Saturday, November 9, 2019

Kids these days (1)

A recent study from the University of California, Santa Barbara (1) demonstrates why the "adults," seem to put the kids down. The article says, "authoritarian people especially think youth are less respectful of their elders, intelligent people especially think youth are less intelligent, and well-read people especially think youth enjoy reading less." As we await the departure of septa and octogenarians from the highest echelons of companies and countries so that we can replace them with kids who have brains, it is important to recognize that these biases of elders are without any basis.

The only hope remaining for the world is the kids who seem to think better, use logic and make better decisions. The idiots in complete control of policies, countries, and companies have to understand that they can be easily replaced by better decision-makers, who are younger by a few decades. The political landscape is changing, and perhaps the "data scientists," are unaware of it. The kids will rise and make the world a better place. They will resist the mafia that is enveloping humanity and culture with evil intent. They will raise against time to prevent an impending climatic catastrophe facing the blue planet. They will attempt to lift every soul and eliminate the constraints for the weak and the weary. They will be humble and treat every individual the same regardless of color, gender or sexual preference.

It is time we turned the world over to the kids.

(1) https://advances.sciencemag.org/content/5/10/eaav5916

Friday, November 8, 2019

Why the real billionaire is the right choice?

As the fake billionaire who did not know there are two sides to the balance sheet, creates chaos in the nation's capital, a real billionaire could be the right choice for the country to move forward. Having a good grasp of accounting and statistics are useful for those asserting to be billionaires. To do that, one has to attend schools, not just the "best" ones but those who teach real concepts. A divided country, 40:40:20, with 80% of the population showing little flexibility as they go to the polls, we have only 20% who could analyze policy and capabilities of politicians, typically without a soul, let alone integrity. That could be enough to right the course of a country that led humanity to the best possible places. Those who bet against capitalism and freedom, do so at their own peril. We have already demonstrated that a beautiful collection of diverse people, minds and ideas in an unconstrained setting, lifts everybody.

As a vehicle slips on snow, it is a bad idea to steer all the way to the left or right. We can never underestimate the sacrifice of those who served the country as soldiers and diplomats. As we observe politicians with little desire to assure that we do not lose a beautiful idea approaching 250 years, it is important that we do not give up. To serve humanity, one has to be human first and that does not originate from counting the number of billions in the bank. To be a human, one has to understand the pain that surrounds 8 billion identical specimens across the tiniest blue dot in the most irrelevant corner of an ordinary galaxy in a universe of over 100 billion of them.

As the comedian and coatless wonder congressman from the Midwest, who is able to figure out when somebody is just "joking," shows up in the capital to serve the people every day, but mostly for his singular client, he is banking on the idea that people have short memories as he has many years before attempting to get back. He could be wrong on two things - people do remember and by the time he attempts a return, the place will be swarming with millennials who use logic to make decisions. As the congressman of transparency before he became the secretary, entertains thoughts of climbing to the senate, he has to understand that most people remember. As the guy who wanted to "cleanse and repeat," suddenly got religion in the opposite direction, may need to consider that even in safe zones, people have integrity and they remember.

People will remember and we are not about to lose over two centuries of hard work.

Monday, November 4, 2019

A closed universe?


Recently released Plank data (1) appears to point to a closed universe. This may be the impetus needed in cosmology to move away from accepted ideas and models. Nearly all the proposed hypotheses to explain away observational discrepancies in the last forty years, albeit beautiful in construction, have been untestable and thus useless. The only real information out there for next-generation cosmology is the cosmic microwave background. Rather than building the next heavy steel particle smasher, physicists may want to spend more time analyzing the data emanating from Plank and other sources. It has been speculated that even ideas such as the multiverse could be proved if certain patterns are found in the CMB.

If the universe is indeed closed, it may open up realistic ways to think about its origin and ultimate demise. As the human mind is limited, it simply cannot internalize an infinite universe. It would be ironic if we find that the contemporary physicists were akin to humans venturing out of Africa assuming flat earth. The presumption of a flat universe in combination with observations has led to a lot of hypothesized dark entities - matter, energy, and even flow. Perhaps it is time to step back and recraft many of these questions within a geometry with positive curvature.

The next step in knowledge is in data and the ability to formulate, simulate and test mathematical models. It is not going to come from plunking down billions of $ for the next smasher in the middle of a growing particle zoo. If a particle is hypothesized, it will be found and the one who said it first will get a Nobel prize.


(1) https://www.nature.com/articles/s41550-019-0906-9.epdf?referrer_access_token=OOAgae33uh7lbfTWjgSKPdRgN0jAjWel9jnR3ZoTv0NqA1r1vCcOgNn4LDpENPnwoeHNKdiccffHhZYAzAfWioQt4jhmufIroNs5WCdM37WOutKU--71MFlY65GYxeGB0tNrgmBXM3l4PQKhlBiEf9BdVB516sOuS1rRl3HqBWZPE4fErcAvNGy5C9luI8BLoEBEwUuwHTw1UH5DerF7rz8e1dNaE7q3vSl_ZV0nXdd5VMNM9YSpVyTbf9DLjCu9&tracking_referrer=www.foxnews.com

Monday, October 28, 2019

Cloudy

The future of cloud computing is getting cloudy. The roundtrip from mainframes to personal computers and back to centralized computing has been inefficient, to say the least. It just allowed a plethora of mediocre companies and ideas to try and die. Massive computing power never solved any problems, it just misled a lot of technologists seeking fame and riches. And, in the process, it contributed to worsening the climate problem. Granted, it did create the world's richest person, in anticipation of a never-ending scale-up, that is unlikely to materialize. As Silicon Valley burns from fires started by electric wires, it is time to refocus on computing with less power.

We are reentering a regime governed by distributed computing once again. This time, it is not going to be on desktops but everywhere. It is not going to be about data but decisions. Humans could have taken a clue from their own societies thriving on distributed brainpower. Those seeking efficiencies and scale always preferred centralization (1) not only in computing but also in organizational structures. But with centralization came a variety of costs including but not limited to lack of redundancy, flexibility and, volatile decision-making. Aided by a few monopolistic behemoths willing to sink billions of unused cash on computer farms, the "cloud," has been growing. Their strategies are ably aided by consulting gurus, experts of the present and not the future. Not to be left behind, the developing countries have been in hot pursuit, assembling centralized computing power as if there is no tomorrow.

The future will not require such stranded investments spewing heat and pollution. Instead, we will need to invent massively distributed computing that requires almost no power. The minuscule amount of power needed should be produced in-situ by movement, ambient temperature or air.

(1) https://www.crcpress.com/Flexibility-Flexible-Companies-for-the-Uncertain-World/Eapen/p/book/9781138112391


Wednesday, October 23, 2019

Quantum computing and the reversal of time


The search company’s recent announcement (1), that it has a breakthrough in quantum computing, albeit with highly overinflated benchmarks, is interesting. Just the fact that a few dozen qubits could substantially change the landscape of computing has been known for a while. The applicability of such hardware may still be limited to highly specialized problems. Just as the over-inflated expectations at the intersection of conventional AI and neuroscience are dying down, the latest news may provide a shining toy for engineers to fool around for a few years.

