Thursday, October 12, 2017

The great human dislocation

It is almost here; and a bit like a tsunami, by the time one sees the waves, it is likely too late. Humans have successfully migrated to every nook and corner of the tiny planet. In the process, they have optimized tactics at the expense of strategy, and for good reasons. Nobody lives forever and the rather tenuous connection to the need to spread one's genes as the primary incentive to think long-term has become less relevant as the millennials postpone decisions to have kids or not at all. And now, it is going to get more interesting, a lot more interesting.
Till very recently, the human was still reasonably valuable. Less than $26 worth of chemicals seem to organize themselves into an entity of interest. They could move at will, dream and even show empathy in moments of weakness. The ROI on that meagre investment often is high, at least in aggregate. With politicians excluded, it could get a lot bigger. However, there are troublesome signs on the horizon that the value of the human is declining precipitously and perhaps tending toward the marginal cost of production. The human is commoditized as the machines rise that show consistent rationality and with hearts of metal. They show unquestionable superiority for their thoughts are predictably consistent and their structure, almost indestructible. They apply for downtime ahead of a breakdown and they do not quit or seek a transfer. And, very soon the last stronghold of humans, their ability to think, may be lost to the robots who could construct thoughts programmatically. Their rationality will keep them away from human fallibilities such as religion, crime, politics and academics.
The great human dislocation is near as their competitiveness decline and their stock falls. As the machines rise, we may have found the last hope to sustain culture on Earth without human noise and tribulations.

Saturday, October 7, 2017

The best segmentation game, yet

Humans have been experts at segmentation schemes from inception, and for good reasons. For most of their history, their survival depended on it. From clans, religions, languages, cultures, races, countries and country clubs, they have been exceptionally good at erecting unassailable walls between themselves and the rest. Now, we are likely entering the most efficient of these segmentation schemes, one based on access to information. In this, possibly the final scheme, there are no physical observations like the color of the skin, Body Mass Index, places of worship, accent or wealth and that makes the ensuing game much deadlier than the previous ones.

The technologists have been riding high. They have been inventing deep mind, deeper learning, and artificial intelligence. The makers of the intelligent cars and package delivery men have been competing against the ones who search and spread fake news. But all of them are different from the rest as they do have an almost infinite access to information. And the unstable regime in Washington has been busy working to quickly segment the Internet before anybody can recognize the issue. The ones in charge are certainly no fans of open access. The leaders of search, fake news, package deliveries and autonomous cars would certainly like to play along even though they may have a publicly expressed universal view of information. But just like in any other business, actions are more powerful than words and genuine intentions better than elaborate plans.
Most macro problems are now reduced to those governed by information only. Climate change, disease, hunger, illiteracy and even wars could be solved by the better use of information. The information concentration in half a dozen companies in the world is problematic, especially because of the leaders of these companies, in spite of their showcased empathy to the masses, are focused on counting next quarter's earnings. What they don't seem to realize is that humanity has been here before; whenever there is a high concentration of power, there has been a reset. That's because humans can catalyze around universal and democratic ideas and till they assemble a massive number of robots who could take them all down, it is still a marginal game.
Those who sit on a measurable share of world' information and not utilizing it to solve the world's problems are committing a crime against humanity. Speeches and talks are great but even those who don't have access to information knows that one can only measure results.

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

The price of healthcare

Health, a recently identified luxury for humans, has been poorly understood. It was not a concern in a regime where humans ended their lives in violent encounters with wild animals but most recently, we have less of those. It has now become a complex question, something that policymakers are ill-equipped to influence, let alone understand. Health is not a property of the individual but of society and it remains to be the most valuable real asset available. Those who can understand and make better policies around it will be leaders of tomorrow and from the looks of it, the US is falling far behind.

