Without true and sufficient data, you can’t make good decisions and you can’t disrupt. Robert “Bud” James discusses determining if information is true and the impact of false data. In this fast moving and insightful conversation, you’ll get new ideas about avoiding false data.
Robert "Bud" James
President/CTO at One Sphera, Inc.
Music: The Lachy Doley Group, Gonna Make it Up
from the album Conviction | Used with permission
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Engineering, editing, post production: Mark S A Smith
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The Disruptive Nature of Truth: How to Decide What’s True
Robert “Bud” James
Mark S A Smith: My guest today is Robert Bud James. An extraordinary human being who I met about a year ago. He is one of the most extraordinary people that I’ve met from a number of reasons. He was the original CTO of myspace.com. He helped design and implement the world’s first social media platform onboarding six million users in nine months. Something’s that has never happened before or since.
Bud also was in the special operations of the air force where he served as a combat comptroller. He also holds a Masters in Divinity and a Doctorate of Spiritual Counseling. So, as you understand, he works in both the spiritual space as well as the physical real world Dataspace.
Right now, he is the CTO and President of OneSphera. An extraordinary company that … full disclosure … I am part of their Board of Advisors. It’s a communication authentication platform that allows us to create trusted third-party relationships to accelerate business and relationships.
Welcome to the show, Bud!
Bud James: Thank you, Mark. Pleasure to be here.
Mark S A Smith: What I want to talk about today is the disruptive nature of software, and the disruptive nature of authentication of what people saying is true, is actually true. And you’ve been involved in that both from the military standpoint as well as from a software standpoint.
Bud James: I have. And I don’t think it’s ever been more evident that it’s necessary since the, I would say the last three years, the amount of fake news that we’ve seen all over the place.
Mark S A Smith: Isn’t that the truth.
Bud James: It’s crazy.
Mark S A Smith: It is insane. So how do we validate that something is true? How do we validate what somebody’s claims is true?
Bud James: Well that’s a great question. From our particular point of view, there’s three levels of verification. I say it’s real. Other people who have been verified say that this is true. And then a undisputable source says it’s true. Once you start recognizing that, you start realizing that a lot of the world is operating on level one. “I say it’s true.” Without any secondary validation at all.
Mark S A Smith: And it’s so easy to fake things, both with audio and video, and Photoshopping. You can’t trust anything that you see.
Bud James: No. And it’s become more and more of a mirage all the time.
Mark S A Smith: Yeah, really. People see these photographs and believe that they’re truth. Unbelievable.
Bud James: And they also believe that it’s attainable. You look at weight loss programs, for instance. That’s been a classic of Photoshop forever.
Mark S A Smith: Well, in any document. It’s so easy to fake a document.
Bud James: It’s true. There’s a difference between perfection and obliteration of truth.
Mark S A Smith: Yeah, that’s for sure. And what we really want is just a profound element of truth that we can make decisions about.
Bud James: You hit one of my hotspots. I’ve always said that the best decisions are made with adequate information. The challenge is, is that we now have to add adequate correct information to that mix.
Mark S A Smith: One of my favorite Podcast guests, Joel Block, who’s a venture capitalist says, “You have to have good intel.”
Bud James: Absolutely.
Mark S A Smith: And the question is, “How the Hell do we know what the intel is these days? How do we know if it’s good or not?”
Bud James: Or adequate. Part of the challenge then becomes a scheme that seems to go on where if all you’re listening to is folks that are communicating from point A, you don’t really recognize that maybe there’s a point B, or even C, out there until you back up and look from the 10, 20, 50,000 feet view.
You have to be able to see the entire play. You have to be able to see the entire battleground if you really want to have the proper perspective on what’s happening.
Mark S A Smith: Spoken like a true tactician. How do we keep from being disrupted by bad data? How can we make sure that what we’re considering is true? It has veracity?
Bud James: You’re actually asking a subtle question beneath the question. I don’t think disruption can be avoided. Disruption is. Change is. That’s what happens. What you find is, is that people skew data to make themselves look more important, look better, obvious mistakes, obvious gate, criminal activity, all types of smoke and mirrors, cup games, things that are in movement all the time.
