History, value, and doing the right thing

I'm currently reading The House of Rothschild, volume I, about the rise of the world's richest family from the years 1798 to 1848. It's a mighty book - not only because of Niall Ferguson's total command of the facts that surround seminal events in the Rothschild's history, but his ability to zoom macro and extrapolate trends and themes, and tie them to history. Simply a brilliant piece of work, and a skill I hope to emulate.

One of themes I've been left to ponder is the importance of being on the right side of history. Those that do, end up being identified as part of history's victors; those that don't end up being bit players in somebody else's history.

Another theme is the importance of values. For the Rothschild's, that main value was unbreakable unity, and that value has helped them endear likely more than any other factor, at least in volume I. What was surprising is that the Rothschilds were never visionary capitalists, but instead opportunistic, from embracing government finance, railway finance, and finally investing in developing countries. That unbreakable unity, however, is what allowed them to ride the revolutionary wave in 1848, survive, and prosper over time.

The third theme is being mission-oriented to do the right thing. The Rothschilds were actually extremely pacifist and concerned for the Jewish cause, and though they weren't as overt as some would like, they did their utmost to preserve their heritage and contribute to its cause. In many respect, I draw the same energy from wanting to advance openness in AI, to bring about material changes in innovation in a field that will dominate our field in the next 50 years.