Thursday, December 28, 2017

Blueprint for societal evolution

A new study (1) demonstrates that there are significant common factors that influenced the evolution of past societies. One clear and obvious trend is toward more complex arrangements. The researchers analyzed a large database spanning over 400 societies over 10,000 years. The results show that human societies follow a singular blueprint as they evolve. This appears to have many implications for future designs.
Size, decision controls, information systems, literature and economic development are features that all contribute to a singular measure of social complexity (1). Given the large data set, the researchers may be able to assess the level of development in contemporary societies as well as speculate on eventual outcomes. The fact that most societies show growth and predictable decline means that humans are stuck in a blueprint that was put in place a few million years ago. With complexity grow arrogance and inequality and those climbing to the top of the pyramid seem to lose context and wisdom. Given the data, it appears possible to predict the half-life of the present societies with high accuracy. But it is unclear if such information could have any practical effect on policy that could reverse the predetermined course.
On the positive side, the level of knowledge and sophistication seem to have equalized across countries and societies. Those who were ahead have been arrested by ignorant leaders and those behind are driven by a desire to succeed. In either case, modern humans, already long in the tooth are due for a reset. It is a shame that they could not learn from the abundance of historical data using their nascent tools in "machine learning."

Sunday, December 24, 2017

Wisdom against intelligence

A recent article in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B (1) proposes that "class is inversely related to a propensity for using wise reasoning in interpersonal situations, contrary to established class advantage in abstract cognition. " This is an important finding that could explain why the world appears to be slipping in knowledge while increasing in know-how. The idea has been recognized by advanced societies of the past and the prophets and leaders of yesteryear advocated egalitarianism as an optimum design tool to advance wisdom.
If wisdom, indeed, is inversely correlated with intelligence, that may pose a great challenge to those pursuing advanced societal designs. The referenced study appears to demonstrate that activities that enhance education and presumably abstract cognitive capabilities are incongruent to the individual's ability to reason wisely. That may portend a decline of developed countries in the West who optimize know-how and mechanistic education at the cost of wisdom. Recent trends in the US and UK could be symptomatic of this idea as large swaths of populations, in spite of their education, seem to act without a tinge of wisdom and make decisions that future generations will find hard to fathom.
The mistaking of know-how for knowledge, intelligence for wisdom, wealth for competence and speech for comprehension, have brought many civilizations down in the past. Is history repeating itself?

Sunday, December 17, 2017

The tsunami in healthcare

As the thousand people in Washington, whose healthcare is covered for life, figure out how many millions they would like to deny the same benefits, the industry is going through a massive transformation. The system, suffering from misaligned incentives and sophisticated gameplay, is likely the most complex. It is a lot easier to figure out autonomous cars and even “artificial intelligence.” The fundamental question in healthcare is how to maintain the health of every individual in a cost-effective fashion. There is only one class of humans who come close to this objective – providers who take care of patients and clinicians in manufacturing companies who want to solve big problems.
However, providers are suffering from technophobia. In less than five years, steering wheels will disappear from automobiles and humans will be a rare sight in manufacturing and power plants. Machines, without biases, are proving to be superior to humans in many decision processes. Every aspect of medicine, even the most cherished clinical components, will be influenced by machines in a few years. Machines, like it or not, will get better at diagnosis and treatment. The role of the provider will change to explain rather than to determine, for humans constrained by slow evolutionary processes will remain prisoners of the present.
The tsunami in healthcare is on the way. In its foggy supply chain including manufacturers, providers, payers, and patients, sunlight will descend and there will be no hiding anymore. Prevention shall matter more than treatment, non-invasive intervention more than invasive procedures, primary care more than specialty care, inventions more than incremental therapies, the patient more than a singular disease state and care plans more than procedures.
Providers who embrace technology will accelerate this trend and others could get ossified.

