Scientific Sense Podcast

Friday, August 23, 2013

Buggy OS

The rise of humans from available alternative biological systems has been ably aided by a robust Operating System (OS) design. The hardware, sported by the species, was never a head-turner, showing fragility, clumsiness and lack of power to move fast, climb high or lift heavy. However, the installed OS, compensated for these deficiencies, by allowing efficient use of memory, learning and pattern finding. However, on the downside, the OS appears buggy, thanks to ad-hoc evolutionary processes and random mutations.

For starters, at the core, logic processing appears volatile and seems to be prone to errors. To make matters worse, built in learning and error-correction facilities can and does go haywire, producing unexpected and unreliable outcomes. Since these issues are seen across the entire cross-section of humans, they can only be attributed to the OS itself and not the acquired applications. Early adoption of the next generation OS, perhaps thrust into the market by nature without sufficient testing, seems to have provided an edge early but the tight coupling of high level (but rather premature functionality) ended up in a less robust long-term design.

Humans may be sufficiently limited by a buggy and outdated OS. Newer and more powerful applications – education, culture and art - are unlikely to make a fundamental difference, if this is the case.

Saturday, August 17, 2013


Recent news that physicists at ETH-Zurich have successfully teleported a large number of qbits, albeit over a short distance, is welcome news for practical quantum computing and telecommunications. It appears that we are fast approaching a possible jump in the application of science, with a theoretical foundation laid down nearly a century ago – something that engineers and technologists have been waiting for many decades. Teleportation and quantum computing have the highest potential to transform the human psyche, currently lost in meaningless wars and less meaningful experiments.

Incrementalism, a disease of modern human societies, has been eating into the potential of humans, substantially lowered by ignorance, conformation, racism and politics. Only a leap in technology that can flatten the ego, wealth and timidity, has any chance of transforming the status-quo. This will not come easy as conventional education and contemporary industry favor less risky mediocrity – most propped up by connections, campaign contributions and charitable donations with tax-breaks. In this toxic pool of influence and 15-minute fame on TED talks, humanity has been held hostage by the blind and the dumb.

Only a leap in technology has any chance of freeing the mind and visualizing the future.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

The puzzle

Who solves the puzzle of life, who tries and retries, who fails and starts all over again? Who understands and then forgets? Who begins and ends? Who thinks and dreams? Who starts and then stops, abruptly? Who catches the inevitable and drops it later? Who knows and is then left with the inexplicable? Who predicts and then is challenged by the unpredictable? Who sees and then is blinded by the light? Who listens and then waits for the inaudible?

Who faces adversity and grows from it? Who sees further than what can be seen? Who hears the sound of future and dreams again? Who understands the present and fight for the future? Who knows the unknowable? Who smiles and waits for the unexpected fortune? Who takes a turn and tumbles higher? Who waits for a better tomorrow and forgets a worse yesterday?

It is an interesting puzzle.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Suspended knowledge

A recent paper in the journal of Physical Review Letters, showing a new analysis of the Cosmic Microwave Background Radiation and hypothesizing how the constructs from the existing model – such as dark energy and Neutrinos – could be sufficient to explain them, is symptomatic of the common experimental problem, in which results almost always tend toward ex. ante expectations. This is now common in most scientific disciplines including Physics, Medicine, Economics and others.

Experiments have been useful for most of the scientific pursuit of humans. However, we are fast approaching a regime that has a critical level of knowledge that cannot be improved by experiments. Empiricism and experimentalism have contributed significantly to the acceleration of knowledge in the past. However, the alarming rise seen in confirmation bias in experimental results, across scientific disciplines also point to a level of knowledge saturation bounded by experiments. This is akin to an environmental change and if the human brain is not able to adapt to this new state of knowledge, it stands high risk of stagnation, or worse extinction.

One way to get around this stagnation is to increase the number of experiments designed specifically to disprove expectations. As the value of confirming experiments decline for knowledge creation, experiments that look for yet to be defined needle in yet to be defined haystack have to dominate. The problem, of course, is even in those cases, ex. ante expectations of the haystack and the properties of the possible needle will be corrupted by the status quo. It is possible that humans are unable to make a transition to the next wave of knowledge creation as the current education and industrial systems are simply unable to adapt to the new realities.

It will be sad if we experiment our way through finer and finer measurements of the non-existent, in a state of suspended and stagnant knowledge.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Social automobile

A recent study from Virginia Tech describes how unstructured textual information from online discussion forums and other social media can be mined to unearth vehicle defects. This, in turn, helps quality management professionals to predict impending problems, make decisions and proactively manage safety and quality. This is an area that merits further exploration.

There are two important vectors of possible future innovation here. First, portfolio information from social media, albeit being highly variable and unpredictable at individual level, contains valuable insights to aid decision support. One could imagine similar techniques to predict disease outbreaks and terrorist activities. It has been known that health and law professionals have been taking advantage of social media to support decisions. With improved technologies in unstructured text mining, these concepts can be further developed. In the long run, one has to believe that such technologies will become widely available to the consumers as well.

Second, it also showcases the importance of product quality for manufacturers as any lack of it will be internalized not just by the immediate customer but the populace at large, very quickly. For example, for automobile manufacturers, it is increasingly important that any possible quality issue is identified and corrected before the user of the vehicle knows and blogs about it. In essence, they have to build smart cars, able to self-diagnose problems and communicate them to the manufacturer. Additionally, the manufacturer has to be able to aggregate information at the fleet level to identify any looming quality issue before it affects the user adversely. We may be fast approaching the establishment of social channels for machine-to-machine communications. If manufacturers do not get ahead of this developing wave, they will be consumed by those who do.

It took thousands of years for humans to invent technologies to connect them all together, allowing the emergence of social intelligence. It will take less time for machines to do the same.

Friday, August 2, 2013


Recent simulation of NEST on a K Computer in Japan demonstrated a neural network close to 1% of a human brain. Although this is encouraging and point to the possibility of simulating an entire brain using exa-scale computers in the future, it also raises many questions as to the utility of programmatic simulation of the human brain. It has been a fascination for many ordinary men and women, for ages. A powerful quantum computer, housed in such an efficient space, standing ready to learn and forget, tantalized those who attempted to replicate it in-silica – but is has all been in vein.

Simulation of the human brain by traditional means, using raw computing power, is unlikely to produce insights into its workings. The brain is an efficient quantum computer, not something that possesses very high computing power and memory as measured by traditional computing metrics. Its specs are mediocre at best but it does have a highly sophisticated operating system, that is able to take advantage of its limited capabilities. In the absence of such powerful software, able to adapt to modular and learning apps, some able to reconfigure on demand, it will be less interesting. Failure of the operating system or some critical apps, render the brain incompetent quickly, regardless of its supposed hardware depth.

Sheer scaling of computing power and memory, although a straightforward experiment, is unlikely to yield the mysteries of this remarkable organ.