Scientific Sense Podcast

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Terraforming the Earth

As space agencies around the world race to the red planet and beyond in an attempt to satisfy ego and ignorance, they may want to focus their limited resources on real tactical problems facing the planet. As those, who had a tough time with science at school, rise to make polices that affect humanity, the danger of human extinction is now more real than ever. To top it off, those who were good at science appear to get real excitement by looking at pictures of the dwarf planet and designing ways to punch a one-way ticket for humans to a planet close-by. Admirable, of course, but completely irrelevant.

It is time NASA had a real resource and portfolio management process. Engineers, albeit being good at what they do, often fail to see the big picture. The risk of an asteroid impact or run-away greenhouse effect are so high in close quarters - it does not make any sense to allocate resources to finding green men in the solar system or among the thousands of exo-planets, that were found recently.  Terraforming the Earth, although not as exciting as the projects undertaken by the space agency, has real utility for humanity. Humans, designed to burn anything they get their hands to, have cooked up a real mess, that would require rectifying. It is a solvable problem if the best technologists in the world put their minds to it and perhaps forget the exploration of the universe for a little bit. Sure, this may not propel careers or pave the way to easy Nobel prizes, but limited resources have to be optimally deployed for the sake of humanity. Additionally, although not as exciting as science fiction including a black hole from the LHC devouring us all, an asteroid impact that could substantially extinguish humans is real. Having “plans on paper” to “bomb the rock” may not be realistic. It may require real technology to nudge the Earth bound catastrophe to safety.  

Those who are responsible and accountable for deploying the limited resources to practical uses may need to refocus their priorities. Ego cannot be part of the objective function, rationality has to be.

Monday, December 28, 2015

Barren universe

Not withstanding the efforts of space agencies and academic institutions around the world to find extra-terrestrial life, it appears that disappointment could be in store for humans. Recent excitement about an exoplanet just 14 light years away is symptomatic of scientific quest that is chasing pre-determined answers. Before turning all listening devices to the “target,” one may want to ask a few questions. If we are seeking human like life there, one has to assume that they are enjoying “Friends” and “Seinfeld” now. And, it is difficult to find fault with them not attempting to make contact. If we are seeking something less or more, then it is unlikely they will be spewing garbage into the airways. In other words, the attempts of humans to make contact are unlikely to be rewarded unless an extra-terrestrial civilization of similar incompetence is close at hand.

Humans, locked into a tiny window of space-time, have been chasing an unattainable dream – intelligent life that could teach them better tricks. As they peak through that microscopic window, they are most likely to see a barren universe, devoid of life and intelligence. Expanding the window, either by new Physics or by constructs deemed feasible with the status-quo, such as worm holes, information travelling at speeds many magnitudes higher than light and quantum entanglement, could provide a way out of these hard constraints.

Finding life in the searchable space-time in close proximity is as unlikely as spotting a needle in a haystack as big as the solar system. Good luck getting there by 2020.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

The death of logic

In a country of blue, red and grey
In a land of every possible hue
Where policies are made on the back of a napkin
To satisfy donors and those who may become donors
In a country of red, white and blue
In a land of every possible opinion
Where judgments are made by pictures on TV
To satisfy friends and those who may become friends
In a country of East, West and Midwest
In a land of every possible culture
Where biases are made by location and accents
To satisfy those nearby and those who may move close
In a country of wealthy, poor and the middle-class
In a land of disappearing dreams for most
Where classes segregate by every possible means
To satisfy those who hold similar views
In a country of knowledge, ignorance and mediocrity
In a land of expensive and unattainable education
Where students march in the streets to be heard
To satisfy their own cults and egos
In a country of fake hair, fake stories and fake passion
In a land of politicians and incompetent policy-makers
Where debates are designed to expose the hatred
To satisfy the millions glued to the idiot box
In a country of science, religion and agnosticism
In a land of pretense and wisdom
Where they battle each other for superiority
To win prizes, acceptance and money
In a country of coasts, mountains and plains
In a land of inexplicable space and beauty
Where they battle for the last acre of land
To nourish their own false sense of wealth
In a country of finance, technology and movies
In a land of fraud, fallacy and fiction
Where the suits battle the turtle-necks
To stuff their own pockets and wallets
In a country of such complexity
Where logic is dead and buried
But, somehow, one can’t lose hope
For without it, the world will be in despair

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Proof of simulation

The idea that the universe is a simulation has been in the periphery of cosmology. This is not surprising – every established scientific arena, astrophysics, medicine and economics included, has not been kind to pursuits that questioned the status-quo. This abundant bias, nourished by the ability to publish and win Nobel prices in short horizons, has perpetuated established theories even in the absence of any evidence. Even “theories” that could never be tested has been gaining popularity, within the closed doors of academia, with even less interest to look outside than country club dwellers.

The thought experiment that the universe could be a simulation, however, has been around for over a decade. Some have even suggested ways to test it experimentally. Given that the established theories require 96% fantasy for them to work, it is not too big a leap to go a bit further. After all, thought experiments typically do not require 6 trillion experiments to ferret out an elusive particle and such statistical fantasies have been held as one of the greatest achievements of contemporary humans.

If the universe were a simulation, what would be the properties of such a system? In a sufficiently complex simulation:

1. The participants of the simulation, albeit capable of describing the processes that make the simulation work, will never be able to explain the origin of it.

2. The participants, who could measure the constants that drive the rules of the simulation, will find them finely tuned and held constant.

3. The simulation will exhibit recurring patterns.

4. The participants will find constraints within the system that limit them to certain parts of the simulation.

5. The participants will face an overall hard constraint that does not allow them to get outside the simulated system.

6. The participants of the system will remain unaware of anything outside the boundaries of the simulation for the duration of the simulation.

7. The participants will likely reject the hypothesis that they are part of the simulation.

8. The participants may find anomalies to the rules they have discovered because of the possible flaws in the simulation itself. Such flaws may be patched up over time and the anomalies may disappear.

9.  The system will exhibit no learning.

10. Any excursion – random, planned or induced by the participants, away from the rules, will revert back to the rules.

Within the context of the tiny part of the universe – humans - all these properties appear to be true. Moreover, no current observation negates the hypothesis. Hence, it is likely that the universe is a simulation.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Chicago’s moment to leap to the future

With nearly 75% of the US population expressing the idea that racism is a problem for the country, it is clear that the country is in deep thoughts as to how to get rid of the cancer affecting its soul. A modern society, afflicted by the disease of racism, could have a rather pessimistic prognosis. On the other hand, if most of the country sees the problem, then, we can certainly solve it. As they say in medicine, early diagnosis almost always leads to better outcomes. And, in the pain and despair of a horrible incident, Chicago has a unique opportunity to lead the country and perhaps the world out of ignorance and a curable disease through education and the advancement of culture.

Chicago has been at the forefront of advancing emerging ideas in economics, science, arts and journalism. Its educational institutions opened the eyes of those seeking knowledge but the city itself, could not get out of its artificially imposed boundaries, allowing irrational thoughts and actions to percolate through. In the process, they suffered from violence and segmented islands of wealth, information and ignorance. A city, that led in thought and culture advancement has been trailing in practical actions, however. Steeped in political corruption for decades, the city has been losing its just position in history. It will be a shame if one of the greatest cities in the world, sub optimizes itself, not because of lack of knowledge but of the constraints self imposed on itself.

This is Chicago’s moment to leap to the future. It has leaped many times before to open the eyes of the world. Now, it is time for introspection and out of that will come strength to leap again. 

A small leap for Man and a big jump for Math

Recent news that a University of Chicago mathematician may have reduced a NP complexity problem of network comparisons to that akin to P level complexity, signals a jump in knowledge in otherwise stagnant field. Consumed by big data and bigger noise, mathematicians and data scientists have been burning the midnight oil, solving everything under the Sun, using century old techniques and faster computers. In the process, most forget to think and step aside to see the challenge in front of them could be simplified before diving deep.

In the age of cheap hardware and companies plush with cash, innovation appears stagnant. Making a neural net with thousands of computers in a network is not innovation, it is just a show of brawn over brains. Pumping large number of rules through a supercomputer in an attempt to beat a human recollecting random facts is not innovation, it is scaling ignorance. Collecting, storing and analyzing large amounts of noise in an attempt to discover complex heuristics is not innovation, it is just sticking one’s head in the cloud.

