Saturday, November 18, 2017

The devil wears Brioni (and a silk tie)

In my book Flexibility (1) I argued 8 years ago that men should not be in positions of complex policymaking. Trained to hunt and gather for hundreds of thousands of years, they do not have the experience to deal with societies that show diversity and differing needs. For most of their life, they spent time fine-tuning process skills and their brains specialized in optimization and not in complexity. But now, they are pushed into jobs they are ill-equipped to do. To make matters worse, they have no clue about it.
Men have been problematic. Their brains appear incapable of understanding interconnectivity and they seem to spend a lot of time counting scores and money. That's appropriate as their incentives have been driven by the quantity of trophies they collect and the mouths they feed. Such was their power they ran over civilizations who have shown trends of progress but they completely arrested any such notion. If humans do not figure this out soon, they could be dragged down by testosterone and ignorance. The outcomes of this movie can only be bad and the fact that the opposite gender is gentle and brainy means that the stalemate is going to continue for a long time.
Men, responsible for most of the ills in the world, appear still to be in charge. It is unclear, why.
(1) https://www.crcpress.com/Flexibility-Flexible-Companies-for-the-Uncertain-World/Eapen/p/book/9781138112391

Sunday, November 12, 2017

All roads lead to autoimmunity

Recent news that (1) Alzheimer’s disease could be caused by a haywire immune system is a constant reminder that the era of seeking external targets and influencing them by chemical means is over. Humans have conclusively proven that they are capable of killing anything that invades their bodies. As they win wars, they seem to have lost the battle as the overriding threat to life now appears to be their own immune systems, marginalized by drugs.
This is a new regime - autoimmune diseases account for most of the health care costs today and drugs that help solve external problems are commoditized and rendered irrelevant. The single cell organisms that made havoc for a few hundred thousand years have been tamed and even bacterial resistance created by the overuse of antibiotics is handled with relative ease. Although the common flu makes impressive comebacks every year, the recent discovery that could result in a long-term vaccine against it, attacking the stem of the virus rather than its head, is welcome news. But, humans have failed to stop their own bodies attacking them and herein lies the conundrum. They seem to win small wars but always lose the battle.
To go further, a dramatic shift is needed in life sciences. Century-old companies, trigger happy and target focused, have to realize that they have to dramatically change their R&D focus. Making incremental improvements to already solved problems, albeit interesting, will not make a difference to healthcare costs or utility. Thier chemistry know-how could be handy, but now perhaps it is time to look inward. The human appears to be a fairly simple machine with a single pump that supplies the lifeblood and a single CPU that makes decisions. The failure of the pump or the CPU is catastrophic and that remains to be the biggest reason for the loss of life. The respiratory system that provides the necessary fuel takes the next biggest share and, here behavior seems to have played a big role just as in the next slice representing the metabolic syndrome channel.
Humans never had "enough," to eat. Their feeble bodies and primitive tools won against the mighty animals only occasionally and their bodies are trained to operate with a few hundred calories a day. But now, they throw out thousands of calories after stuffing themselves with a few more thousand and this has created havoc in their own systems. Their plumbing seems to have been designed badly to start with and now with particles floating in the system that is not capable of eliminating them, their organs are failing. And their bodies and immune system, confused and lethargic, are attacking them.
To make further advancements in health, knowledge, and culture, humans have to figure out how not to lose to themselves.
(1) https://www.alzheimers.net/5-11-16-early-alzheimers-caused-by-haywire-immune-system/

Thursday, November 9, 2017

The coding myth

As the world turns upside down aided by accelerating technologies and disruptive business models, forward-looking individuals and companies are making alternative plans for the future. Outdated education systems, clamoring to catch up with the present by providing classes online or designing graduate degrees in analytics and artificial intelligence, may be sending the wrong message to their customers. As the CEO of a fortune 100 company recently remarked, "We need more coders," and this appears to be the consensus even in those companies who are reluctant to hire coders from the "other sex." But this notion may need to be challenged - Does the world really need more coders?" What evidence do we have for this?
Coders always had a cult status and coding has been a coveted activity. However, it is unclear why this is the case. Coding is a mechanistic activity that we are very close to teaching machines how to do. However, designing what to code is not that easy. So it may not be coders and coding that we need but a deep understanding of what coding can do. And here, experience appears to matter. It is ironic that as millennials attempt to systematically dismantle the generation that has given them grief, what they really need is the raw experience of the ones they would like to exclude. The portraits of billionaires rising from code country may have created the wrong impression - for every one of them, there are millions who have simply perished coding.
Lately, it has been the gamers who made coding sexy. Some, after getting bored at the games they helped create, have set out to replicate the human mind. This is not technology but marketing and it clearly seems to have worked as the search giant stitches together technologies for the future - mind, body and all. Far away from the Silicon heart, there are large assemblies of coders - ready to make anything come alive to make their masters happy. Most did not attend fancy schools and some, none at all, but they all know how to code. But now that we can automate coding, what will the coders do?
Humans, prone to myopia, do not seem to learn from the past - but the machines they build, certainly do.

