organization’s (WHO) global program launching in 1987. I compare the two not to either inflate the software issues or minimize the impact of HIV/AIDS, but to frame this conversation within an appropriate scale.

The WHO’s global program worked because it pulled in other activities — political, public, educational and economic — in order to focus on three main areas: prevention, alleviating the personal and societal impact of HIV and the mobilization of national and international response efforts.

Just as I don’t trust drug companies or banks to regulate themselves, I do not trust technologists to regulate themselves — and I am speaking as one. The rise of AI makes this an even more serious problem — instead of people writing code, organizations like Google are having AIs teach and write themselves.

I believe we need a regulatory framework hereone that can draw on the successes and learnings of our response to other global crises like HIV/AIDS. Here’s what it might entail:

1. An innovation program that specifically invests in innovative, scalable preventative technologies — from antivirus and malware protection for the consumer to broader enterprise technologies for businesses. This program should also include educational activities, as well as specifically leveraging low/no cost, open source solutions.

2. A program to alleviate the impacts of bad code — requiring common standards of communication to consumers, reporting, transparency and distribution of information upon bad code events.

3. A multinational organization that can unify all efforts, ensuring national programs are up to date, working with private corporations and the public sector, and specifically coordinating the global response.

Clearly, this would be a modest set of first steps but could lay the groundwork for larger, more impactful results over time. It’s a conversation we must start having now. I surely don’t want to wait until the fifth decade of this pandemic, by which time we will have figured out how to count how many people have died from bad code and have no way of controlling the AIs that are writing most of it.


This article originally appeared on Forbes.

Running scared - Why the Bank of the Future is Not a Bank

10 years from now, are we going to look back and realize that banks had already missed the massive market change and were already on the way out?
Recently, I’ve been having a number of conversations with friends and clients (all experts) about digital transformation and banks built for the future. On more than a few occasions we’ve started down the rabbit hole out of tactical topics like building the best product development shop, becoming a better acquisition target, or attracting millennial depositors. 

In every case, they’d lost the narrative about banking and I’ve had to reset the conversation. We had to get back to first principles, a topic worth of it’s own discussion. 

In resetting these conversations, the following four posits are good starting points I’ve used. 

Posit 1: Banking Products Not from Banks
A variety of people have written at length about the rise and success of organizations like Rocket Mortgage, SoFi, and others. Many banks partner with FinTechs for ancillary products and services in lieu of being able to build and deploy them internally. This limits growth and introduces a variety of alternative competitors not burdened by traditional banking mores and norms. It is now significantly more likely that we get banking products not from banks. 

Posit 2: Bank’s Changing Customer Landscape
Gone are the days of <20 transactions per month, oriented around the branch. I had 209 transactions in September. Not a single one involved a check, nor a branch. The last time I went into a branch it was to close an account.
We’ve gone from mobile-first to mobile-only in a remarkably short amount of time. That trend is expanding and extending across the financial services landscape.

Posit 3: Dissatisfaction Drift
If you look at the wave of dissatisfactions roiling around the world, a massive one comes out of banking. While the 2008 financial crisis might seem far away to those in the industry, it had a massive, and lasting, impact on the average person. Not since the great depression, I think, do people speak of banks in as negative a way. 

Also consider drops in mortgages, the glut in car loans and the dominate role consumer payments has begun to play via touchless payment platforms and peer to peer payments. 

Added to that massive increase in competition in traditional financial services markets, like financial advisors vis-a-vis robo-advisors, with price wars and subsequent drops in customer satisfactions. In the political spectrum, these waves brought Chavez, Duterte, Trump and Sanders to the forefront, and in the banking space it has opened a massive wedge for organizations like Square (and their new charter) and others to ride the wave.

