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Scientific Sense Podcast

Friday, December 28, 2018

Wearing the inside out

A precise definition of consciousness eluded humanity forever. As she stood up in the African Savannah for the first time and took a peak at the star-studded Southern sky, unobstructed by light pollution, she knew there was something more than tactical optimization of a narrow objective function that included food, sex and survival. Consciousness appears to have originated from the individual abstracting herself from the immediate and visible context. Thus, a conscious individual will be more prone to abstraction such as art, literature and music and will be less adept at prescriptive notions as perpetuated by science and technology. It is likely that the industries that drive the economy has less aggerate consciousness compared to society.

As "artificial intelligence," accelerates with a battle being fought on the margins to make machines, "conscious," the technologists have to understand that one cannot impart a property to an object without a clear definition of the property. Consciousness is clearly not appearing, talking and behaving like a human (or a dog), but rather an ability to abstract. Dogs are likely more imaginative than most humans and they are possibly more conscious. A narrow objective function will constrain the originator and most of the world's human population is struggling to cope. The luxury of time to think is an important nourishing aspect of consciousness.

Then, a more important question is whether consciousness is utility enhancing for the individual. A conscious human being will have a higher level of pain as she attempts to optimize within a complex and uncertain context. A conscious individual will not limit her thoughts to countries, religions, races or education. A conscious individual will not extinguish another, be unfair, seek localization and become narcissistic. A conscious individual will seek to unite rather than divide, seek freedom and achieve happiness within a finite time horizon.

Humans do not seem to have very high levels of consciousness nor do they have a definition for it.


Monday, December 24, 2018

Singularity, revisited

As fragmentation rules the status-quo, as hatred defines actions and policies, as incompetence dominates, as ignorance prevails, as uncertainty thumps the known and the deterministic, as science ignores religion, as religion seeks to kill science, as technologists travel to the street for money to invest, as financiers travel to the technologists to fill their sack, as musicians shout and cry without meaning, as cops kill, as the white, black and brown assert why they matter, as the politicians who went to drain the swamp, poison it, as the markets crash, as the homeless shiver, as the sea rises and crashes into the coasts to eliminate life, as the academics write papers of irrelevance, as the doctors attempt to keep their patients on life support, as the physicists make theories of nothing, as the engineers make meaningless inventions, as the graduates of the best schools get elevated in spite of their criminal backgrounds, as the bureaucrat in the lonely island gets lost in separation logic, as the elite drink wine and the rest beer, as the handsome horse rider plans the next intervention, as the purveyor of non-capitalism deals with the one who does not understand capitalism, as the religious leaders lock up their positions by attempting to eliminate those with a different faith, as the ancient island loses humans in droves, as the technologists spread private data as if it is Halloween candy, as the consultants assert they know everything and the investment bankers assert they have all the money, as the universities attempt to recruit the best and the brightest of certain shades, as some dole out tax relief and others take it back, as entrepreneurs struggle and monopolists win, as the young and confused battle against the old and weary, as some try to burn anything that burns and others try to save the burning residue, as the powerful kill those with information and the most powerful stand silently behind, as the world spins in distress in spite of the many exo-planet discoveries, we have reached a discontinuity.

I suspect, this was not the singularity they have been waiting for.

Saturday, December 22, 2018

High-throughput Screening for Energy


The battle for innovation will be won at the intersection of materials and information. The field has been lagging for nearly a century as scientists focused on incremental improvements to established media. Now, there appears to be hope for progress at an accelerated pace (1). Well established techniques in fields such as life sciences could boost productivity in other areas.

Humans have gotten used to relying on nature for materials for half a million years. In the modern world, that substantially curtails their ability to move further. They have been given a matrix of simple molecules and the capability to combine them at will to create new properties and applications. They have been misguided for ever, trying to make gold from charcoal and attempting to fuse hydrogen in a cold test-tube. Industries such as pharmaceuticals that claim to have found "new agents," largely relied on tree barks and soil. It was nature that made the humans tick, albeit at a very uninteresting level.

The ability to custom develop materials to fit desired properties will be an indication of human advancement. It is not the ability to code, to send mechanical toys to nearby planets, to keep the weak and the weary on life support systems, to devise theories of nothing, to postulate the growth and decline of countries, markets and cryptic currencies, to create humanoids without consciousness, to make vehicles that move at the speed of sound or to inject poison to the political swamps.

Next generation materials will redefine the energy and the future of the "tiny blue dot."


(1) https://www.sciencemag.org/news/2018/12/megalibraries-nanomaterials-could-speed-clean-energy-and-other-grand-challenge-targets

Monday, December 10, 2018

It is all in your mind


An experiment at Stanford (1) appears to demonstrate the power of the placebo effect. Most pharmaceutical research clearly points to the effects of believing and as suggested in the study, it has implications for how information is captured and disseminated through tests. Humans are susceptible to suggestion and can completely rewire the infrastructure of their body from their brain. This should have had survival benefits early as the village elder may have segregated people into random groups and reinforced one side positively and the other not. Those who where lucky enough to be in the right group started believing and ultimately succeeded, proving the point.

An over-tested and over-treated contemporary population is not only suffering from ineffective treatment regimens but also the negative effects imparted on their bodies by their brains. As medical schools get more technical in their educational stance, they have to remember that the weakest link in the chain remains to be the patient, who could easily fight technology. In this context, it may be time to redesign education bottoms up with more focus on how patients internalize information. Ultimately, it is the content of revealed information that drives outcomes. As technology advances we are likely to be exposed to more information and the effects of such exposure could completely negate any positive impact of advanced treatments.

For a variety of reasons, humanity is at crossroads. On one hand, we have accelerating technologies that boasts to make everything better and on the other, it conflicts with the psyche of ordinary human beings. With a harsh timing constraint, once an individual is sliding down the slope, it is nearly impossible to reverse the trend.

Everything appears to come back to how society manages and uses information.


(1) https://www.sciencemag.org/news/2018/12/just-thinking-you-have-poor-endurance-genes-changes-your-body


Thursday, December 6, 2018

GammaGo

News (1) that AlphaGo can successfully learn Chess, Shogi and Go through self-play is interesting. It is symptomatic of trends in AI largely relying on raw computing power. Typically, innovation lags when resources become infinite and we have early signs of trouble here. Reinforcement learning through self-play is not a new concept - it has been here from the advent of computers. It is just that not many have access to computing resources necessary to create demonstrable prototypes.

More importantly, this approach is unlikely to culminate in cognition and consciousness, the possible end game. It is clearly the case that computers can create usable heuristics by repeated experiments, just as humans do. However, those heuristics are generated within a framework of rules that were specified ex. ante. The "deep mind," enthusiasts had argued a few years ago that their computer found a "new way," to play an ancient game. It is quite possible that given a large number of experiments, computers can learn from cases that are outside the norm. But to label this "creativity," is a stretch. It is more an accident than invention. One could argue that humans have benefitted handsomely from accidents in the past and so why not computers. This is true and so the general question is whether computing resources running amuck with an infinite number of repeated experiments can provide learnings from accidents at a faster rate than humans are capable of.

It is tantalizing. What the AI leaders need to understand, however, is that we have been here before. A critical look at the approach may be beneficial. We knew that we could predict from historical data ever since math was invented and we knew that repeated search of the design space could yield usable results since the advent of computers. The question is whether we have done anything new except pouring money into scaling conventional technologies. Stacking countless "computers," in the "cloud" on the promise of AI has many drawbacks.

It is time to go back to the drawing board. A field replete with engineers seems to be going in the wrong direction. As innovation lags in materials and quantum processing, they are creating mountains of Silicon to show heuristics generation is possible. The mathematicians locked up in low productivity areas such as finance, may be well advised to go back and think.

Thinking has a low premium currently and that is problematic.