Innovation happens but only rarely. Reducing the complexity of a problem class, fits the bill perfectly.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

The economics of violence

Organizations – religions, countries and country clubs, operate on a simple idea. Individuals in a system have a put option with a limited exercise horizon and if the system can coax an individual to exercise it prematurely for the presumed benefit of the system, then the managers of the system could effectively do anything they want. Since the objective function of the system itself is fuzzy and ill defined, managers do not need to show optimality and they can use anecdotes and unproven hypotheses, to elicit premature and suboptimal exercise from a small number of individuals. The act of violence, perpetuated by closed systems, autocratic and strategic, with benefits accruing to a small percentage of the members, require the ones on top convincing a few to engage in irrational acts by demonstrating the asset they hold is wasting and a premature extinguishing of their own lives is optimal, if not for themselves but the system itself.

For hundred thousand years, humans killed and mutilated their way to glory, aided and abetted by clan leaders, fully aware of what they were doing. If the value of an individual demonstrably improves, then it will diminish the ability of clan leaders to force premature exercise of put options held by the individual. Education, the only tool, that could improve asset values in closed systems, may be the last hope for humans, slipping away to oblivion at the height of their ascendancy. Education and knowledge have been stagnating, however, with a few drinking from fire hydrants and others infinitely seeking the illusive mirage. While some in the valley sleep dreaming about the singularity and the cure for death, there are seven billion elsewhere, without a clue what tomorrow is going to bring.

The foundations, sitting on billions still debating whether to provide white or pink nets to cure malaria, may have to rethink their strategy. If they really want to cure the ills of the world, they have to improve the knowledge content of humans.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Puppet show

The Unified Microbiome Initiative (UMI), as described in a recent article in Science, albeit belated, is a step in the right direction. As indicated by one of the founding members from the department of Ecology and Evolution at the University of Chicago, it has been abundantly clear that microorganisms play a critical role in the welfare of humans. Perhaps, UMI should go a bit further – it is not just that microorganisms have a critical role in health and disease of humans in a tactical sense, they may be controlling how humans evolve, a true strategic imperative.

Intelligence has been ill defined. Ability to maximize utility for the system seems to move inversely to the complexity of the individual. Thus, humans, on top of the food chain, appear least competent to maximize societal utility. An alternative definition of intelligence is the ability of the individual to contribute to system welfare. Here, microorganisms are dominant. They have been here for 4 billion years and they will likely be here for another 4 billion before the Sun throws a temper tantrum and balloon to a red giant. Meanwhile, the “intelligent,” will likely perish in an asteroid impact within perhaps a few 100s of thousands of years.

More importantly, humans appear almost ignorant of the systemic effect imparted on them by microorganisms. The DNA provided by the parasites far surpasses any bits and pieces of the human DNA admitted to the ecosystem, some affectionately call, the human body. In this vast universe of organs and food digesting machinery, humans have been dancing to every whim of their visitors in the stomach and elsewhere. Diseases can be forecasted, health can be measured and even death can be predicted by a simple conversation with the Microbiome.

It is ironic that humans are simple puppets to those who have been dominating the Earth for so long.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Language optimization

Language, a distinct advantage that separated humans from chimps, may become a liability for them in a regime of accelerating information and forced specialization. Early on, language provided efficient communication among clan members with relatively simple objective functions to optimize. Later, as they branched into art, philosophy and literature, language became a construct that may have touched the souls of some, but it also meant that it began to lose the communication efficiency, it was originally designed to do. Presently, conventional languages, with complex semantics and grammar, appear unable to distill and communicate critical technical information.

Computer languages, that stay at a lower level without flowery grammar, are certainly more efficient to program machines. In the human sphere, millennials have been experimenting with a variety of constructs that remove the complexity of grammar and schema, but it is unclear if any of the current methods are efficient in communicating content. In an environment of deep but not broad knowledge per individual, science and engineering may need to invent a modern language that does not constrain them to formats that are designed for different purposes. For example, the abstract of a scientific article, that often limits the format to certain number of words but force the author to utilize inefficient grammar, lose in multiple ways.

It is time to rethink scientific language. Nobody has the time to read through the entire paper and content is not complete in allowed abstract format that conforms to artificial and old constraints.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Gravitational annoyance

A recent paper in the Journal of Science that describes the failure to detect gravitational waves from any source including the merging of two galaxies with possible combination of two black holes, perpetuates the gravitational holdout to otherwise beautiful theories woven up by physicists. Gravitation has spoiled every attempt at Grand Unification of the hypothesized fundamental fields of nature. It is ironic that a field that is obvious at human scale has been the one most difficult to understand and explain with status-quo theories. Ever since an apple fell on Newton’s head, gravity has vexed humankind and it seems like the current situation will continue for a while.

Failure of Grand Unification Theories is a subtle sign that we do not yet have theories that can be unified. Early in the 20th century, a few brilliant minds made inexplicable leaps into emerging knowledge. It is scary to even think of a world in which they did not exist. Newtonian mechanics could have ruled the mediocrity for a few more centuries. However, there were visible cracks in both the theory of relativity and quantum mechanics, and the ones who followed are simply unable to mend them. More importantly, they have taken the hammers given to them and they have been looking for nails all around the universe to put the hammers to good use. None is able to spend a career or even risk a tenured position to ask if the hammers need modifications.

The jumps in the stochastic evolution of knowledge are rare and they are driven by an amazingly few members of billions of humans around the world. The next jump appears too far in a regime mediated by paid research and manufactured education.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Machines do not learn!

Artificial Intelligence is fashionable again, aided by cheap computing and cheaper memory, computer behemoths have been diving head first into the abyss. It has happened before, albeit, with much limited computing power. Just as in the previous iteration in the 80s, the current excitement may die down in a few years. Simulated machine voice and jeopardy are easier problems to solve but finding a cure for cancer is a lot harder. Similarly, churning through limitless text - “search”, is a mechanistic process but “curing death” is not. Soon, hopefully, the “leaders” will realize the naked truth – machines do not learn and that the “singularity” they envision is many centuries away.

Machines have captured the human imagination from the start. When they trained animals to drive farm equipment many thousands of years ago, they understood how machines could be built and powered to enhance productivity. More recently, the silicon chip, a conventional and mechanistic processor, has raised their ambitions to a level that may not be realistic. In the initial going, it was focused on productivity, very similar to farm equipment but now some believe their machines can learn. If so, this is a departure for humans from sustenance to imagination, from mediocrity to advancement, from tactics to strategy. But alas, machines do not learn!

“Machine learning,” a term used too liberally by information technology and consulting firms, may need further definition. One can clearly demonstrate machines do not learn by themselves and if so, we are back to using machines to enhance productivity – a posture humans have been in for ten thousand years.

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Real finance

Recent observations by a previous Fed chairman that it is puzzling why one would advocate a reinstatement of Glass-Steagall act because he could not see how the crisis in 2008 would have been avoided had it been in effect, is symptomatic of regulators who are good tacticians but not strategists. From Princeton to Wall street, financial institutions and their regulators still believe intermediation is “God’s work.” Academics, slaves to economics text books from last century, still believe financial intermediation is integral to markets and the economy. If the former chairman is intellectually honest, he may want to revisit the transcripts from Jackson Hole in 2005, before spewing wisdom. The one who came before him, who spewed infinite wisdom for many decades seem to have finally realized, “something was wrong.” He is still selling wisdom at $75K per pop. Meanwhile financial malls, that do everything but intermediation, with a skewed incentive to take risks for their bonuses that depend on the upside potential emanating from their actions and they are generally not accountable for the downside risk, invest into fooling both the academics and the regulators.

Although the chairman may be an expert of the depression era, what he may be missing is that the modern economy needs very little finance as we know it. Any financial activity, that does not have a direct connection to real assets and real investments, adds no value to the economy. Real assets today comprise of only two things – real estate and intellectual property. Financial intermediation in the former can now be done by the internet and it does not require “God’s men,” behind oak desks in the penthouses. And financing needed to develop and nourish IP is not something the mega banks have any clue about. They are dinosaurs with a ridiculous combination of disparate businesses with conflicting incentives that still pose a systemic risk to the entire population.

Glass-Steagall is a necessary condition to eliminate the greed of the ignorant and I am sure “God” will approve.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Hilbert hotel

Recent news that scientists have realized a quantum Hilbert hotel using a beam of light is indicative of the power of thought experiments, validated by simple experiments. Both interesting thought experiments as well as simple validation techniques are on the decline not only in Physics but also in other fields. In the Hilbert thought experiment, a hotel with infinite rooms, fully occupied, could make an additional room by shifting occupants one room up. More generally, the same hotel could make infinite empty rooms by shifting people to even number rooms leaving an infinite number of odd number rooms. The human brain that evolved through practical needs of Sapiens, has been lured into thoughts it was never designed to have.

Thought experiments on Infinity and zero (absolute nothing), such abstract concepts, are in a favorable direction to nourish the brain and perhaps move it into the next quantum state of knowledge. It takes no investment, no heavy machinery and not even high mathematics. It, however, takes imagination, something that has been draining out of humanity. Humans have been unable to internalize infinity and zero, perhaps because of the limitation of the brain but it is more likely because the brain gets inundated with the finite continuously. The thoughts that envelope the finite are mediocre at best and they are not extensible to the abstract nature of infinity or zero.