Posit 4: The Wildcards of AI and Blockchain
Having spent over 25 years in and around AI, I know it will not cure all the world's ills, and certainly will not be a panacea to solve banking challenges for anyone – be they a banker, a consumer, a regulator or a banking solution provider. AI is just one category of algorithms that can be wielded – sometimes well, oftentimes not well, as part of large problems being solved.
Blockchain is evolving in much the same way enterprise data storage has evolved – except in this case we are not going to witness a 20-year evolution, but a 5 year one, and at the end of it we will be able to store and share information just a bit more securely than we do today. Blockchain is the realization that information alone, without context, isolated, has almost no value. Blockchain will fulfill the dreams, desires and promises of all of those who promised that databases will solve your problem in the 80’s and 90’s, how the cloud would solve all your problems in the 2000’s and how Big Data would solve all the woes of the last decade.
In both cases, try to ignore the hype machine.

Get Back to First Principles
Grab a cup of coffee, turn off your phone, and write these four posits down on a piece of paper (yes paper!). Now, just think about the future for an hour. Get back to first principles. 

●    If you’re a bank, focus on running the best bank, at the lowest expense, with the highest customer satisfaction you can. 
●    If you are a consumer, understand all your options, do some research and pick and choose your solutions thoughtfully. 
●    If you’re a banking solutions provider, maybe get an espresso and figure out how to survive the next 10 years intact.
Here’s what I’ve been thinking about. I was having a conversation with a friend (formerly of a big bank) and we were discussing common themes amongst a certain category of bank – how their financials just looked bleak: not enough deposits, costs are too high, and new products were hard and expensive. We broke down the common solution banks use to solve these problems – consultants to renegotiate core contracts, FinTech partners, sticking their head in the sand. We hypothesized the ‘bank of the future’ when all core services would be outsourced – from the core bank, to all banking products, to regulatory compliance. A core business operation and marketing/sales organization would be the only non-outsourced functions. We concluded that in 10 years this kind of completely outsourced bank will be the ‘best in class bank’. I shuddered imaging being in the boardroom of any competing bank then, or now. 


This article originally appeared on Let's Talk Payments

Sultan Meghji accepted into Forbes Technology Council

I'm incredibly excited to join this community -- full release below:

Forbes Technology Council Is an Invitation-Only Community for World-Class CIOs, CTOs and Technology Executives.  

New York, NY, Oct 26 2017 — Sultan Meghji, Founder and Managing Partner at Virtova, has been accepted into the Forbes Technology Council, an invitation-only community for world-class CIOs, CTOs and technology executives.

Meghji joins other Forbes Technology Council members, who are hand-selected, to become part of a curated network of successful peers and get access to a variety of exclusive benefits and resources, including the opportunity to submit thought leadership articles and short tips on industry-related topics for publishing on Forbes.com.  

Forbes Councils combines an innovative, high-touch approach to community management perfected by the team behind Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC) with the extensive resources and global reach of Forbes. As a result, Forbes Council members get access to the people, benefits and expertise they need to grow their businesses — and a dedicated member concierge who acts as an extension of their own team, providing personalized one-on-one support.

“It is a great honor to join Forbes as a member of its Technology Council,” said Meghji. “I could not be more excited about joining the Forbes Technology Council, learning from and contributing to this prestigious community.”

Scott Gerber, founder of Forbes Councils, says, “We are honored to welcome Sultan Meghji into the community. Our mission with Forbes Councils is to curate successful professionals from every industry, creating a vetted, social capital-driven network that helps every member make an even greater impact on the business world.”


About Virtova

Virtova is a boutique advisory services firm. Virtova works with industry leaders and senior executives to achieve focused innovation and positive change at scale in their organizations and markets. Disruptions from new technology, competition and global market forces make change necessary. Companies need to innovate quickly, but most are challenged with execution and achieving real value. Virtova understands this challenge and has helped many leading global organizations achieve real bottom-line results. For more information, visit http://www.virtova.co.

About Forbes Councils

Forbes partnered with the founders of Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC) to launch Forbes Councils, invitation-only communities for world-class business professionals in a variety of industries. Members, who are hand-selected by each Council’s community team, receive personalized introductions to each other based on their specific needs and gain access to a wide range of business benefits and services, including best-in-class concierge teams, personalized connections, peer-to-peer learning, a business services marketplace, and the opportunity to share thought leadership content on Forbes.com. For more information about Forbes Technology Council, visit https://forbestechcouncil.com/. To learn more about Forbes Councils, visit forbescouncils.com.