However, orders of magnitude improvement in the speed of computing is a profitable path for humans to pursue. The most interesting application could be in Physics and not in Medicine as the company appears to speculate. In the former, a recent experiment (2) that appears to show the possibility of a reversal of time in the state of a quantum computer provides new avenues for next-generation cosmology. As the universe itself appears to be a quantum computer, humble efforts by humans to pull together a few coordinated qubits could, at the very least, open our minds. On the latter, in spite of the best efforts of engineers to programmatically understand biological systems, nothing much has happened for a century. The primary reason for this could be that biological systems are fundamentally different from engineering systems and just crunching ignorance faster may not lead to anything. With the missing theory of consciousness, humans still seem to be seeking deep answers to who they really are. And, their inability to arrest the deterioration of their infrastructure as well as prevent catastrophic wars from within is ample evidence that we are nowhere close to a fundamental understanding. One cannot just throw fast and raw computing power to problems she does not understand.

Efforts expended in materials science and increasing computing speed likely have much higher returns than other popular ideas such as searching for ET and habitable planets. One may be able to find a needle in an accessible haystack but not in haystacks that are beyond the space-time limits. And, there should not be any worries that ET will interfere with the Earth as she will not have much interest. It is amazing to see the happiness gushing out of experimentalists at the discovery of yet another exoplanet; one would have thought it would be tempered after finding 4000 of them. Even theoreticians have been taking a cue from the novelists, as they spin up beautiful stories about the universe. High-speed computing could bring a level of sanity to this field as realistic simulations could provide better avenues to explore for meaning.

A few thousand orders of magnitude improvement in computing speed is in the cards. It may be better to direct it to engineering problems that are well articulated. Speed is not something that cures a lack of fundamental understanding.


Monday, October 21, 2019

The Mafia optimization problem


Non-market entities such as the Mafia have unique management challenges. These organizations certainly try to maximize shareholder value. Since the strategy is primarily based on uniquely defined criminal activities, the most important thing for the organization is the people involved and their loyalty. Specific functions such as those delivering justice or negotiate arrangements in the state of operations with non-willing participants are especially important. Successful leaders will fill these functions first with close associates who will always stay loyal to the leader and will be willing to partake in anything the leader desires. So, hiring is fundamentally important for a successful mafia operation.

On the human resource side, selection, design and portfolio management are all equally important. With stringent quality criteria applied to a limited pool of available resources, the selection problem is particularly acute. Identification and retention of quality personnel is the key. On the design side, there is a lot of risk in assembling people with long criminal records, who do not typically play well together. So, it is important to segregate and manage, as organizations that allow a lot of contact among the members, may not succeed. And, the portfolio management problem is the most challenging for the leader. As turnover is likely to be high, it is important that the person in charge of justice delivers it with high accuracy. If the turned-over personnel escape, that substantially increases the risk of failure.

History indicates that successful organizations have had high domain focus. They seldom deviated from their core competencies, whether it is religion, government or even hospitality. As the mafia itself does not typically have any assets of value, they have to continuously replenish their coffers with activities they focus on. Operational efficiency is the key here. As the customers are typically non-willing, it is important to find ways to coerce and confuse. This is a significant operational challenge as they have to navigate around laws and regulations. Once the prey is cornered, they have to move with high precision.

Family has always been the critical component of a successful mafia operation. Grooming the next generation to take over has been optimal for the leader as the immediate layer below has high loyalty, by definition. Often, as the enterprise grew, the leader found it difficult to plug the gaps with non-family members, who have an inherent risk of disloyalty. Often, it may be better to leave the positions open rather than filling those with outside members as vacant positions may reduce the overall risk of the enterprise.

Dealing with laws and regulations of the land have always been a bane for a mafia organization. Successful ones have always understood them and figured out how to circumvent them. Domicile is also an important optimization criterion. In general, a mafia organization would like to avoid scrutiny or be able to create or change laws by itself when needed. Often, they have to approach it in two directions – by attempting to invalidate the status-quo or by suggesting ideas as to how to improve it.

The Mafia is the most efficient organizational structure known today. Modern societies have been attempting to fight it but with limited success.



Saturday, October 19, 2019

The inefficient layer between people and policy

Democracy in modern societies requires an establishment of a highly inefficient layer between people and policies, aptly called the "representatives." This idea started as a matter of convenience rather than necessity as policy selection, design and portfolio management could not have been done with the participation of the entire society. This assumes that technology does not exist for that to happen, which may not be the case anymore. Half the world's population, however, avoided this inefficient layer as autocrats with infinite wisdom simply prescribe the best policies for themselves and the people. In both cases, we seem to have ended up with the least desirable outcomes.

Autocrats, unfortunately, are humans, driven largely by crude objective functions that maximize their own utility. This is efficient, not for the people but for the autocrats. This is not an issue one could attempt to debate and solve. On the other side, it may be time to seriously think about returning to direct democracy. There is a number of reasons for this.

1. It is clear that the representatives have objective functions that are extremely narrow. Getting elected is the dominant requirement and hence a representative will never be able to pursue optimal policies for the people. Even those who have a "broad view," are only worried about a few counties or a single state in the US. As such, they will never be able to opt for optimal policies that maximize the utility of the system. The fact that the joking congressman from the Midwest and the senator from the South recently found such irony in the statements of the "most powerful man," on Earth, clearly indicates what is important for them. Getting elected again is the only thing.

2. Policy choices are too complex to be designed by a small group of people. As a self-proclaimed "most stable genius," once remarked, "nobody knew healthcare is this complex." Unknown to him, it was known to most people in the world, except himself. If a society has representatives who are either unaware or unable to internalize the complexity of policy choices, they will continue to make bad decisions for the people.

3. Policies have to be dynamic. They cannot be optimally executed in 4 or 6-year cycles. Fine adjustments to policy choices have to be effected continuously. They cannot be prevented by the vacation schedules of the "representatives."

4. Policies have to be long term optimal and have to be contemporaneously relevant. If the representatives are from an era that has no relevance, they should not attempt policy. Those who cannot spell "internet," will likely make the wrong choices for the next generation.

It is time we moved to direct democracy. The octogenarians who are trying to save society in the nation's capital are unlikely to do so.  As they proclaim the "greatest day for civilization," while letting the defenseless be slaughtered, they have to understand that people in the aggregate are not stupid.

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Is rationality real?

In financial markets where standard and divisible instruments are traded, it has been shown that rational outcomes are more likely. Even though individuals act irrationally most of the time, the aggregation of individuals, markets in general, tend toward rational outcomes. It appears that this is unlikely to be true in real markets. In a recent experiment in the US, three entities - one from radio, one from TV and one from a powerful position, have been able to create irrational responses from a very large population - perhaps as much as 50 million. All the "broadcasters," had to do is to repeat incorrect information over and over again. This has broad implications for rationality, policy and the future of humanity.

Rationality is not real in non-financial markets. Humans tend to clump, perhaps an evolutionary trait that kept small clans together. Early in homo-sapien progression, identifying and protecting the clan was dominant. Although early humans used more sophisticated attributes, the modern variety seems to have fallen into using surface heuristics such as the color of the skin, eyes, and hair. The fundamental reason three loudspeakers could lead a large population down an irrational rabbit hole is that they used ideas from hundreds of thousands of years ago. This is not something the "intellectuals," understand. It is not that there aren't rational solutions to the problems we face but rather if such choices align with the human brain created much before modern times. 