Thought experiments are possibly the best path to fundamental shifts in human knowledge.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

ET’s very large SUV

Recent discovery of an object by NASA’s Kepler telescope around a star, some 1500 light years away that cannot be explained by typical exoplanet properties, has raised speculation that it may be an artificial structure, created by advanced intelligence to garner energy from the star. A simpler explanation, such as a fragmented comet could be more valid, but certainly less interesting. Astrophysics, quickly degrading into bedtime stories of fancy, may yet have a long way to sink in conventionalism, before it could make a contribution.

Humans, seeking intelligence elsewhere, with attributes similar to theirs, seem to forget that their own experiences clearly show that intelligence is a network process. The mighty bacterium, able to dance with billions in unison, appears much more intelligent as a system than humans could ever be. By substantially increasing the diversity and the probability of favorable mutations at the micro-level, the system is able to evolve and adapt faster in a universe that appears hostile in every direction. Harnessing energy in such systems will be an internal process and may not require structure-building or star-domination, only phenomena humans are able to understand fully. Granted, finding such intelligence will remain outside human capabilities for the foreseeable future, if not for ever.

The recent fervor in seeking extra-terrestrials, is symptomatic of the limited understanding of humans of the formation, development and propagation of intelligence.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Training Schrödinger’s Cat

A recent article in Nature describes a possible break-through in quantum computing. Engineers at the University of New South Wales seem to have built a quantum logic gate in Silicon, possibly opening up a pathway toward practical quantum computing in Silicon based processors. In theory, the technology could turn conventional bits into quantum bits, allowing traditional chip architectures to morph into those supporting quantum computing.

This is good news. As many philosophers worry about singularity, for no apparent reason, creative engineers have been moving the goal posts closer to practical quantum computing. It is a technology discontinuity, something if shown to be practical, could substantially change the economic prospects of a whole generation, currently stuck in a plateau of no innovation. They are beginning to realize that calling a phone 6, 7, 18 or 6S is not really innovation – it is packaging. They are realizing that creating fake computer generated voices in marketing announcing Sherlock Holmes and Watson, is not really innovation, it is bad sales technique. They are realizing that skipping version 9 and going straight to 10 is not innovation, it is a cheap gimmick. They are realizing that names that are difficult to pronounce are not really technologies but ways to siphon money out of companies who want to jump on the latest band wagons.

The next discontinuity is not in software – it is in hardware. Unfortunately, world's largest hardware companies do not seem to understand it and the world is now replete with incompetent software companies – creating operating systems, applications, "artificial intelligence" and databases – with no innovation content.

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Mirror, mirror…

There is an audible buzz in the air ever since NASA finally announced the “well kept secret” - there could be water – the flowing variety – on Mars. This is exciting news, and it brings back visions of Green men (I wonder if they were women) walking out of shiny space crafts – the “contact,” humanity has been waiting for a long time now. There have been more good news – subtle but nonetheless important – related to the same. A recent article in “Astrobiology,” shows “Earth like planets,” orbiting close to stars likely have magnetic fields – making them even more “Earth like,” allowing life to flourish like bacteria on a dirty towel.

It seems like we are nearing the historic occasion – predicted by NASA to be 2020, when life would absolutely be discovered outside Earth. All efforts are focused on finding the “twin Earth,” with Oxygen, flowing water, a magnetic field and a hard surface to stand on – where humanity will ultimately shake hands with an organism – 6 ft tall with two hands and legs, cone shaped head and (hopefully) with a sense of humor. Some of the greatest living physicists don’t think ET will be in a playful mood at all, for they argue ET will make contact only to extinguish humanity. Not sure who is right, but how could one blame ET to take such an extreme stance.

Mirror, mirror…. who is the best organism in the universe? Don’t tell me there is nothing else – the right answer is – humans who are superior to a vast array of sub intelligent creatures across the universe.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

The multiplicative effect

With world population at 7.5 Billion with only 40% having an internet connection, the information multiplicative effect on global economies is significant if complete saturation can be achieved. At the current rate, saturation is unlikely to arrive for another two decades. Accelerating this has beneficial effects on all economies and the UN could possibly lead an effort in this direction with investments from all participants. Countries such as the US that will benefit disproportionately, with a dominant presence in search and social media, may be willing to invest their fair share in this direction.

Information has become a basic necessity for humans – an indication that they are slowly maturing into a level 1 society. For 100 thousand years they struggled with food and sex, attributes of a primitive society and although half the world population is still locked into the same objective function for survival, there are reasons for optimism. In a fully connected world, there will be billions of brains – quantum computers in their own right – analyzing and interacting with newly emerging information at any point in time. With that, humanity could possibly escape from the trivialities of politics, clan conflicts and ego – and look outward in concert for the first time. It is a powerful notion – a brain storm with a billion brains is possible now and one can escape dreary conference rooms, conventions and the status-quo. We could reach a slope where only innovation matters and not tenure, color, elitism and even skills and know-how. Those who make new and valuable things will be the leaders and the next generation will look back in astonishment how a society with similar intelligence content as they could behave so inexplicably in the past.

The information multiplicative effect, so powerful that anybody ignorant of it should not be leading anything – countries, companies, localities and even households.

Friday, September 18, 2015

Elite efficiency

A recent paper (1) studies the “distributional preferences of the elite” and makes a somewhat obvious (startling to them) conclusion - “the elite” prefers not to distribute compared to the general population. There are many problems with the study including the premise and the definition of the “elite,”  comprising of the graduates of the Yale Law School (YLS). The assertion is that these graduates are destined to power and influence (and presumably wealth) and hence the “branding” of “elite.” Institutions and researchers looking backwards and frozen in time, may be in for a shock when they look outside their theoretical and historically adorned windows and see the future.

How do we test a hypothesis that YLS students prefer not to redistribute compared to a random graduate? Could we use the same study and data? Suppose we prove that YLS students are not “elite” at all because the probability of a YLS graduate to have any influence on society is roughly equal to a random graduate, what would it imply for the study? Economists tend to use fancy words and create complexity so that they can live within their secluded ivory towers, contributing nothing to society. In this context, what exactly does equality-efficiency trade-offs mean? Does it mean that the “elite” like to keep the money for themselves and phenomena that cannot be understood in this framework is assumed to maximize efficiency?

Practical educators and researchers should stop wasting time assigning labels and useless observations in a label prone, segregated and tiring society.

(1) The distributional preferences of an elite
Raymond Fisman1,*, Pamela Jakiela2, Shachar Kariv3, Daniel Markovits4
1Department of Economics, Boston University, Boston, MA, USA.
2Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics, University of Maryland, College Park, MD, USA.
3Department of Economics, University of California, Berkeley, Berkely, CA, USA.
4Yale Law School, Yale University, New Haven, CT, USA.

Saturday, September 12, 2015

The human syndrome

The human syndrome, a disease that has been with humans ever since they arrived, has been declining for several centuries. A complex phenomenon, that has many symptoms including empathy, compassion, anonymous charitable giving and effective altruism, has been tackled well by modern humans. Eradication efforts around the world that include institutionalized religion, racism and a variety of modern segmentation schemes, have been exceptionally effective in reducing the prevalence and spread of this horrible disease. Systematized education at all levels seem to have also aided the efforts to eradicate the disease.

It has been a triumph for humans. They have been able to nearly get rid of irrationality and imagination, characteristics of environments that aid the spread of the disease. More recently, large swaths of humans immersing in prescriptive sciences, engineering and technology, has acted as an inoculation against it. Although complete eradication could be a few decades away, the reliable negative slope in prevalence is encouraging. The biggest danger appears to be the tendency of humans to be emotional and their occasional excursions into thinking about the world as a system. Such CNS deficits, could be treated effectively with available medicines. Perhaps a cocktail of such medications coupled with the policies pursued by the ignorant, could do the trick.

The human syndrome, that has held humans back for over 100 thousand years, is nearly history. This is apt as the “singularity,” dreamt by the technologists would require humans and mechanical robots to be indistinguishable from each other. We appear to be very close to it.

Sunday, September 6, 2015

Fusion, it is here (almost)

Ever since a brilliant member of the Homo Erectus produced fire for the first time nearly 2 Million years ago, their descendents have been trying to tame and use energy optimally. More recently, humans have been getting smarter with alternatives to wood burning, including fossil fuels, biofuels, nuclear energy, hydro, solar, wind and tidal. For many decades now, it has been obvious to many that most of these are inelegant solutions to the energy problem.

