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.

Thursday, August 24, 2017

The discontinuity

It could be here. A resolution of the disconnect of the emerging against the status-quo, the pristine against the established, the young against the old, the uncultured against the culturally sophisticated, the academic against the the politically astute, the color blind against the racists, the healthy against the wealthy, the markets against the regulators, the agnostics against the atheists, the empathetic against the apathetic, the travelers against those who stay put, the globalists against the localizers, the peace lovers against the war mongers, the optimistic against the pessimistic, the thinkers against the feelers, the scientific against the religious, the capitalists against the communists, the future against the past, the good against the evil, the people against those who hold power, and the machine against the human. In the short history of the Homo sapiens, such reversals have been rare, if at all. And now, it is turning upside down in front of a singular generation as the technologists advance the ability to replicate the basic functions of the human brain. For thirty years, many have been on the prowl, but now they may be closing in on the algorithm that makes pattern finding practical.

Some caution may be apt. Pattern finding is certainly an important cognitive function and driven primarily by data. It has served humanity well from inception and the seven billion that inhabit the Earth today are well endowed with these capabilities due to selection. However, pattern finding would not have led humanity to advance art, language, science, and psyche. These are the features that made them human and mechanical replication of their basic brain functions is not “artificial intelligence,” by any stretch of the imagination. Intelligence is not artificial; the few cases on display from Newton to Einstein show characteristics that are not mechanistic. They were driven by dreams, visions and imagination, signs of a misbehaving brain seeking an escape route from boredom.

Till the technologists figure out a way for a computer to experience intellectual boredom, we are nowhere close to “artificial intelligence.”

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.


Monday, June 5, 2017

The autoimmune era

Humans, it appears, have successfully conquered external biological threats to them, at least in the short run. One implication of this dominance is the alarming rise of autoimmune diseases that now account for most of the healthcare costs. Their finely tuned and powerful immune system has become a great liability for the modern humans, devoid of bugs. Boredom of overdesigned systems appear to be as deadly as anything else. Recent discovery of rare diseases in which the immune system attacks the brain itself is a constant reminder that the biggest threat for humans in the long run is their own immune systems.
Heart disease, cancer, mental disorders, COPD, asthma, arthritis, diabetes and hypertension account for over 80% of the healthcare costs. The bugs are not implicated in any and it appears that the body has begun to attack itself. Original design deficiencies in Homo sapiens have certainly caught up with them. The plumbing was never designed to last more than a few decades and the body, now stretched to twice the original design life, seems to struggle to get rid of the waste products both in the brain and in the circulation systems. To make matters worse, humans invented agriculture recently and this has fundamentally changed the course of their health. They have been feeding themselves material that neither the body nor the bacteria in their guts have ever been designed to efficiently digest.
We are in the autoimmune era, in which most humans will die because of the efficiency of their immune systems or the inability of the circulations systems to discharge waste products. Medicine and Engineering are certainly converging, but not in a way that technologists imagined.

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Artificially Intelligent Pain

Recent observations (1) from the University of Cambridge that machine learning could identify the amount of pain suffered by sheep from their facial expressions is a good tangent to pursue. It may even have applications in humans, unable to communicate because of  recent or permanent loss of auditory and visual functions. Machines have been growing in stature and they seem to trump humans in most routine tasks. But increasingly, they are filling the gaps that humans are unable or untrained to do. There is no turning back from the AI train as it had left the station nearly 3 decades ago. Now cheaper and faster computers are making what could not be done by pure imagination.

On the other hand, humans generally get over-excited about emerging technologies and they believe problems could be solved in the matter of months, if not, days. Often, they have been wrong and many examples are available, in air travel, the internet, human genome based medicines and most recently, machine learning. Humans have been slow leaners, in spite of the massive energy hog they have been endowed with and they are programmed to look to the future rather than the past. That is a good thing but looking too far and over the hills may get them into trouble, something that did not exist for most of their evolution.

Understanding pain from facial expressions is a good step forward but a 67% accuracy (1) is not sufficiently robust for practical applications. Machine learning can easily create models of that accuracy from random and noisy data. Before declaring victory, much work is in store to think about what it could mean.


Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Vancomycin 3.0 - The fight continues

Recent news (1) that a new breed of antibiotics, possibly many orders of higher potency than what is currently available, is entering the fight against the Earth's oldest inhabitants, could be welcome news for extension of life for humans. However, the long term implications of such leapfrogs remain uncertain. Bacteria, the most robust form of life known, have been fighting and improving for nearly 4 billion years. The upstarts, humans, seem to have turned them back incrementally. But the aggregate number of evolutionary experiments possible matter and here, the single cell organism reign supreme and for ever.

Bacteria have crowded out the human gut and they supply a large number of genes incorporated into the human architecture. There has been some evidence that bacteria control the human brain from the gut using nerve ends and they have occasionally even breached the blood-brain barrier. The original Extra-terrestrials have been potent and high achieving, seemingly able to dominate anything thrown their way. They even dance in unison and communicate by telepathy, notions higher order animals, find hard to appreciate. Lack of sight and biases helped them cooperate across species and evolve into the most dominant life form on Earth.

The winner of this race is predetermined as the early arrivals to the blue planet have captured the soul and imagination of the irrelevant speck in the universe.


