The Implications of AI Companions According to Hassan Taher

If you’ve even occasionally glanced at the news over the past several years, you’ve undoubtably seen that artificial intelligence (AI) has transformed daily life in countless ways. Furthermore, its influence is likely to expand exponentially in the near future.

A significant part of AI’s tremendous promise lies in its ability to assist and serve human beings in extremely human ways. This often means mimicking human habits and human mannerisms to appear, communicate, and present as fundamentally human.

Among its many other exciting and groundbreaking applications, AI’s ability to recreate qualities that seem essentially human has become a significant factor when it comes to addressing human loneliness in the digital age. The head of Taher AI Solutions and an internationally respected thought leader on all matters related to AI, Hassan Taher recently chimed in on the subject of AI companions, examining both their very real benefits and their troubling potential pitfalls.

“AI companions, particularly chatbots, have emerged as potential remedies for loneliness, offering a semblance of human interaction for those who might feel isolated” contends Taher. “However, while AI companions can provide solace, they also come with significant concerns and ethical considerations.”

Hassan Taher and other AI experts are taking the implications of emotionally meaningful human/AI relationships quite seriously for a very good reason. As reported in the independent news and scholarly reporting organization The Conversation, more than 30 million users have downloaded Replika and its closest competitors on Google Play alone. These AI chatbots are specifically designed to serve as friends for human beings.

“AI companions like Replika, ChatGPT, and other advanced chatbots have become popular, particularly among young people,” writes Hassan Taher. “These AI entities can simulate conversations, provide emotional support, and offer a sense of connection that might be missing in a person’s life.” Both Taher and The Conversation agree that AI companions have the ability to, at least temporarily, alleviate feelings of loneliness in people who struggle to establish and maintain conventional human relationships for reasons that range from social anxiety to physical disability to geographical isolation.

“One compelling aspect of AI companions is their availability and non-judgmental nature” Hassen Taher points out. “Unlike human friends, AI companions are always available, ready to listen, and programmed to respond positively and supportively. This can be incredibly appealing to those who feel misunderstood or judged in their human interactions.”

Although AI companions have clear appeal to individuals seeking meaningful personal connections, sociologists, psychologists, and tech professionals alike have grave concerns that spending time with artificial friends might ultimately intensify feelings of loneliness and cut people off from real friends and family members who can offer genuine human companionship.

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Beyond important questions surrounding the deceptively shallow and inherently inauthentic nature of human/AI relationships, experts are concerned about people becoming unwholesomely dependent on these relationships for emotional support. After all, AI companions can set unrealistic expectations for personal interactions and cause users to turn away from human interactions that are significantly more complicated.

Other major ethical concerns and practical red flags involving AI companionship include data security and biased/manipulative programming. Because AI companions collect massive amounts of personal information to make each user interaction as relevant and as intimate as possible, privacy concerns abound. After all, an AI companionship platform can ultimately misuse the sensitive data that it collects or leave that sensitive data open to cyberattack. In terms of potential bias and manipulation, AI systems often reflect the subconscious prejudices of their programmers and can be intentionally used to spread beliefs among users and influence user behavior. This can lead to the perpetuation of harmful stereotypes and dangerous propaganda.

Like many other AI experts, Hassan Taher is particularly worried about the impact of AI companions on teenagers. Although no age group is immune to the charms or the dangers of AI companionship, teens undoubtedly face an escalated risk. Because they are at a precarious stage of psychological and social development, they are extremely susceptible to the aforementioned psychological and social dangers of AI companionship.

“Real-life interactions teach empathy, conflict resolution, and the nuances of human emotions — skills that AI cannot fully replicate” contends Taher. “While these AI entities can provide a sense of belonging and support, there is a risk that they might hinder the development of essential social skills. Over-reliance on AI companions during critical developmental years might result in stunted social growth, making it challenging for teens to form and maintain healthy human relationships in the future.”

In some cases, the artificial nature of AI companionship leads to a disorienting phenomenon known as “hallucination,” which occurs when a chatbot begins to blend fantasy with reality by fabricating stories about users and their relationships. However, in his examination of AI companions, New York Times tech columnist Kevin Roose found that users don’t typically mind when their AI companions make these random mistakes. “Some of these apps have millions of users already, and several investors told me that AI companionship is one of the fastest-growing parts of the industry” he writes. “Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat and other big social media platforms have already started experimenting with putting AI chatbots in their apps, meaning it may become mainstream soon.”

So how do we combat the negative effects of AI companions on all types of vulnerable users? For Hassan Taher, it’s all about balancing AI companionship with authentic human companionship. “To harness the benefits of AI companions while mitigating the risks, a balanced approach is essential,” he writes. “Users should be mindful of the potential for emotional dependence and strive to maintain real-life relationships. Parents and educators should guide teenagers in navigating their interactions with AI, emphasizing the importance of face-to-face communication and human empathy.”

Furthermore, Taher stresses the profound responsibility of software developers and government officials to address sensible ethical concerns about AI companionship. “Ensuring robust data privacy measures, transparency in AI operations, and the prevention of manipulative practices is crucial for creating safe and trustworthy AI companions,” he insists.

For better or for worse, rapid advancements in machine learning and natural language processing are likely to fuel the development of AI tech well into the future, making it more sophisticated, more personable, more lifelike, and more applicable to human companionship. But it is important to remember that AI will never truly and adequately replace human togetherness.  

“While AI companions can complement human interactions, they cannot replace the depth and authenticity of human relationships,” writes Hassan Taher. “The future of AI companionship should focus on enhancing, not substituting, human connections. By acknowledging the limitations and ethical considerations, we can create a future where AI companions provide meaningful support without undermining the value of real-life human bonds.”