Burning hydrocarbons, albeit easy to do, has possible long term negative effects on the environment and biofuels take more energy than they produce. Nuclear fission, often fails to account for the costs associated with the storage of waste materials, with half lives exceeding 50,000 years. Solar, the darling of environmentalists, is not economical – in all varieties, photoelectric and concentrating-solar and it is an industry propped-up by subsidies, devised by politicians looking for brownie points. Hydro power has displaced massive populations across the world, with long term deleterious effects on the ecosystem. Finally, tidal and wind, better understood by public, show low efficiency and they are pushed by “green companies,” who make turbines for profits.

The energy problem is far from being solved. Lately, however, there are glimpses of hope – Lockheed, Alpha Energy and National Ignition Facility – to mention a few, seem to be making great strides to taming fusion. Ever since humans understood how stars worked, it should have been obvious that there is only one avenue to pursue to solve energy. Better late than never.

Fusion could lead to zero cost energy and that will make most tactical problems that consume humanity currently, utterly irrelevant.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Accreditation revoked?

The famous school in Philadelphia, that has produced many capable people in politics and business, appears to be running out of steam. Its recent entries into politics appear less convincing – some paranoid and others ignorant, that the professors of the illustrious school may be holding their head in eternal shame. Even its business school, famous for finance and business, seems to have produced somebody who does not understand that the asset side of the balance sheet is not equivalent to net worth. Did the business school allow skipping Accounting 101 in its business program? How else would one explain it?

In a world crowded by educational institutions, accreditation should be at risk if graduates of a school, that it has awarded degrees to, do not understand basic stuff. Even if that person got a D in Accounting, the fact that the school was willing to hand out a degree, should be sufficient to put its accreditation at risk. It does not matter if it has Nobel Laureates in its faculty, if the school graduates a person of complete ignorance, one has to question the system. It has been tried before, another famous son of a school, up north, argued, he did not know accounting to avoid going to jail.

It is time for the famous school in Philadelphia to give up its accreditation, for its graduates seem to lack basic intelligence and knowledge.

Friday, August 28, 2015

Advanced society

As the astrophysicists look for advanced intelligence across the universe, it may be worthwhile to reflect what an advanced society may look like, conceptually. As asserted by the knowing, it appears that an “Earth-Like” planet – similar size, rocky and in the “habitable zone” from its star, harboring water and possibly Oxygen, are all that is needed for ET with big brains to emerge. A more subtle question is if ET is actually advanced, what characteristics are more likely in such a society. Perhaps, this is less interesting for the scientists, but it could be almost as important as water.

The going in hypothesis appears to be that an advanced society will unambiguously try to dominate its neighborhood. Metrics such as the quantity of radiation at certain wavelengths were suggested as possible proxies a few decades ago and accepted without question, even now. The desire and ability to dominate their planet and galaxy, appear to be necessary conditions for “advanced intelligence.” As the presidential race heats up in the US, we do see some “highly advanced intelligent beings” in the race, according to this metric, used by NASA and other ET seeking organizations. One of them, so dominant, he is scaling his domination of real estate to this universe and the next – a sure sign of ET like intelligence.

An advanced society, one could argue, is one that has solved space-time to its advantage. Such a society is unlikely to be restricted by such trivial things as water and Oxygen and they will have no interest to come eye-to-eye with ET seeking sub-intelligence. They are unlikely to be wrapped in radiation, emitted by systems of incompetence and ignorance. They are unlikely to be interested in the tactics of “domination” for there are so much more interesting thoughts that can span the multi-verse. 

More practically, one has to wonder if humans are equipped to seek intelligence elsewhere, as they appear to be lacking it.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Superior Agnosticism

A recent study that uses conventional metrics to show a positive correlation between atheism and intelligence, may be erring in the scientific principles it purports to use. Religion and atheism, both irrational based on observable data, have divided whole populations into polar opposites. In a world, where strife is derived from these two fundamental concepts, one has to argue that society is stuck on irrational thoughts – led by scientists and religious leaders. Scientific dogmatism, as damaging as religion, has been leading an entire generation down rabbit holes. The scientist who shouted, “Nobel prizes all around” after finding the “Higgs Boson” by using inescapable noise from trillions of experiments is no better than those who lead populations down blind alleys based on religious hypotheses, that remain un-provable.

The only rational thought is agnosticism, wrapped in humility – a complete acceptance that known information remain insufficient to prove anything. The value that can be imputed to remaining flexible and agnostic is significant for the individual and the society. Creating noise by large volume of data cannot prove anything – scientific or not. Similarly, asserting religious beliefs, by definition, cannot be accepted at any level. The parallels between these two streams of thoughts are surprisingly high – one using old scriptures and the other, newer ones.

Agnosticism, the only rational dimension of humanity, could be fast losing ground – struck from the left and the right.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Selective Bayesian Updating

Confirmation and conformation biases, symptoms of a disease that is eating into science and technology, have wrecked havoc in many areas including pharmaceutical research, astrophysics, finance, healthcare and policy, just to name a few. It appears that participants in these areas, utilize a novel mathematical technique – Selective Bayesian Updating (SBU). It is not just that data are fine tuned to prove the hypothesis but even in cases where it could not be proved, the posteriors remain the same for subsequent experiments.

Take Search for Extra-terrestrial Intelligence (SETI) as an example. It has been speculated that oceans that could support life exist in many icy and rocky remnants within the solar system – Titan, Europa and even the outcast, Pluto. Suppose the missions to these objects reveal no signs of life, will NASA and SETI use Selective Bayesian Updating for the probability of ET? Recent excitement around Kepler 452B, the most “Earth-like” planet ever found in the Milky Way, has led SETI to focus their instruments in that region. Suppose we find no signals of value, will the posterior probability of the existence of ET, remain the same? This is very convenient for those involved in the research. It is the ultimate free lunch in science – a negative result has no change in the posterior probability of the hypothesis being correct.

In pharmaceutical research, it has been shown that the efficacy of marketed drugs decline over time. This is a curious phenomenon as cutting edge research coupled with a vigilant regulator, the FDA, are unlikely to let marginal drugs into market. Was Selective Bayesian Updating deployed in the many experiments that led to the approval of the drug? Patients and providers, perhaps, are less susceptible to this problem and normal updating over a period of time, may be revealing the truth.

Selective Bayesian Updating, a disease that is substantially slowing the innovation slope in science and technology, could be treatable.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Perfect simulation

It has long been speculated that the universe is a simulation and it is not real. The observed heavy fine tuning of its hypothesized ingredients – dark matter, dark energy, matter and anti-matter – supports this view. It is believed that an addition of even a gram of ordinary matter into the system could substantially alter its expected end state and its progression toward that. Both the initial conditions as well as the fundamental parameters of the laws of Physics, appear to have been so carefully selected for this simulation to work. Whatever be the case, these cannot be proved or disproved by the participants in the simulation as it will require an outside the system view and/or experiments that span multiple such simulations.

Perfection can come in only two ways – either there are infinite trials that produced a perfect outcome randomly or the experiment is designed carefully. Granted, in this context, the definition of perfection is somewhat arbitrary without data on alternative simulations that may lead to systems that are equally perfect. However, the possibility that we could be living in a simulation has many implications, the least of which is the approach we could take to search for life outside our corner in the universe.

If it is indeed a simulation, it is possible that it is focused on biological systems in a singular space-time that evolves over time. However, if our current understanding is correct (which is unlikely), the space-time window afforded to these very special biological entities is so narrow that the scope of the simulation (the universe itself) does not make sense. This leads to either rejecting the existence of the hard space-time constraint or not accepting that the only currently observed biological systems are special. An alternative is that the observed single occurrence of biology is an error and that such errors are unlikely in a system that is so well tuned. If it is an error, it would not make sense to seek such systems elsewhere as the objective function of the game does not include biology. Another possibility is that biology is a central theme of the simulation and the game evolves from an infinite separate occurrences of such features, across the universe. However, given that the participants of the simulation will have no control over the outcomes of such a pursuit, it seems less interesting.

In general, if the universe is a simulation, it does not make sense to seek intelligence elsewhere.

Friday, August 7, 2015

Quantum business

Businesses, for many centuries, have been dealing with constructs analogous to Newtonian Physics. For example, traditional finance and accounting, based on agriculture and more recently manufacturing, have devised cash flows and Net Present Value (NPV), constructs most conventional businesses apparently still run on. They stipulate precise measurement of the stock and flow of cash and decisions based on those ideas. They also introduced risk, something that became more precise over time, an unavoidable bad to adjust the cash flows, considered to be unambiguously good. All of these are precisely measurable – just as the gravitational constant and terminal velocity on Earth.