(1) http://science.sciencemag.org/content/362/6419/1140

Saturday, December 1, 2018

Gene editing: There is no turning back

Recent news (1) that gene editing could successfully create a mutant form of a gene that makes the host, resistant to HIV, is likely to create scientific awe and ethical concerns. It is important to understand that the technology has arrived and there is no turning back. We will use it to solve identified tactical problems and gloss over the unknown and the unanticipated. Logically, this is the best decision.

Humans are in a bind - they have not been able to meaningfully extend life but they have found many band aids that will keep the recipient breathing, pulsating and alive for short periods of time. The constraints are clear and the micro-optimization problem, relatively simple to solve. But the relevance of their innovations and actions in the societal context, is less clear. Now that we can gene edit out of one problem without considering future ones, the technical minds will be happier than ever.

As we manage life bottoms up as the individual desires, we are approaching a discontinuity in which those with resources to accommodate the micro-objectives win over the rest. But the victory is short lived, literally. The larger question is why the individual makes decisions for herself even though the expected outcomes are utility diminishing for her, given the current technology. One reason could be the option value the individual computes with the uncertainty in emerging ideas and technologies. In this case, sustaining life even with debilitating disease states, could be dominant.

However, the individual has to consider the trade-offs systematically. Given a small probability of hitherto unknown technology that could reset pre-existing disease states with potential pain and disutility that are most likely otherwise, it is a difficult problem to solve. This problem is easier to analyze at the societal level, if the objective function can be clearly defined. For most on Earth, it appears to be perpetuating their genes and humanity in general. It is unclear if that is objective.

A thought experiment on the formation of objective functions in an advanced society could be interesting. If the individual is perpetual, you could effectively remove the noise emanating from micro-objectives. In such a society, only the macro-objective remains. Since the individual's desires are already maximized, society can extend overall objectives without constraints. What would an advanced society like to maximize? They will likely incorporate universal ambitions in a beneficial way.

Humans do not have to fear an "attack," from an advanced ET. They are unlikely to "attack," if they are advanced.


(1) https://www.sciencemag.org/news/2018/11/ethics-aside-does-crispr-baby-experiment-make-scientific-sense

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Beyond the horizon

The span of human life, with a stringent expiry date, has been short to attempt fundamental changes to society. The age gene they carry, apparently by sheer accident, has done more damage to the human psyche than diseases and lately, accidents and suicides. The human brain has been a slow learner, deploying empiricism and machine learning to create meaning for context. But by the time it recognizes pure abstractness, it is typically too late. As knowledge simply vanishes over the horizon and as the new batch starts over with a different technology, humanity may be reaching a plateau with little expected advancements.

Early civilizations recognized the value of knowledge in a tactical sense. They could actually see better decision-making by the village elder, who had gained experience. But this simply does not work in the modern context. As technology and knowledge increase exponentially, humans will likely struggle to find a happy medium to encapsulate relevant information from the past. The technology behemoths, competing with each other to create a "bigger cloud," simply do not understand the needs of society. As they attempt to siphon all available electrons to power their data centers, eminently capable of accelerating entropy, there are larger questions facing society they could potentially help with.

Information is a dying asset and having an infinite capacity to store it simply does not help. Heuristics generated from information is in a spectrum, some robust enough to stand the test of time and others superseded by emerging ones. So, knowledge is about differentiating the utility of heuristics and reducing noise to the absolute minimum. The generation who thrived on noise and triviality is about to check out and they will be replaced by another who seem to be better positioned. However, they will simply lose the few heuristics from the past generated at tremendous cost. It is this connection that may have made other civilizations to move further. This is not about technology but an abstract understanding of how knowledge could be transferred.

The problem to solve is not robotics or AI, but how relevant knowledge could be transferred across generations. This idea will not increase shareholder value, reelect incompetent politicians or allow academics to publish papers to capture "tenure," and therein lies the conundrum. The "think tanks," across the world are incapable of "thinking," and we have arrived at the doorstep of self-destruction. The biggest "accomplishments," of contemporary humans such as landing a mechanical toy on a nearby planet, increasing the life span of humans marginally, building vehicles that can move marginally faster and  designing computers that are marginally more efficient are not accomplishments at all.

It appears that there are no positive slope to the human psyche. Perhaps, they are programmed this way. But beyond the horizon, there is a rainbow that we could continue to seek.


Friday, November 23, 2018

Look Ma, No Hands!

Recent news from MIT(1) that electro-aerodynamics has successfully powered a small aircraft over 60 meters is an interesting development. Such a vehicle has no moving parts and makes no noise. Since the arrival of steam powered automobiles, humans have been noisy - in water, air and everywhere. Their machines in water create such cacophony they do not let whales and dolphins communicate with each other. Their aircrafts and drones have been creating so much noise leading to health issues for themselves and the structures they have erected. And, on the ground, their pollutant puffing slow vehicles have been pushing the planet to the edge.

It is about time. Propulsion by burning fossil fuels, the most inelegant engineering idea ever, has to stop. The band aid on the ground, "electric vehicles," is not a solution - just a hype that allows shifting pollution from one spot to another. The electric motor and the internal combustion engine, massive inventions that propelled humanity to the adjacent step, ultimately could be their Achilles heel. They have been keeping warm, blazing the night sky and moving in space by burning fossil fuels as if there is no tomorrow. They could be right.

Lagging innovation in materials, propulsion and computing has kept a lid on human progression. They have been stuck in a level 0 society from their arrival. More recently, they have become experts in the implementation of the status-quo, with available materials, propulsion systems and computing resources. That has been easy but it is unlikely to help them escape the known and move to the next level.

To survive, humans need innovation, not efficiency. They have to find materials that are many orders of magnitude lighter and stronger, they have to move without burning fuels and they have to compute infinitely faster without spewing heat. Then, they could attempt for the next level.


(1) https://www.sciencemag.org/news/2018/11/airplane-no-moving-parts-takes-flight


Sunday, November 18, 2018

The non-capitalistic Economist


A recent article in the Economist seems to imply that capitalism is responsible for industry concentration and associated loss in societal utility. Treating symptoms never cured diseases but perhaps economists are not aware of this phenomenon. There have not been free markets and free trade in any capitalistic societies - just the opposite. And existing laws are not sufficient to aggressively prosecute monopolies, a necessary condition. More recently, ignorant policy makers have been conducting "trade wars," and protecting their bunkers with "tall and strong," walls. The Economist has to understand that these are not ideas that emerged from capitalism.

It is not capitalism that is responsible for the ills witnessed in society. Ignorant policy makers who do not understand economics and the cunning ones, who have figured out how to take asymmetric risks - as they keep the gains and get bailed out when they lose are the cause. These two cohorts of people, likely less than 0.01% of society have been responsible for the apparent failure of the "free market system." The blame has to go to lack of consistent implementation of laws. Capitalism requires that everybody is treated the same, those who travel by private jets and those in the back of the bus. Capitalism requires incompetence to fail and any policy prescription that simply bails out failed gamblers is fraught with danger.

It is not capitalism that is failing but the semblance of the idea without consistent implementation. As the pendulum swings to the left, aided by an astonishing lack of understanding of the world on the right, it is likely we are in for motion sickness for a long time. It is important that economists develop a bit of right brain, for without it, they will continue to make the wrong conclusions.

(1) https://www.economist.com/leaders/2018/11/15/the-next-capitalist-revolution

Friday, November 9, 2018

Downstairs, upstairs

Recent finding (1) that the owners of the human gut may already have found a residence in the brain further reinforces the potency of the most successful biological entity in the universe. It has been known that the bacteria in the gut use nerve endings to influence human decisions and now they are placed directly in situ. This has implications for the diagnoses and treatment of a plethora of neurological diseases.

