Saturday, May 18, 2019

Quantum health

A recent article (1) poses an intriguing question that if information such as one's genetic composition and proclivity to diseases are available to a patient, whether that could change her physiology. As argued in the article, the outcomes of a quantum phenomenon are intricately connected with the observer and analogously, this could happen in health. It is an interesting thought experiment.

My company, Decision Options, is currently involved in helping a speciality hospital identify patients at high risk so that a higher level of care could be provided to ameliorate such risk. In the status-quo, this knowledge is available only to the medical professionals, attending to the patient. However, it is fascinating to think about the possibility of providing such information to patients if beneficial effects could be garnered. It is a double-edged sword as humans are notoriously prone to suggestions. Psychosomatic illnesses command a measurable portion of healthcare expenses.

The observer does define the outcomes in quantum physics. In medicine, a plethora of complex phenomena including the placebo effect as well as the structure of observers - patients, providers and payers and the interactions among them, complicate matters significantly. However, it may be time to think about a regime driven largely by unconstrained information as it likely leads to better outcomes.

There are two orthogonal axes in medicine - how does an informed observer change outcomes and how does the availability of information result in negative effects related to human internalization of such information. We need a few experiments to tease this out and it may well be worth it.

(1) https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/can-knowing-your-genetic-risk-change-your-physiology/?redirect=1

Saturday, May 11, 2019

"Shoddy simulation," asserts Mario

A recent philosophical banter (1) that speculates that the complexity of the universe may be emanating from a shoddy construction job of the entities that are simulating it, is thought-provoking. However, the illogical and complex stance of the universe could also be due to many other reasons.

First, anybody who has ever designed a simulation knows that such games never consider how simulated entities view it. But rather, the objective function is always exogenous, trying to optimize the players' needs and requirements. Humans often fall into a trap of assuming that they have some level of importance and if we are indeed in a simulation, we could be completely irrelevant. So the fact that the expansion of the universe will result in complete darkness in the future is only illogical from the perspective of the simulated entities.

Second, many of the characteristics of the observed universe appear to follow the general specification of games that tends to get harder over time. Assuming there are observers outside the context of the simulation, they may be progressing to higher and higher levels of the game. Again, from the perspective of the simulated entities, this may appear illogical as they are contained in a miniature theater within an apparently infinite stage.

Finally, what is observed by the simulated entities - illogical construct, complexity, and lack of control - could all be by design. By placing hard constraints on mobile agents across the universe, the game maker may be running an experiment to test if they could escape it. Since nobody wants to play an infinite game, it may be programmed to self destroy in the absence of a progression in the intelligence of the simulated entities.

It appears likely that the experiment will end without proving that the agents could surpass the initial constraints placed on them.

(1) https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/life-unbounded/the-lowest-bid-universe/

Saturday, May 4, 2019

Quantum initiative: Lifting humanity from mediocrity

The US National Quantum Initiative (1) is arguably the most important science and technology initiative today with far-reaching beneficial effects. With a foundational change in computing, humans could possibly begin to understand themselves, their genes, approaching diseases and their date of expiry. They could seek consciousness in Silicon, costless energy and space travel. They could attempt to mend a broken planet and provide resources for the next generation to rise. They could invent materials that aid space elevation, instant terrestrial travel, and skyscrapers that truly scrape the sky.

It is late. Conventionalism has dominated science and technology lately, most constructing careers by proving what has already been proved. They have slipped further into mediocrity, some taking pictures of black holes and others proving gravitational waves exist. But, if the technologists are truly practical and would like to make a difference, why don't they try to solve problems that are more difficult than collecting data and deploying supercomputers on it. The answer is that there is no money in it. The ones who made a difference did not seek money and for the last hundred years, it was money that drove science and technology.

Not even those sitting on top of mountains of data have any interest in advancing technology in a step function fashion. If they do, their own technologies and R&D would be rendered instantly useless. It is an ironic state of affairs - the technologists without an understanding of sunk costs attempt to protect it, while the governments who play second fiddle to the monopolies, play along.

Humans are a funny lot.


(1) https://science.sciencemag.org/content/364/6439/440


Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Freedom and the value of options for humans

The value of a human is the aggregate value of options held by her. Puts such as insurance and calls such as jobs, influence the overall value of the human portfolio. But this presumes that options are devoid of counterparty risks and timing constraints. Lack of freedom for the individual and society will impose constraints on the exercise of options held by humans. Thus, freedom is not just conceptually attractive but it is the basis of the value of humans.

Freedom is foundational to human societies for, without it, the value of humans will decline sharply. As they roamed out of Southeastern Africa with infinite horizons in front of them, freedom was important for humans. Those who object to capitalism on symptoms related to contemporary inefficient implementations should think more broadly about how value is created and disbursed. Humans create value by exercising options optimally and any constraint on this will reduce the value of the individual and society.

The autocrats, who span from the West to the East, substantially reduce the value of societies by imposing arbitrary constraints on individuals. Policies that reduce freedom are unambiguously value destroying but what the politicians do not have the capability to understand is that freedom is a multifactorial construct. A fickle greenhouse afforded to nearly 8 billion human specimens could be destroyed in a matter of decades, substantially extinguishing all option values held by humans. Progress made in over a century to assimilate populations, cultures, and colors could be arrested by ignorant leaders, substantially reducing freedom for humanity.

An advanced society will maximize the value of options held by its members - all of them. It is a portfolio maximization problem, something politicians are unlikely to appreciate. Stuck in a trough, humans may find it hard to climb out.

Sunday, April 28, 2019

Bypassing the infrastructure


Recent news (1) that brain functions can be translated to speech outside the human infrastructure is interesting. More generally, it is likely that most human senses can be replicated with inputs from the brain. As humans live a lot longer than their design life, their infrastructure is likely to fail before their brain. If the brain is still able to function, most outputs could be replicated outside the ill-designed body.