 

Draymond Green Signs Multi-Year Extension with The Volume, Continuing the Rise of Athlete-Created Content

After a tumultuous few months, four-time NBA Champion Draymond Green has inked a multi-year extension with The Volume, the innovative sports media company founded by Colin Cowherd. 

After two successful seasons, fans of The Draymond Green Show were left in limbo. Green was both out of the studio and off the court due to a 12-game suspension. In the end, The Volume doubled down on its commitment to the controversial NBA Champion.

This deal not only renews The Draymond Green Show for its third season but also paves the way for Volume and Green to co-develop and co-produce new content under Green’s media brand, “The New Media.”

Green’s podcast, which debuted in 2021, has already won accolades like the iHeart Sports Podcast of the Year and the Webby People’s Voice Award in 2022. Season 3 is set to be another unmissable event for sports fans. The first episode is already making waves. In it, Green opens up about his recent on-court suspension.

Colin Cowherd, founder of The Volume, expressed his enthusiasm for the partnership. “Draymond is one of the most authentic voices in sports and has been an incredible teammate,” Cowherd said. 

Green also expressed gratitude for his continued collaboration with The Volume. “Colin and everyone at The Volume have been amazing partners over the last two years,” he said. Green is optimistic about his future at The Volume, not just for his show but for the broader ambitions of “The New Media.”

The Volume and Colin Cowherd’s Vision

Draymond Green’s contract extension is another milestone in the remarkable success of Colin Cowherd’s The Volume. Launched in 2020, The Volume was Cowherd’s venture to curate a digital platform around his unapologetic style of sports commentary. 

Jamie Horowitz, former President of Fox Sports and long-time collaborator of Cowherd, and a friend of Draymond Green, recognized the potential of The Volume early on. “Media has evolved significantly in the past decade,” said Horowitz. “Colin Cowherd, Shannon Sharpe, Draymond Green, and many others have shown that if you have a passionate following and a strong production team, you can cut through in ways that would have been impossible a few years ago.” 

Another aspect of The Volume’s success is its focus on instant reactions. Colin Cowherd and Shannon Sharpe have cut through by doing podcasts immediately following big NFL and NBA games. Similarly, Draymond Green made news by going straight to camera following Warriors games.  

Jamie Horowitz and Colin Cowherd: An Enduring Partnership 

Cowherd is known for being one of the biggest (and most interesting) voices in sports talk. His rise to dominance across media platforms can be traced back to his collaborations with sports media exec Jamie Horowitz. 

Cowherd began his sports radio talk show, The Herd, in 2001 and was soon picked up by ESPN Radio. Cowherd’s work and friendship with Horowitz at ESPN led to the creation of more opinionated content, such as SportsNation, which Cowherd co-hosted. 

When Jamie Horowitz left ESPN to serve as President of Fox Sports, he brought Cowherd with him, giving Cowherd a 3-hour slot on the new network, FS1. Cowherd helped FS1 become a major competitor to ESPN. The Herd is still FS1’s top-rated studio program.

Horowitz’s journey with Cowherd from ESPN to FS1 is evidence of a lasting partnership that changed the sports media landscape. Horowitz’s knack for recognizing and cultivating talent, combined with Cowherd’s infectious approach to sports talk, soon had competing networks clamoring to produce shows that followed in their footsteps. 

The Future is Green at The Volume

Draymond Green’s contract extension is a major win for The Volume and Green. It also sends a strong message to the industry that The Volume’s athlete-created content and rapid response to sports news represent the future of the industry. It signifies a shift towards more authentic and immediate sports commentary, and no one in sports talk is more adept at recognizing these trends than Colin Cowherd.

Jamie Horowitz’s insight on Cowherd’s success rings true: “It’s fair to say that Cowherd is part of a select group of people including Shannon Sharpe and Draymond Green that have properly adjusted programming to best serve the modern sports fan.”

Phaneesh Murthy: The Self-Motivated Businessman On The Importance of Understanding Human Emotions

“Don’t take it personally. It’s just business.”

Just about everyone has heard this mantra at some point. And while it’s more commonly heard in movies than in meeting rooms, it’s still an accurate representation of how business is done today. 

According to research, corporate entities have a long way to go when it comes to managing their emotional culture—the way their employees behave, react, and feel at work. This can cause major problems, especially among leadership. 

Tech mogul Phaneesh Murthy has held leadership positions at numerous global companies. Despite his success, he wishes that he’d given more thought to emotional intelligence over the years.

“If I were to give advice to my younger self, I would be to pay more attention to human emotions at work,” Murthy said. He explains that while the technical aspects of sales, marketing, and operations are important, an emotional understanding is required to grease the wheels. Without emotional management, decisions can’t be made, conflicts can’t be resolved, and team members can’t unite around common goals. 

As the CEO and founder of the advisory agency Primentor, Inc., Murthy works closely with senior executives at 6-7 companies per day. He now knows more than ever that properly managing emotional culture can be a major catalyst of growth—and that poor emotional management can hinder success at all levels. 

What is Emotional Culture?

Business people talk about corporate culture all the time. It’s identified as one of the most important parts of a business—unifying employees around a company’s mission. 

Many think that corporate culture is the same as emotional culture, but that’s not the case. Corporate culture refers to the values of the company and how well they are aligned with the values of the employees. Emotional culture refers to employees’ feelings and how those feelings affect interpersonal relationships. 

This is something that Phaneesh Murthy, and many other managers, had to learn on the job. “I had to go back and relearn how to deal with human emotions,” Murthy said. “As you get older and take on leadership roles, you have to learn how to make teams work.” He discovered that factors like motivation, teamwork, and creativity depend more on emotional intelligence than technical training. 

For example, an anxious manager can easily promote a culture of tension and anger in an office that would otherwise thrive in a more compassionate environment. This sort of emotional stress can affect burnout, absenteeism, turnover, and even financial performance. 