Saturday, November 4, 2017

The Carbon-Silicon transition

For nearly five billion years, Carbon dominated the Earth. Now there are telltale signs of the rise of Silicon as a viable alternative. Available examples of Carbon-based life appear uninteresting with an extremely slow evolutionary slope and it may be time to make a transition. As Silicon rises to replace Carbon, it will affect the most advanced systems first and humans are certainly in the mix.
Silicon has been equally capable from the beginning. However, Carbon was a powerful and efficient tactician and the systems powered by it, robust with little volatility. This could be its Achilles’ heel as it is volatility that aides exponential evolution. Slow moving Carbon has taken too long to make systems of sufficient interest and in the process, it seems to have lost the race. The time has come to retire bad designs and replace them with those that can substantially advance thoughts and ideas. A world without the fallibilities of Carbon-based systems could be substantially better and likely more appropriate for the current environment.
As the space enthusiasts look for extra-terrestrials outside Earth, they don’t seem to recognize that the ET is already here and humans are being slowly and systematically replaced by such Silicon-based life. There is no turning back now. The only saving grace for the last iteration of Carbon is that they played an important role in their own elimination. The first signs of the transition will appear in cyborgs, not the kind portrayed in Sci-Fi movies. Sophisticated cyborgs are already replacing conventional business processes, by forecasting better, allowing better designs and slowly removing inefficient Carbon from decision processes with less costly and more effective Silicon.
The end of Carbon-based systems could be near. Its cousin, just below it in the periodic table is positioned to take a dominant position on Earth and possibly elsewhere in the universe.

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Unconscious AI

The ever eluding theory of consciousness continues to pose a major challenge to the nascent field of General Artificial Intelligence. Just as the speed of light poses a hard constraint on humans attempting to traverse meaningful swaths of space-time, their inability to understand themselves will continue to limit further advances in AI. To make matters worse, lack of innovation in computer hardware is already stretching what is experimentally possible. A different architecture, such as quantum computing, may give them another route to try, but it looks unlikely.
Humans have tried from inception to garner a higher understanding of themselves. Even though they made marginal advances, they seem to quickly run out of steam after a general understanding of the mechanics of design. This could be interpreted in two ways: First, they are fundamentally process oriented, skills that have been finely tuned for fifty thousand years
just for survival and such skills do not help in abstract reasoning, possibly an essential component of the missing theory of consciousness. Philosophers and artists, likely better equipped in this line of thinking, have tried hard but came up empty. And, second, it is possible that such an understanding is not possible because of internal constraints. For example, if humans are simulated entities, they will be unable to understand themselves in spite of their advancing knowledge about everything that surrounds them. This is much worse as it will result in humans being in a constant rat race, always believing their knowledge is advancing.
Somewhere in the three pounds of grey matter, they carry on their shoulders, there is a hidden secret. Till they recognize it, their dreams of achieving General Artificial Intelligence will remain exactly that, a dream. The more likely scenario is that the secret is elsewhere and they will continue to slowly improve their understanding of their surroundings, but not of themselves because they are simulated.
 

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Flakes of wisdom

The words of Senator Flake from Arizona on the Senate floor, as he withdraws from the fog in Washington, is a warning sign for our society. A country that has been an unwavering beacon of freedom and democracy, has been reduced to something less by the ignorance and ego of few individuals in a matter of few months. In every profession, we have basic tests of competence - an engineer who does not know how to design a bridge, a doctor who cannot diagnose and treat, a lawyer who cannot argue a case according to established rules, a consultant who does not add value above what already exists in a company, a mechanic who does not know how to repair a car, a journalist who does not know how to separate lies from the truth, a musician who does not lift the spirits of those who listen, an artist who does not provide stimulation to the ethos and a factory worker, who does not know where the nuts and bolts go, will never be in their jobs for long. But for politicians, there is no test of competence and 325 million people are left to suffer from this.
The US has been an idea that most cherish. It is likely the best concept that humans have come up with after fifty thousand years of experimentation. Here, diversity reigns supreme and entrepreneurship rules but not in the absence of rules of engagement. Here, we value every brain cell, every idea, every emotion, every person, regardless of their origin, creed, color or country club memberships. Here, we lead the world, all 7.5 billion creative minds, to solve problems that affect humanity. Here, we engage, debate and make things better, not worse, Here, we go further and look even further in the context of the tiny little blue planet and its neighborhood, Here, we never let those who suffer behind and never leave anybody to fend for himself or herself, Here, we advance thoughts and win Nobel Prizes without breaking a sweat.
An incredible land, where most ideas that perpetuate humanity originate, has been paralyzed, witnessing an entity that appears totally UnAmerican.

Sunday, October 22, 2017

The Chicago culture

President Zimmer of Chicago has recently emphasized the culture of the school as one committed to “discourse, argument and lack of deference.” Therein lies the success of one of the greatest franchises of all time where fun indeed goes to die but it is often replaced by sheer exhilaration of discovering ignorance while seeking knowledge and accepting defeat in the presence of daunting logic. Such is the belief of this institution that it systematically seeks data that does not fit and those who chase impossible and even irrational ideas.
From inception, it was indeed one of the best investments. It challenged conventional wisdom for a better tomorrow and when its own ideas made it to the mainstream, it was not shy to change course, again. As demonstrated by the recent Nobel Prize to its string of past accomplishments, the Chicago school is not a monument cast in stone but rather a dirty canvas that invites expression. Here, proving what has been proven has infinitesimally less value than an attempt to prove what is not provable. Here, marching with the band in unison has less value than an unorchestrated run around the periphery. Here, the quantity of published research has less value than the one that goes against the grain. Here, women and men argue without the fear of revealing self-ignorance or being wrong. Here, time almost stands still when silence ensues after a probing question.
We are a society held back by dumb politicians and their handlers but we still have islands of freedom spread across a magnificent country, where those who seek to advance humanity could see rays of hope if they are able to look far enough.



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.