Most recently, it has been speculated that humans moving from one location to another get a completely new and custom microbiome in a matter of days. Now that it is possible that they can move across the "impenetrable," blood brain barrier, it portends a world returning to its original state in due course. They appear to have filled every nook and corner of life and they can make their hosts eat, die and disintegrate at will. But their presence in the brain of the most complex entity on Earth indicates that the design is nearing completion.

As we seek extra-terrestrials in nearby rock, ice and gas balls, it is important to remember that they may have arrived early and already conquered the blue planet.

https://www.sciencemag.org/news/2018/11/do-gut-bacteria-make-second-home-our-brains


Sunday, November 4, 2018

RIP, Kepler

The space telescope, Kepler, seems to have run out of fuel. Finding the existence of exo-planets has been interesting. On the other hand, statistics would have informed the physicists of the same. The more important question is, so what? Did anybody really think that the rock and water in the most uninteresting corner of the Milky Way is unique?. Granted, most people in the world think so but $700 million may be too high to prove irrationality exists.

Exo-planets have tickled the fantasy of the common woman and set the careers of some physicists on an exponential track. They look for transits and lately that has yielded the discovery of an exo-planet's moon. As academics pump out papers, they have to really come back to the fundamental question of so what?. Did anybody really think there was no moon out there for an exo-planet? I suspect some do but if you don't like religion, it is a very irrational expectation. The big brains at the space agency had drawn a line on the sand a few years ago - they will absolutely find ET by 2020. There are less than 1000 days left. But more importantly, does anybody think there is no biological activity outside the most irrelevant corner of a the most uninteresting galaxy?

A species that shows no redeeming qualities, is spending billions of $ to prove the obvious. Science needs direction - perhaps from philosophy. And, engineers and doctors have to understand that ideas are non-prescriptive.






Friday, November 2, 2018

Schrödinger's Bacterium

Biological entanglement (2) has been showing up in many places (1). Although conceptual without hard proof, it is symptomatic of the fact that there is something wrong with our understanding of the universe. There is ample evidence that the human brain represents a quantum field (3). And if so, using it as a conventional computer with logical processing is not optimum. It is as if humans strive to be rational in a universe without rationality. That behavior is unambiguously irrational.

Is rationality feasible? Observations in physics and financial markets provide tantalizing evidence that it is unlikely. However, humans with hard tactical horizons attempt to be rational as that appears to optimize utility. But does it? An unbiased optimization of a human being would point to early termination as that would minimize aggregate pain. But unsubstantiated future expectations of benefits flow - really speculation - keep them going beyond what could be best. This optimization problem is increasingly difficult to solve. As technology advances, it is possible that humans can arrest pain and replicate themselves with downloaded memory.

 In the context of entanglement, however, these prescriptive ideas do not work. If macro objects can entangle, they could free themselves from the limitation of the speed of light and transmit information across vast swaths of space time. Apparently, there is nothing that prevents it. If so, humans have been focusing on wrong technologies and ideas. The real problem to solve is entanglement with another that allows instant transfer of information. In a limited context, the 8 billion humans that team the planet, could be entangled, allowing better ideas and policies to be transmitted and received instantly.

If humans are entangled, they could fundamentally change the slope of progress. Currently, this is defined by a few, who do not have much understanding of anything. It is a possible future state in which your thoughts are entangled with the rest and in a chamber of progressive reinforcement, you could only go further. This is an apt future state in which humans move from determinism into probabilistic expectations.

Entangle with one another and you could go further.


(1) https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/schroedingers-bacterium-could-be-a-quantum-biology-milestone/
(2) http://www.scientificsense.com/2018/07/biological-entanglement.html
(3) https://bigthink.com/ideafeed/does-the-mind-play-dice-with-reason

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Discontinuity

A world, largely governed by people from the last generation, is suffering from discontinuities in policy heuristics. A recent conversation (1) attempts to portray that media multitasking is a bad. What the contemporary researchers don't seem to understand is that the world has indeed changed in a step function fashion and anybody on the lower tier is at a distinct disadvantage to see beyond the horizon. Education systems that relied on rote memorization in Asia have already suffered a major setback as in the future world, it is likely that memory would be a commodity and the ability to memorize will carry no premium.

Memory has gotten humans far. The water hole and the lion's den were good things to remember. Till very recently, perhaps just a couple of decades, the ability to memorize had a huge premium. As such, educational reward systems are largely based on rote memorization. "Standardized tests," the gold standard for measuring potential, are largely based on the student's ability to memorize. Early metrics based on capabilities to memorize and traditional test scores seem to have no correlation with future success. For the emerging generation, success will be largely based on their ability to think and not memorize. In fact, it is likely that memorization capabilities will hinder the individual's creativity and as technology advances, driving the marginal cost of memory to zero, this will be the last thing humans would want to do.

It is a regime shift. The people in power do not have any idea what the next generation needs and they are making policies based on century old heuristics. For the emerging generation, this is the time to rise and take control of your own destiny. An ailing planet, heavily bombarded by extra-solar projectiles, is sick. As the biodiversity recedes in an environment driven by tactical utility maximization and materialism, we are fast approaching a binary outcome.

Go vote - it is likely too late but then, you could give it another try.


(1) https://news.stanford.edu/2018/10/25/decade-data-reveals-heavy-multitaskers-reduced-memory-psychologist-says/

Saturday, October 27, 2018

Dreamers

From inception, humans have been prone to dreaming, with and without full control of their faculties. Nightmares may have awakened them from short slumbers with distinct survival benefits in the African Savannah. Later, they dreamed of places beyond the horizon and kept walking to reach them. Over many generations, the journey took them to North Africa and into the Middle East. Later they will embark on separate one way trips to South Asia and China. Their dreams kept them going as if the world were flat and over the ice bridge into North America.

Humans would have been distinctly inferior without the ability of dreaming. Dreams allowed them to conceptualize without the constraints of a boring and agonizing real life. In dreams, they could fly, do magic and kill mighty beasts with their own weak hands. In dreams, they could challenge the village elder, run away from the clan and form her own. In dreams, they could create concoctions that could alleviate pain, enhance their brains and let them run faster than a Cheetah.

Much later, they will segregate themselves into cohorts of dreamers and non-dreamers. The later variety is laser focused on few objectives and their goals are well defined in a few metrics. For them, dreams are impractical and inefficient. They make the world go around but it appears that they never dreamed of reasons of why it is so. And the former, with their heads in the cloud, keep dreaming with no apparent tactical utility. They move, dance, smile and ask questions. They dream of saving the world, Dolphins and Whales. They engage in such irrational acts as a start-up and later, crash and burn. They attempt to solve the unsolvable, travel to the unknown, die young and generally keep the population in check.

As the world micro-segments into countries, religions, languages and hierarchy, at the heart of it, there appears to be only two - dreamers and non-dreamers.


Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Wealth destroyers

Black boxes, Artificial Intelligence and FinTech - likely a deadly combination that is going to destroy a lot of wealth. We have seen this before - fresh graduates from business schools coupled with mathematicians and physicists, descending on Wall Street to make the world go around in the opposite direction. As they appear on TV after hours - mad and fast - to confuse and pillage small money, ascertaining where every stock is going and even the market, there are 20 million fat fingers across the world chasing the illusion. 

The theory underlying financial markets has been robust in spite of the recent confusion about "behavioral economics." New information moves markets and unless one has insider information, it is impossible to create alpha from fundamental or technical analyses. A lot of careers are made and destroyed on this false idea.  For some of us, theory still matters and it can be shown without any empirical uncertainty that alpha is a white elephant. If an adviser is demonstrating consistent alpha, one has to wonder where the information is coming from. The SEC has gotten a lot more sophisticated lately but a simple heuristic of alpha consistency will tell you that there is something wrong.