If you don’t recognize that to begin with. If you don’t recognize that I need to verify and validate that what I hear is true is true, then maybe you’ll be lucky. Maybe you’ll always get the right data. Maybe you’ll always see all the players in a particular game. But I doubt that that’s gonna be 100% true. I think all of us are gonna recognize we’ve been caught off guard on more than one occasion.
Mark S A Smith: We’ve all been blindsided, where we thought something was true and it wasn’t.
Bud James: Absolutely.
Mark S A Smith: How do we trust and verify? I like to trust people, but I also have to verify.
Bud James: Trust and verify is a really good start. And just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they’re not out to get you.
Mark S A Smith: One of my favorites, yes.
Bud James: I know. It’s a great funny thing. We have to recognize that if I’m looking to base some important information, I need to ground it in truth. It’s just like building a house. I have to build my house with a solid foundation. I can’t build it on sand, and that sands becomes the truth upon which I’ve built it. So we have to start with information that is irreputable.
This is one of the values of all this disruptive technology, by the way, this coming forward is … For instance, block chain gives us that. There’s ledgering systems that gives us that. That allows us to actually say, “Yes, we’ve started it from an absolute known place. It can’t be changed. It doesn’t need to be changed. It’s accurate. We go down that chain from there.” What we start to recognize is when you see what they call, “a fork in the block chain,” that means something’s gone sideways. It’s no longer following the original path of truth, which is what we need to be able to do.
If I’m in a properly built system, I should be able to look at any data point and follow it all the way back to its original truth. On a spiritual level, I should be able to track that all the way back to God. But the idea is, is that there’s a core truth that sits beneath all things. We have to find that. And if we start there, and we allow ourselves to then develop secondary truths based on that, then we’ll know that what we’re dealing with today, what’s on my plate today, is based largely on actual valid fact. I can make good decisions on that.
Mark S A Smith: So it’s like a chain of custody for the evidence. It’s, “Where does this truth come from? How can we track it back to its original source? How can we make sure that it hasn’t been changed along the way,-
Bud James: That’s right.
Mark S A Smith: … and that we can trust, at least the intel. We may not be able to trust our interpretation.”
Bud James: Well, there you go. Interpretation. Isn’t that always interesting. Everyone can give the same thing a different meaning, can’t they?
Mark S A Smith: So it seems. We take a look at the news. Stations giving different spins for each story and in a completely different way. And, of course, I have no idea what to trust, who to trust on that situation today.
So what’s the solution to all this, Bud? Where are we going?
Bud James: The challenge we’re experiencing with disruptive technology is that we need disruptive technology to fix it. I watched when Norton came on line, and then Semantic came on line. I watched the growth of these companies, and all of the viruses that were out there. I had the interesting opportunity to see both sides of the coin. I watched people who were whitehead crackers actually demonstrate how to break into insecure or unsecured systems. I also saw the bad guys out there doing their thing. A lot of people blame Semantic and a lot of the others for creating viruses just so they could sell more software. When actually, that wasn’t the case. The bad guys were actually out there and they were demonstrating their cyber powers. They didn’t see challenges to them like firewalls or multiple levels of password protection, or obfuscation of access as anything more than a cyber challenge for them to surmount.
Mark S A Smith: It was a game, a video game.
Bud James: It was, and it still is. Cyber criminal activity will continually be one part of that disruptive technology. And so this is where all of a sudden you start seeing the antivirus companies start to really step up with heuristic analysis. AI analysis now, where we’re actually starting to see that with machine learning, you can actually define a certain irregular path that, to the unaided eye, doesn’t look like anything wrong is happening, but when you back up again to the 50, in this case 100 or multi-mile-high view, that an AI machine learning program can take into consideration, then it starts to see, “Oh, look. Here’s a trail of evidence that’s demonstrating that we’ve got something new that’s going on that’s illicit, and let’s track it down.” And then they can then follow it backwards as well. Again, going all the way back to the source of truth, which eventually can be outed. But then that just means that, “Oh, here’s A, a new signature to a particular cyber criminal.” We create a workaround or a block for it, and then they recognize they have to do the same thing.