Real markets cannot assume rationality. Anybody who assumes rationality exists and design campaigns around that is bound to fail.



Tuesday, October 8, 2019

Next wave of Artificial Intelligence

As Artificial Intelligence matures over half a century, we may be fast approaching the limits of independent developments in software and hardware. Consulting companies seem to have embraced "data science," an ill-conceived and confusing area. Hardware companies, pressured to sell Silicon at any cost, have been creating Pizza sized "smart boxes." and "cognitive networks.". Not to be left behind, companies that specialize in "IoT," things that are on the internet, have been struggling to define how they are different. All of these, aided by massive hype, will likely destroy shareholder value in many ways.

There are two important avenues to make progress in this area. First, the hype created by consulting companies has to be tempered - data scientists do not add value, they typically destroy it. R and Python do not automatically add any value if the users of these somewhat obsolete tools do not understand the problem they are trying to solve. Most of the "new math," has been around for many decades, it is just that fast and cheap computers now have made the incompetent look smart.

It is time to focus on the assimilation of hardware and software to move the field forward. Lack of a theory of consciousness automatically means that humans are better off abandoning the idea of "modeling," the brain. However, we could learn a lot from observing the brain - it is an efficient learning system that gets tired and ages over time. No machine based on conventional computing architecture exhibits these qualities. This means that it is futile to throw more Silicon to a foreign design in an effort to make it act like the brain. In other words, intelligence is never artificial.

Human intelligence, albeit impressive, cannot be the end game. The inability of individual specimens to form a network has substantially restricted their ability to advance. So, replicating the human brain in silicon is not a good idea both because contemporary designs do not allow consciousness and the lack of network capabilities disallow scaling.

It's time software and hardware came together to advance AI.

Sunday, October 6, 2019

Individual's optimization problem

A human has a relatively simple optimization problem. Each specimen is expected to be alive less than 30K days,  divided into 3 horizons. In the first 10K days, they rely on somebody else to survive and live. In the next 10K days, they swim on their own to accumulate resources to take care of themselves for the remaining 10K days. This is a relatively simple optimization problem but humans are not generally impressed by simple ideas and solutions. For most of the 8 billion, irrational thoughts govern, such as optimizing beauty, hair, ego, wealth, tenure and research papers. Most miss the cliff and fly off the handle.

The human appears to be unable to optimize, given harsh constraints. Most run and run but never reach their goals. Some kill and pillage in an effort to climb the hill only to get vertigo as they reach the cliff. Most miss the simple objective function they are given and try to redefine it. As science accepts ignorance to be prevalent, as religion begins to recognize crime does not pay, as governments and societies realize the costs of electing crooked leaders, it is important to keep the 30K horizon in mind. How have humans reached this position?

Advanced human societies from 100K years ago were significantly more advanced. Most were not impressed by the color of their skin, hair and eyes. Most wanted to explore out of their comfortable habitats. Most shared resources across clans and societies. Most wanted to advance on their own and not by making others retreat. Most laughed and stopped laughing when they saw somebody else cry. They were humans and it appears that the modern version is not.

What happened to humans? Where have they gone?


Sunday, September 29, 2019

Diseases of organizations

Over the last hundred thousand years, humans have been successful in the diagnosis, management, treatment and even the cure of physical diseases emanating from external sources and entities. However, they seem to have largely failed to understand diseases of an endemic origin or those affecting the Central Nervous System (CNS). The latter, underdiagnosed and overtreated, is likely responsible for significant loss of life and mind. As an example, humans lose 1 out of 10,000 to suicide every year. The problem is increasingly better understood in the medical profession but with few identifiable solutions. Life sciences companies, in a rush toward economics, have not put enough focus on broad solutions.

More importantly, we have to also recognize that organizations - countries, companies, religions, and institutions - also suffer from both physical and mental diseases. Physical diseases of organizations, largely understood by executives, consultants, and bankers, are well treated. But diseases of the mind and psyche of organizations are not something that is diagnosed or treated. This is likely more detrimental to the success of the firm for strategies and tactics focused on shareholder value, albeit necessary, are not sufficient. The meager attempt at defining such heuristics as culture has not had any measurable effects.

Early diagnosis of mental diseases is critical for the success of organizations (1). Lack of diversity is an early symptom in this regard. This is driven by a simple internal heuristic that maximizes replication. Driven to the extreme, an organization could seek a sterilized structure, devoid of new ideas. Recent developments in the executive branch of the US are symptomatic of a loss of perspective in a closed system. This can only lead to bad decision-making or worse. An organization without a moral and ethical construct is something that may have entered an advanced mental disease state.  Unlike humans, who could be intervened with chemicals, organizations cannot be pulled back, once there.

Leaders of large and complex systems may have to spend more time on the mental health of their organizations. History tells us that mental health is likely more important than the strategies and tactics leaders mostly focus on.


(1) https://www.amazon.com/Flexibility-Flexible-Companies-Uncertain-World-ebook/dp/B008KZ6T6Q/ref=sr_1_1?keywords=gill+eapen&qid=1569810218&sr=8-1

Tuesday, September 24, 2019

Policy and politics

As 8 billion identical human specimens churn across the blue planet, separated by idiotic leaders, religions, science, countries, wealth and ignorance, it is clear that we are heading to predesigned exits. As the speculation of a holographic universe and multiverse mount, it is sad that humans will likely exit before finding the truth. There is no policy questions for the elected, just politics. The system their forefathers handed down in good faith, failed them. Autocrats with no respect for the failing system, democracy, shall rule again. Some of them deriving power from the color of their skin and others by the lack of it, some asserting superiority by belief and others by the lack of it, some by perceived knowledge and others by the lack of it, some in the East and others on the opposite side, some by predicting catastrophe and others by simply drawing bubbles, some by attracting attention and others by mocking it.

It is clear that the human is an inferior life form and she was never expected to survive. It is a miracle that she persisted for hundred thousand years. With crude and simple objective functions borrowed from single cell organisms, this complex life form has been attempting to differentiate without luck. As the scientists ponder the Fermi paradox, they are missing a simpler idea - no extraterrestrial intelligence will ever be interested in making  "contact," with the crudest construct that simply maximizes entropy.

Policy is far fetched - politics is more attaiable. As the cycle continues in predictable 4 and 6 year frequencies, electing those with no concern for humanity, we have to accept what we deserve.



Saturday, September 21, 2019

Infinity and Zero

Humans have had difficulties with two most important concepts in knowledge forever - infinity and zero. But most of their contemporary theories end up in either of these extremes. The best they could do so far is to rename them - singularity and all. Physics, apparently the foundation of it all, dies in the "singularity," not to mention the unknown 94%. Assigning undefined terms to an observation is not knowledge, it is fundamentally the definition of ignorance.