Business schools need to rethink their focus. Some even have classes in "trading," and that idea is utterly inconsistent with everything we know. In the presence of uncertainty, it is easy to make returns and lose them quickly. In spite of all the academic literature behind this, not many involved in "money management," really talk about alpha (only returns). Granted, a single factor model is woefully inadequate to measure risk but not considering risk in your returns, like the TV moguls do, is a prescription for disaster. The fact that conventional finance education and even the high-end certifications do not prepare the professionals adequately is symptomatic of education chasing trends and not sticking with what is known.

The financial industry appears to be dominated by engineers and accountants, the former unaware of economics and the later unaware of the fact that we have computers now to count money. Adding mathematicians and physicists on top of this already deadly combination can only result in tears. 

Friday, October 19, 2018

Oumuamua

Recent transit of cigar shaped Oumuamua that raised hopes of galactic panspermia (1) is a double edged sword. Hitching rides on stable objects over millennia appears plausible for robust life but the implications of such transference could be catastrophic for the blue planet. It is not the green men and women we have to worry about but deadly single cell organisms from another galaxy. If the space agency ever stops taking shots at everything near in an effort to prove life exists elsewhere, they may have enough resources to explore the extra-solar bodies that seem to frequent this quiet corner of the Milky way. There they may indeed find life but possibly of a different kind. The half a dozen plausible building blocks including Carbon and Silicon narrow the shape of life and that should allow profitable exploration.

Science may need to borrow from philosophy as it attempts to prove extra-terrestrial life. The fundamental question remains to be what qualifies as life. Even in the narrow context of Earth, we find entities that show dual properties of life and non-life, as we define it. It appears to indicate that life is a spectrum with entities spanning the full scope. The closer to non-life, the more robust they appear, possibly pointing to efficient panspermia of materials that are close to life but have not yet crossed the threshold. So, near life materials could be freeze-dried and transported over time and space and they could show biological activity with conditions that allow such transformation. The heuristics used by the agency to find life, such as the presence of water, are archaic and it is time to step out of the rooms without windows, surrounded by steel and electronics, and think clearly. It is likely that the most dominant life form in the universe is something that can easily transcend the life/non-life threshold at will and that provides infinite possibilities for spreading themselves. The ability of an organism to freeze-dry itself should be considered dominant for transference and the environment in the blue planet is not conducive to enhancing robustness.

A sitting duck in the meteor shooting gallery, the Earth should be counting down to the unavoidable catastrophic event. If that happens, it does not look like there is anything that could hitch a long ride to the next spot.


(1) http://www.sciencemag.org/news/2018/10/cometlike-objects-could-be-spreading-life-star-star-throughout-milky-way

Sunday, October 14, 2018

The value of breadth

As the present regime shifts to one controlled by uncertainty and accelerating technology, the premium on breadth of knowledge compared to depth, continues to increase. Innovation appears to happen at the intersection of fields and not in secluded domains and that is an important issue that educational institutions need to consider as they design futuristic curriculums.

It is also highly problematic. As an example, business graduates tend to be broad and shallow and if the stated hypothesis holds true, they should do well in the future. However, it is more complex than that. As the value of the individual is intricately correlated with how she can improve the economics of societies, it is not just the breadth of knowledge that gets into the objective function but also applications of it. Here, shallow and broad knowledge suffers from interactions with institutional constraints. The politicians in Washington are certainly shallow and not necessarily broad. Without deep knowledge of technology, policy-makers are ill-equipped to do anything good for future generations, let alone for themselves. They could be well advised to go deeper, perhaps a few inches below the ground they walk.

A bifurcation is in the cards. There is an optimum shape - breadth over depth - that optimizes societal progress. The pride of the country, the graduate schools, are without a clue, chasing after the latest "trends," to optimize localized economics. They need and want to make money by selling the latest wares and they are beginning to resemble a used car sales tent. It is unfortunate. Those who want to advance knowledge and improve societies, need to get out of the artificial and rigid constraints placed on them - academic, political and economic - and attempt to shape thinking beyond their career horizons. That is a tough ask even for those who already secured tenure, but still counting the number of incremental papers they published in marginal journals.

The value of breadth is increasing but not for those who do not have any depth.

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Right brained Artificial Intelligence

As Artificial Intelligence becomes more commonplace through hype and reality, it may be useful to characterize the plethora of methodologies and technologies that are part of the thoroughly confusing medley. Conventional AI appears to be largely driven by the left brain as engineers, data scientists, and technologists flock to the dream, ably assisted by capital, seeking returns somewhere. Generally speaking, that is a prescription for disaster as technology, data and mathematics do not typically solve any problem of importance to enterprises. Granted, game playing is interesting and faking human voices and interactions equally compelling but none of these are going to change anything in the lives of ordinary people. And, they add little value to the economy or even companies.

The search giant recently proclaimed that AI gets more aggressive as they get better. This observation is not substantially different from the twitter girl created by another giant, that turned nasty. What these companies seem to be missing is that building AI bottoms up from historical data will simply reflect existing information content. More generally, these AI agents should reflect society and such observations add no value to the emerging arena, except talking points. And as the hardware company found out down South recently, transforming an organization requires a bit more than a "pizza-sized box," albeit it has solved most of the world's problems already.

It is about economics, stupid!. And that requires the silent right brain. AI has enormous potential but only if they are developed with a right brain dominance. It is a tough task as the normally shy right brain prefers to work from the background and simply muffles out the noise created by the left hemisphere. The old-fashioned concept of, "seeing the big picture," is still very important before diving into the details. Education systems tend to churn out left only brains in great numbers and this is problematic for the emerging regime. Scientists, whether real or of the data kind, cannot solve the problems facing humanity, let alone companies.

As the singularity enthusiasts revise the date of arrival of the discontinuity, it is important to remember that civilizations did not advance by tactics in the past and it is unlikely in the future.

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

The fragmentation of knowledge

Philosophers of yesteryear have argued that knowledge emanates from integration and not fragmentation. Even the early scientific disciplines, such as religion, attempted to integrate and simplify information into a set of holistic heuristics. That has been a highly successful process for most of human history. But in the modern world, largely dominated by contemporary scientific disciplines, fragmentation reigns supreme. This is problematic.

Information does not unambiguously lead to knowledge. Diving deep into silos with impenetrable walls has been the defining characteristic of modern education. As one gets deeper and deeper into highly structured information, the chance of creating knowledge largely disappears. This is because of conventional academic metrics favoring the known rather than the less certain and lack of integration across disciplines, aides tunnel vision. Here, the publishing gurus who make trivial incremental improvements to the known, win and those who seek the periphery, perish. Here, the managers of businesses driven by measurable tactics, win and those with stars in their eyes, lose predictably. Here, politicians who can appeal to emotions, win and those who make cogent arguments that could advance humanity, lose. Here artists who produce conventionally expected work, win and those who explore emerging areas, lose. Here, musicians who can scream and babble win, and those who integrate lyrics with beauty, lose. Here, those who want to make the world better lose, and those who want to dominate it, win.

Knowledge is not trivial and few achieve it.




Saturday, September 22, 2018

Gut feel

A recent finding (1) that shows that the gut uses a variety of communication channels to rapidly communicate with the brain has implications for the prevention and treatment of many diseases, including obesity and the metabolic syndrome spectrum. Many had this intuition but now hard data is showing that humans are driven largely by their gut with the brain playing the role of a computer, merely calculating and shuttling instructions. This is not surprising. For over half a million years, they sought food for survival and the gut and its occupants, the constituents of the microbiome, have been reigning supreme. The overgrown appendage, the brain, serves little purpose in the grand scheme of things.

The recent reversal of roles has the brain scrambling to divide itself into two halves - the tactical and the strategic. Enormous excess capacity allows it to process ancient rules and instructions without breaking a sweat. The ensuing boredom has led it to seek utility from abstract ideas such as art, music, and literature. With science and technology in the background, not requiring significant processing power, the brain can float above triviality and the routine.

