Scientific Sense Podcast

Thursday, June 30, 2016

Cognitive monopoly

Major discontinuities in human history have often led to monopoly positions in subsequent markets, driven by winner takes all characteristics. In the modern economy - automobiles, airplanes and computers certainly fit this view. In the case of the internet, invented by tax payer investments, attempts by a few to monopolize the flow of electrons, have been averted thus far. But "Net neutrality," is not something that rent seeking behemoths are likely to accept in the long run, even if they did not pay for it.

The nascent wave - machine cognition - has the monopolists scrambling to get the upper hand. In this wave, capital, as measured by megaflops and terabytes, has a significant advantage. The leaders, plush with computing power, seem to believe that there is nothing that may challenge their positions. Their expectations of technology acceleration appear optimistic but nonetheless we appear to be progressing at an interesting enough trajectory. Although many, including the world's leading scientist, are worried about runaway artificial intelligence, one could argue that there are more prosaic worries for the 7 billion around the world.

Monopolies generally destroy societal value. Even those with a charitable frame, acquire the disease of "God complex," as the money begins to flow in. Humans are simple, driven by ego and an objective function, either biased toward basic necessities or irrational attributes that are difficult to tease out. Contemporary humans can be easily classified by intuition, without even the need for the simplest of algorithms - Nearest neighbors - into those with access to information and those who do not. Politicians and policy makers have been perplexed by the fact that such a simple segmentation scheme seems to work in every part of the world population from countries to counties and cities. Cognition monopolists will make it infinitely worse.

Can Mathematics be monopolized? The simple answer is yes. In a regime of brute force over highly available computing power for a few, answers could be found by the blind and the dumb. Perhaps, there is still hope for the rest as we have seen this movie before.

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Clans continue

It appears clear that habits formed over hundred thousand years cannot be changed in a mere hundred years. As homo-sapiens ventured out of the African Savannah, they were still tightly organized as small clans, less than a hundred in strength, with their own unique language, culture, religion and morality. In Europe and Asia, within hundreds of years of arrival, they erased their close relatives with astounding efficiency. They also successfully navigated disease and climatic change that reduced them to a few thousand - emerging out of the bottle neck, with even tighter clan relationships.

Technology - aircrafts, computers and the internet - opened up the modern economy in the blink of an eye. Economists, excited by the possibilities, argued for the opening up of countries, continents and economies, but they did not realize the behavior patterns integrated deeply into the human psyche. Countries cling to their languages and apparent cultural nuances aided by politicians who in autocratic and socialistic regimes seem to have convinced the populace that they can implement strategic policies that will make their countries, "great again." In advanced democracies, a larger percentage of the population, seem to have self taught the same ideas and in some rare cases they have found surrogates, who will sing the same tune as the autocrats, even though he/she does not know the words to the music. A dangerous trend has emerged in clans that profess to be democratic and sophisticated. The question is whether learning from mistakes is possible - something that made humans successful in the past. Ironically, in the complex modern economy, the outcomes are not clearly observable and often has long cycles. Getting mauled by a tiger is immediate feedback but having a stagnant and deteriorating economy has little feedback for the larger population.

The modern economy, still largely driven by the clan instincts of the seven billion that occupy the Earth, cannot be shocked out of its stupor by logic. Perhaps photographs from space that show the little blue spot in the midst of chaos may appeal to the artistic side of humans. Little closer, they will find no demarcations as depicted on maps and globes. After all, humans have shown great capabilities to think abstractly, albeit, such thoughts are not often tested by logic.