Business schools, world over, are still enamored by these archaic notions and they continue to graduate students, adept at counting and dividing, skills that have no value in the modern context. Businesses have been forced to migrate into a different regime, in which counting is delegated to computers and the velocity of Intellectual Property (IP) creation, reign supreme. Accounting metrics, profits and tangible assets, and even more sophisticated ones, free cash flow from operations, have all become utterly irrelevant. IP does not often equate to cash flows nor does it allow representation in a balance sheet, a remnant of manufacturing. The regime of quantum business has arrived and it is likely going to divide those engaged in it, into parallel worlds, some chasing the past of cash flows and the other redefining the uncertain future.

Financial statements, the least representative of the value of a firm in the modern world, still waste a sizable portion of the GDP in their creation, interpretation and consumption.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

The human algorithm

Biological evolution, speculated to be a mechanism to improve the operating system of Earth based life, by massive parallel experiments, may be running out of steam. Lack of future slope in incremental benefits may lead to a stalemate or more likely a retreat to previous and more stable states. The human algorithm shows significant instability, having specialized more in the individual and less in systems. Individual’s objective functions tend to be simplistic and tactical, primarily bound by hard constraints, such as expected and predictable life span. Meanwhile, society, with inexplicable false expectations, languishes.

The human algorithm, imperfect at best, shows no signs of improvement over time. Individual's objective function has largely remained the same for over hundred thousand years, with a few clear goals. Occasional excursions into irrational arts and science have been quenched quickly, with bone numbing efficiency. They extricated the few individuals who asked questions and then innovated ways to cleanse entire swaths of gene pools, who disagreed. Improvements in the operating system itself were delegated to fancy apps with attrition rates that rival fruit flies. Optimism was replaced by fear, appropriately so, with octogenarians making policies and taking courses in gerrymandering.

The human algorithm, inefficient and stagnant, requires motivation to move to the next quantum state.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Singularity, suspended?

There appears to be less noise in the airways about the impending singularity, recently. Perhaps, reality is sinking in, yet again. Many times in the past, humans have been lured by the exponential curve – some looking forward, ready to shake hands with ET and watch robot football. Others, looking backward, have been lamenting about the world running out of gas (fossil fuels, that is) and all associated problems. The exponential curve has led many astray.

The human brain, albeit a quantum computer, still remains limited in its ability to take advantage of exponential trends. For over 100 thousand years, they have been living in a linear progression, devoid of any major discontinuities. Apparent modern discontinuities – airplanes, computers and the internet – may have changed the slope incrementally, but the baggage carried by the human brain and psyche, will all but assure that there is no exponential ride for the race. They are prone to mean revert in any stochastic regime and the volatility afforded by the increasing stock – now approaching 8 billion – could all but assure they remain grounded.

As a minority in an ego bubble, worry about the singularity - for most, it is still, simply suspended animation.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Same beat, different drums

A recent article in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences shows that dozens of statistical universals are present in music from all around the world. The authors argue that all music are constructed from the same building blocks. They also hypothesize that music brings people together and it has been acting as a social glue. Regardless, the statistical observations are interesting.

It has been intuitively obvious that humans have an affinity to rhythmic beat but the observation that statistical universals exist across all genre of music is intriguing. Music, perhaps, a precursor to the more structured and rigid language, has spanned evolution, as many animals show an equal or higher level of skill. Human societies, fragmented by language and culture, could find common ground in music – a more foundational protocol of communication. The fact that the shape, type and color of the drums carried by different cultures do not matter as they produce the same beat, may come as a surprise to those trying to cling to meaningless differences.

Music, foundational to human culture, could be a powerful mechanism to bring people together. It could be more effective than older concepts such as religion and emerging tools such as science.

Friday, June 26, 2015

Wasting resources

A recent article in Child Development shows what has been obvious to many – stressful home environments have significant deleterious effects on a child’s development. Since such low level stress is generally negatively correlated with income and wealth, children from the lower economic strata are at a much higher risk of this phenomenon. As the technologists and politicians strive to build a “better society,” they are completely ignorant of the most important resources, being wasted – children.

As more than one third of the world’s children, impacted by lack of food, shelter and education, struggle to make sense of a system that seems to be moving backwards with lack of empathy and knowledge, we are fast approaching a stalemate. The intelligentsia, appear to understand the mechanics of Net Present Value (NPV) for their pet projects, but often miss applications of finance and economics for policy that may positively impact society. Even the Nobel Laureates from the “Chicago School,” famous for seeing beyond the mountains, seem to have lost the desire to make a fundamental change. Tacticians galore and in the process, we are losing.

Any policy, that does not have a positive impact on malnourished, undereducated and stressed children, occupants of this planet tomorrow, is not worth pursuing.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Societal memory

Recent finding that amnestic mouse brains are able to recall lost memories is encouraging for those with Traumatic Brain Injury and Alzheimer’s disease related memory loss. Lost memories, perhaps, the most costly aspect of human societies, have not been studied in sufficient detail. For most of the history of homo-sapiens, downloading memories was central to their development – with the village elder willingly transmitting knowledge to the chosen few of the next generation for perpetual propagation. Modern humans, virtual slaves to technology, seem to have lost the art of memory storage and propagation, yielding to the least effective mechanism for the same, computers.

Memories, that encapsulate experience and knowledge, are misunderstood by humans on a treadmill to nowhere. The rat race keep them occupied for most of their lives, unable to make memories or to appreciate those who create them. A society that is unable to store and propagate memories is not sustainable, for its content will be left undefined and its tactical accomplishments, fleeting. A human, the combined total of chemicals worth less than $25, is nearly worthless without memories – her own, or those of her society. In spite of all their technical accomplishments, humans will drift endlessly if they could not figure out how to create, nourish, store and utilize societal memories.

Memories – most valuable but least understood resource of a society – may ultimately define the path humans could take.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Inelegant science

Science, perhaps the only accomplishment of modern humans, is affected by the collective myopia of scientists – the tendency to spend too much time on details and little on larger questions. For example, recent revelations that indicate that the universe is so finely tuned to be flat that even an addition of a single gram of mass into the system could substantially change its future, seem to have gotten little attention. Attempted descriptions of dark matter, energy, flow and tilt – with heavy and incomprehensible mathematics is the status-quo. Some at space agencies world-wide get too excited about sending a craft to Mars or designing a sojourn with Titan. If one cannot answer the larger questions, it does not matter if the atmosphere of Europa could be finely measured. Answering, larger questions, however is more difficult.

Details, often the noise that destroys elegant solutions, have been dominant in every field. One could argue that an elegant, simple solution to the larger question, even if it is incorrect, is much more valuable than adding yet another particle to the zoo to explain phenomenon that will remain inexplicable with existing theories. Humans seem to be evolving downward, adding skills that aid detailed analyses – but losing the ability to see the bigger picture. Part of the blame has to go to educational systems worldwide – masters of creating cogs in the wheel, adept at taking standardized tests and soaking up text-books from the past, most of which have become irrelevant. Further, hiring managers in the dying behemoths, trained at conventional techniques prefer those who can deliver next quarter’s earnings at the expense of a valuable enterprise. 

We could be tending toward a world of engineers, doctors and scientists – who have no interest in answering why we are really here.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Light chip

Recent research from the University of Utah seems to get closer to silicon photonics and faster light based processors, many orders better than conventional products. Splitting light has always been easy but Utah engineers have accomplished it with beam splitters of a mere 2.4 microns of size. This may propel us out of the ongoing rat race of packing silicon ever closer on conventional chips for less interesting performance improvements.

Moore’s law, held sacred by technologists and used by exponential curve plotting, singularity seeking intellectuals, for stupid predictions, may have done significant damage to the psyche of innovation in electronics. Humans, grand optimizers of their limited life horizons, always fall into the trap of incrementally improving what is available. They appear to be satisfied with metrics that double over long horizons – such as years and this is in stark contrast to their keen awareness of limited time. With less than a thousand months of life span, a metric that doubles every 18 months appears so much less interesting than one that explodes by a few orders of magnitude in the same horizon. More importantly, doubling computing power in 18 months with no perceptible impact on existing applications is a waste of time.

It is time to throw out processes that grow within the same orders of magnitude every year – they will certainly employ people, but they will not make any difference to humanity.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Accent inefficiency

A recent study from the University of Washington at St.Louis, speculates that accents may have a high negative correlation to comprehension and recall to a population, that is native. If true, this is a significant loss of efficiency for 8 billion people, worldwide. Humans, already reeling from a plethora of disconnected languages and incomprehensible accents, seem to have painted themselves into a corner. Language, the foundation of communication that propelled humans away from their close cousins, chimps, may be their Achilles’ heel – as they struggle to understand each other.