Mark S A Smith: Interesting. This was a game room. Who’ leapfrogging whom along the way?
Bud James: Or tennis, however you want to see it, but yes, and that’s what’s going on. Back and forth, back and forth. And if one side or the other stops doing more, whatever. Let’s say that the good guys stop defending against the bad guys. The bad guys will win. The good guys know that. So do the bad guys. The so-called bad guys know that they have to continually improve their tool set too, right?
Mark S A Smith: But it’s worth it from the bad guys’ standpoint to continue the quest.
Bud James: Of course, yes. And like you said before, it’s a giant game, and so the real interesting dilemma is, for those of us who aren’t happening to be on that particular playing field, how can we benefit from that? When we start to realize that there are things that we can do in our own world that will allow us to save our data or at least put enough of a distance between us, or at least make it look uninteresting. The obfuscation element. There’s lots of different ways that we can make sure that we are taking care of ourselves from a cyber criminal point of view.
But that’s just level one. That’s just the first check. Now the question is, “How do I move forward? How do I authenticate that, yes, this is true. I did this. I accomplished that. I went to this school, and that-
Mark S A Smith: “I do this job. I made this money.”
Bud James: … I created this software.” And it becomes this interesting dilemma, then of, with again, the background of all those cyber criminal and all the people that fluff up their resumes, et cetera, et cetera. That for me to prove that I am who I say I am, now becomes even more of a point in issue than ever before. Like you said earlier, “Easy to Photoshop. Easy to change stuff. Easy to extend working times to cover times of unemployment, et cetera, et cetera, on your resume.” And I have a number of career friends of mine who’ve said to me this is one of the biggest dilemmas that they have, is how do they validate? How do they verify that what someone puts on their resume’s actually the truth?
Mark S A Smith: Yes, and so how do we do that? What’s the process of validating or verifying what somebody says is true?
Bud James: Well, today there’s not a lot of good ways to do that, Mark.
Mark S A Smith: That’s … and the only way we do that is with things such as reviews, but even those can be faked. With reputation management on places like eBay. That was one of the reasons why it worked, is because people said, “Yeah, this guy shipped the stuff that he shipped.” But that’s even fakeble.
Bud James: Well, sure. I can pay 100 people to write five-star reviews about something.
Mark S A Smith: And people do.
Bud James: Right?
Mark S A Smith: Right.
Bud James: And people do. There’s a whole sub-industry that is spinning around Amazon reviews that most people don’t even know about.
Mark S A Smith: Fiverr.com. There are people that’ll write reviews for you.
Bud James: Right. And isn’t that interesting? And so the question then is, can we trust the data that I think is useful for me? And that’s what we’re trying to work on right now, Mark. That’s the latest disruptive technology that I’m working on.
Mark S A Smith: And that’s really what OneSphera is all about, is creating a reputation engine so that we can figure out what to believe or what to look for further validation around.
Bud James: Yes. And if what you thought was a data point of truth, and yet you aren’t able to get validation for it, that makes you perhaps back up a little bit and put a question mark on that data point-
Mark S A Smith: And do you-
Bud James: … and you start to wonder, “Am I able to make a good decision based on this information?” That may be all you need. Just understanding that there are things for which I can’t validate means that perhaps I turn the volume down or turn the weight down on that particular element. That data point.
Mark S A Smith: Sure. The classical logic element is if one data point is suspect, all data points are suspect.
Bud James: Until they’re not.
Mark S A Smith: That’s right. And so how do we make them unsuspect?
Bud James: As I mentioned before, three levels of verification. I say it’s true. Someone else who I’ve verified says it’s true. A irrefutable third party says it’s true. I’ll give you an example. So the biggest challenge that we have today is in academia. We know for a fact that if I go to one of my colleges that I graduated from and say, “Give me my transcript,” they’ll more than happily send me my transcript. But it’s only good for me. I can’t give it to somebody else, because I could have easily Photoshopped it along the way.
Mark S A Smith: That’s right.