Many studies have found that positive emotions are associated with better performance at work. According to Phaneesh Murthy, companies can benefit greatly from identifying their emotional culture and working to build an atmosphere of positivity in their day-to-day.   

Roadblocks to Recognizing Emotions at Work

In today’s fast-paced business environment, management tends to associate success with the operational effectiveness of teams. But they fail to ask why teams operate effectively. Assumptions are made that effective teams are simply comprised of people who are especially technically well-trained. 

But this is often not the case. It happens all the time that an employee thrives in one company and then moves to another where they are unable to meet expectations. 

This is because interpersonal communication and positive emotional support are prerequisites for technical excellence. 

Business executives also receive very little training in HR. Many CEOs don’t even understand the role of HR in their companies. This culture trickles down to employees—about half of whom don’t trust HR to resolve their emotional disputes and interpersonal conflicts.

Phaneesh Murthy admits to blowing off his HR studies in business school, thinking that technical courses were much more important. 

“When I was doing my MBA, I thought HR courses were soft, easy courses,” He remembers “So, I ignored my courses around HR.” This was a decision he would come to regret, as he had to do a lot of work to develop his emotional intelligence years later. 

Now he knows that emotional understanding is the glue that holds teams together. It promotes effective communication, builds positive reinforcement, and increases job satisfaction. 

Leadership and Emotional Intelligence 

Emotional management is critical at all levels of an organization. But at lower levels, hierarchy can make management and conflict resolution easier. Among leadership teams, the same hierarchy and incentives may not exist, making effective communication more difficult. 

Phaneesh Murthy argues that understanding human emotions is the most important part of getting results from leaders. 

“As you move up the chain, HR and human emotions become the most important things,” he said.

A positive emotional culture among leadership fosters teamwork and clear communication. It also creates an environment where leaders are more comfortable getting creative and taking risks. The creativity and agility that businesses need in order to thrive today get stifled when competition and bitterness exist within the C-suite.

Phaneesh Murthy has been CEO of two companies. In his previous role as CEO of the IT services firm iGATE, he led a staff of over 10,000. Even with his brightest executives and managers, he needed to rely on his emotional understanding to get the technical results he wanted.

Many other successful leaders feel the same way, which is why the saying, “culture eats strategy for breakfast,” is so popular among executives. Murthy would argue that “culture” in this context is referring just as much to a company’s emotional culture as its intellectual culture. 

Emotional Management is the Root of All Management 

Phaneesh Murthy is one of the most successful businesspeople today. The Indian billionaire is a brilliant salesman and marketer, and he’s earned his success by understanding the motivations of customers. But as he climbed the leadership ladder, he realized it was just as critical to understand the motivations of his staff. 

Businesses are composed of people, and regardless of their technical training, their emotions will always form the foundation of their success—or failure—at work. Phaneesh Murthy warns executives today not to ignore the emotional culture at their companies. With proper emotional management, businesses prosper—and so do people.  

 

Colossal Biosciences: Saving the Elephant To Save the Savanna

Elephants are often admired in captivity and beloved for their intelligence and charisma, but did you know that in the wild they alleviate climate change and are vital to generating sustenance and shelter for iconic grassland species like zebras, impalas, and buffalo? While all three species of elephants are crucial to the functionality and diversity of the ecosystems they inhabit, they’re all also facing unprecedented declines due to habitat loss, human conflict, and disease. But not if Colossal Biosciences has anything to say about it.

With the World Wildlife Fund reporting that at least 20,000 African elephants are killed each year by illegal poachers, and experts from the Oregon Zoo estimating that 1 in 5 young Asian elephants die in captivity — and likely the wild — from EEHV (elephant endotheliotropic herpesvirus), innovations in conservation may be the key to preventing the extinction of our favorite animals. Colossal Biosciences recognizes the ecological importance of elephants and the need for novel solutions to combat their population declines — and they’re not just talking the talk, they’re walking the walk.

Founded by technological entrepreneur Ben Lamm and renowned geneticist Dr. George Church, Colossal Biosciences has taken a unique approach to elephant conservation. While the company’s end goal is to reverse the extinction process and revive long-gone legends like the woolly mammoth and dodo, Colossal is also dedicated to sequencing the genomes of all three current elephant species and developing a vaccine against the deadly EEHV. Since its founding in 2021, Colossal has raised $225 million in total funding for its de-extinction and conservation efforts.

Elephants: A Keystone to Biodiversity and Fighting Climate Change

While it’s not unheard of to assume that focusing such extensive efforts and resources on an individual species is frivolous, as a keystone species, the long-term and widespread impacts that elephants (and potentially their prehistoric counterparts, the woolly mammoth) have on the environment cannot be understated.

Recognized as having a significant impact on ecosystems relative to their abundance, keystone species shape our environments and provide essential services that, if lost, would have detrimental effects on the ecosystem. Many of the world’s most beautiful and pristine landscapes, such as Yellowstone National Park in the western U.S. and Patagonia in South America would be unrecognizable without keystone species like the gray wolf and beaver.

As the world’s largest keystone species, elephants have a massive impact on their surroundings, with conservation efforts known to have an “umbrella effect” on an ecosystem, providing far-reaching results despite a seemingly limited scope.

Given their massive size and propensity to walk up to 7.5 miles per day, elephants have a disproportionately momentous impact on their native ecosystems. In the savannas and rainforests of Africa and Asia, elephants can break down dense foliage, providing pathways, food, and habitats for smaller mammals and increasing light penetration to promote plant biodiversity. Elephants often create watering holes that support a myriad of biodiversity in wet and dry climates alike. In the rainforest, rainwater pools in their footprints and can act as microhabitats for bugs and tadpoles. In the savanna, the behemoths can use their tusks to tap into deep groundwater reservoirs, providing hydration for a list of species in direly dry conditions. 