This is problematic. An organ, largely intended as a conventional computing resource, is wasting itself, getting involved in thought experiments, at least from the perspective of the gut. A bifurcating human architecture, still fundamentally managed by the microbiome in the gut, coupled with a confusing potpourri of capabilities upstairs, could portend disaster. The toys they have invented are now growing into entities without guts and that will certainly pose a challenge to the declining species.

The decline of the advanced entity is predictable but that has implications for the most successful species for nearly 5 billion years. A world controlled by silicon and light will be bad news for the microbiome. It is unlikely that the species that dominates the universe will let that happen.


(1) http://www.sciencemag.org/news/2018/09/your-gut-directly-connected-your-brain-newly-discovered-neuron-circuit

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

The value of time

Humans, with apparently hard constraints on affordable time, appear to sub-optimize the shape of their objective functions in every conceivable fashion. Some run without destinations, others stay put without ambitions, some rely on unprovable heuristics, others create theories without the need for proof, some ignore inconvenient data, others create convenient data, some travel, others remain absolutely still, some cry, others laugh but none of these maximize utility within such harsh limitations.

Mathematically, an entity that optimizes within inextensible time, will cherish the approaching moment, live in the present, learn from the past and understand that the future may never arrive. It is a depressing construct handed down to the present crop, over half a million years. The philosophers understood the idea but not the scientists and technologists, as the modern bandwagon gained speed, down the steep slope and then lost control. And now, as we approach the cliff of a knowledge discontinuity, yet again, we find a world of disparity and most sub-optimize on the premise that time is infinite.

Time is limited and that makes it valuable. Don't waste it.

Sunday, September 9, 2018

The game is rigged


A recent study (1) shows that kinship and fellowship were held in equal regard in the households of medieval times and cultural appropriations were common among closely related individuals then, is in contrast to what is becoming of modern humans. Recent leaders have advocated cultural purity and ethnic cleansing and close to a quarter of the world population now believe in these ideas. Culturally and socially, it is possible that medieval times were better than the present. It is unfortunate.

Ignorance is costly - especially in leaders who are supposed to lead humanity to better places. As technology advances and opens up a chasm between those in the know and others, the rich and the poor and the connected and disconnected, we are fast approaching a social discontinuity. If we had knowledgeable leaders who presided over this unique time in history, we could have surpassed it. Ironically, as humanity reaches a technology and social discontinuity, they are "led," by kids, crooks and religious fanatics. This appears to be systemic as there is some evidence that incompetence rises to the top exactly at the point of hyper advancement in knowledge. Perhaps this is programmed into the human psyche and it acts as a break against achieving a more advanced state of society.

If humans are simulated in a random fashion, historically consistent observations in this vein will be impossible. So, we have to conclude that there is something programmatic in the game we play that acts as a natural brake against progress. The error function is dominant at points of discontinuity. This disallows humans to break out of a level 0 society. They could certainly imagine the next level but it is impossible to attain as they get close enough to it, disaster strikes - in the form of ignorance, ego or incentives that aid localized and tactical optimization.

The game is rigged...


(1) http://advances.sciencemag.org/content/4/9/eaao1262

Thursday, September 6, 2018

Time to wake up and face technology


A recent article (1) that notes that advancing technology initiated productive scientific regimes, speculates that Artificial Intelligence could be the next engineering innovation that speeds up biological and chemical advancements. It makes sense but life sciences, an old and traditional industry, has been lagging in the application of technology. As high energy physics, economics and even business, embrace rapidly advancing AI, life sciences and healthcare have been reluctant.

Historical friction resulting from blind alleys followed by scientists based on prescriptive mathematics is one reason. Biology remains to be the last frontier where uncertainty and non-linear interactions have kept technologists from making measurable progress. Half a million years of trial and error could not be replicated easily in Silicon and this has been a late realization. Unchanging regulatory frameworks are the other reason why healthcare has not been able to take advantage of available technology. It is time that regulators realized that the failure and success of a pharmaceutical product have nothing to do with the p-value emanating from clinical trials data. Even manufacturing companies have moved away from this century old and incorrect notion.

Life sciences and healthcare have to (finally) embrace personalized medicine. Cross-sectional statistics of population data is misleading and damaging for the health of humans. It is not the health of the population that healthcare needs to worry about, but rather the health of the individual. Mass manufacturing of single-dose drugs is as archaic as TV dinners and static thresholds on blood pressure, sugar, cholesterol, and other such measurements are as obsolete as slide rules.

Healthcare, the most ancient of all industries, has been progressing slowly. If we are unable to break out of a constraining regulatory architecture and choking traditionalism, we will put the entire "population," at risk and the share of the GDP commanded by healthcare will continue to climb.

It is time for life sciences and healthcare to wake up and face technology.


(1) http://science.sciencemag.org/content/361/6405/864

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Phoenix

Senator McCain's decision to invite presidents Barack Obama and George W. Bush to eulogize him gives us the last glimpses of civility in politics. A country that stands on the shoulders of great men and women, who passed before us and laid the foundations for a great democracy that attracted the best from around the world, still remains to be the last hope for those who struggle. As they separate kids from their parents based on the color of their skin, as they rob healthcare from the weak and the weary, as they appoint supreme court judges who could arrest the progress toward equality between the sexes, we still have to believe there is a better tomorrow, yet to arrive.

And it will, for America never surrenders, never compromises and never fails. We have demonstrated freedom to be the most important thing to cherish and free markets, free trade and free ideas to be superior to anything that is prescriptive. America remains to be the unfailing idea for those who want to go further, for those who are never satisfied by the present, for those who respect knowledge and a determination to achieve the same, for those who consider the world to be the scope of optimization, for those who know luck and initial conditions largely determine outcomes, for those who stand up against racism, ignorance, and sexism and for those who want to sing, cry and be amazed at humanity.

There was a chamber of a hundred men and women, more intelligent and capable than the rest, who make policies that could make a difference. But now, there is an emptiness as those who made it work are disappearing and as darkness descends in the city of corrupt politicians, we can only hope for somebody who could make a difference again. The callous hearts who assert failure to be a weakness should know that we have a country built on the sacrifices of many.

We will fight for everyone, we will leave nobody behind, we will strive to be free - in thoughts, markets, trade, and humanity. And, we will always remember those who created a country and a path to success for those who followed.


Sunday, August 26, 2018

Policy inefficiencies

It has been shown that good intentions are not sufficient to make good policy decisions. Humans have generally been incompetent in making optimum policy in the presence of uncertainty and interconnectivity. A recent article (1) gives a powerful example of this phenomenon. The article demonstrates the futility of subsidies and massive investments into improving irrigation efficiencies on the premise that freshwater is a valuable resource. The blue planet has abundant water - but the species that apparently dominates it has not figured out how to harvest it. More importantly, it also shows how policymakers and politicians, in general, do not have the capabilities to optimize the system.

As the tumbling blue planet skirts disaster in an active shooting gallery in space, we have a system that allows incompetence to rise to the top. Knowledge and meritocracy do not matter, money and the ability to tweet garbage, do. As the "free market capitalists," raise tariffs and the socialists stand ready to dole out subsidies without thinking, it is clear that we are entering a regime of governance that will not be attractive for the rising millennials. A generation seems to have wasted time and space, adorned with ego and irrational ideas such as religion and prestige. Such is the disastrous state of affairs for the 8 billion that even scientists, who claim to think rationally and religious leaders, who claim to perpetuate good, have become numb.

If humans are observed from above by an entity that understands the non-linear effects of arbitrary actions on a complex and virtually unpredictable system, she will be sad. As the space agency makes plans to perpetuate the human species to Mars and beyond, there is a more important question it has to answer, first. Why? Will the universe lose knowledge and compassion if humans were to vanish as the Earth gets scorched under the expanding Sun? Will the universe lose information if humans were to vanish in a catastrophic impact from outer space. Will the universe care about a species that shows no positive slope in conceptual knowledge?

