As we are about to begin the new year, I was reminded of the old adage that the biggest mistakes in business are made during the good times, not when the going gets rough. And, although it may just be me and Taylor Swift who think this, I'd say that from the perspective of the stock market and its reflected glow-- which has certainly made it easier for startups to come by cheap capital and especially easy for a bunch of really bad ideas and crappy businesses to get funded-- these are pretty heady days.  A fair number of financial folks are feeling pretty fat and happy, too. So, I'd say now's the time for a word or two of caution.

First, do whatever you want about investing in cryptocurrencies, but if you insist on doing it, do it directly and for your own account. Don't be stupid enough to pay someone to help you become a bitcoin miner (whatever you think that means these days) or let anyone convince you that there's anything easy or trivial or even well understood about the entire process. Stick to something you know something about. And, if you're still on the fence and your greed still threatens to overwhelm your good sense, there's another rather simple test you can use when these bozos try to foist their "farms" on you and rent you a piece of the future. Ask them why they're still hawking this junk if they're so prescient and far ahead of the crypto curve. Or, more simply stated, if they're so smart, how come they're not already rich. The guys who made the most money in the Gold Rush didn't strike gold; they sold deeds to the dopes and shovels to the suckers. Try not to be either in the year ahead.

Second, on the same subject, don't do your friends and especially your family the favor of helping them into this particular swamp. FOMO fever is rampant, but just remember that you barely understand what's going on and you have absolutely no business trying to talk someone else (who maybe can't focus on the likely prospect of, or afford, the eventual losses) into jumping into the puddle with you. I get that misery loves company, but you'll have to live with some of these people for the rest of your life-- if they don't kill you first. The pain of all those future lectures isn't worth the few moments of pride you get for being "in the know."  I've already said my piece on the merits of the whole bitcoin subject and I sold my bitcoins a while back (once I figured out how to find them and re-gain access to my account) when I was reminded of another old market adage:  you never lose money taking a profit too soon. Sure, you may leave some shekels on the table, but unlike the pigs who will eventually get stuck holding the empty poke, you'll have plenty of dry powder for next time.

Third, nobody you know actually knows anything about artificial intelligence.  Notwithstanding that fact, 99% of the startups you'll see business plans and proposals from over the next year --along with all of those painfully pivoting to the proposition as well-- will tell you that they do. They don't.  The last thing you want to spend your time and money on is funding their on-the-job-training while they try to figure things out. A.I. is not business process automation. It's not predetermined pattern recognition. It's not accelerated data retrieval. Building a behind-the-scenes bot or a series of macros or tagging a bunch of pix as a library for future image recognition isn't A.I. Also, the fact that your CRM program knows my shoe size doesn't constitute machine learning.

This is another one of those conversations in which it's hard to know where to start complaining because, in so many of these cases, even if they had the remotest idea of what they were talking about, the tools and technologies that they're bragging about have little or nothing to do with the business they used to say they were in and maybe even less to do with where they say they're heading. They spew all these annoying acronyms and exaggerate their exactitude with a bunch of assertions that are really fantasies of false precision.

We used to say that, whatever your engineers think, it's clear that not every product, service or application needs to be larded up with an email function for no good reason. Your dog doesn't need email and it's not really clear to me (while we're just talking here) that an 8-year-old needs a Facebook account either. Sadly, we're very likely to see these things happen.  And, today, I feel that we are seeing the same bad behavior and all the associated BS with virtually every company (young and old) now claiming that their product or service incorporates powerful machine learning and A.I. systems. Here's a flash: if you have to tell it what to do, it might be augmented intelligence or a good supplementary tool for decision support, but it ain't A.I. when the primary "I" in the equation is you.

Some of these claims may be real and accurate, but a bunch are just smoke and mirror stories that are likely to give us all the bad name. Can we put a stake in it before the conversations go completely crazy? It'll save us all a lot of headaches and heartaches down the line. My barber needs predictive A.I. tools like a fish needs a bicycle.

Finally, while you are changing your smoke alarm batteries, change your passwords to something secure, or get a password security system like Keeper in place for your business because getting hacked these days isn't a matter of if, it's just a question of when. Happy Healthy New Year.

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Published on: Dec 28, 2017
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