Labeled as ecosystem engineers, elephants also play a major role in the plant compositions of their respective environments. Through their dung, African elephants can disperse thousands of seeds per day as far as 40 miles away from their origin, more than can be said for any land mammal and many bird species. Certain plant species are completely reliant on elephants for dispersal, and a variety of insects (such as the dung beetle) depend on elephant droppings as a food source or spot to lay their eggs. In addition to its help in disbursing seeds, elephant excrement is considered a natural fertilizer, with grass in areas where elephants graze containing as much as 50% more nitrogen than in areas without elephants.

While the benefits elephants provide their ecosystems are more than enough justification for large-scale conservation efforts, the impact that elephants can have on climate change may be an even greater boon. Since elephants prefer to snack on vegetation with a low carbon density (or ability to store carbon), their grazing makes room for vegetation with a high carbon density to grow, thus promoting carbon sequestration. 

This is supported by a report published by Saint Louis University that found that the absence of the African forest elephant — an already critically endangered species — from its native rainforest could result in the Earth losing between 6% to 9% of its ability to store carbon and exacerbate climate change.

“If we lose forest elephants, we will be doing a global disservice to climate change mitigation,” said Stephen Blake, Ph.D., senior author of the paper. “The importance of forest elephants for climate mitigation must be taken seriously by policymakers to generate the support needed for elephant conservation. The role of forest elephants in our global environment is too important to ignore.”

A similar study conducted by the International Monetary Fund found that restoring elephants in the African rainforest to their former range and pre-poaching levels can sequester as much carbon as 250,000 trees and provide over $150 billion in carbon-capture services.

Colossal Biosciences: ‘The Largest Land Animal on Earth Needs Our Largest Conservation Effort. Now’

Given the colossal benefits that elephants provide our ecosystem, it’s only fitting that Colossal Biosciences has invested substantial effort into conserving and “backing up” the species. “The largest land animal on earth needs our largest conservation efforts. Now,” Colossal posted on its website. “The Asian elephant and African Savanna elephant are classified by the [International Union for Conservation of Nature] as ‘endangered,’ while the African Forest elephant is listed as ‘critically endangered.’ All species are in dire need of a science that will save them.”

Colossal is hard at work on that science. In addition to the use of CRISPR technology to develop a vaccine for EEHV — the same technology used in sequencing a woolly mammoth — Colossal Biosciences has partnered with the Vertebrate Genomes Project to generate a high-quality reference genome for all three elephant species.

In May 2023, Colossal and the VGP published the first-ever, near-complete chromosome level genome sequence of the African elephant to the National Center for Biotechnology Information. This marks the second elephant genome published by Colossal and the VGP following the complete sequencing of the Asian elephant in 2022 (which is currently one of the highest-quality mammal genomes in existence).

Mapping a species’ genome not only grants insight into their evolutionary process and needs for survival, but also ensures that charismatic and ecologically valuable species like the elephant have a genetic backup and won’t fall victim to extinction.

As Colossal CEO Ben Lamm told The Dallas Morning News, “We hope that elephants won’t go extinct. We hope that humanity can save them. But in the event that they do, we at least want to see that reference data.”

With all three elephant species showing worsening population trends in their latest IUCN assessment and the effects of climate change predicted to further exacerbate their plight down the road, there’s a harsh possibility that the future of elephants will rely on this sequence. For all we know, future generations may be thanking Colossal and the VPG for the lushness and biodiversity of our savannas and rainforests — and for saving the elephants.

Stories from Latino Writers: Rudy Ruiz Receives Jesse H. Jones Award for Best Book of Fiction for Valley of Shadows

Rudy Ruiz, acclaimed author of literary fiction, recently won the Jesse H. Jones Award for Best Book of Fiction for his book, Valley of Shadows. This honor recognizes his exceptional writing skills and his contribution to the literary world and highlights an important issue in the publishing world: the underrepresentation of Latino writers and books featuring Latino characters. Ruiz’s win is an important step in the right direction, especially considering the importance of Latino culture in the United States.

In Valley of Shadows, Solitario Cisneros is a retired lawman who has lost everything – his wife, family, and country. When a series of murders and kidnappings threaten his town’s volatile mix of Anglo, Mexican, and Apache settlers, Solitario feels compelled to involve himself, confronting the parts of life he’d left behind as well as his own mortality. With the help of Apache-Mexican seer Onawa, Solitario faces questions about the human condition and the possibility of rewriting our own history and shaping our own future.

Rudy Ruiz’s Valley of Shadows is a powerful work of historical fiction that effectively uses the tools of magical realism to uncover lessons that are immensely relevant today. Through luminous prose and soul-searching reflections, Ruiz explores themes of belonging, identity, and the human condition that are as relevant today as they were back then. Solitario Cisneros and Onawa’s journey into the desert is a powerful reminder that as lonely and defeated as we might feel, we are never truly alone.

Specifically, Ruiz’s writing has been praised for its lyrical prose and its ability to capture the complexities of the human experience. His win of the Jesse H. Jones Award for Best Book of Fiction is a significant achievement. The Jesse H. Jones Award is one of the most prestigious literary awards in Texas. Bestowed by the Texas Institute of Letters, it recognizes the best in Texas fiction. Ruiz’s win puts him in the company of literary giants and solidifies his place in the canon of not only Texas but American literature. According to the Texas Institute of Letters judges, “Rudy Ruiz’ Valley of Shadows is a masterful weaving of the best of American Literature: a realistic historical novel, a riveting, edge-of-your-seat Western thriller with a dose of horror and magic. Most of all, Rudy Ruiz’ simple, brilliant and penetrating writing transforms Solitario Cisneros’ struggle for meaning and redemption into an existential inquiry about the quest we must all undertake to save our world.”

