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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)