Saturday, August 12, 2017

Deadly cocktail

The value of waiting to make an irreversible decision is intuitively clear to most thinking humans but it is likely too much to ask of politicians, even those who are not politically astute. Business and finance schools have been graduating stars who descend on Wall Street, consulting firms and corporate board rooms with a tool box that is mostly useless in aiding decisions. The same are now advising those with little understanding of the impact of their utterings and decisions and it is a cocktail of ignorance, arrogance, and shortsightedness that puts humanity at great risk.

It has been predictable for a while. Part of the blame has to go to educational institutions who have been clinging to age old ideas of economic value and optimality in decisions. The concepts were developed for companies thriving in a regime of manufacturing and the reluctance to let go of old ideas have costed both the academics and their disciples dearly. And to make matters worse, the ones in power seem to think that they are in the know just because they got branded. It is not so, just the opposite. In corporate finance, for example, unless one can publish within established notions of value and risk, it is tough going. And the crop of the young academics, trained in empiricism, have been toiling with their spreadsheets to prove what they know are incorrect theories. So, it is not innovation that matters but the ability to perpetuate the status-quo. Most do not seem to understand that we do not make widgets anymore and the ideas applicable there are not relevant for an environment driven by uncertainty and flexibility.

There has to be a basic test of competence before anybody can take a decision-making position, companies and countries included. The same has to be true in academics also and the fact that the "peers," accepted established notions proposed by those who are rising is not an automatic reason for tenure. It is a shame that politics and academics share many common features.

Monday, August 7, 2017


Memory has been a dual edged sword for humans; they benefited from it by accumulating experience but often they suffered from it as well with pain dominating pleasure in the unknown chambers of the mysterious organ. Little has been known about the processes that support memory and the crude attempts at equating human memory to those of silicon based idiot boxes only took the scientists away from the truth. The selection advantages of memory are clear; it clearly reduced the probability of being eaten in the African Savannah. In the modern context, however, memory is not necessarily a good. It creates two problems; first, it nourishes biases based on extreme events, both positive and negative and second, it erects an unassailable wall to climb out of pain and tribulation.

At the abstract level, one has to wonder why humans remember. It did help them identify those from other clans by pattern finding, a good application of memory. But for those who have surpassed the clan regime, memory is not necessarily a benefit. Memory appears to be useful to find connections among uncertain and complex data but now, computers are getting a lot better at this task. If machines reach superiority over humans on pattern finding, the need for human memory will decline. The disutility of memory is in plain view for a species constrained by space, time and fleeting emotions. Faced by a hard life span constraint, they have been accumulating pain and often seek to alleviate it by physical means. The efficiency of the brain to store unpleasant episodes with high detail has led to diseases causing both mental and physical impairment.

A beautiful organ that combines chemistry, physics, and biology has marvelled everybody who attempted an examination of it. But then, design and architecture are not that interesting if the final product is not utility maximizing.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Shrinking mind

Humanity has been on an unambiguous upward slope of expanding mind and psyche forever. Although there have been minor setbacks in the dark ages, humans have always been marching forward. Now there are good reasons to doubt if this will continue. Half the world population is now governed by charlatans and autocrats, some fraudulent and others heartless. There have been telltale signs of a bifurcating world, based on knowledge and empathy. There are now alternative universes, not the kind physicists think about, but simultaneous spaces with different information content existing in the same time coordinate. It appears that we are fast approaching a fork on the road and the selection of this binary choice could possibly seal the fate of humanity.

From dynamite to nuclear bombs, the inventors always lamented of their own accomplishments. There are good reasons for it. In a world of peaceful human beings, less than 0.000001% could substantially change the dreams and hopes of the rest. Some use weapons and others words to hurt the rest using the pulpit they have been granted. Humans remain to be in a level 0 society, still lacking a holistic understanding of what connects them together and their own irrelevance in a universe of inexplicable complexity. They seem to be saddled with a badly designed organ with high computing power but little capability in seeing and understanding the big picture. They have not been here before. For most of their history, they basked in uniformity - in color, ignorance, knowledge and capability. In the last few hundred years, they have been forced to intermingle but they still have to use hardware and operating systems designed for the past. Masking this with fancy applications has not been successful for a small percentage of the population.

It looks bleak. Educators may want to take note, millennials seem to have it, but the issue is they that may not have a chance.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Condensed knowledge

A recent study (1) that appears to demonstrate mining entire body of articles than abstracts provides higher information content is obvious. The more important question is what the mining is for and how the results are expected to be used. Also interesting is how much more incremental knowledge can be extracted from full articles.
In a world of exponentially expanding data, the risk of getting caught in the details is high. The “detail oriented technician,” has been more useful than those who see “the big picture,” in a scientific context because discoveries came from pouring over the data in a detailed fashion. But now, data is arriving from every direction and time is not an affordable luxury for decision-making and advancing ideas, with half-lives tending toward days and weeks.
Humans have not been here before. For hundred thousand years, they banked on experience, accumulated over many generations. Now, experience is losing out to machine learning. Here, time is of the essence and understanding patterns reigns supreme. Patterns have a hierarchical structure, and if a pyramid needs to be built bottoms up, it may not add value if it takes too long. Hyped up technologies in the areas of deep learning and mind will likely find that brute force approaches to “artificial general intelligence,” are unlikely to yield interesting results. 
The early human survivor in the wild had an intuition that the leopard is behind the bush to the left of her and she relied on patterns at the highest levels. Data scientists toiling with oceans of data, statistical modeling platforms, machine learning, deep learning and even deeper mind, may have to look back and understand that throwing data, analytics and technology at a problem, never helped humanity.