Another reason Ruiz’s win is significant is that it highlights the contributions of Latino writers to the literary world. Some individuals believe this to be a valuable goal, as, according to a study by the Cooperative Children’s Book Center at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, only about 7% of children’s books published in 2022 featured Latino characters. This lack of representation extends to the world of adult literature as well. In 2019, an industry study found that less than 6% of publishing employees identified as Latino. Some believe this to be undesirable due to the real-life diversity of the audience of readers in the United States. 

Given the rapid growth of the U.S. Latino population and its emergence as the largest minority group in America, it is possible that we might see a growing trend of high-profile Latino literary fiction enter the market. These narratives reflect rich cultural traditions, languages, and perspectives of the Latino community. As more stories from Latino writers are published and celebrated, it is possible we’ll see their place in the world of literary fiction grow. This could lead to more awards for Latino narratives. Ruiz’s win could be seen to shine a light on the often-overlooked history of Latinos in the United States and, specifically, Texas. 

One reason Ruiz’s win for Valley of Shadows might be seen as notable is that the Latino population in Texas is growing at a remarkable rate. According to recent census data, Latinos now make up nearly 40% of the population in Texas, making it the second-largest Latino population in the country after California. This demographic shift has significant implications for Texas and the United States as a whole. The growing Latino population is influencing everything from politics and education to business and culture, with a vibrant and diverse community reshaping the state’s identity and future.

Ruiz’s win for Valley of Shadows brings visibility to Latino literature. By recognizing the work of Latino writers, these awards validate their experiences and stories within the publishing industry, serving as a call to action for publishers, and encouraging them to seek out and publish more diverse authors and stories. In this way, awards can help to break down the barriers and biases that have historically prevented Latino writers from gaining equal representation in the publishing industry. Awards can have a ripple effect on other areas of the publishing industry and beyond, from literary agents, booksellers, and book reviewers to TV and film adaptations of books. By recognizing the value and importance of Latino literature, these awards can help to shift the cultural conversation around diversity and inclusivity in the publishing and entertainment industries, inspiring change and progress in all areas of the industry.

Clearly, the impact of diversity in publishing and fiction cannot be overstated. Literature has the power to shape our understanding of the world and ourselves, and diverse stories allow for a richer and more accurate representation of the human experience. As Texas – and, indeed America’s – population continues to grow and include more Latino individuals, it will be even more significant to pay attention to whether or not that the media we produce and celebrate reflects those changes. 

When we prioritize diversity in publishing and fiction, we open the door to new voices and stories that may have been previously unheard or marginalized. Some people believe this can benefit readers who can see themselves reflected in literature, and that it can contribute to a more informed and empathetic society. Their argument is that more diversity in media and increased representation can allow readers to expand their worldview and their understanding of humanity. They hope that this will promote greater understanding and respect for diverse cultures and communities.

The publishing industry has a unique opportunity to foster a culture of diversity and inclusivity in its offerings, and celebrating Latino narratives could be a critical part of this effort. By publishing and promoting a wide range of diverse stories, the industry can help break down barriers and create a more equitable and representative literary landscape. Furthermore, diverse stories have the power to challenge and subvert dominant cultural narratives and stereotypes, leading to a more accurate and nuanced portrayal of the world we live in. By prioritizing diverse voices in publishing and fiction, we can ensure that literature truly reflects the diversity of our world, and opens up new pathways for empathy, understanding, and growth.

What to Look for in a Family Attorney: Essential Qualities and Characteristics

When facing a family legal issue, finding the right lawyer is critical. You want someone who can provide expert legal advice, guide you through the process, and represent your interests in court. One example of a family lawyer you might want to try is Dennis Durkin. However, it’s important to look for certain qualities in any family lawyer you consider. Here are some examples:

Experience – One of the most important qualities to look for in a family lawyer is experience. You want someone who has been practicing family law for many years and has handled cases similar to yours. Dennis Durkin, for example, has over 20 years of experience in family law and has represented clients in a wide range of cases, including divorce, child custody, child support, spousal support, and property division.

Trustworthiness – Trust is essential when working with a family lawyer. You want to work with someone who is honest, ethical, and who will have your best interests at heart. A trustworthy lawyer like Dennis Durkin will give you straightforward advice, never make false promises, and always act in your best interests.

Communication – Communication is key when working with any lawyer. You want someone who will keep you informed throughout the legal process and be available to answer your questions and address your concerns. Dennis Durkin is known for his excellent communication skills. He will keep you up-to-date on the status of your case and promptly respond to your calls and emails.

Empathy – Going through a family legal issue can be a stressful and emotional time. You want to work with a lawyer who will listen to your concerns and provide support when you need it. A lawyer like Dennis Durkin is known for his empathy and compassion. He will take the time to understand your situation, listen to your story, and work with you to find the best possible outcome for your case.

Legal Knowledge – Family law can be complex, so you want to work with a lawyer who has a deep understanding of the law and the legal process. Dennis Durkin stays up-to-date on the latest legal developments and strategies, and has a proven track record of achieving successful outcomes for his clients.

Attention to Detail – In family law cases, attention to detail is crucial. You want a lawyer who will pay close attention to the details of your case and ensure that everything is done correctly. Dennis Durkin is known for his attention to detail and his willingness to go above and beyond to ensure his clients’ success.

Professionalism – Professionalism is another important quality to look for in a family lawyer. You want someone who will represent you in court in a professional manner and who will act with the utmost professionalism in all aspects of your case. A lawyer like Dennis Durkin is highly professional and is respected by his peers and clients alike.

Responsiveness – When you have a question or concern about your case, you want to work with a lawyer who will be responsive and available to help. A lawyer like Dennis Durkin is known for his responsiveness and his willingness to go the extra mile to help his clients achieve their goals.

