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.