Likely not.


(1) The paradox of irrigation efficiency.  http://science.sciencemag.org/content/361/6404/748
  • R. Q. Grafton1,2,
  • J. Williams1,
  • C. J. Perry3,
  • F. Molle4,
  • C. Ringler5,
  • P. Steduto6,
  • B. Udall7,
  • S. A. Wheeler8,
  • Y. Wang9,
  • D. Garrick10,
  • R. G. Allen11
  • See all authors and affiliations

    Friday, August 24, 2018

    The end of "Machine Learning."


    Machine learning, an obnoxious term, that simply means statistical modeling, has the potential to lead many budding data scientists and universities clamoring to create programs that support it, down blind alleys. Machines do not learn and apparently, those immersed in this concept do not either. In the coming decade, "Machine learning," could create a significant drag on the economy as the hype is pumped up by "reputable," academic institutions, software companies and even politicians.

    Regression was the "original," machine learning. The statistical modeling platforms have added all sorts of ancient mathematics in neat little packages, they sometimes even call, Artificial Intelligence. But calling Arithmetic better names, does not improve anything, let alone intelligence. What is most disappointing is the fact that universities have created entire programs around this "fake news," as they have seen favorable economics and the possibility of their graduates skating to the C suite on the back of degrees. Academic integrity used to be important and as the crop of professors who loved to advance knowledge, vanish behind time, we are approaching a regime that will devalue education. We have education rendering casinos, with all the adornments that surpass the real thing and the bricks in the wall they manufacture are going to be incompetent to face the future.

    Hype has a negative value. Academic institutions should understand this. If they do not, the only competitive advantage we possess, graduate education, could be at risk. Perhaps it is time we shut down the .ai domain names and academic courses designed to appeal to pure hype.





    Saturday, August 18, 2018

    Artificial Intelligence: Long way to go


    A recent observation that seems to provide additional structure on how the bots may be learning (1) is interesting. The Artificial General Intelligence enthusiasts, who have been making a lot of noise by observing that they can train a machine from pixels on the screen, may want to take note. Training a machine to play games is a lot easier than getting Silicon to "think." The computer scientists appear to be getting a bit ahead of themselves (even those with a Neuroscience degree). God does have a  sense of humor and She will lead many astray in the coming decades.

    Engineering and Computer Science are easy. Medicine and Economics are less so. It is difficult to reduce complex questions to deterministic equations with binary outcomes. And, AI is squarely in the latter, for intelligence emanates from understanding uncertainty and how it affects outcomes. Equations do not work in this realm and experiments that create, "big noise," do not either. We are now creating a crop of computer scientists, locked onto the keyboard, hunting Python and drinking Java, as if there is nothing beyond it. This is problematic. If they continue in that vein, they could reduce themselves to the guy, who tweets garbage every day.

    Humans have an ego - and that is going to keep them constrained from progress. The ones who make noise, are endowed with ignorance and the ones in the know, may keep quiet.


    (1) http://www.sciencemag.org/news/2018/08/why-does-ai-stink-certain-video-games-researchers-made-one-play-ms-pac-man-find-out

    Wednesday, August 15, 2018

    Never look back

    The human brain, a compendium of false and true memory, formed by past interactions and events, feels comfortable creating heuristics from history to deal with the future. For millennia, this was a dominant strategy as the ability to predict the presence and behavior of predators from historical data helped them survive. But now, this has become a huge liability. Even basic ideas in finance, such as sunk costs, have been difficult for many to internalize. Even those in the know, seem to make bad decisions because it has been difficult not to look back. The software giants found out recently that using historical data to model the future has some drawbacks and this has implications for decision-making and policy design at many levels.

    Looking back has been costly for humans in the modern context. They may be better off rolling the dice to pick from available future states than using faulty heuristics shaped by the past. If machines can only learn from the past, then, they will be simply perpetuating the status-quo with no insights. This is equally true in education, where history and experience have been given undue credit and research, where conformation bias has led many astray.  What is most problematic is a recent experiment (1) that shows that children have a tendency to conform to robots. In the current technology regime that appears to be accelerating toward fake humanoids, we may be dumbing ourselves down by using history and the prompts provided by robots.

    Looking back is costly in many ways for humans. Looking back is value enhancing only if the cost of doing so provides future benefits. It is tough to find use cases where such an activity adds value. There is little practical value in history or how one lived last year. If the future generations can mend the ills caused by the "greatest," that went before them, they could inherit a world that is peaceful and forward-looking. In such a world, there will be no looking back and every day will start with fresh ideas. In such a world, there will not be any recordings, only future possibilities. In such a world, they will reject past theories in favor of uncertain future hypotheses. In such a world, thought experiments will dominate over attempts at proving what was observed. In such a world, experiments will triumph over institutions and legacy.

    Only look forward, for anything else will be costly.


    (1) http://robotics.sciencemag.org/content/3/21/eaat7111

    Monday, August 13, 2018

    Extending the brain

    A recent publication (1) that describes a Brain-machine interface (BMI) to control a robotic arm simultaneously with human arms open up interesting possibilities for maximizing brain utilization. By a quirk of nature, humans have been endowed with an organ that far surpasses their routine needs to live and die. With simple objective functions, humans have substantially sub-optimized this endowment. But now, there may be mechanical means to keep the organ interested.

    There has been a lot in the literature about the inability of humans to multitask. However, it is possible that multitasking improves with practice just like anything else (2). The quantum computer they carry, albeit being an energy hog, requires little to maintain from an infrastructure point of view. And the calorie requirement to keep it going is very small in the grand scheme of things. Hence, maximizing the use of the brain is an important consideration for every human and humanity in general.

    Brain utilization shows an upward trend as people network across the world, surpassing the constraints offered by race, religion, and ignorance. This electronic extension of the brain has been unambiguously good for humanity but it feels like there is still a lot in the tank for every individual. If she can multiply limbs by mechanical multitasking it is likely that such an activity will grow neurons upstairs with unpredictable beneficial effects in the long run.

    Extending the brain - mechanically and electronically - is dominant for humans. That will allow them to get over all the tactical problems currently plaguing humanity.


    (1) BMI control of the third arm for multitasking: http://robotics.sciencemag.org/content/3/20/eaat1228

    (2) 



    Monday, July 30, 2018

    Redefining Artificial Intelligence

    Artificial Intelligence, the contemporary darling of technologists and investors, has been largely focused on trivial consumer-oriented applications and robotics/automation, thus far.  Constrained by conventional computing, AI has been bottled up in hype and confusing name calling. What the AI enthusiasts do not seem to understand is that AI was never meant to be a technology that fakes what a human being appears to do externally but rather it was supposed to replicate her thought processes internally. As the search giant demonstrates how its technology could fool a restaurant reservation system or play games, as the world's largest shipper of trinkets demonstrates how they could send you things faster and the purveyors of autonomous vehicles demonstrate how they could move people and goods without the need for humans at the driving wheel, they need to understand one important thing: these technologies are not using AI, they are using smarter automation. They do not replicate human thought processes. They either fake what a human appears to do or simply automate mundane tasks. We have been doing this for over half a century and as everybody knows, every technology gets better over time. So, before claiming victory in the AI land, these companies may need to think deeply about if their nascent technologies could actually do something good.

    However, there is a silver lining on the horizon that could move AI to real applications (1) including predicting and controlling the environment, designing materials for novel applications and improving the health and happiness of humans and animals. AI has been tantalizingly "close" since the advent of computers. Imagination and media propelled it further than what it could ever deliver. As with previous technology waves, many companies attempt(ed) to reduce this problem to its apparently deterministic components. This engineering view of AI is likely misguided as real problems are driven fundamentally by dynamically connected uncertainties. These problems in domains such as the environment, materials, and healthcare require not only computing resources beyond what is currently available but also approaches further from statistical and mathematical "precision."