For over two thousand years, humans could not internalize the concept of zero. As they pile up PhD theses and Nobel prizes in ivy covered jails, they could not accept that they are ignorant. Spending billions on heavy steel to smash "particles," to prove the unprovable exist is not engineering, just ignorance. Cobbling strings together as if 10 dimensions are better than less is not knowledge, just pure ignorance. As they claim back holes apparently "radiate away," based on unprovable math, it is not knowledge, just speculation. As dark matter, energy and flow tickle the fancy of theorists and experimentalists alike, they have to understand that ignorance cannot be easily sugar coated.

Just as the contemporary politicians do not understand the emerging generation, those who seek tenures and publications do not understand that simple assertions driven by inexplicable math is not knowledge, it is just silly. If one needs an ever expanding particle zoo to "explain," the universe, or skills in naming the unknown and the unknowable, it is time to look back. There is no understanding Math without a coherent view of infinity and zero.

Humans, appear to progress backward in knowledge, ably aided by their "scientists" and "politicians."


Friday, September 6, 2019

The emerging Principal-Agent-Machine problem in the enterprise

Ever since the owners of organizations put agents in charge of operations, because of growing scale and perceived need for management specialization, shareholder value maximization has not been Pareto optimal for decision-makers. Much has been written and studied in this area with little effect on organizational structure, systems, and strategies (1). From the advent of computers, agents have been effective in claiming superiority over machines because of a lack of transparency for the owners. Although it is difficult to prove that machines possess superior decision-making capabilities in real companies and markets because of the lack of data from long and repeated experiments, it is clearly the case in financial markets.

With clear and consistent data in the financial markets, it has long been clear that financial intermediaries and traders have been destroying alpha, forever. With misguided and a confusing focus on "absolute returns," these agents have been successful in siphoning out wealth from owners in fees and expenses. An illustrious investment bank seems to have recently recognized that "trading," done by humans creates no value for its clients. Machines are infinitely better as they can act based on complete information without bias. Decision-making, thus, is better delegated to machines.

In real markets, this is equally applicable. Because of high diversity in types of decisions and long durations to outcomes, agents have long claimed superior capabilities compared to machines. This is true at all levels of organizations (1) and in every function. Since distributed owners are unable to understand the inner workings of complex organizations, agents simply claimed they are better without any contention. This has significant negative effects on the economy and its potential to grow. A structural change that culminates in the reassignment of human responsibilities in the enterprise may be afoot.

The emerging principal-agent-machine problem is real for modern organizations. Institutionalization of agents since the industrial revolution has run its course. Owners may finally have an opportunity to break this stalemate.

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Decision-making is different from finding cats and dogs

As AI moves toward the peak of the hype cycle, it is important to recognize that decision-making in an enterprise is distinctly different from training machines to differentiate between cats and dogs. Most of the field is focused on deep neural networks, convoluted and otherwise, to recognize text, pictures, audio clips and patterns. This is certainly interesting but an extrapolation from these techniques to improving decision-making in the enterprise is fraught with danger. As companies find that enterprise productivity is inversely proportional to the number of data scientists they have on staff, reality is beginning to sink in.

As technology and consulting companies try to mop up the last remaining "data scientist," on Earth, it may be interesting to take a measurement of how enterprise productivity is related to them. Data science, an ill-defined field, has been the latest hype that led many companies down rabbit holes with very little to show. Although there are interesting developments in Artificial Intelligence - in robotics and autonomous equipment, much of these are better called expert systems as they do not learn from data but work on coded heuristics. The stars in the field do not prefer the old terms such as "expert systems," and "neural networks," as they believe they have reinvented mathematics. This is symptomatic of a field beginning to go off the rails as the investors have unrealistic expectations of the "second coming," of AI.

Let's not throw out the baby with the bath water. It is just that the baby has a lot of growing up to do. Decision-making takes a lot more than supervised or unsupervised machine learning. Educational institutions do a disservice to the next generation by blindly following the latest trends and spawning "analytics courses," for everybody. The question educators should ask is whether such programs are leading to people who can take advantage of the technology to enhance enterprise value. To do this, they have to first understand how value is created and that is a lot harder than cranking the supercomputer in the cloud.

Artificial Intelligence has a lot of potential, but not in the hands of those who believe it is about games, computers, deep mind and deeper mathematical techniques. The beauty of mathematics is that it is fully democratized. However, to add value to an organization, it has to be combined with many other attributes.

Friday, July 26, 2019

Closed loop

As Asian countries send back western garbage to the country of origin, it may be time to think about recycling differently. From water to plastic, humans have been conditioned to think that the cost of consumption is close to zero. But, unfortunately it is not. In the absence of zero cost energy, perhaps hundreds of years away, consumption of anything is costly for the individual and society. It is time we imposed closed loop as a constraint on all consumption.

Closed loop is a necessary condition for survival for humanity. From inception, humans knew this as there is sufficient evidence that ancient societies implemented closed loop systems, perhaps because of lack of availability of critical ingredients. As they grew richer, lazier and greedy, their actions have started to substantially push costs outside their life horizons. This free rider problem coupled with ignorance has reached a critical state. Unless we figure out how to recycle every unit of consumption, garbage is going to pile up in the neighborhoods and oceans. It is time the best minds in the country focused on this problem - AI and space travel could wait, but garbage cannot. Every county in the country may need to be forced to come up with solutions to implement closed loop within their localities. Every time a drop of water is used and a bottle is opened, the county has to prove a closed loop condition, i.e., the consumed unit is  recycled within a closed loop. Technologies exist but not the knowledge and the will to implement them.

Perhaps returning garbage may provide us the impetus to solve this problem for ever.



Thursday, July 25, 2019

Shape of the brain

Research from the University of Chicago (1) that demonstrates brain scans that show distinct differences between criminals who have committed homicide and those who have not, is interesting. If generalizable, such an observation could provide early indications for behavioral health issues. Mental health, often overlooked and treated separately from physical health harbors significant risks for individuals and society. It is a powerful early diagnostic and until healthcare policies treat an individual holistically and not attempt to segment interventions in convenient and legacy packages, we will continue to slip down the quality to cost ratio.

The complex organ humans carry on their shoulders that is speculated to be a quantum computer, is likely the origin of most disease states. As life sciences companies try to tease out meager therapeutic indexes in an overwhelming ocean of placebo effect, it is clear that no therapy can be effective if it is unable to influence the brain. This energy hungry and inefficient mechanism is finely balanced on a knife edge. It is actually surprising we find billions of properly working samples around the world, given the complex design and high maintenance requirements. Prescriptive medicine has laid down strong demarcations between what can be physically intervened with and those less so. Attempts at "curing," a malfunctioning brain using the same principles of crude chemical interventions have led many astray.

If we can understand the brain electronically and magnetically, it could open up a new avenue for diagnosis and treatment. However, it will require educational institutions, providers and manufacturers to work together. But then, that remains to be a dream.

(1) https://news.uchicago.edu/story/scientists-studied-brains-more-800-prisoners-heres-what-they-found

Sunday, July 21, 2019

HOLiCOW (1)

As Hubble turns in his grave, the younger cosmologists and astrophysicists have been making measurements with the latest toys they are afforded. There are doctoral theses to be published and defended, papers to be churned out, tenures and the ever eluding Nobel prizes to be secured. So, clearly better instruments, measurements and debates will help. And none of the budding brains will ever admit that the theory they are banking on is utterly wrong.