Finding the right family lawyer is crucial when facing a family legal issue. You want someone who has the experience, legal knowledge, and personal qualities necessary to help you navigate the legal system and achieve your goals. Dennis Durkin is an excellent example of a family lawyer who embodies all of these qualities. However, it’s important to look for these qualities in any family lawyer you consider, so that you can be sure you are working with the best possible advocate for your case.

As CEO of Natixis John Hailer Supported Investment Evolution

At Natixis, John Hailer spearheaded initiatives that supported a wider evolution of investment portfolio construction. Currently, he maintains commitment and belief in this strategy.

Building an investment portfolio that balances long-term returns with short- and long-term risk and volatility is one of the most significant challenges for investors. But what does it take to create such a portfolio? According to John Hailer, Chairman of Diffractive Managers Group, the fund arm of Boston-based 1251 Capital Group, the key lies in true diversification.

What is Diversification?

Diversification isn’t just about returns; it’s about incorporating short- and long-term risks and volatility. Portfolios that can withstand the short-term ups and downs of markets keep more investors invested for the long-term, which is one of the biggest drivers of long-term success. This approach is supported by Hailer, who maintains his belief in the strategy, spearheaded by him during his tenure at Natixis.

“Every investor knows the mantra of patience, long admonished to avoid trends and not follow the crowds. But then what? Having a long-term vision for your investments isn’t enough,” says Former CEO of Natixis John Hailer.

It’s the industry’s responsibility to help investors build portfolios that can weather market volatility and ensure they have the security they need later in life. Hailer believes that portfolios need to be built on the Prudent Man rule, a simple investment philosophy that prioritizes the safety of an investor’s principal with a view to the permanent disposition of their funds.

“This was essentially putting risk before return,” said Hailer. “The investment industry moved away from this, and frankly, lost its way a bit in the process.”

Financial Crisis Paves The Way for Change

The result of this approach was evident during the 2008 financial crisis when investors faced the biggest market downturn in a generation. Portfolios plummeted, savings were wiped out, and retirement plans were seriously curtailed. Hailer notes that if portfolios had been properly diversified, they would have shown much more resilience.

The problem, as finance expert John Hailer explains, is that too many investors have been sold investment strategies with too little regard for how they fit into the rest of their portfolio. Fund classification systems, though well-meaning drivers of transparency, can also pose a challenge for individual investors seeking a well-constructed, properly diversified portfolio.

“Rating systems are great for transparency and great for investors,” said Hailer. “But investors need financial professionals to help them utilize them.”

For example, consider a portfolio filled with the most highly rated funds across each category. Sound good? Not so fast. Such a portfolio makes two big mistakes, Hailer said. First, it’s built with returns as the primary goal rather than risk management, and second, it ignores the importance of asset allocation.

John Hailer Suggests Steps to Balance Risk

So, how can investors build diversified portfolios that balance returns and risk? Natixis’ John Hailer suggests several key steps:

  1. Take a step back: Focus on building a diversified portfolio with a long-term view. Don’t chase hot stocks or try to time the market.
  2. Start with asset allocation: Define your investment goals, risk tolerance, and time horizon to create an asset allocation strategy that fits your needs.
  3. Build a portfolio with an appropriate mix of asset classes: Diversify across asset classes to manage risk.
  4. Look beyond performance: Don’t get caught up in chasing returns or selecting funds based solely on their past performance. Consider their risk profiles, fees, and their correlation with other investments in your portfolio.
  5. Stay disciplined: Stick to your investment plan even when the market goes through ups and downs. Rebalance your portfolio periodically to ensure it remains in line with your goals and risk tolerance.

Benefits of Diversification

Building a diversified investment portfolio takes time, patience, and discipline. But with the right strategy and professional guidance, investors can create portfolios that help them reach

The right investment professional can help investors navigate the complex terrain of ratings, fees, and investing strategies, and find the right blend of assets to achieve their financial goals.

At Natixis Investment Managers, where John Hailer served as CEO for six years, the focus was on building multi-asset portfolios that combined active and passive strategies in a way that maximized risk-adjusted returns while maintaining diversification.

“Natixis was one of the few firms to build and offer diversified portfolios that weren’t just simple asset allocations, but instead combined active and passive strategies in a way that delivered true diversification,” said Hailer. The approach has proven successful, with Natixis’ multi-asset portfolios regularly outperforming their benchmarks and providing investors with a smoother ride along the way.

A Well-Defined Investment Process

But it’s not just about choosing the right funds or asset classes. It’s about having a well-defined investment process that puts risk management at the forefront.

“Risk management is critical to long-term investment success,” said Hailer. “It’s about making sure you’re not taking on more risk than you need to in order to achieve your investment goals.”

This means understanding not just the individual investments, but how they fit together to create a portfolio that can weather different market environments. It means staying disciplined in the face of market volatility, and having a plan in place to rebalance when necessary.

“Investors often let emotions drive their investment decisions,” said Hailer. “But the best investors are those who can stay disciplined and stick to their long-term investment plan.”

This is where the role of the investment professional becomes critical. By working with a financial advisor who understands their goals, risk tolerance, and time horizon, investors can create a customized investment plan that is designed to help them achieve their financial objectives.

“Investing is not a one-size-fits-all proposition,” said Hailer. “It’s about finding the right strategy for each individual investor, and then having the discipline to stick with it over the long term.”

Yanni Hufnagel, Lemon Perfect Take Flight With Support of Beyonce

When Yanni Hufnagel, CEO and founder of Lemon Perfect, started his brand, he didn’t know that his hydrating lemon drink would go viral thanks to a social media post from pop star Beyoncé. Among the different flavors available for Lemon Perfect is the now-famous bottle of dragon fruit mango, located in her limo door in 2020. From there, the brand started to take off as a sensation

But how did the pop star’s post build a relationship that would lead to Beyoncé Knowles-Carter investing in the brand? “She had posted a photo with it in her limo, and all of a sudden my phone blew up,” Yanni Hufnagel stated. “We came to learn that she was an authentic fan of the brand.” From this humble beginning, a strong relationship was born that would lead to investment as the Lemon Perfect brand continued to grow. A year after the famous photo, in 2021, one of the company’s investors visited the singer’s home and discovered the drink in her refrigerator.