Friday, July 7, 2017

Fusion deficient

Humans' ability to harness energy, propelled tactically by the Sun, remain meager. Unfortunately, they have not even been able to replicate the processes in the Sun that apparently throws of seemingly unlimited free energy. Fusion, hot and cold, eluded the struggling species, with nearly 30% still without proper food, clothing and shelter. Lifting humanity from despair remains to be an energy problem, something not many are focused on.

The simplest of processes, fusing two Hydrogen atoms into one of Helium and releasing an abundance of energy, still remains outside the grasp of the engineers. Recent news from the famous defense contractor was encouraging but the path to practical implementation still seems too long. And the crooks who raised false hope on cold fusion seem to have gone away. Tactical conversion of Sun's power - solar and wind - still seem too expensive and rather cumbersome. And, if the energy secretary ever goes to school and perhaps learn something, he may learn that fossil fuel is not the answer either.

The answer appears to be tantalizingly close in fusion. The template is readily available and a generation of great technologists stand ready to convert dreams into practical applications. What is missing is imagination, something that cannot be taught or bought. Perhaps, we need a bit of luck.

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

The code

Humans and their cousins, the apes, have been exceptional in facial recognition. Their life depended on it for the ability to recognize a friend from a foe was crucial for survival. Recent research from Caltech (1) appears to get closer to the neural code for face recognition. The trick appears to be specialization with singular neurons, focused on specific features. The idea appears to validate recent advances in deep learning for image recognition and it could provide further impetus to the acceleration of artificial intelligence.
The idea that single neurons encode specific features has been tantalizing for deep learning enthusiasts. It allows scalability in deep neural networks with increasing specialization in layers. The single feature specificity at the neuron level and its ability to make binary decisions provide further evidence of micro compartmentalization and voting based decision-making. Complementarity, communication and cooperation appear to dominate in goal seeking and that has implications for future research in computerized image recognition and more broadly, artificial intelligence.
The neural code developed by primates, an efficient and massively parallel processed algorithm that helped them survive and evolve, could be replicatable. Hopefully, those who get hold of this will use it wisely.

Sunday, July 2, 2017


The space administration's plans to throw a refrigerator at an incoming small asteroid (1) to demonstrate fancifully worded, "kinetic impactor technique," is ample proof that humans are sitting ducks on the blue planet surrounded by big and fast objects. Momentum has been known for a while and if one can impact the direction of the approaching object slightly, it could be beneficial. But to be effective, such a maneuver has to be very early in the trajectory of the approaching object. Combined with a lack of knowledge of projectiles moving toward us, it remains to be a probability game - and the odds are likely against the species, still trying to kill each other around the world.

If the state of the art is studying the effect of an impact of a heavy projectile on an approaching asteroid, it seems that we have not advanced sufficiently to survive. If the best minds in practical space exploration are engaged in tactics, we may be in more terrible shape than could be imagined. Aided by policy making ignoramuses in the capitol, trying to cut funding for fundamental research, we now have a stagnant knowledge regime, unable to advance science and humanity. To make matters worse, we have engineers and technologists focused on applying old ideas just to win funding. 

Stupidity has a price. In most past failed experiments in civilizations, it ended up with an ignorant leader perpetuating tactics surrounded by those currying for favor by applying old ideas to solve new problems.  


Sunday, June 25, 2017

The quantum phone call

Ever since the phenomenon of entanglement was discovered, humans have been enthralled by visions of communication at faster than the speed of light. Recent experiments with the Micius satellite (1) appear to move us closer to practical satellite based quantum communication. Bringing entanglement to applications could propel humanity to a different level.

Humans have been constrained optimizers. From inception, they have been prisoners of space and time. Their ability to physically transport their inelegant bodies has been inferior to most animals that surround them and their inability to see for half the day, made them vulnerable. Later, they will find that they cannot communicate faster than the speed of light and they cannot travel faster than a fraction of this theoretical limit. To make matters worse, they were greeted by silence in close quarters, albeit their space broadcasting and listening methods, remain embarrassingly archaic. Humans remain to be prisoners of space and time and it appears that it would be forever.

Entanglement provides a mild hope out of these hard constraints. Beating light can lift the spirits of humans and open up the universe that largely remains unapproachable.