Saturday, December 9, 2017

Knowledge dark ages

It appears that complexity is increasing in every field. Past experience tells us that knowledge only arrived by simplification, the exact opposite of what seems to be happening currently. In Physics (1), theories have been emerging from every corner but most of them are pure fantasy and remain to be unprovable. Having a mathematical foundation to a theory does not mean that it is useful - one could always dream up such constructs but they have no implication for knowledge for lack of testability. In Medicine, doctors seem to believe that humans are extremely complex to figure out and they seem to adhere to empirical tests of small samples that emerge routinely. In economics, simple theories are now considered commonplace and academics are constantly on the hunt for more complex formulations.
Are we reaching the limits of knowledge? The slope of aggregate knowledge has been declining since the 1930s, and it is problematic for a society that believes it is progressing forward. Yes - technology and engineering have made strides but those are applications of knowledge not the creation of it. There, the current crop of technologists appear to be highly efficient - Artificial Intelligence and all - but none of these ideas are going to make a step-function change in knowledge. To make matters worse, money has been a luring influence on emerging thinkers, who have shunned academics and headed to the nightmare on Wall Street or the valley, replete with coding testosterone. The few who have stayed behind seem to be more attracted to complexity rather than creating insights. The committees who award prestigious prices, including the Nobel Prize, also gravitate toward complexity and that provides misguided incentives to young academics.
We are slowly slipping toward the next dark ages of knowledge creation. With no progress in aggregate utility metrics for society, one could argue that we are living through one of the worst time periods in human history. The arrival of the next genius, who can simplify and create knowledge is the only hope.

Saturday, December 2, 2017

Robust engineering

News that NASA engineers have been successful in firing the trajectory correction maneuver thrusters on Voyager 1, some 13 billion miles away, after not using them for nearly 40 years, to align its antennas toward the Earth, exemplifies the quality in engineering that used to exist. In spite of all the developments in the last 40 years, engineering has been slipping in both creativity and quality. As engineers head for the "street," and such largely useless activities, the field has been suffering and in the "valley," they do not care for building tangible things, just vaporware. The downward trend in the field has resulted in lagging innovation in many areas, with deleterious effects on computing hardware, transportation and city planning.
Traditional engineering has been less sexy than the ideas pursued by the purveyors of "deep mind." But what educators and policymakers may be missing is that we don't yet have bots, able to plan for the long term. Groundbreaking ideas such as the hyperloop are good, but they are not going to make much difference to the masses. We are bifurcating into dreamers who want to save the world by sending probes to Mars and those struggling with an inferior infrastructure to cover basic necessities. Those sitting on 10s of billions of capital, wondering what to do, may be well advised to look into how they could aid engineering innovation in materials, construction, and basic transportation across the world. These may not get them a Nobel prize or bring instant accolades, but they could make a much broader beneficial effect on society.
A society degrading into classes of haves and have-nots, those who live in the valley and mountain tops, those who pretend to be in academic ivory towers and those who are trying to climb out of lagging hopes and dreams, those who commit crimes with presumed immunity and those who are peaceful and content, those who want a better tomorrow and those who would like to destroy what could be, tacticians and strategists, politicians and the religious, the educated and those who could not afford it, scientists and those who do not believe in science, we have a tragic comedy with a bad ending.
Conventional engineering, a lost art form, could be as important as anything else today.

Monday, November 27, 2017

AI for policy

Humans, inconsistent, unstable and biased, have been ill-equipped to make optimal policy choices. In the modern era, rich with dynamic data, this problem has been magnified many times. Career bureaucrats and politicians with countless conflicts of interests have been running amok. In the process, they are degrading the advantages built up by generations in small steps. Just as a hedge fund manager, proud of her small victories over a long time, end up losing the entire pot in a few seconds in a massive and unanticipated discontinuity, politicians are playing with fire that could have disastrous consequences.
It is about time we delegated policy-making to machines. They have been impressive in the presence of large amounts of dynamic data and they are silent and efficient learners. Lack of ego gives them a distinct advantage over humans for their objective functions are programmed to have an unambiguous positive slope in knowledge. Failure does not seem to bother them and they always learn from it. And, they take empirical validation to be the truth and not opinions and fake news. In spite of their lack of education, they are quickly moving to a position of superiority and for the first time in history, we can look forward to a regime of rationality, driven by machines.
In this context, policy-making is an important domain for applications of AI. It is ironic that a few thousand people, making irrational decisions without knowledge or data, has become the gold standard in governance. The fact that most of them do not have a technical training but they assume to be "good enough," to make policy choices in a regime of technology, is puzzling. They appear to be disconnected from the millennials, who will be most affected by the choices they make and it is disturbing. Perhaps, they read a book or two during their summer break and understood that the internet is not a series of tubes. But, has anybody told them that it will not be enough? Can they pass a basic competency test? If not, it is time to move on.
As Sci-Fi enthusiasts hold their breath for AI to take over the world, a more common-place solution will be to replace policy-makers with it. Machines are great optimizers of policies without consideration of color, wealth, education, age, gender or orientation. Humans will have great difficulty competing with this superior knowledge.