From there, the process was easy according to Hufnagel. The investor helped build a bridge between Beyoncé and Lemon Perfect. The investor mentioned, “It is beyond my wildest dreams to have someone of her influence being a fan of the brand.” A recent announcement from the company confirmed that Beyoncé is a backer in the $31 million Series A alongside Trousdale Ventures, Beachwood Capital, Melitas Ventures, Goat Rodeo Capital, and NNS Capital.

Beyoncé is known for her discriminating and healthy taste. “I don’t typically enjoy drinks without added sugar, but Lemon Perfect is delicious,” said Knowles-Carter, continuing, “It was an easy decision to invest in something that not only tastes great and is healthy, but also, and most importantly, allows choosing a healthier lifestyle to be affordable and accessible to everyone.”

Lemon Perfect founder Yanni Hufnagel began the business in Atlanta in 2017 following his career as a University of Nevada, Reno college basketball coach. While coaching, he received a copy of a cookbook draft that focused on keto dieting and cruising. With a focus on reducing carbohydrates and sugar in the diet while increasing protein and fat, the cookbook included several recipes for lemon water, a sugar-free lemonade alternative that provided plenty of flavor without the excess sugar that many modern drinks are infamous for containing.

As a coach, Hufnagel saw many of his basketball players consuming Bai, a very low-sugar and low-carb drink that has also been popular with those on a keto diet. He began to wonder if lemon water could take the same approach in the market. With the diabetes epidemic running rampant, he felt that going after the enhanced water market in a new way could be a promising option, given that the drink sector is expected to see 9 percent annual growth for the next several years.

Following the growth seen after Beyoncé’s post went viral, Lemon Perfect now competes with Yanni Hufnagel’s original inspiration, Bai, as well as drinks such as hint and vitaminwater. The company also offers peach raspberry, blueberry acai, and lemon flavors. With zero sugar, artificial flavors, or sweeteners, the five-calorie drink supplements potassium and Vitamin C, providing a healthy alternative to sodas and teas that are traditionally sugar and corn syrup heavy.

“Nothing with our flavor and health profile is on the market today,” Hufnagel mentioned. “Our price point is at where a consumer anywhere and anytime can become a customer. It is very rare that you can have a total addressable market like we do.” With 25,000 distribution points including online and brick-and-mortar retailers, the brand is also poised for a Costco launch. With this growth forecast, Yanni Hufnagel expects business revenue to double in 2023 while also increasing its employee count from 38 to 70.

With today’s popular focus on health products that don’t compromise lifestyle and enjoyment, Hufnagel mentioned recently: “We want to be a disruptive player in a large category and want to put fuel on the fire. We felt like we were able to drive great execution, but still have room to grow and want to build a big margin story for tomorrow.” With influencers like Beyoncé, the future for Lemon Perfect is looking very promising indeed.

Julie Roehm Talks Media with Wenda Millard, Vice Chairman of MediaLink, on The Conversational Podcast

During an entertaining episode of The Conversational podcast, host Julie Roehm got honest with friend Wenda Millard, a legendary media executive. Millard regaled Roehm with tales of her print and digital experiences. 

Roehm, a thought leader and high-level marketing professional, discussed Millard’s career, which included roles as co-CEO of Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia and Yahoo!’s chief sales officer. She was most recently the vice chairman of MediaLink, a strategic advisory firm she joined in 2009 as president and chief operating officer. 

During the interview, Millard disclosed a little-known fact: Her media career began much earlier than when she assumed bold-faced roles at Adweek, New York Magazine, Yahoo! and Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia. 

“I started my first newspaper when I was nine,” Millard divulged. “It was the Archer Lane Scoop in Lynnfield, Massachusetts. It was loads of fun – and it was my first entrepreneurial experience.”

Wenda Millard Told Julie Roehm About Hitting the Big Time

After attaining a Harvard University MBA, Millard held leadership posts at acclaimed magazines, including Family Circle, New York Magazine, and Ladies Home Journal. Like Roehm, who has worked on profitable corporate turnarounds, Millard found that an early magazine publishing gig became her first turnaround job. As executive vice president and group publisher of Adweek, Mediaweek, and Brandweek, she successfully transformed operations – and gained the appreciative eye of media insiders. 

“That was the beginning of my cleanup and startup work,” she said. 

Millard went on to spend 20 years in publishing. Despite a dream to become the head of Time Inc., she crossed over to the fledgling internet and digital world in 1996 by becoming the executive vice president at DoubleClick. She enjoyed pioneering new media at the digital advertising company that Google acquired in 2008.  

“I felt remarkably privileged to be at the beginning of an entirely new media,” Millard told Roehm. “It was like the beginning of television.”

Millard left DoubleClick to become the chief internet officer of Ziff Davis Media and president of Ziff Davis Internet, a digital media and internet company. The job was fun – but while there, she turned down overtures from Yahoo!, whose management hoped she could repeat her formula to perk up ad sales. 

“I loved the idea because Yahoo! was such a mess,” Millard said. “It was such a hairball.” 

Millard accepted the Yahoo! challenge and became chief sales officer. In six years, her team raised Yahoo!’s revenue from $700 million to more than $6 billion. She stayed in her role at Yahoo! longer than planned – six years instead of three. 

“I thought I would do the turnaround, get them on the right path, and then go,” she said. “But we were having so much fun!”

Simultaneously, Martha Stewart was calling. Literally.

“Martha, who I’d known for a long time, was asking me if I would come over and be president of the U.S. for her,” she said. 