    Less sexy areas of AI such as enhancing business decisions have attracted less interest, thus far. Feeble attempts at "transforming," a large healthcare clinic using a "pizza-sized," box of technology that apparently solved all the world's problems already, seem to have failed. Organizations chasing technology to solve problems using AI may need to spend time understanding what they are trying to tackle first, before diving head first into "data lakes" and "algorithms." Real solutions exist at the intersection of domain knowledge, technology, and mathematics. All of these are available in the public domain but the combination of this unique expertise does not.

    Humans, always excitable by triviality and technology, may need better skills to succeed in the emerging regime, driven by free and fake information and the transformation of this noise into better decisions. Those who do this first may hold the keys to redefining AI and the future of humanity. It is unlikely to be the companies you know and love because they are focused on the status-quo and next quarter's earnings.

    (1) http://science.sciencemag.org/content/361/6400/342


    Sunday, July 8, 2018

    Biological entanglement

    Research from Northwestern University (1) that apparently demonstrates quantum entanglement in biological entities opens up new possibilities. A century-old but enigmatic theory has kept a few interested in thought experiments. The recent demonstration of a quantum superposition of a photon in a bacterium (2) is further proof that existing theories are inadequate to describe the universe around us. The status-quo foundational theories are not sufficiently robust to explain reality and that should provide excitement to the emerging generation as there is still much to be explained.

    Engineering has kept Physics bottled up for many decades. In a regime of low knowledge, Occam's Razor has to rule, for proof can be manufactured by technology for any hypothesis. It is clear that we lost a century, chasing noise with no fundamental advancement in understanding. Entanglement has been intriguing in many aspects - it proves that the theories we take for granted are likely untrue. It is time to leave grand experiments behind and return to paper, pencil and thought experiments. Advancements can only come from such an avenue as it will require significant shifts away from established notions in Physics.

    The struggle between determinism and uncertainty can be seen in many fields, Physics and Economics included. Humans are more comfortable with precision as their senses have been designed to fool them into such an idea. This should have had evolutionary advantages as pattern finding is more about reducing information into neatly organized classifications - predators, tribes, and poisons. And now, technologists have been getting ahead of themselves by machine and deep learning to reduce noise into recognizable patterns. Some have been even calling it "Artificial Intelligence," that includes facial recognition, synthetic speech, NLP, vision, and robotics. A less pretentious term could have been "expert systems," but then the millennials are never short of creative wordsmithing. All of these exciting technologies are simple applications of established mathematics with a deterministic end.

    The fork on the road has been between determinism and uncertainty. Nearly 90 years ago, it was shown that the world does not work like we perceive it. That is ironic as perceptions have been the basis of most modern ideas, religion and politics included. They assert something to be true without doubt as the more precise one is, the better she is in the eyes of her followers. Scientists seem to have picked up some bad habits along the same lines, as they look for precision in experiments with the aid of massive computers and bigger particle smashers. Precision, however, is their Achilles' heel as attempts at reducing noise into pre-determined chunks will lead them down blind alleys with no exit.

    The same struggle happens in economics, where researchers attempt equations and charts to explain outcomes in a clear and concise way. But not many have asked if the underlying assumptions are true and how uncertainty plays into decision-making. Without a clear understanding of the macro uncertainty that drives systems, some have been wasting time in "behavioral economics," as if explaining human irrationality has utility. If anybody has doubts about the fact that individuals are irrational, just study the zombies who trade back and forth looking at electronic terminals all day. But the behavior of the system could be distinctly different from those of the participants and it is something that engineering processes cannot tease out.

    An evolutionary advantage, that bestowed humans with an ability to quickly classify predators, tribes, and poisons, will work against them in the future. As progress comes from diving into a pool of uncertainty and having the flexibility to challenge anything that has already been established. It does not take huge capital nor titles, just the ability to keep an open mind.


    (1) https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/12/171205130106.htm
    (2) https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/00107514.2016.1261860


    Saturday, June 30, 2018

    Externalizing ego

    From inception, humans have been guided by their ego, a constant force that separated the individual from society and provided meaning for her otherwise inexplicable emotions. With the advent of religion and the alluring hypothesis of the existence of God, ego was given higher context. It has been powerful in shaping and often restricting the individual's ability to observe from outside as the demarcation between the individual and the rest seemed clear. There have been philosophical attempts to break the shackles, but it has been limited to a few samples over the 100 billion that passed.

    It is unfortunate. A design fault in the powerful quantum computer they carry lead most astray. The hardware provides possibilities but the software has failed to advance over the last half a million years. Ego has been chained to the darkest corners of the brain with an innate ability to disburse precise instructions on how and when not to interact. It has been exceptionally good at recognizing shades of white, black, brown and yellow. It recognizes right and left precisely but never the middle. It drives the West against the East, the South against the North and those who nestled in comfortable corners against those who want to change direction. It is powerful in its own mind and it is unable to consider alternatives. It speaks in full throttle in your brain and it shuns those without a voice. It wants to live perpetually and not let others do the same.

    Humans, prisoners of their own ego, need an inspiration discontinuity to move further. It is unlikely to come from the past and the future appears uncertain, but that may not be bad.

    Monday, June 18, 2018

    ET deadline

    As we approach the deadline for ET discovery, as proclaimed by the space agency, there appears to be a bit of panic. Discovering organic matter in Martian rocks (1) is not ET discovery, especially because there are plenty of abiotic explanations for the same. Even if it were of biological origin, it proves nothing as close proximity panspermia is not particularly interesting. The question remains to be where the green women are hiding in this vast universe of ours. The answer is that they may not exist.

    Statistics enthusiasts always pointed to the fact that the universe contains 10 billion galaxies and a billion trillion stars and that makes it virtually impossible for life not to exist elsewhere. This could be true but a more interesting question is what the probability is for humans to find them. On this question, the chances appear bleak, for the laws of Physics constrain them to the darkest corners of the universe as they make toys to "explore," the heavens. It is almost like the current crop of explorers are yet to understand the harsh space-time constraints proposed by the century-old theory. 

    Contemporary physicists are adept at proving that ever elusive particles exist by mining "big data," but they are certainly incompetent in finding tangible proof for the puzzle that has vexed humanity ever since they looked up into the night sky. "Is there anybody out there?." The most logical answer appears to be an emphatic no, as an "N of 1," experiment proves nothing, in spite of the daunting statistical likelihood. Even if the rover finds worms and bacteria in the red planet, it does not mean that they are extra-terrestrial, for two reasons. First, robust single cell organisms have been hitching rides on Mars missions forever and second, it could just mean that life originated there and then migrated to the blue planet. So, this is not the ET that the world has been waiting for.  Further out near Saturn, icy globes of Enceladus and Titan have been tantalizing for ET enthusiasts forever. They appear to be giving up on them, as it could be too much work. Digging 6 meters into the Martian soil and finding a single cell organism appears to be an easy way to put an end to the misery.

    The space agency is on notice. They have to produce an ET in less than 500 days (as they promised several years ago).


    (1) http://science.sciencemag.org/content/360/6393/1096

    Saturday, June 9, 2018

    The naked put

    Recent news of celebrities exercising a put option on life, apparently sub-optimally, has to be understood in a larger context. If the individual's expectation of aggregate utility from the point of decision to the expiry of the put is negative and deterministic, the exercise is optimal from her viewpoint. In a free society, the individual's optimum decision has to be upheld over society's desires.

    However, if the individual's expectations are wrong or they are motivated by incorrect assumptions, then both the individual and society lose simultaneously. The solution to this rising epidemic is not tactical intervention but rather a strategic analysis of decision processes that lead individuals to a point of no turning back. One important area of further research is the struggle between the left and right brain processes. If the left brain dominates this negotiation, a linear and logical assimilation of known information, leading to a set of assumptions and subsequently an estimation of aggregate remaining utility, it may provide a deterministic or low volatility answer. In this case, the individual may incorrectly perceive an optimum exercise horizon. It appears that one solution is to re-engage the right brain more forcibly into the conversation.