Health is fundamentally about prevention and not treatment. The latter is driven by technology and the former, largely by information. As emerging technologies, albeit fancifully christened "Artificial Intelligence," by the millennials, ride high, we may have a small opening to leapfrog ideas around how to improve "population health." The concept is apt but the practice of it sorely lacking as the idea has attracted technologists in droves as they have been waiting to jump off the last technology cliff and hop on to the next. Population and societal health could certainly be improved but it will require thoughtful designs and not a sledgehammer approach to technology preferred by the behemoths, who are trying to unload their silicon clusters in the cloud and elsewhere. And, consultants are always lurking to "implement," the latest wares with little concern for outcomes and productivity.

More strategically, far from the fog of Washington, there may be thinking brains who could understand that societal health is a good with very high positive network externalities but the academics, who are able to push this idea effectively could never be accused of action, except perhaps to win their own tenures. This is why we have a divided society where those in the know hide behind the smoke screen and those who have no clue, scream (or tweet) in front of it. Both are equally guilty, as all one could measure are outcomes and not the fanciness of speeches, promises, and academic papers.

An advanced society will prioritize health and education as the most important common good - but the chance of us moving into the next stage of development, appears slim.

Sunday, October 1, 2017


Music has been integral to humanity from inception. Endowed with a
finely tuned listening device and an evolutionary accident that provided a
broad spectrum of noise making capabilities, humans took to music early.
Initial attempts may have been to deter predators but then they extended those
ideas quickly into a highly creative realm. Much later, they put lyrics of
meaning, elaborate instrumentation, and even theatrics to propel music further.
There is almost no one left on this earth without an appreciation of this art
form that provides the maximum lift to the human psyche.
Its lack of structure invited creativity. Attempts at systematizing music bifurcated populations into those who could forecast the next note and those who do not care. But for a few, it is the intermingling of thought-provoking lyrics accompanied by
talented musicians who are not afraid to experiment that creates enjoyment. It
is certainly a medium, increasingly political and a stage, where one could
assert a point of view without debate. And for others, it could quickly
deteriorate into meaningless words wrapped in rhythm that could equally
stimulate other parts of the brain.
Music, more powerful than the pen, could potentially make a positive impact on humanity.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Bad design

Chemistry has been easy. Even in biological systems, humans quickly found hammers to eliminate any nails that surfaced. They found ways to eliminate pain, introduce necessary ingredients into the system, reduce bad substances, kill bugs that invaded and even managed to occasionally improve health. However, the end outcomes have remained largely the same with marginal effects on the extension of life with sufficient quality. In the process, they seem to have forgotten the properties of the biological system that is equally amenable to electromagnetic effects and monitoring.
Recent research (1) that shows that the monitoring of the mitochondrial redox state in the heart could be an effective way to predict the onset of a cardiac event, is telling. As the technology companies compete to release the "next version," of the same technology, they may want to focus on how technology could be utilized in creative ways to prevent adverse effects and prevent humans from degenerating into a state of low quality of life.
A simple system with a fragile pump, responsible for an uninterrupted supply to the CPU that dies at the first loss of power, is designed badly. To make matters worse, the components used are expected to fail in less than ten thousand days from inception. Discovering electromagnetism was a big leap but then, they decided to look upward and not inward. The former has ended in unproven theories, while their inability to apply what they know about themselves has resulted mostly in treatment than prevention.
The human, a magnificent machine, with a quantum computer on her shoulder powered by a singular and fragile pump, has been suffering from design deficiencies. From the look of it, this is likely to remain for a while.
(1) Responsive monitoring of mitochondrial redox states in heart muscle predicts impending cardiac arrest

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Risk of ignorance

Humans appear to have positioned themselves into a corner, between rock and the hard place. The political systems they built over the last thousand years seem to have produced an idiot in the East, well matched by his counterpart in the West. At no time in the recent past, they have faced this situation in which billions of people were put at risk by the ego and ignorance of a few men and women. As the technologists seek artificial intelligence, it may be better to focus on finding intelligence first. Without it, humanity may be at great risk.