The universe was shrinking to a big crunch a few short decades ago and now, it appears to be "certainly," expanding with ensuing debates on the rate of expansion. They send telescopes and satellites that can measure all sorts of data into space, and perhaps that is the problem. When one gets too much data, it becomes difficult to see noise and given the inherent bias to find something and to confirm and conform, most of the latest crop of scientists take the easiest path possible. The fact that they are finding conflicting data is no surprise but what they have to understand is that no new theory will emanate from data. It takes imagination and pure talent, not the type that is built up in the quadrangle by systematic education. In fact, that will assure that none of these geniuses will ever find the truth.

Physics, based on century old theories and an abundance of inexplicable observations by experimentalists may need a reset. Unfortunately, the contemporary educational systems will not allow that.

(1) https://www.sciencemag.org/news/2019/07/debate-intensifies-over-speed-expanding-universe



Sunday, July 14, 2019

Cricket wins again

As England lifts the 2019 world cup in cricket for the first time, the fans of the sport around the world, approaching 3 billion, immerse in joy and sadness, depending on which side one was on. But that does not matter as the game wins hands down for those at the home of cricket and those around the world glued to televisions and short wave radios witnessed an absolute gem of a game. The game has lifted the psyche of the weak and the weary, the quiet and humble, the mathematicians and ballet watchers, the ones escaping boredom and those who do not have time to be bored, the historians and those who recently arrived, the islands that suffered from terrorism and those who attempt to pull themselves up from decade long wars, the ones who are reaching for each other's throats and those who remain far from each other, those who are exiting and those who do not want to, the gun less and those less so, men and women, and everybody else.

Such is the power of twenty yards of dirt and a white ball that travels at 100 miles/hour that it brought tears, laughter and pin drop silences to an oval shaped real estate at the heart of London. There two countries clashed, neither of which has won the cup yet, for pride and enjoyment. Those from the South, trying to wash away the scars of recent horrors in their beautiful island, wanted it bad as it had escaped them just 4 years ago. The larger host, with an inexplicable absence on top of the table in a dozen attempts, had to arrive. The gravity of the occasion was palpable. As the drama unfolded in unpredictable English weather, as the umpires revealed themselves to be purely human, as luck began to make a significant influence on eventual outcome, hearts were broken and unbounded joy erupted. As the winner and the loser thanked each other, it was clear we have a sport for the future, where winning is not everything and losing is just the start.

As we await a world that is civilized and humble - a world that understands there is more to life than ego, power and showmanship, we do have a sport that shows signs of how to reach it.

Saturday, July 13, 2019

The inverted U of closed biological systems

Many have been worried about the existential threats to humanity – asteroids, climate change and ignorant leaders. However, there could be a more systemic and possibly unavoidable threat as long as Earth and its inhabitants continue to be a closed system. It is difficult to hypothesize based on a single observation of the emergence of life in the universe but the theory of evolution appears unassailable. Just as the accepted big bang theory in cosmology that seems to explain a lot after the point of origination but not the event itself, evolution seems to explain most observed biological specimens and their interactions but not the origination of life itself.

The accepted principle of evolution – the survival of the fittest – seems to be fine-tuned to optimize in short horizons. This is understandable as the survival of a species depends on adaptation to the present conditions and not a set of forecasted and uncertain conditions in the future. Thus, evolution creates fitter biological entities in the short run. It has led to more complex entities over time, the reasons of which are less clear. It is possible that the process is driven by underlying laws of physics, that has an arrow of complexity in biological entities aligned with that of time. This may be a side effect of unilaterally increasing entropy in the universe.

Thus, biological entities on Earth have been increasing in complexity. However, more complex entities also seem more fragile – with single cell organisms showing highest level of robustness and the latest iteration in complexity, the human, showing the lowest. In the past, we see several cycles where catastrophic events eliminated complex entities and returned the system to a much simpler state, albeit with differing initial conditions. This implies two things – closed biological systems in steady state will create more and more complex specimens and unavoidable and random catastrophic events will wipe out the more complex members and return the system to a simpler state at regular intervals.

Closed biological systems, thus, may have an inverted U curve on complexity and that may repeat over time. Humans, arguably the most complex in the contemporary system, could be primed for extinction in any large event. What have not been observed in the past are self-destructive internally generated events that humans appear to be very capable of initiating. So, the probability of cataclysmic events now is a lot higher than the past.  The laws of physics may be driving complexity of entities in a closed system higher over time, the laws of nature may be building complex but more fragile systems over time and in the presence of a catastrophic event, internal or external, the most complex entities are removed returning the system to a simpler state with different initial conditions.

The Earth may be due for a reset. This could also provide an alternative explanation for the Fermi Paradox.

Wednesday, July 3, 2019

Weird stars and aliens

As astrophysicists find weird observations, the fallback position for an explanation appears to be the presence of aliens (1). It is about time, as green women have so far failed to show themselves in spite of the space agency's assertion that they would be found before 2020. So, it is important to speculate about the presence of aliens on anything one could not explain by status quo theories and expectations. What the "smart humans," appear to be missing is that civilizations that could run circles around nearby hydrogen furnace would be so technologically advanced that either they make contact or hide from the low life.

The inexplicable dimming and brightening of HD 139139 (1) do not appear to fit with what humans have found and know. Hence they argue there could be aliens there as the first instinctual reaction. Ego and ignorance have the same fingerprint for those harboring the former will never let go of what they thought they knew and those suffering from the latter will never ask questions. Such is the state of science that new entrants to the field shall be brainwashed to believe in what is "known," and trained to fit observations to the accepted theory. It will be anathematic to challenge the status quo as doctoral defenses, tenures, and even careers will be lost in the courtyard, surrounded by ivy walls.

The two axes, the desire to prove life exists elsewhere as proclaimed by those "in the know," and the requirement to fit data to theory (and not dream of a different theory), hold humanity back. As science deteriorates to a level of comedy and speculation, there are real costs to humanity. Sending a billion $ "dragonfly," to the famous moon of Saturn is not an accomplishment, just a revelation that technology has not advanced enough to delegate the source as lifeless. Shooting robots at planets and satellites is not really science, it is engineering gone bad.

It is an intellectual zoo. Most do not want to let go of a theory that is over a century old. And, they are surrounded by engineers, standing ready to prove anything that is hypothesized - aliens and all.

(1) https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/astronomers-dont-know-what-to-make-of-this-incredibly-bizarre-star/

Saturday, June 29, 2019

Water, water everywhere, but…


The recent drought in India that has resulted in one of the major cities, Chennai, effectively running out of water just as Cape Town did last year, is a cause for concern. The proposed solutions appear to focus on water availability and they are likely misguided. The blue planet has plenty of water, but it is brine. So, it is not lack of water that humans should focus on but rather how to remove salt and other impurities from this abundantly available resource on Earth.

Just like many other contemporary problems, this could also be solved by cheap energy. With an efficient Hydrogen furnace in close proximity, an advanced civilization would have reached technology that can emit zero cost energy. Unfortunately, humans are still clinging on to the concept of unearthing and burning highly toxic Carbon for their tactical needs. For humanity to advance, it has to set a goal on close to zero cost energy production as that will solve many problems threatening their very existence, including rising temperatures.