Bud James: So an academic institution has to actually request it from another academic institution. If I wanted to continue on, transfer my credits et cetera to another school, I would actually have to request the new school to request it from the old school.
Mark S A Smith: And of course this is all done in the most arcane method.
Bud James: Oh, fax, and mail. Snail mail. So it becomes this really interesting process of quite a lot of time goes by. And in our digital world, we always question, “Regular mail? Really? That could take forever.”
Mark S A Smith: In fact, that’s what the stamp says, “Forever.”
Bud James: Ah, good one. Yes, that’s not a good indication, is it? I hadn’t made that connection before, Mark. Good one.
Mark S A Smith: Oh, you’re welcome.
Bud James: So the … How do we speed these things up? OneSphera is working on that right now. The idea is, with the reputation engine of OneSphera, we’ll be able to solve a lot of these problems. Not all of them, but enough of them where people start to get solid data points. That they know, “I can rely on this as being true.”
Mark S A Smith: That’s gonna be a wonderful time when that’s available. It’ll be so much easier to conduct business rapidly if I know who I can trust and who I should avoid. The challenge these days is that any time that I meet somebody new, I have to create these little pilot programs that find out if they’re trustworthy or not. Then we can move into the larger programs, and even then, they may be doing a long con. They get me hooked for three or four years, and then things fall apart.
Bud James: Isn’t that an interesting challenge. I’ve been fascinated over the last number of years. There’s been movies, and before that, books, about people who have done exactly that. Created professional stories that they are pilots or MD’s, or this, that or the other, and they obviously know the language. They have enough charisma where they get to pull that off. All they did was sleep at a Holiday Inn the night before. I know. You know.
Mark S A Smith: Right, Catch Me If You Can, is a good example of that.
Bud James: Exactly!
Mark S A Smith: Frank Abagnale’s story. Yes. Figuring out how to stay safe in that environment is so important. Scott Adams points that, “If something can be faked. If the probability of detection is low. And if the probability of a payoff is high, it will be faked.”
Bud James: Oh, yes. Isn’t that interesting?
Mark S A Smith: Because there are opportunists out there that will take advantage of that golden opportunity and say it’s a waste not to take advantage of it. Now, that’s not how I choose to function and the people in my circle choose to function. We have to figure out how we can protect ourselves against those elements.
All of my listeners are givers. All of my Podcast guests are givers. I’m a giver. And, as givers, we must have boundaries because takers don’t. And really what we’re attempting to do is provide some insulation against the takers so that we’re not taken.
Bud James: You know, it’s really interesting what you’re saying. I really vibrate with that. I’ve been trying to live my life by the Golden Rule ever since I recognized the power of it. I’ve had endless discussions with some of my fun colleagues when we talk about Asimov’s rules of robotics, for instance. Because we’re looking at the potential of the singularity where, obviously, computer technology reaches self-awareness: sentience. There is both sides to that. There is the people who are in great fear of it and the people who are madly in pursuit of it. And what I started to recognize is that I think a cornerstone that’s missing is the Golden Rule. When you sit down and speak with a sentient silicone-based life form and you say, “Let’s start everything with the Golden Rule. Here’s how it’ll work. You don’t want me to pull your plug, do you?” “No.” “Then don’t pull mine.”
Mark S A Smith: That’s so simple!
Bud James: It is. And yet it’s so powerful. When we start to realize it, that the Golden Rule is the universal rule for behavior. Carbon and silicone life form. When we start to realize that there is a way for us to get along, and maybe it’s at a tacit level of communication, but at least it’s understood.
Mark S A Smith: Well, I really love the fact that you’re based on the Golden Rule. I know that our agreements between each other are Golden Rule-based, and it really makes things so much easier when we both agree to that. And we function to that level of agreement and, of course, if either one of us broke the Golden Rule, we would know that it’s time for us to terminate our agreements? It really-
Bud James: Or, perhaps-
Mark S A Smith: … becomes quite simple.
Bud James: … start at a different conversation. Because I’ve noticed that there are times when you just don’t realize that what you’re doing is actually infringing on someone else’s particular space.