Ignorance has always been potent. Many regimes in the last five thousand years have been dominated by it. As the academics weave plans for tenure and prizes, after imbibing from the knowledge hydron, they seem to have forgotten that nobody is going to care for his or her "accomplishments." There are two major problems at hand - the phenomenon of ignorance rising to the top and the active shooting gallery of asteroids, zipping past the blue planet. Electric cars, cognitive computing, artificial intelligence and even space travel are great ideas, but they could be rendered marginal if the leaders of these companies lose perspective. One has to survive first before they can create machines that play soccer, albeit a wonderful idea.

The disconnect between intelligentsia and politics is problematic. The former
stuffed with the millennials and the later oversubscribed by octogenarians,
have been moving in opposite directions. What the technologists seem to miss is
that their view of the future may not be possible without the aging bureaucrats
making the right decisions. Based on recent experiences, the chance of
politicians doing good is close to zero.

Rock and the hard place; indeed, in every way you look. 

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Lazy deep learning

The neural net, an old technology, improved recently by marginal tricks for faster and stable learning, is now the most expensive old wine in a new bottle, appropriately called, "deep learning." Technologists have been getting more creative and now they believe they are going to take over the world. It is possible, but unlikely. Scientists, who have been struggling with age-old statistics suddenly find a way to throw large amounts of raw data to the dumb machine to make pattern finding easier. We could now chase fundamental particles, pharmaceutical products, and weather forecasts, by chasing noise. Now, one could automate it with insights rising to the top just like butter does as one churns spoiled milk.
Lack of experience is problematic; for politicians, management consultants, investment bankers, entrepreneurs, scientists and even bureaucrats. It takes a while to be good at what one does. Machines are certainly great but as a large mainframe maker found out recently down South that not even Sherlock, let alone Watson, can solve all the world's problems. And the largest and smallest analytics companies in the world clamoring for glory by the application of technology and "artificial intelligence," some to save humanity and others to stuff their own pockets, we are fast approaching a highly bifurcated regime. As they seek "deep mind," much deeper questions remain and that's not something the millennials appear to be interested in.
Preserve the human mind, compassion and an incessant yearning for knowledge to survive. Sometimes, it is better to take a break from "learning programmatically."

Friday, September 15, 2017

Goodbye Cassini

A fateful plunge into the heart of Saturn was how the faithful probe, Cassini, ended its own life. Saturn and its moons have stirred up the imagination in the human psyche forever. Cassini’s end though has been carefully orchestrated as the agency feared biological contamination of its moons if it were to collide with any of them unexpectedly. The fact that the agency fear microbes could still exist on the probe after two decades in the outer stretches of the solar system is telling. Sterilization of space projectiles have not been effective and it is very likely that humans have already spread robust microbes on both Moon and Mars. As the window draws near to 2020, the “drop dead” timeline for finding aliens, this could be a profitable way to accomplish it. But if they find microbes elsewhere that look remarkably terrestrial, caution could be in order as the “explorers,” have not been tremendously careful.

Green women have been curiously absent, albeit that stories of abduction and alien craft crashes have been plenty. The fact that some think an alien will conquer the space-time constraint to reach the most irrelevant speck in the Milky Way, just to be astonished by human biology, is symptomatic of the limitations of the species. For fifty thousand years they have killed and pillaged their neighbors and now they would like to explore nearby planets and pretend to be sage. Such explorations have led to little increase in knowledge and likely distracted the theorists from imagination. The domination of engineering in Astronomy has been costly as there has not been any advancement in the fundamental understanding of the universe in nearly a century. The unusual men and women at the turn of last century who made a leap into the knowledge sphere have not been replicated. Mathematical noise have assured that the younger generation will be lost in partial differential equations and “quantum uncertainty,” forever.

Goodbye Cassini, an engineering marvel, but it is unlikely to advance knowledge in any dimension. If it does not shower microbes in pristine environments, that is a bonus.