However, policy-makers and politicians are not sufficiently schooled on how the complex habitat react in non-linear ways and why feel-good actions are ineffective. For example, reducing greenhouse gas emissions from the current levels will have no measurable effect on outcomes. That window has been closed a long time ago. So, all the noise around policies and accords world over is just that, noise. Of course, it makes many feel good that they are doing “something.”

The more important thing to focus on is technology – how to terraform Earth back to its original condition. There are plenty of ideas available but it will take resources and a focus on research and development. And, R&D should move into exotic and untried options, not conventional ones to simply suck the bad stuff out and sequester it underneath. On a planet suffering from plate tectonics and idiotic human actions, it is unlikely that the bad stuff will stay down for long.

Advanced R&D is sorely needed not only to mend a broken planet but also to assure its inhabitants have life-giving fresh water forever.

Sunday, June 23, 2019

Quantum pipe-dream

Quantum computing (1), possibly the only leap humans could take to reach many of their overblown expectations in Artificial Intelligence and elsewhere, is a pipe-dream. Humans are likely to find extra-terrestrial life before they will be able to parade sufficient number of q-bits to make practical computing. And, the ETs have been hiding so effectively from the space agency that they are unlikely to show up for many decades.

To make quantum computing possible, educational institutions need to redesign their curricula bottoms up. Spending years of learning Newtonian and even relativistic Physics does not lead to insights in the quantum world. The fact that most gravitate toward the "knowable," perhaps because of the ease of achieving doctoral degrees and tenures, does not mean that it is the right way to go. Meanwhile, they are building bigger and longer tunnels all around the world, smashing particles against each other to find new ones, listening to gravity waves by hanging mirrors and in their spare time, shooting robots at nearby planets and satellites to find the ever-elusive ETs. All of these activities are misguided. The latest theory postulates complete ignorance of humans and it is just that most do not want to think about it.

Humility could help humans reach the next stage. Backfilling darker matter and energy to hang onto to the contemporary faulty theories is symptomatic of the deterministic era. As the particle zoo grows faster than popping corn kernels in a popcorn maker and the water bodies way below the Earth's surface sit waiting for the particles that are unlikely to show up, humans have to admit ignorance.

It is time to wipe the slate clean and start-over. Initial conditions set a century ago may provide useful guidance.


(1) https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/observations/the-problem-with-quantum-computers/

Friday, June 21, 2019

Revisiting AI for Policy

Policy making, a complex activity that needs to consider large amounts of disparate data and optimize within constraints in the long and short run, is likely better tackled by Artificial Intelligence. Humans, let alone politicians, are notorious for their unsubstantiated biases, conflicts of interest and lack of decision-making abilities in the presence of uncertain data. Machines appear to be significantly better in this realm. A world in which machines make policy choices is likely better than the status-quo, democracy and autocracy included, for decisions made on subsets of data with bias will always be less effective compared to those based on the entire information content, without bias.

More practically, nations may need to deploy AI in the policy making realm, to at least augment decision-making. At the very least, it may reveal how inefficient human policy-makers are, how out of touch they are from emerging information and how they are destroying a world, the next generation will inherit. Such is the promise of AI in decision and policy making, it is almost trivial for machines to reach optimum choices, far superior to what their masters could accomplish. More importantly, machines are able to consider interconnected decisions into the future and use optimum control to reach best current decisions. It will be a far cry from the octogenarians in capitol hill, unable to read and understand the policy choices they are voting on.

Countries that embrace AI for policy could be the future powerhouses. In this regime, scale does not matter as the smallest and biggest countries in the world could access the same technology. In the limit, such an optimization process may make contemporary segmentation schemes - religions, countries and languages - irrelevant. If so, AI could manage by exception, raising red flags at the right points in time for human actions and guiding humanity to a better place. It could suggest best paths for innovation that will reduce downside risk and maximize upside potential. It could maximize the value of humanity and its fickle environment.

We are augmenting human decision-making with AI in every realm. It is time we provided the same for clueless politicians.

Saturday, June 8, 2019

Free Will is Real (1), Really?


A recent philosophical argument that seems to hypothesize that free will is real (1) because of the "existence of alternative possibilities, choice and control over actions," may be faulty. As the philosopher attempts to make a distinction between reductionism and "intentional agency," he seems to have fallen into a "reductionist trap."

Both physics and philosophy suffer from the same basic issues. Decisions, choices, observations, particles and systems do not stand independently. There are spatial and temporal connections among them, disallowing hypotheses based on singular instances. It is not that a human being is making a choice among possibilities that are indeterminate but rather she is forced into a choice by optimizing a sequence of interconnected decisions. Thus, apparent flexibility and control observed at a decision point is an illusion. By dynamic programming, the decision-maker reaches an optimal choice (as defined as utility maximizing for her). That decision is determined mathematically and not by choice.

Physics, now fully infused with determinism and reductionism in spite of a century old theory that shows nothing is deterministic and philosophy, always struggling to prove what has not been defined yet, are both unproductive avenues for humans. They are certainly academically rich but neither in their current posture will be able to advance thinking. To move to a different regime, we need simplification and humility and a macro understanding that humans may be hypothesizing based purely on illusion.

Free Will is Real, Really?

(1) https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/cross-check/free-will-is-real/

Thursday, June 6, 2019

The trouble with conservation

A recent article (1) articulates how well intentioned conservation policies could have unintended effects. From inception, humans have been attempting to shape the environment, first to their own tactical benefits and then for undefined strategic goals. Humans generally deliver bad outcomes to a plethora of life designs surrounding them and themselves. They like control and satisfaction emerging from their efforts to destroy and then attempting to mend the greenhouse they are part of.

Conservation, the darling of millennials and those following them, could turn out be a bad thing. Those engaged in these sentiments also do not like "markets," and would like to set everything "right." What they may be missing is that there is a cost to playing with nature and humans do  not appear to be smart enough to predict the effects of singular actions on a highly non-linear and connected system.

Good intentions are necessary but not sufficient for better outcomes. More importantly, the idea of manipulating a complex non-linear system with linear policy choices is fraught with danger. The universe appears to be anchored on "markets," as illustrated by evolution. However, it is too crude and thought experiments in the direction of universal optimization may be apt. But ironically, it does not mean that such a state can be reached by incremental manipulation of the status-quo.

Stuck in a trough, humans appear to have bad instincts. Most of them want to climb out of the hole but the policy choices they impart are likely sub optimal and may pull them further down.

(1) https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/when-one-protected-species-kills-another-what-are-conservationists-to-do1/?redirect=1

Sunday, May 26, 2019

36,000 days and optimization within a catastrophic constraint

Humans have a very interesting mathematical problem. They have to optimize within a harsh time constraint. Although the endowment is not known, it is increasingly predictable. Even though the range is broad - from 0 to say, 36,000 days, the variance has been going down, thanks to modern medicine. But most humans sub optimize. Materialism, ignorance, hunger for power and a variety of other value destroying metrics have misguided nearly 100 billion samples from inception.