Mark S A Smith: Good point.
Bud James: And then it becomes an interesting consideration that if I want to have that consideration, then you would want to have that consideration. So it’s not necessarily that you’ve destroyed the relationship, but what we’ve said is an opportunity for communication. We’ve set an opportunity to do a re-exchange of our belief systems. Then we could decide if the relationship should be changed. Remember, there’s no relationships that you get over. All they do is they change. Once you’ve established a relationship, they’re forever.
Mark S A Smith: That’s true. And they just take on different flavors and characteristics as we mature or regress.
Bud James: That’s correct. That’s right.
Mark S A Smith: How can a person make sure the information they’re getting today is as true as possible until we have some of these reputation engines that you and the team are working on available?
Bud James: Trust, but verify.
Mark S A Smith: That’s it. What are ways that we can do that verification now?
Bud James: Now? Let’s talk about the classic. I put a profile up on, let’s say, LinkedIn.
Mark S A Smith: Sure.
Bud James: I put my resume up there. If I’m now a hiring employer. I’m looking at that resume, and I’m going, “Well, isn’t that interesting. This person has done all of these things. That seems the be in alignment with the needs that I have.” Interestingly enough, you could go back and compare that resume to previous versions of it. The interesting challenge that a lot of people don’t know is that once you’ve put something up on a social media platform, it’s there forever.
Mark S A Smith: That’s true.
Bud James: And it really no longer belongs to you. Once you’ve actually put it on Facebook, on any other platforms. It doesn’t matter. It’s no longer yours. It’s in the fine print. People don’t read the fine print, first and foremost. Secondarily then, I could actually go into a number of these archive tools and take a look at that same LinkedIn profile as it was over time. Now this is not an easy thing to do, and it takes time to do it, but if I really needed to research someone, I could. Is what they’re saying that they did 10 years ago the same thing that they said they did 5 year ago, 5 years ago? Et cetera. So if I keep going back and reflecting on that same data set, if I go all the way back to the companies and validate every company, if I go back to every reference and validate every reference. A time-consuming process. But I can eventually verify that this person is who they say they are, and they did what they say they did.
Mark S A Smith: Interesting. So using the Wayback Machine archive.org would be one way of doing that.
Bud James: That’s one way of doing it.
Mark S A Smith: And it’s true. There would be a little time required to do so, yet for a critical position, absolutely required to do your due diligence in that way.
Bud James: And there’s companies that will do this. Where they actually do all the cyber sleuthing that’s necessary to validate a chain of data.
Mark S A Smith: And so if you’re hiring on somebody who is in a critical, and must be trusted, position, you gotta do it.
Bud James: No question. Especially when you’re basically handing them the keys to the kingdom. Handing them your checkbook. You’d better trust them.
Mark S A Smith: So put on your Carnac the Great prognostication hat and look in the crystal ball.
Bud James: Well, I did work for Oracle at one time, so …
Mark S A Smith: You did! You were responsible for backing up all that Cloud data, so you know of which you speak.
Bud James: Yeah.
Mark S A Smith: Looking into the Oracle crystal ball. Bud, what is coming down the pipe for validation and verification?
Bud James: The destructive nature of technology is such that we’re gonna have to stay abreast of it. We’re gonna have to stay within. You can’t stay ahead of this disruption. It’s, by its very nature, ahead of us. But what we can do is start to recognize, when I see a particular trend, how can I explore it and take advantage of it. How can I start to utilize these things. This is one of the things that I saw at Myspace. When we spun it up, it was way ahead of its time. There wasn’t anything like it. The closest thing were the boards that you could go and chat with people about. We had a very different view of it. That’s the same idea. When you start to see these things.
For instance, a major shakeup that we just saw. Talk about disruption. Amazon buying Whole Foods. So now, all of a sudden, they’ve landed in hundreds of physical locations with high-end stores offering organic food substances. That single move created this huge dip in every block and mortar store. So the question is, can the block and mortar stores who … they’ve seen this coming. Which ones have been smart enough to start to move ahead of it? Which ones have been able to say, “Okay. We need to take on a digital checkout. We need to take on the endless isle effect that Amazon has. How do I make my dataset more mobile and more interesting to the consumers? How do I not lose my customer base?” Every single block and mortar, if you look at them, every single one of them have gone anywhere from a 10 to a 75% stock drop as a result of Amazon doing what they’ve done.