    As humanity move faster toward a technology-led society where predictability is increasing, it is possible that left brain dominance will continue to increase. The accelerated growth in suicide rates in developed countries is a symptom of this phenomenon. The solution is the nourishment of the right brain and the imposition of possible penalties for left brain dominance. An objective function that is primarily driven by materialism and ego, will continue to favor the left brain. The goal for societies, then, is to nourish complete individuals and not efficient humanoids. To do this, one has to get away from conventional and precise metrics and embrace uncertainty more fundamentally.

    Humans, lining up on a conveyor belt to nowhere that appears to go ever faster, may want to look over the horizon and into the heavens, for inspiration.




    Saturday, June 2, 2018

    Deeper learning

    A recent article (1) that demonstrates how neural networks could be used to approximate light scattering by nanoparticles is an interesting new direction. We appear to be approaching a regime in which prescriptive analytical solutions and conventional simulation become inferior to deep learning. This is exciting but it also presents a huge downside for the advancement of abstract knowledge. Models that show robust outcomes are welcome but a generation of new scientists, prone to taking to the machine to prove hypotheses, by feeding them small samples of historical data, could dampen theoretical advancement not only in Physics but also in other areas.

    This struggle between empiricism and rationalism has been with humans from inception. Did they survive by predicting where the lion is likely to be by using historical data of previous (bad) outcomes or did they rationalize by abstracting the expected behavior of the animal? Did they predict when an animal is likely to attack by using historical data on the timing of previous attacks or did they understand the animal's incentives and available alternatives? Did they migrate incrementally by using predictions, originating from previous short excursions, or did they go boldly where no woman had ever gone? Were our ancestors empiricists or rationalists?

    It is difficult to ascertain one way or the other. It appears that empiricism has been a hidden attribute in our psyche for long. Till the advent of computers, rationalism appears to have dominated but since then, empiricism has been on a steep rise. In Physics, they now collect and stream data to find "new particles," without even asking why such observations are important. In medicine, they "high throughput screen" looking for the needle in the haystack, without a clear understanding of the mechanism of action. In economics, they regress data to find insights without asking whether they are insights at all.

    There is likely no stopping the trend. As computers get more powerful, empiricism will become ever more dominant. If this is a natural outcome of evolution, then, advanced societies elsewhere (if they do exist) would be asymptomatically approaching pure empiricism for knowledge generation. That could be there Achille's heal as it also means that their knowledge is dependent on the past. A planet full of robots, with no ability to abstract but with an infinite capacity to learn from the past, could be highly inefficient.

    Would humans retain inefficient qualities of being a human? It seems unlikely.


    (1) http://advances.sciencemag.org/content/4/6/eaar4206.full

    Sunday, May 27, 2018

    Brainy bitter

    A recent study (1) suggests a novel way to control blood sugar and more generally, reduce the complications arising from type II diabetes, the disease responsible for over half of healthcare costs around the world. Meat eating homo-sapiens found agriculture recently and an overdose of carbs now threaten to create a negative slope to their expected lifespan for the first time in human history.  As millions around the world take to processed food and sugar-infused drinks as their economies improve, the world is moving closer to a healthcare precipice. They lose feeling in their feet, sight, movement and even reach amputations of limbs, not to mention the complete loss of life due to heart attacks and strokes, due to a simple condition - excess sugar and insulin in their system. The miracle of insulin has kept them going beyond expiry but all attempts at delivering the drug in easier ways, have failed.

    Now, the intriguing new study shows how the brain could play an important part in the regulation of glucose (1) in the body. Dopamine release induced by deep brain electrical stimulation seems to improve insulin sensitivity, the loss of which portends the arrival of the wretched disease. Loss or lack of production of dopamine appears to reduce insulin sensitivity, likely leading to type II diabetes over time in non-diabetics. The pancreas which is responsible for optimally producing insulin to break down the bad intake is totally within the control of the brain that appears to behave differently based on the amount of dopamine it produces. The experiments explained in the study appear to support that neuronal activity in the forebrain could improve insulin sensitivity with beneficial effects on humans, either suffering from or tending toward the well-understood condition.

    An active and stimulated brain could be the least invasive intervention to most diseases.


    (1) Striatal dopamine regulates systemic glucose metabolism in humans and mice
    http://stm.sciencemag.org/content/10/442/eaar3752



    Sunday, May 20, 2018

    Revisiting economics

    As countries, run by clueless leaders, proliferate, it may be worthwhile to revisit economics in a modern context. Pure empiricism, albeit a small sample, tells us that decisions made by a few people will always be inferior to the wisdom of the crowd and markets. Although there have been a few examples of a benevolent, yet autocratic, leader maximizing societal utility through finely crafted policies, it is not something modern societies can aspire to. Humanity has been degenerating to such an extent that benevolence is not an attribute that one thinks of in leaders.

    Recent findings that (1) the Greenland ice samples show how greed and ignorance, did the Roman empire in, are interesting. Money, based on a dirty metal, resulted in led pollution and the subsequent fall of an autocratic syndicate. As academics cling to pure notions of last century economics, they may be missing some important ideas. First, the value of countries and companies are not based on resources or balance sheets, but rather the ability to innovate. Second, there are different varieties of market failures with differing loss of value. For example, a country or company, with an educated and healthy population will have such a high competitive advantage, market failures in these domains will likely result in loss of value, much higher than anything else.

    Markets and crowd wisdom provide good guidance for policy. As democracies get manipulated by information webs, it is unclear that the systems and processes that evolved to an optimum position will survive. As countries and companies bifurcate into red and blue without any brown in between, we are approaching a policy impasse. The gap is widening between those who want to focus on tactics to maximize today's cash flow and those with stars in their eyes, setting out to change the world. Neither is likely to succeed as the former will be like the frog that got cooked in a pool of water with slowly increasing temperature and the latter, learning to fly by jumping off the precipice.

    Ultimately, it is a comedy - if you do not find the irony, it is time to check out.

    (1) http://www.sciencemag.org/news/2018/05/rise-and-fall-roman-empire-exposed-greenland-ice-samples







    Friday, May 11, 2018

    Loss of limbs (and mind)

    A recent study (1) that demonstrates how to make electrotactile stimulation for human-machine interfaces more effective seems to move us closer to electronically controlled humanoids. More generally, acceleration toward the assimilation of humans and machines could have far-reaching effects on society. A bifurcating humanity, one part fast forwarding to applications of technology and the other left behind, searching for basic needs, may not be sustainable.

    Humans appear to have a faulty objective function. Given the right initial conditions, any of the current seven billion samples on Earth could do as good as any other. So, the observed final outcomes in individuals is not a measure of capability but rather differences in initial conditions afforded. An advanced society will attempt to maximize societal utility by providing optimal initial conditions to every individual. And, such a society will celebrate accomplishments and mourn failures as a function of the slope of the knowledge created by the individual. Such a society will be free but also understand that most stand on the shoulders of giants who gave them advantages.

    A singular statement emanating from the madhouse, "he is dying anyway," referring to an individual who helped build a country, is incomprehensible. It appears that we have failed to perpetuate a dream that assimilated the world, propelled innovation and remained to be the envy of the populace. Those who consider skin color to be a defining characteristic of success need to learn more, those who believe wealth is a defining characteristic of capability need to learn more, those who believe power is a proxy for arrogance need to learn more, those who believe segmentation schemes such as countries, languages, and religions are useful constructs, need to learn more.

    As we enter the dark ages of the modern era, it is useful to look toward the guidance of science.



    (1) http://robotics.sciencemag.org/content/3/17/eaap9770