The time afforded to a human appears limited. Irrational thinking has led most astray, some believing "God," is going to save her and others trying to create "legacy," in the absence of such an entity. It is unclear what a random individual is trying to maximize. For half the contemporary population, it is all about maximizing the probability of higher utility in after life. For the rest, it is more complex. As the seconds wind down to the inescapable event horizon, most humans run for tactical metrics without any value.

What would human 2.0 feel like? For her, contribution to society will be supreme for anything else seems meaningless. As the event horizon is specified without any flexibility, it would be important to contribute before she crosses the inescapable boundary. It is counter-intuitive as it is not that a human has to contribute to the perpetuation of a species, that appears less interesting, but rather that her role in the larger context, has meaning. It is meaning for society we are after and that is likely too conceptual for many.

Human 2.0 - If we ever get there, it could be a fantastic world with a simpler objective function, something that maximizes happiness not wealth, something that maximizes knowledge not ego, something that maximizes society not the individual, something that maximizes ideas, not the mere description of them, and something that maximizes empathy not the portrayal of the same.

Friday, May 24, 2019

Drifting apart

A recent article (1) hypothesizes that relational quantum mechanics (RQM) suggests physics might be a science of perceptions, not observer-independent reality. More generally, every individual is living in her own world of reality, and the "notion that we share the same physical reality is an illusion." For over a century, quantum mechanics has been throwing a wrench into simplicity and now it is possible that "perceived physicality is merely a representation of surrounding mental environment, brought into being by an act of observation."


Humans are in a tough spot. On one hand, they theorize about reality and rationality and on another, they find that reality is a function of the individual's observations. There is no physical reality and what an individual observes becomes the reality for her. It is conceptually elegant and it may explain why the 8 billion almost identical specimens of human genome complex across the world see things differently. It also means that systems that seek consensus, such as democracy, may be obsolete.


Eight billion parallel universes, each of which catering to an individual, are difficult to fathom. If each individual has a customized physical reality then it is likely that humans will drift apart from each other over time. Just as the universe expands into nothingness, human societies could fragment to such an extent that islands of individuals are the only available choice. 

A random assemblage of complex molecules, the human, apparently rising from a quantum phenomenon, is constrained by her observations and customized reality. She can never understand phenomena outside the reality afforded to her. And, that explains most of the ills of contemporary societies.


(1) https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/observations/the-universe-as-cosmic-dashboard/?redirect=1


Saturday, May 18, 2019

Quantum health

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, May 11, 2019

"Shoddy simulation," asserts Mario

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, May 4, 2019

Quantum initiative: Lifting humanity from mediocrity

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

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

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

Humans are a funny lot.


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


Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Freedom and the value of options for humans

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

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

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

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

Sunday, April 28, 2019

Bypassing the infrastructure


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

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

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

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


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


Sunday, April 21, 2019

Artificial Intelligence and the slowing of Time

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, April 3, 2019

Information realism and economic systems

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

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

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

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


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

Sunday, March 31, 2019

The hype of AI

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, March 30, 2019

Alzheimer’s - we fail again!

Recent news (1) that high profile experiments, targeting a solution for the famous disease, Alzheimer's, has failed again is sobering. It clearly indicates that life sciences companies are on the wrong track to improve a condition, most dread. It is also a constant reminder that systemic problems cannot be solved by treating symptoms or tactical observations. The engineering view of medicine has run its course and it has been very successful in fighting opponents that can be clearly identified. But now, a system failing because of overuse, cannot be mended by such crude methodologies.

Immortality is prohibited by contemporary Physics. So, the optimization problem narrows to maximizing utility within an afforded time horizon. Humans have been naturally optimistic, an evolutionary advantage. They have been attempting to extend life rather than optimizing within constrains. Therein lies the paradox for healthcare. As artificial intelligence progresses, it is conceivable that a human could have reasonable estimates of life span and disease incidences, at birth. For the first time in history, we may be in a position to focus on optimization of utility rather than extending a highly uncertain horizon.

It is clear that the human hardware deteriorates in predictable ways. Most of it appears to be related to plumbing, an inability to remove waste at an optimum rate. From the brain to the kidneys, waste removal efficiency seems to decline over time, just as in any physical system. We may need to accept this as an unbreakable law and find ways to slow down the deterioration. In this context, research in the direction of cure for auto-immune diseases may be misplaced. What could be more important is predicting the likelihood of disease early and slowing its progression.

Artificial Intelligence could have a significant impact on human utility and happiness. If one can get over the hype and confusion, it will become clear that AI could provide useful guidance for humans to best utilize their limited time in the universe.

(1) https://www.sciencemag.org/news/2019/03/another-major-drug-candidate-targeting-brain-plaques-alzheimer-s-disease-has-failed

Thursday, March 28, 2019

F-Theory, Occam's razor and ignorance

Physicists are funny people - they like complexity and large numbers. They recently found F-theory (not sure what "F" stands for except for the obvious possible guesses), that demonstrates a "quadrillion ways, string theory could make the universe." That is impressive and could provide rich fodder for PhD theses and "peer reviewed," publications for a century to come. But does it advance knowledge? It is less clear.

Complexity is a problematic concept. As the true geniuses of the yesteryear correctly emphasized, "God does not play dice," and unless she has a quantum computer in the basement, she will not embark on a journey that has "quadrillion," ways to make the universe. Large numbers could be ego boosting behind the ivy walls but it has no practical use. It is probably time for those attempting to formulate the next exotic "theory of everything," to get out of their windowless offices and smell the roses.

There is no problem that has been solved by increasing complexity. Those who advanced thinking always preferred simplicity. Knowledge is clearly inversely correlated with complexity. Even the money men, who typically do not know much, seem to have gravitated to this universal law. So, why are we here at this point in time? One possible answer is that engineering heavy education has churned out engineers who want to measure "reverberations," not much larger than the size of a proton or mathematicians, enamored by "large numbers." Even the business guys seem to have learned bad habits as most want to use, "big data."

Complexity is utility diminishing. Theories that push in that direction is utterly useless.

(1) https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/found-a-quadrillion-ways-for-string-theory-to-make-our-universe/

Tuesday, March 26, 2019

The era of bioelectronics

The most complex electromagnetic and chemical system known, the human body, so far has substantially avoided manipulation by electromagnetic means. This may be changing. Recent news (1) about a transistor design that enables integrated, real-time sensing and simulation of signals from living organisms, could lead to better diagnostics and treatment. Low cost Silicon has impeded innovation and applications in non-conventional substrates. There have been few biocompatible designs for the lack of appropriate materials and incentives.

Chemicals have been easier and in the presence of many low hanging fruits, researchers did not spend much time on alternatives. As they solved simpler problems, auto-immune diseases start to dominate the human architecture. The heart-breaking failure of a recent drug for Alzheimer's (2) is symptomatic of the end of the chemical era. The brain likely responds better to electromagnetic stimuli but contemporary pharmaceutical companies are ill-equipped to pursue this line of thought.