Monday, May 29, 2017

Sleep discrimination

A recent study (1) concludes that the world is heading toward sleepless nights with climate change driving temperatures up. A mere 1 degree temperature rise at night could result in a 10% loss in sleep. This is a problematic trend, with a skewed impact on the poor who can't afford air conditioning. More importantly, loss of sleep has significant deleterious effects on health and cognition, with possible broad impacts on students and young adults. This is another reminder that changes in the environment could have negative effects on the population in many different ways. Anything that affects the rapid progression of millennials is not something humanity could afford, at this critical juncture, if they were to leap to a level 1 society.

As they ventured out of Africa, humans encountered harsh winters in the North with their systems adjusting rapidly by changes in skin and hair colors. Those who went South had an easier time and appear to be well positioned for the rising temperatures of the modern world. However, the organ they carry on their shoulders hogs energy and has to be kept cool for them to slumber. A rise in the ambient temperature is problematic for the human system and especially for the CPU. Perhaps, it is time for newer technologies that let a cooler bubble around the human brain. Evolution of the human brain has been slow. Massive leaps achieved a few hundred thousand years ago by animal fat have been tempered significantly by the advent of agriculture. And, modern humans appear to show slow degradation of cognitive capabilities, perhaps aided by substance abuse.

It is unlikely that humans can turn back the temperature dial but perhaps they can find more creative ways to cool the brain cells and sleep better.


Friday, May 26, 2017

Tactical valley of ignorance

Many of the rich and famous appear to be now indicating that universal income (1) is a good policy. It may be too little too late with children running powerful nations and corporations. If they do want to make an impact, it will take more than speeches and photo ops. It will require actions to disseminate information across populations and technologies that can curb misinformation. It will require belief and the ability to embrace a utility function that encompasses humanity.

There are good signs for humanity, however. Bad examples have great value in education and we certainly have a great number of them in full display. But education is a necessary condition that will allow humanity to separate the wheat from the chaff, those who have been marginalized and the lucky, those who volunteer to make the world better and the uninterested, the unlucky from those who fight for money, the rebels from those who appear religious, the travellers from those who stay put, the indifferent from those who seek their own kind, the optimizers from those who maximize, the elderly from those who do not grow up.

We are slowly progressing toward a better society. The hiccups on the way are just that and contemporary events may provide rich fodder for comedy shows in a few decades. The millennials appear to have it but they have to get through a tactical valley of ignorance.


Friday, May 19, 2017


Nearly 3% of the population - 250 million, live outside the country of their birth (1) and it is a constant reminder that humans have been on the move for over 100 thousand years. They spread culture, ideas and biases across locations and continents, eliminated those who differ from them and clung together to survive in the bottleneck that reduced them to a few thousand. In spite of the walls that separated them, they pushed to assimilate in spite of the color of their skin, eyes or hair, and now we may be turning time back for the worse.

Knowledge has always slowed down the journey to destruction and those who did not imbibe from the fountain have been left behind to fend for themselves. Geographical segmentation schemes have separated siblings and illogical religious constructs have united those who never wanted to be united. Humans have separated themselves based on surface features, never considering that their architecture has been a lot deeper. As they shut down the boundaries of their recent homes based on ignorance, the intelligentsia bleeds but as they always do, they remain ineffective.

Move, move again - and let humanity come together, once again.


Wednesday, May 10, 2017

The advantages of sex

A recent study (1) suggests that genetic interactions are driving selection. This is an important finding and it suggests that mutations are not sufficiently robust to propel populations to more dominant states. In fact, mutations may have a negative effect on optimal progression. It has major policy implications in that, if humanity were to survive, it would be largely driven by genetic interactions rather than optimization in sub-populations.
Humans seem to be on a dangerous course, propelled by an affinity to surface features and segmented utility. The leaders in most countries appear to be less intelligent than average and it implies suboptimal policies with long term deleterious effects. As they travelled out of Africa by foot, first to Australasia and then to China, they never imagined the state of affairs, they would find themselves in fifty thousand years later. Some travelled north and obliterated the gentle Neanderthals and some stayed put, only to be marginalized. Some crossed the ice bridge into the new continent only to be separated from the rest.
Without an abundance of genetic interactions, humans are doomed to oblivion. Fortunately, the idiots who run countries and corporations have a limited life span.


Saturday, May 6, 2017


At the pinnacle of innovation, technology and war mongering, those who are climbing it seem to have left behind nearly ten million of their exact copies in Nigeria, with half of them malnourished and failing from diseases, amplified by hunger (1). For a societal leap forward, it will require moving the entire humanity to a position of sustenance. Empathy has been easier than effective policies, tweets easier than action, cosmetics and shallow conversations easier than thoughts and ignorance safer than seeking knowledge. Meanwhile, millions perish from lack of basic necessities.
The question remains to be why humanity is stuck in this local minimum. Good has always trumped the bad and ideas flourish over stagnation, but it appears that we are unable to break out of a stalemate, aided by global apathy and instability. Societal progress has been immensely hampered by illogical constructs such as an outward show of religion and patriotism. Those who could aid a move up from the valley have been busy nourishing their egos in academia and fighting their colleagues. Those who want to save the world by elevating themselves to the top of the hierarchy have been corrupt and emotionless. At the heart of this stalemate is lack of education, as ignorance has spread like wildfire across the world, aided and abetted by their leaders. If the 7.6 billion occupying the world only knew that they are clones of a single human being, perhaps we can begin to bridge the gap.
But it is a tall order as humans suffer from myopia, driven by hard constraints on life span.