And, most humans do not understand each other. Their natural inclination, driven by evolutionary forces, has been to distrust anything that is foreign – structure and accent. The segmentation schemes they have been able to invent – countries, religions and now, accents – have kept them bottled up from progressing any further for nearly hundred thousand years. As they take pride in their understanding of the universe, computers that run faster than ever, aluminum tubes that propel them across continents and into space, medicines that keep them alive and in pain for an incremental five years and ego that keep them stressed for ever, they are worried primarily about color, language and accents.

As the space agencies search for dominant extra-terrestrials across space-time, as the intellectuals seek a meaning for life, as physicists seek the next particle from heavy bombarding, as economists seek to define how money flow from one to the other, as chemists and biologists seek to keep the dying human on life extending machines, one has to wonder if a world with a singular language and indistinguishable accents could have made a difference.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Downward sloping cognition

Humans, apparently on top of the mammals’ evolutionary chain, appear to lack some basic cognitive capabilities, as exhibited by their distant cousins- rats. A recent article in Animal Cognition describes advanced cognitive capabilities in rats that unilaterally lend a helping paw to another who may be sinking in water. This instinctual reaction appears to supersede food based reward, a dominant aspect of mammal life.

Evolution, held sacred by scientists as a sure way to higher intelligence and cognition, has to be rethought. It appears that tactical advantages gained by random mutations are more likely to create freak systems – such as humans. If there is a physical reason for life – such as accelerated entropy, it does make sense at the macro level. Systems that are able to think many different permutations and combinations to enhance entropy, will be selected and humans certainly fit the bill. The organ they carry on their shoulders, certainly helped them invent fire and they have been burning everything they could find for over 100 thousand years. And burning, certainly, is a sure way to increase entropy.

Somewhere along this evolutionary cycle, humans, seem to have picked up some bad habits – such as observations, societal formation and learning. These traits are certainly against the prescribed objectives and will be deselected if the objective function is indeed very clean and includes only positively sloped entropy. Since rats appear to be significantly less efficient than humans to accelerate entropy, it is clear that the forward momentum of evolution will likely correct for any random noise that was introduced such as empathy, knowledge and the desire for better societies.

Humans, a dominant evolutionary construct, have been efficient in optimizing a simple objective function – accelerate entropy at any cost. And the laws of physics indicate that they will get more efficient at it over time.

Friday, May 15, 2015

Seeing is not believing

Experimentalism and empiricism, corner stones of modern scientific exploration, have substantially dampened step-function changes in knowledge addition in almost every field. In economics, availability of metrics and statistics in abundance have kept academics, spending most of their careers proving the established theories. In Physics, the ability to generate data at will with heavy machines has kept any innate creativity bottled up. In life sciences, manufacturers, staffed with conventional statisticians and a regulatory regime with little understanding of risk management have assured that breakthrough drugs are yesterday’s story.

It is a perfect storm. As a vanishing generation, steeped in qualitative and non-scientific processes of information gathering is bombarded by another, trained to see and analyze data, we are left with little hope to advance knowledge. For the former, data do not matter and for the latter, it appears, only data matter. Neither can be further from the truth. From a societal perspective, one has to worry less about the former as they are checking out from the ecosystem. But, it is problematic to see educational systems, world-over are catering to processes that start from data and not knowledge. The implicit assumption of modern science, that experimentalism and associated empiricism are necessary conditions for the creation and establishment of theories, is fundamentally incorrect.

If we create a society, enslaved to data and thus prone to considering experimentalism and empiricism as the primary tools to generate and advance knowledge, we are doomed.

Saturday, May 9, 2015

The cost of thinking

A recent article from MIT (1) argues that consumers’ decision processes in the retail arena, replete with confusing choices and an overabundance of brands, are dominated by an “indexing strategy.” To reach a decision, consumers may be indexing (or utilizing a bundle of proxies to compare) rather than conducting an exhaustive search as such an optimization process could have high cognitive costs. If true, this finding has implications for companies in the retail arena for product design, promotions, delivery and pricing.

First, it opens up a dimension in the psyche of the consumer, that makes analyzing decisions more complex for the observer (retailer) even though it simplifies the process for the consumer. In a world of a large number of close substitutes for any product or service, a consumer with a preference for minimizing cognitive cost, will only consider a subset of products, that is not necessarily obvious to the retailer. As the consumer “indexes” against an unknown subset of substitutes, she will likely consider all aspects of comparability – as the simplified process allows her to do so, in the comfort of an already reduced cognitive cost. Ironically, these attributes may include both physical and virtual aspects – with differing weights, making it very difficult for the retailer to define “competition,” in a world of interacting product definitions.

Second, status-quo strategies that may include price discounting, bundling and couponing, may have a longer lasting effect on the “indexing strategy,” followed by the consumer. Such tactics by the retailer could move the brand away or closer to the indexing bundle, used by the consumer. Although the impact of such strategies on the near term decisions of the consumer is ambiguous, it does increase the complexity of optimizing such strategies. And, finally, retailers who have a rigid view as to “who their competition is,” may find themselves drifting – as the consumer preferences and retailing tactics may enroll or remove them from the proxy bundles considered by the consumer.

Retailers may have to move away from long held views on the competitive landscape and tactics that may have brought customers to their doorstep in the past. Flexible and dynamic strategies in design, delivery and pricing may be needed to win the consumer indexing game.

(1) The brain in the supermarket, Published: Friday, March 27, 2015 - 11:33 in Mathematics & Economics, Science News

Sunday, May 3, 2015


Statistical significance has let many industries down and built fortunes for many, riding their luck. A recent paper from Duke University explains what most non-statisticians and non-financiers always knew. Models that do not make practical sense are unlikely to work. Industries on top of the modern economy, those who attract the best and the brightest – physics, medicine and finance – have been playing with statistical fire, discovering and proving everything there is – some for money and others for fame. As the Duke paper points out, almost any hypothesis could be proven by a sufficiently large number of trials. And proving hypotheses is front and center for any “scientific profession.”

In this context, it may be interesting to make the following predictions:

1. LHC : If 6 trillion trillion collisions are made and the data analyzed, LHC could prove God exists. Just 6 trillion was enough to find the “God particle” within 5 sigma. This is a good experiment. Proving God exists may solve many of the vexing problems faced by humanity.

2. SETI : If an antenna is provided to every roof top in the world and the “search” accelerated by a billion times, SETI could prove ET with pointy ears, a cone head and red white and blue stripes across the body exists in some distant galaxy.

3. Wall Street : If the number of idiots trading securities back and forth every day is increased by an order of magnitude, Wall street could create somebody who wins on every trade for 10 years running.

Statistics, the “science” that is foundational for “accelerating knowledge” of humanity, may singlehandedly bring knowledge-seekers to a standstill in the presence of “big data.”

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Quantum games

Research from LMU in Munich attempts to test if quantum particles, such as bosons, follow prescriptions of game theory, a well established concept in economics. This is in a favorable direction as it may simplify quantum behavior by using constructs from macro systems. The incentives for bosons to be on the same wavelength as their neighbors is akin to incentives present in human interactions. And, if a simple objective function, such as profits or wealth maximization can be found for quantum particles, then, their behavior could well be predicted by economic theory. It has been noted that, at the extreme, the Bose-Einstein condensate behaves like a single super particle. It is conceivable that if such behavior is universal, it has implications for design for truly advanced societies.

The divergence of the behavior of quantum systems from human scale systems has been problematic not only for physicists but also for amateurs who seek simplification. Intuition seems to point to missing attributes or perhaps a completely wrong theory. If quantum behavior could be explained by those seen in bigger systems, then the chance of survival increases for the theory itself. However, this implicitly assumes that bigger systems are a natural progression of quantum ones and most available information seems to refute such a notion. Engineering bias force scientists and technologists to a unified theory – from parts to the whole - and it is quite possible that multiple universes with differing laws exist within the observable one in human scale.

Whatever the reality, the notion of explaining quantum behavior using larger systems is intriguing. If this is possible, such behavior could provide direction for better designs of human systems as well.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Publication pollution

A recent commentary in the Mayo Clinic Proceedings, highlights most academics and those less academic, already knew – the need and desire to publish is a disease, aided by “plagiarism, fraud and predatory publishing.” Academics – held sacred by a vanishing few – now means brutal business and what comes out is mostly noise, stolen materials and joint incompetence. The acceleration seen in “academic publishing,” is a clear indication that the quality has declined and more importantly the authors mostly rely on a patchwork of stolen materials and ideas.

This is unfortunate. Knowledge creation, still the only attribute that marginally differentiates humans and animals, has been on the decline for decades. Information and noise, mistakenly attributed to knowledge by technologists, have been creating havoc. The “data explosion,” and the ever eluding “singularity,” have kept the precious little brain cells away from advancing knowledge. To top it all off, the ambassadors of knowledge creation have been busy plagiarizing and creating irrelevant publications.