Simple diseases such as Hypertension and Type 2 Diabetes, that command over half of the healthcare costs in the log run, could be positively influenced by better monitoring and treatment mechanisms that are integrated into the body. CHF and other Cardiovascular events could be picked up earlier and intervened optimally by the same mechanisms. As the sun gets hotter and nastier, embedded devices in the skin could shield the body from harmful rays. Organ failures could be arrested, nutrition deficiencies could be remedied, better food and treatment regimens could be suggested and humanity could possibly move to a more advanced health regime.

It is exciting. Integrated bioelectronics with embedded artificial intelligence could be a game changer.

(1) http://advances.sciencemag.org/content/5/2/eaau7378
(2) https://www.cnn.com/2019/03/21/health/alzheimers-drug-trial-failure-aducanumab-bn/index.html


Sunday, March 24, 2019

The fallacy of experimental Physics

Experiments, albeit useful from a practical perspective, have never advanced theory. The Hubble constant is being pushed, pulled and tweaked by engineers and physicists as if that is going to lead somewhere. The "standard model," was dead on arrival. It is just that tenure seeking academics and measurement driven engineers, will not let it go. Now, the "cosmological crisis," (1) apparently is going to propel the theory to the next level.

It is unlikely. Theory emanates from imagination and not from "precise," measurements. Theory is about the unknown and not the incremental. Theory is about scope and not scale. Theory is about emergence and not process. Theory is about mindless excursions and not planned travel. Theory is about finding connections among the disconnected. Theory is about freedom and not programs. Theory is not about travelling to adjacent planets but conceptualizing what may be beyond, Theory is not exploration of the tangible but the unknown. Theory does not require heavy steel, just paper and pencil.

Humanity waits for the arrival of the next genius. For over a century, experimentalists roamed the planet with nothing to show. It showcases why the existence of a singular mind at a space-time coordinate defines the trajectory for knowledge.

We may be stuck. Our more and more "precise," measurements will asymptotically reach complete ignorance.



(1) https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/best-yet-measurements-deepen-cosmological-crisis/

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

AI and the weakest link


The recent debacle in aircraft design is a constant reminder that software engineers and “data scientists,” excited by the possibilities, could create havoc in many different industries. In transportation, as autopilot systems get smarter, they could take over virtually everything a vehicle does, terrestrial or otherwise. What the designers seem to have missed recently is that an aircraft is a conglomeration of data transmitting mechanical sensors and sophisticated software. Traditional engineering education would have informed the designers that the system is only as good as the weakest link, but the younger ones may have skipped those courses. Here, faulty data from an old technology may have confused the brain. There are multiple issues to consider here.

First, the design of systems needs to be holistic. This is easier said than done as a complex vehicle is designed in parts and assembled. Teams who work on these components may have different skill sets and the overall blueprint may not consider the biases in designs created by separate teams. For example, if the brain is designed with little flexibility to discard faulty data, the expectation would be that it is unlikely. However, if the data is emerging from mechanical devices, with no embedded intelligence, it is almost a certainty that faulty data will arrive at some point in the senor’s life. Two recent aircraft failures in Asia and Africa and the one much earlier over the Atlantic seem to have been caused by bad sensors sending bad data to a “sophisticated AI agent,” with little capability to differentiate between good and bad data. So, either the sensors and other mechanical devices in the system need to be smarter so as to recognize their own fallibilities or the central brain has to be able to recognize when it is fed bad stuff. There is a lull in engineering education that has moved in the direction of high specialization, without an overall understanding of systems design and risk. This is going to surface many issues across industries from transportation, manufacturing to healthcare.

Second, the human is still the best-known risk mitigator, with her brain fine-tuned over the millennia to sense and avert danger. In transportation, disengagement has to be a fundamental aspect of design. Although it could be tempting to sit back while an aircraft takes off and lands or to read “Harry Potter,” while behind the wheels of an autonomous terrestrial vehicle, these actions are ill-advised. The human has to expect the machine to ill behave and be at the very least ready to receive complete disengagement at any point in time. Excited engineers may think otherwise, but we are nowhere close to fail-safe AI. Let’s not kid ourselves – writing code is easy but making it work all the time, is not. Educational institutions will do a disservice for the next generation of engineers if they impart the idea that AI is human devoid.

Transportation is just one industry. The problems witnessed, span across every industry today. For example, in healthcare, AI is slowly percolating but the designers have to remember that there are weak links there too. Ironically, in the provider arena, the weak link is the human, who “inputs,” data into aging databases, sometimes called Electronic Medical Records (EMR) systems. Designed by engineers, with no understanding of healthcare, a couple of decades ago, they are receptacles of errors that can bring emerging AI and decision systems to their knees. If one designs AI driven decision systems in these environments, she has to be acutely aware of the uncertainty in inputs caused by humans, who are notorious in making mistakes with computer keyboards (or even voice commands) and database containers designed with old technologies. So, designs here need to systematically consider disengagement when the AI agent is unable to decipher data.

In manufacturing, led by data collection enthusiasts from the 90s, older database technologies, sometimes elegantly called, “Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP), systems, dominate. They have been “warehousing,” data for decades with little understanding of what it means. Now, “Hannah,” and her cousins, seem to have gotten religion but again, there is a problem here. Cutting and dicing data to make pretty pictures for decision-makers, does nothing to improve decision-making or to mitigate risk. The weak link here is the technology, designed and maintained by those who believe businesses are run by the collection, aggregation, and reporting of data. Unfortunately, successful businesses have moved on.

AI is a good thing, but not in the absence of logical thinking and systems design. Intelligence is not about the routine, but the ability to act when encountered the “non-routine.” As the software and hardware giants sell their wares, in the cloud and elsewhere, they have to understand the perils of bad and rushed technology. It is great to fool a restaurant by simulated voice, it is great to demonstrate that “machine learning,” on Twitter will create a racist and it is great to tag and collate music fast, but none of these activities is going to propel humanity to the next level. Being good in search, operating system design or good hardware, do not automatically make these companies, “experts” in an area that is erroneously called, Artificial Intelligence. There is nothing artificial about intelligence. Machines have the potential to be a lot more “intelligent,” than humans. If anybody has any doubt, just take a look at the nation’s capital and imagine a scenario of replacing the policy-makers with dumb machines. They will likely perform infinitely better. For the rest of us, the reality is still an important concept and there, we have to make sure the developments are in a beneficial direction.

Intelligence, ultimately, is about decision-making. Humans have been pretty good at it, barring a few narcissistic and mentally ill specimens in full view. They had to survive the dicey world they were handed when they climbed down the tree and stood upright in the African Savannah for the first time. Bad decision-making would have instantly eliminated them. They survived, albeit with less than 10K specimens through a harsh bottleneck. Later, single-cell organisms almost wiped them out on multiple occasions but they survived again. Now, they encounter a technology discontinuity, something that is so foreign to their psyche, the dominant reaction has to be, rejection. And, for the most part, it is. But their brains have morphed into a quantum computer, able to think about possibilities. This could be their Achilles heel, but then, life is not worth living without taking risks.

Educational institutions, still chasing the latest trends to make money, have the ultimate responsibility to get this right. To bring humanity to a level 1 society, we need to move past our instincts, created by tactical objective functions driven by food and sex and embrace intelligence. It is likely that machines will lead humanity out of its perils.