Tuesday, November 21, 2017


As the administration after mammoth efforts to take millions off healthcare, promote big game hunting in Africa, accelerate environmental degradation, and bias a tax code on the pretext of simplification, sets out to dismantle the lifeblood of entrepreneurship in technology by scrapping Net Neutrality, one can only wonder what could be in store next. Ironically, the monopolies who will benefit from the policy change affirmed their intention to continue with the status-quo. But as we have seen before, when the next quarter rolls around and the EPS needs a kick, such altruism will fade quickly.
It has been strange times - logic and science have taken a back seat to racism and hypocrisy. Nearly hundred years of incremental but constant upward slope in societal progress has been turned back in the blink of an eye. This poses an interesting question: Are incremental improvements in societal design really worth it? It has been costly for many, some paid heavily and others took the free ride but it has always been hoped that we are moving forward. It is a bit like making small profits in the stock market and feeling happy about it for a long time only to be wiped out by a discontinuity that cannot be forecasted. The current discontinuity affecting the social fabric will do damage that will take a long time to mend, if at all.
It seems that simply getting "educated," is not enough. A full brain education, designed and executed by few institutions in the US, focus on the individual, not on the content. Nothing good can come out of education unless the carrier has a broad view of the world and the universe. And, that requires multi-dimensional education - science, literature, philosophy, art, music, theatre and more. Education has to lift the psyche of the individual and not her net-worth. This is why I strongly believe only one country in the whole world has gotten it right - Norway. The country that led education forever has turned it upside down to advance to the future, perhaps alone. Education has to be free and flexible - a program that will let the rising hearts and developing brains to design and to make the world better.
We are set too far back in a race that is relentless. The fact that less than a dozen people could do this to destroy the dreams of 330 million souls is inexplicable. But as we have seen in history, the tide could turn again - and this time, we know what to insure against.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Thursday, August 31, 2017

More dangerous than politicians

NASA has revealed that a 3-mile asteroid will pass by the Earth Friday. The space agency may be a bit cavalier about how much of a threat such a large body poses but more likely it may have concluded that technology simply does not exist to save humanity from calamity. As philosophers have argued in the past, there is no point worrying about something one can’t do anything about. If the "representatives," and policy makers do not pose enough of a threat to the population, by their stupidity and ego, there are “huge,” objects flying past the blue planet, a sitting duck in the active shooting gallery.

The dinosaurs had no choice. After an impressive period of many millions of years of domination, they simply vanished in the blink of an eye. Their physical infrastructure was more robust than the mammals that followed to weather a catastrophe. However, with size came the need for higher energy consumption and in a regime of low energy availability, survival was not an option. The later incarnation of the mammals has also been endowed with an energy hog, an organ they carry on their shoulders. But more importantly, they have a tendency to stop thinking and kill each other at the first sign of trouble. So, humans have little chance of survival, much less than the dinosaurs, if an asteroid heads in this direction. It is unlikely that you will find a human genome a few million years from now if that were to occur. We have at least birds to remind us of the previous domination.

Engineering advancements in the last century were focused on tactics - buildings, transportation, chemicals, and power – attributes that incrementally improves the greenhouse, humans have been afforded. In the process, they have been trying to burn off the critical molecule they need to breathe and live. If there is a definition of stupidity, one will find it here, in the present. However, it is important to remember that even that fades in comparison of their inability to create technology that could stop their complete elimination.

Politicians are certainly dangerous, but there is a more dangerous thing out there – and humans are living on borrowed time.