Misaligned incentives, aided by limited time horizons of knowledge seekers, are likely to assure that humans will continue the rat race in a maze with no exits.

Monday, April 20, 2015

WISE, Not!

Recent news that NASA’s WISE orbiting observatory found no tell-tale signs of advanced societies in 100,000 galaxies studied, is a constant reminder that ET is likely more advanced than the big brains at the space agency. Blindly following the speculation made more than 50 years ago, that mid-infrared emissions in a Galaxy could be indicative of a dominant civilization of galactic scope, the engineers seem to have gotten it wrong, yet again.

And they will get it wrong many times in this century. An advanced society is one that does not emit radiation, something that does not show up in the archaic instruments created by the least interesting species in the universe. An advanced society is one that will have no intention to dominate, let alone “conquer” the resources offered by a galaxy. Stupid humans, driven by ego and materialism, seem to be assuming that “domination,” is hard-wired into intelligent life. Intelligence is least likely to be about “cornering resources,” and an advanced society is one that will leave no tell-tale signs or bread crumbs for the stupid to detect them.

Radiation seeking humans, constantly looking for TV programs to tune into from other galaxies, will be left sorely disappointed. If ET exists, it will absolutely assure that there will be no “contact.” After all, who would like to contact a species, that burns fossil fuels in a limited green house they are afforded, constantly fighting and killing each other for irrational belief systems and fleeting wealth, segment themselves into color, geography, language and physical proportions, cast a blind eye to those with poor initial conditions and completely incompetent in advancing knowledge.

ET has fascinated many – but it will likely remain a fascination.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Stuck in the weeds

Yet another policy choice and the reaction of our fearless leaders to it, show the level of ignorance and incompetence the country has to get over before it can advance further. The magic leaf has been with humans for thousands of years and it shows significant medical advantages already. Because of its status, research has been dampened and we have a large number of people sitting in jail for a crime because of legalese. Those who wear the badge of “free markets,” elsewhere should engage in introspection and remove the inconsistencies in their policy choices.

In addition to the limits, there has to be education and competence requirements for people who want to legislate. I do not mean “self certification,” but hard constraints including exams that politicians have to pass before they can run for important policy positions. The gap between the current generation and the ones in Washington is big and it is getting bigger every passing day. If doctors, engineers and scientists have to demonstrate competence through structured tests, it is unclear why this is not the case for those who could have profound impact on a large number of people. Educational Testing Services – please take note and design a PAT – Politics Admission Test – that could have weeded out the crop that is currently legislating.

Stuck in the weeds and frozen in time, our leaders are unlikely to move society to a better state.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Engineers discover probabilities

Recent news that MIT engineers have finally discovered probabilities is heartening news. A “probabilistic programming language,” they “invented” appears to be quite competitive to conventional systems for vision and cognition. It is always better to arrive late rather than not at all. Determinism, the bane of engineering, has kept many bright minds back for long.

There have been weak attempts at the same many decades before. After the hype of Artificial Intelligence waned in the towering institutions of the East and the West in the 80s, some feeble attempts at programming in logic surfaced in unknown quarters. Such programming was all about probabilities – and it had no prescriptive GoTo statements. The originators underestimated the wrath of engineers – who generally knew everything there is to know. Prolog was shown the grave before it arrived.

Machine learning, the latest hype, has some potential – but not in the hands of engineers with deterministic education. Perhaps, the next generation can leave the legacy of ego and ignorance behind and really make something happen.

Friday, April 10, 2015


Recent research from Princeton that attempts to spin yet another particle – spinon – to “explain” frustrated magnets, is symptomatic of trying to fit existing (old) theories into observations. Contemporary education and learning institutions are so inflexible that they are simply unable to break away from tradition. If observations do not fit a theory, it is better to ask if the theory is right rather than incrementally attaching an error that is yet to be proven. Sure, writing papers are easier this way but it is unlikely to advance knowledge.

If magnets are not behaving as expected, it is ok to call them “frustrated.” But to hypothesize a particle that may explain such frustration is fiction. This is dangerous research  - as experience tells us that, once “speculated,” it shall be “proven” in Physics – either by unachievable mathematics or by generating mind numbing noise from experiments. It is ironic that there has been only a single individual for over hundred years who could create a framework to think in Physics.

Educational institutions, world over, adept at producing “bricks in the wall,” graduates – engineers, scientists and doctors – prisoners of the status-quo, have to rethink – and quick.

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Stop time

Stopping time appears to have several advantages. The trick is the modality of stoppage. If time is stopped with an incremental move, say a day, and then repeated in an infinite loop and if information transfer is allowed at the boundaries, then knowledge can increase infinitely. Biological systems, with a hard expiry date, have been inefficient in the transfer of information across space-time. The Fermi paradox is an important notion in this context. Biology, appears to be highly inferior to systems that perpetuate – either through time or space.

Search for extra-terrestrial life does not make any sense in this vein. An advanced society is most likely to harness gravity and stop time rather than travel across space or even show themselves on Radar. The epitome of modern transportation – humans packed like sardines in an aluminum can with wings – should provide a hint that travel is the least of things an advanced society would do. The idiots with the telescope and antennas in the heart of Silicon Valley never asked why an advanced society will show themselves to their inferior finding techniques. My tax dollars are better spent elsewhere.

Humans, the least likely species to search the heavens for their next of kin, may be getting ahead of themselves. The fact that they found a toy to scan the skies, does not mean that it is the best use of their time.

Friday, March 20, 2015

The “habitable zone”

A recent publication in the “Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society,” uses “heavy Mathematics,” to show that there could be billions of stars in the milky way alone with multiple planets in the “habitable zone,” defined as the existence of “acceptable” temperatures with the possibility of water. Humans, are funny animals – with all their brain power and scientific knowledge, they are perfectly happy extrapolating from a single observation. The embarrassing use of Mathematics in the calculation of the probability of life in the Milky Way itself, that appears to be indistinguishable from 1.0, may surface many questions.

High energy Physics, not significantly different from fiction, is clinging to century old theories, that explain less than 4% of the observations. Meanwhile, ego driven space administrations, are on the edge, not being able to prove extra-terrestrial life, something they strongly feel should have been done by now. The tiny slice of space-tine, handed to humans, apparently is not a constraint for the big brains, who have adroitly forecasted the arrival of green women in less than twenty years, albeit, the proof could be less compelling than the “encounters of the fourth kind.” Meanwhile, the famous one in England, worried about the green variety life not being friendly, strongly admonishes against the search for the same. Clearly, there is content here befitting day time soap.

The only known habitable zone, a quirk in space time, could be easily destroyed before its occupants find another.

Friday, March 13, 2015

Lifeless water world

Recent news that Ganymede, Jupiter’s famous moon, may house more water than the Earth, is interesting. NASA’s bold claim that they “shall find” extra-terrestrial life in less than 20 years, should be viewed with abundant caution in this context. If significant water worlds in close proximity to Earth are lifeless, one has to question the logic of looking for water across space. The problem is that, once hypothesized, nothing remains unproven in contemporary science.

If Ganymede has underground oceans that rival the Earth, all efforts should be focused on finding life there – not in distant galaxies. If the presence of water is a necessary condition for life to emerge, as argued by the famous and the systematic, then they have to focus on the many instances of water in the solar system itself. If attempts at finding life in these close quarters come empty, then one has to question both the idea that life could exist elsewhere and if water is a necessary condition for life. One cannot have it both ways. Just as the “Higgs Boson” surfaced in mindless noisy data, it will not be sufficient to show spectral noise of oxygen and water, somewhere in a distant galaxy and claim extra-terrestrial life. Scientists, with egos that rival the stupid, have shown a weakness when it comes to proving stated hypotheses – and never even considering the alternative. But then, tenure and publications are more important than real science.

If there is only one observation of life ridden mass in the entire universe, then, the probability remains close to zero to find it elsewhere. No amount of mathematical manipulation is going to make this probability higher. And, if life cannot be found in conditions that are assumed to be favorable, the probability of extra-terrestrial life gets even less. It is depressing to think that the samples of life that can be observed on Earth, are indeed the best the universe could come up with. But that does not mean that they exist elsewhere.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Limited imagination

And then, she could see the heavens beyond her imagination
Out in the distance, Quasars shine but the physicists do not know
Near in time, people die, but the intelligentsia does not know
Champaign flows and the suits in glass houses get religion
8 Billion, too few to count, but too many for those, counting pennies
Brain cells, a liability for most, have failed again to make an impact
They sever heads in the East and intelligence in the West
It is, indeed, a show, nobody should miss
Blonde hair, racism and democratic intent on television and media
The ones in the South adhering to belief and those in the North to principles
Neither wins nor do they advance humanity
It seems futile and irrelevant to those with brains over their shoulders
Humans, complex animals and a quirk of evolution, normalize again
They should not be here, but now, they are ready to inflict damage
To themselves, and anything they may touch and destroy
They cannot measure damage, they write history with glowing language
Time, the only artifact with power, shall erase every action and thought
And space, inferior to time, shall close in on the incompetent and stupid
The predictable collapse, cannot be anticipated by those with constraints
But then, the question remains for the few who may be left behind

Monday, March 2, 2015

Small noise

Recent research from Penn State (1) surfaces interesting questions on privacy in the modern world. Privacy has become a stumbling block in the use of valuable data for research and business purposes. Penn State team advocates adding small noise to data to achieve “differential privacy.” Privacy, a theme picked up by regulators with little knowledge of technology, has to be advanced by foundational mathematics. High tech giants, makers of search, faces, operating systems, databases, flashy hardware and next-quarter’s profits, are ill-equipped to solve this problem.