Humans have been struggling to optimize a horizon that is increasingly predictable. Their infrastructure was likely selected for long distance running, something that has become less useful in the modern context. But their brains, likely overdesigned for survival, seem to be robust, perhaps able to go twice the design life of the hardware. Hence, connecting the instruction set from the brain to outside systems may become necessary for the species to survive.

Lack of understanding of the brain has kept the humans guessing. It is likely that a brain is a quantum machine and that is enigmatic in the status-quo. In the long run, pickled brains could store and process information in such a way that the network can be expanded exponentially. The failure of the infrastructure should not be considered final, as long as the brain is able to function, outside its enclosure.

We could create a new meaning to "plug and play." The brain appears to last a lot longer and conventional metrics of expiry may not be optimum. The human network could incorporate significantly more information than what contemporary societies allow. 


(1) https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/scientists-take-a-step-toward-decoding-speech-from-the-brain/


Sunday, April 21, 2019

Artificial Intelligence and the slowing of Time

Artificial Intelligence has been percolating in many domains lately. If properly applied, AI could significantly slow down time for humans and organizations. From their inception, humans have been prisoners of space and time. Even in the modern context, most appear to lack time, with "work," expanding to fill any empty voids. The modus operandi for organizations has been "putting out fires." And, both the creation and ultimate extinguishment of "fires," have been the distinguishing feature of large companies and that takes a lot of time.

The most valuable resource for humans, time, has been inflexible forever. Crude attempts at extending it beyond available horizons have had minimal impact. But now, they could slow time down by delegating time-consuming tasks to obedient machines. Any organization or individual, squeezed for time, is going to fall further behind as it is a clear symptom that they have been unable to move beyond the status-quo. Humans are good at some things and they are exceptionally bad at others. Machines are quite complementary in this respect.

Any repeated task taking the same amount of time in the current iteration compared to the previous one would indicate a deteriorating process. Ironically, those attempting to apply AI rely largely on human time as defined presently. Some appear to be proud of how many data scientists they have hired and others, how much Silicon they have assembled in close proximity. Neither will allow organizations to slow down time, just the opposite. Use of conventional metrics such as the quantity of human time and computers is symptomatic of a disease that is preventing the slowing down of time for organizations of all types - both the users and providers of services and products.

Individuals and organizations have a singular metric to assess if they are able to utilize AI properly. That metric is Time - if it is not slowing down for you now, it is problematic.

Wednesday, April 3, 2019

Information realism and economic systems

A recent blog (1) that brings attention to information realism in physics with an abstract thought that matter is "unnecessary garbage," in a universe driven only by information, is thought provoking. More tactically, such questions could be asked of economic systems, such as businesses and countries. Most identify economic systems based on financial metrics such as profits and GDP, but one could argue that these concepts are unnecessary garbage. There appears to be ample evidence for the failure of economic systems, chasing these tangible metrics, as they leak information and become devoid of it.

In the context of physics, matter is a distraction in a universe driven only by information. Same could be argued about economic systems. Profits and such metrics are pure distraction for viable economic systems. If they do not grow information, they can be predicted to fail with high confidence. The value of a system can then be determined by the information it holds and the expected growth in such information. The latter is more critical as economic systems live in a competitive pool of bounded growth in information and their success and failure largely depend on taking a share of that growth. Thus, success of an economic system does not depend on its balance sheet, income statement or even the quantity of countable resources it holds such as humans, computers and mining rights. Rather, it depends on its ability to grow information - private and public.

For most conventional systems, the idea that countable metrics do not matter could be shocking. More provocatively, systems that count what can be counted are bound to fail. Assets of an economic system, thus, can be defined as entities that hold information or have the power to grow information. As we move toward a regime driven by technology, it is important for the leaders to think about accounting in terms of information content and not tangible and countable units. Financial markets are quick to catch up and they become efficient lot faster than real markets and decisions, contrary to popular views. Real markets show high inertia to change and in this rapid and deep transition, traditional companies become risky as evident in their risk premia. Size does not matter but more importantly if information per capita is not growing in a system, its market value will decline rapidly.

The information tsunami is here. Most economic systems are ill-equipped to survive in it.


(1) https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/observations/physics-is-pointing-inexorably-to-mind/

Sunday, March 31, 2019

The hype of AI

A recent article (1) further reinforces what autonomous vehicle industry has been doing. Neural net systems with feedforward and feedback control architectures trained by historical data on specific surfaces and conditions. Remnants of 1960s technologies, ably assisted by zero cost computing, have been percolating across the autonomous landscape. This trajectory is problematic for many reasons.

First, a brain trained on historical data selected by a biased human is a disaster waiting to happen. The situation is no better with hand-coded heuristics as demonstrated by recent aircraft failures. What computer and data scientists have to understand first is that their own brains still remain to be vastly superior to code they write running even on a super-computer. Hence, blind attempts at removing the human from complex decision-making processes are likely to fail.

Second, hype and ignorance have propelled AI to the stratosphere without significant practical use cases. AI is a tool and it is not a panacea. AI still fails when it encounters the unexpected. This is important as it indicates conventional computing and Silicon based architectures, albeit great engineering innovations, have nothing to do with "intelligence." We have not advanced AI much from the 80s, when the "oldies," used to call it expert systems. Granted, simulated voices, believable human faces, and incredible jumping robots are great inventions, but unfortunately, these have nothing to do with AI.

And finally, high human resource intensity in model building often leads to costly failures. For practical AI, two important things need to come together - rapid and flexible prototyping with automation and considering AI to be augmenting the human, not replacing her.

(1) http://robotics.sciencemag.org/content/4/28/eaaw1975