Mark S A Smith: Oh, as a result of us as consumers saying, “Yes! Yes, Amazon. We want more!”
Bud James: Yes, right. We’re voting with our-
Mark S A Smith: We’ve done it-
Bud James: … feet and our dollars.
Mark S A Smith: We have.
Bud James: That’s right.
Mark S A Smith: We’ve done it to ourselves. Amazon just created the environment for us to say yes to. I’m not gonna blame Amazon. I’m just going to say, “Thank you, Amazon.” And if other people want my money, they’re gonna have to do Amazon-like behavior. But you’re right,-
Bud James: Well, that’s-
Mark S A Smith: … it’s the pressure.
Bud James: … the question. Will the block and mortars do it? Will they step up? I said, “Block and mortar,” I meant that as a derogatory term. It’s blockhead if you’re not moving into disruptive technology.
And so the real challenge for them is to recognize, “Okay. This is the way it is.” Take a look, for instance, at credit cards. So, when VeriFone first came out. That’s the little checkout terminal that you have on every single cash station all over the world. You have the little VeriFone, you slide your card, right?
Mark S A Smith: Right.
Bud James: So that took them about seven years to popularize. It took a long time for people to stop writing checks at checkout. Checkout meant checks. Stop writing checks at checkout. And stop giving them cash and start using plastic. But once that particular trend happened, people had to get ahead of it. You might remember in the old days, when you had the plastic slider thing for credit cards.
Mark S A Smith: Oh, sure.
Bud James: You put the credit card down, a piece of paper on top of it, and the big roller thing back and forth. How many times did that fail. Right?
Mark S A Smith: And somebody had to type that information in at the end of the day.
Bud James: That’s right. And then when VeriFone came out with their hugely disruptive technology, it did take time for it to turn over, but now you can’t imagine going to a checkout where that wasn’t available unless you were at a farmer’s market for instance, and even then we’re seeing it with Square and a number of these other ways that I can actually check out from my phone.
Mark S A Smith: Yes.
Bud James: This is very Darwinian. If I’m not able to move into, and take advantage of, the next disruptive technology, then as a CEO, CIO, CTO, I’m failing to take a look at what the future is. The oracle, if you will, the prognosticator of the future. If I’m not looking ahead five years and asking that question of, “If I have this in the mix, or if I don’t have this in the mix, what will happen? What’s the potential impact?”
Mark S A Smith: Excellent. What magnificent advice. And thank you for sharing those insights. I agree with you 100%. We have to be on top of, and aware, and not grow tired of the constant change. Otherwise, you’re gonna be like Sears and Roebuck. Not much longer for the planet, that’s for sure.
Bud James: Yes. And I actually have some Craftsman tools. How am I going to take advantage of that lifetime warrantee now if Sears isn’t around?
Mark S A Smith: Well, the Craftsman brand has already been sold off to somebody else.
Bud James: Oh, that’s the first I’ve heard of that. I’m glad to know. So now I can feel better about my tool box.
Mark S A Smith: That’s right. But the question was, is it your lifetime or Craftsman’s lifetime?
Bud James: That’s the first time that I saw that as a question mark in my mind. Yeah.
Mark S A Smith: Thank you, Bud, for this magnificent conversation. If people want to get a hold of you, what’s the best way to do that?
Bud James: firstname.lastname@example.org
Mark S A Smith: Alright.
Bud James: Bud@ O-N-E-S-P-H-E-R-A dot com
Mark S A Smith: And watch OneSphera. Lots of interesting things coming down the line, and we’ll have more conversations with Bud as OneSphera has more things to talk about. It’s an extraordinary thing happening there, and I am very excited about my involvement.
Thank you, Bud, for being a magnificent guest.
Bud James: Thanks, Mark! Great interview. Really appreciate your ability to see truth and pursue it.