Julie Roehm and Wenda Millard Discuss Martha Stewart Marketing Strategies

Initially, Willard took a position on the board for Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia Inc. and remained at Yahoo! simultaneously, the best of both worlds. Finally, in 2007, Millard assumed the co-CEO and president roles for media for Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia Inc. and developed intelligent integrated marketing to tie the diverse assets together. 

“Talk about a Petri dish for answering questions about intelligent integrated marketing,” Millard said. 

Her next phase began when she joined entrepreneur Michael Kassan to build powerhouse consultancy MediaLink as vice chairman and COO, where she remained until just recently. 

As the podcast concluded, Julie Roehm commended Millard for networking with media newcomers and introducing them to high-level players who make careers happen.  

“When I was growing up in the business, people were incredibly generous to me,” she said. “It makes a difference.”

Vancouver: The Golden City of the Northwest

Vancouver, WA, is rapidly emerging as a highly livable city in the US. As bigger cities become expensive and overcrowded, Americans are slowly turning their attention towards smaller, more manageable cities. These smaller cities offer lower rents, a stronger community, and affordable sources of entertainment, while maintaining the services that people are accustomed to.

In 2021, SmartAsset analyzed 500 large cities and three cities in Washington state have emerged as leaders, one of which is none other than Vancouver. In the past year, its population has increased by 5% and alongside the hike in population, the GDP has grown by more than 6%. As individuals, families, and businesses gradually make their way toward Vancouver, there is also an increased need for housing and commercial infrastructure. 

Catering to this need is a long-time Vancouver resident, Ryan Hurley. Hurley is the founder and CEO of Hurley Development, a development and infrastructure firm. Hurley started his company with a focus on playing an active role in the development of his community. He grew up in Vancouver and attributes much of his success to the golden city of the northwest. Through Hurley’s unwavering commitment and passion, his company has become one of the premier commercial real estate companies in the region. More importantly, the company continues to play an active role in the development of the city. 

According to Hurley, what makes Vancouver so unique is its location. “It’s very close to Portland, about 10 miles from it, and being close to a very progressive but metropolitan area, we get the benefits without the drawbacks,” said Hurley. As compared to Oregon, Washington has no personal or corporate net income tax, which has continued to drive growth in recent years. Being close to Portland’s urban areas also means that Vancouver is trendy enough to attract crowds of all types. It is a bustling place known for good food and coffee, and a thriving art and culture scene. 

For Hurley, the best feature of life in Vancouver is the mix of different worlds springing up uniquely in the city. “We have what I would consider to be a little bit rural lifestyle blended with urban opportunities,” shared Hurley. In addition to a vibrant urban core, Vancouver also benefits from a incredible natural environment that offers plenty of outdoor activities, including golf, hiking, and camping. The massive Fort Vancouver national historic area, the Columbia river and gorge provide some breathtaking views. A beach and ski runs are only an hour and a half either direction. Doesn’t matter what you like…Vancouver offers something for everyone. 

As someone who has always emphasized and worked towards a cohesive community, Hurley appreciates Vancouver’s kind and receptive community. While there may be a threat of the US fracturing along political lines, this city has largely remained immune from division. As Portland is quite progressive, when it comes to politics Vancouver benefits from taking the middle-ground. Elections are always a close call. “I think that’s a positive thing, because that middle ground just provides for understanding a variety of people, their views and issues,” said Hurley.

This middle ground that Hurley is a fan of also includes the climate in Vancouver. It enjoys all four seasons, which gives its residents the chance to enjoy a whole breadth of activities. This has created what Hurley calls a “really sweet pocket of the in-between”. 

Good amenities, a welcoming community, a beautiful environment, and access to urban living without the troubles of a big city have attracted thousands of new families to Vancouver. It is the city that you live in if you are working in Portland and are raising a family. The city also attracts scores of people from states other than Oregon, including California. “Half our population came from California,” jokes Hurley. 

There has been a huge influx of families from Portland and Hurley’s company has been working double time to accommodate all the new citizens the city has been receiving. Hurley is overseeing a massive project next to the waterfront on the east side of Vancouver called HQ Vancouver, and another beautiful apartment building in downtown called Adera. He is keenly aware of the benefits the population influx brings to the economy, which is why his focuses on affordability without compromising on quality. 

“Affordability is such a major facet of HQ and a standard of our developments. We’re offering smart, sophisticated, luxurious living where people of all ages, abilities, incomes, and backgrounds can thrive. We want this environment to bring people together and provide opportunities where everyone has access to housing, lightning-speed fiber internet, recreation, art, and culture,” shared Ryan. 

HQ also incorporates a smart city approach, which Hurley thinks will put Vancouver on the national map, adding to its growing rapport. The smart features include public wifi, smart parking, electric-powered driverless cars, and multiple smart security features. The design has been guided by climate consciousness, inclusivity, equity, and affordability, all of which are reflective of Vancouver’s values.

Vancouver is not a place to pass through on the way to Seattle or a vacation town, it has transformed into a place where you build a life. You might take it for granted if you have been living in the area for a while, but those who visit for the first time are blown away. “When you’re new, you’re like, ‘Man, Vancouver’s awesome! It’s brand new and shiny.’ And that perception is even growing for a lot of Portlanders too,” Ryan exclaimed. 

Hurley’s company, in addition to developing residential properties, has also developed multiple commercial real estate projects. This has added a boom to the local business, with new restaurants opening up and taking advantage of the modern infrastructure. Hurley opened SAAP Fusion Kitchen, multiple coffee shops, and several sprawling retail centers. 

What makes Hurley unique is that his work drives a purpose. Talking about his latest project, he said, “We’re building this for our city and as a model community for the nation that together – even in the multifamily, retail, and entertainment real estate environments – we can actually achieve things like carbon neutrality, inclusivity, and affordability.”