Research has been lagging. Privacy is a mathematical problem and not a data problem. With less than 8 billion samples across the world, it should be relatively easy to assure privacy if its is solved systematically. Regulators, lost in time and space, are attempting to use archaic tools to solve a problem, they deem important. And, big businesses, who want to hoard and abuse data are unlikely to play. Hence, this is a problem, only academics can solve.

Privacy, as important as education and health in the modern context, can only be protected by the application of mathematics. With few distinct samples with limited time horizons, it should not tax academic minds, if they focus on it.


Friday, February 6, 2015

Value of society’s health

Policy makers, both sides of the aisle and across the pond, often seem to miss the big picture. Sure, a democratic system that works in 4 and 5 year election cycles, is not amenable to strategy. Healthcare, a lighting rod for idiots running for office, is a complex question. For most of their history, humans were driven by simple objective functions – food and sex, dominating anything else. In the modern world, for most, the equation has not changed much. Although the village elders may have thought strategically about the health of the clan, as managing a portfolio of men and women with high specialization is not a trivial problem, such ideas did not flow much further.

The idea of society, an abstract concept, is very new. In the modern context of interconnected humans by technology, the definition of society certainly has been expanded. Facebook boasts of a society, nearly billion strong and that system is not significantly different from China and India. Although politicians would like to cleanly divide populations by faith, ignorance and color, fitting them neatly into societal fragments, such ideas have been rendered obsolete for a while.

Assuming that one can clearly understand societies – an interconnected organism - then one can envision the best way to nourish it. The foundational elements of a modern society are health and education. Every participant benefits from positive externalities associated with these common goods. Thus, policy imperatives that substantially enhance health and education should be dominant in a modern society. However, the tactics of implementation differ significantly. Health, for example, is as much the responsibility of an individual as it is of the society. Thus, an individual who does not care for her health and education (societal goods) cannot be helped by society. Her actions, then, will be against utility maximization for herself and more importantly, for the society.

Upgrading a society is likely a two-step process – first, information has to be widely available to all participants including the society’s objective function. Then market forces have to take over to move the system to a better state – providing appropriate incentives and disincentives to all participants as long as there are no market failures. If market failures are present in the provision and use of common goods, they have to be removed through appropriately designed constraints. And, all policies have to be consistently implemented.

It seems unlikely that modern humans can design next level societies as they seem to lack necessary knowledge and skills.

Monday, February 2, 2015

Cultural slippage

Human societies, from inception, have shown a positive slope, albeit small, toward higher culture – defined by a better and abstract understanding of extra-self. Arguably, contemporary modern humans show measurable slippage in culture. Alarmingly, this could be big enough to reverse many centuries of progress. The instruments used to sustain a positive slope in culture for centuries, such as religion, are largely responsible for reversing the trend, now.

For most of the history of the upstart humans, it was art that provided the fuel for a positive cultural slope. For the past several centuries, however, science has taken a dominant role. But it has been inferior to provide a sustaining momentum to the human psyche. Materialism, that spreads like cancer, coupled with prescriptive science, has largely assured that the trend reversal is permanent. It has been successful in dividing the world into tiny fragments, each apparently different but certainly fighting the rest. It is ironic that at the peak of pride for technologists, the world shows signs of humans returning to their origins, when little technology was present.

The slope of cultural progress, the only tangible measure of advancement for the human mind, has turned negative again with little chance of yet another reversal.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

The utility of strategy

Strategy, a long term view of evolving uncertainty, has been misunderstood. Blue chip consulting firms and investment banks - sultans of PowerPoint and handlers of boardroom dramatics, have been leading firms in the wrong direction for decades. Business schools, filled with those adept at finance and accounting, have been drilling the wrong stuff into the brains of every budding graduate. The economy is suffering from ”stratgeists” and not from the lack of them.

Strategy, however, is a useful construct, not for individuals or organizations but for society. For the society, it provides guidance to nourish a stable, productive and improving population, able to propagate the human genes, across space and time. For individuals and organizations, with limited decision and harvesting horizons, strategy provides negative value. This inherent conflict – the whole benefiting from longer horizon thinking but not the parts, means that the former is likely to lose. Utility maximization for an individual or organization, is inherently constrained by limited time horizons and tacticians, indeed, add more value.

Strategy has to be redefined – it is not about entering new markets, culling dogs and embracing stars, maximizing equity value, next quarter’s earrings or next year’s bonuses. Strategy is a notion that may help assess and improve humanity.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Is living longer, better?

Statistics have been clear, humans are living longer (1). India, projected to be the most populous country in the world as the Chinese have been systematically controlling the birth/death ratio for long, cunningly culling the variety that could create more, has been able pump up nearly 20% of the world population to longer life expectancy. In India today, one is expected to live till 65 and the world at large to 71. The more important question is whether living longer is better.

Biological systems are preprogrammed to maximize life span. The basic equation is driven by reproductive requirements and those living longer are more likely to transmit their DNA to the next generation. Nature, with little flexibility to adjust to technological advances, seems to have gotten it wrong. Living longer is the biggest liability in the modern world, controlled by humans, who do not think straight. Today, over 80% of the healthcare costs of an individual is attributed to the last year of her life. For the individual, waiting to fade away in dignity, extension of life is likely utility destroying.

There could be an optimal life span for a human driven by the status of technology and the availability of resources. Moving outside such bounds is unlikely to be good and this has policy implications for medicine, education and societal formation.


Saturday, January 10, 2015

Living on the edge

A recent article published in the open access journal ZooKeys (1) shows that the 10 Km wide asteroid that impacted the Earth, 65 million years ago – famous for removing the dominant species at that time, nearly terminated the weaklings, the mammals, as well. The paper portrays a picture that is striking – the placental mammals that dominate the world today – from mice to women – just got lucky. They do not seem to posses any significant advantages but the conditions afforded by the trauma, removed all competition, allowing them to thrive.

If mammals were any wiser, they would analyze this event in depth. Dinosaurs had technology – largely supported by biology but the discontinuity made the status-quo technology, a liability. Humans, apparently, on top of the food chain today, seem to be proud of their technology as well – most of which are finely tuned to current conditions. Their societies seem to have morphed into systems with little networked flexibility. Any minor perturbation could send them galloping back 50,000 years – hunting for food and sex, aided by a volatile organ, an evolutionary mishap, on their shoulders. Technology would not matter in such a discontinuity.

10 Km wide space debris are like pebbles in a system, teaming with primordial matter, sprinkled across an irrelevant planetary system at the boundaries of a less than ordinary galaxy, in a bubble universe, member of an infinite multiverse. Such an event is a near certainty for a planet that is in a straight jacket in limited space-time.


Wednesday, January 7, 2015

BELLA rules

Recent news that the Berkeley Lab has achieved an energy of 4.25 Giga Volts in a miniature accelerator, 9 centimeters long on a desktop, continues on a profitable path to next level of discoveries in Physics. Traditionalists, steeped in the philosophy of “size matters,” have been on the wrong track for over 50 years. They dug tunnels and abandoned them in Texas and they dug longer on the other side of the pond, that could prove pretty much anything in the midst of mind-numbing noise in the data. Size and volume do not matter, insights do.

It is ironic that scientists bow to engineers in an effort to make fundamental discoveries. Engineers, bored out of their wits, need no invitation to build ever bigger guns. This combination is deadly – it is costly and it takes away any possibility of fundamental discoveries in Physics – Not the Nobel seeking ones, but real ones. Einstein's obscure paper on LASER would have given a favorable direction 100 years ago for the brilliant minds of this century. But in the midst of mediocrity, some even nourishing visions of accelerators, the size of the solar system, it was all about size. BELLA thinks differently – and that ultimately could make a difference to the “dark” ages of Physics – where anything inexplicable is tagged with “dark.”

Few provide insights – but many publish, build and run experiments.