Monday, December 11, 2017

Is Diversity Still Desirable?

Note: These are my personal views and not those of my employers, Tata Consultancy Services

Diversity is a measure of evolution in nature. Starting from the big bang to chemical soup to the first cell to increasing biodiversity (increasing complexity of increasing number of species), diversity had been increasing till humanity has exerted a negative force on evolution which has been reducing biodiversity. We all are appalled by the decreasing biodiversity as more and more species become extinct and/or limited to restricted farm, zoo or sanctuary type of environments. While taming the earth and space wilderness to fulfill human ends has been common practice for long, is the inevitable end game of destroying all other species a destination that we all desire? Are'nt the factories seeking to manufacture flesh-food destroying the final dependency on the species we hitherto raised for food taking us exactly to this destination? Does human progress have to mean destroying biodiversity?

Human evolution led to increase in ethnic diversity over most of human history, but no longer. Ethnic cleansing in systematic manner does not fit into our value system and most of us recognize it when we see it in person or media. But unsystematic ethnic cleansing is a slow process, not always visible. It can take the form of limiting some ethnic identities to the human equivalents of farm or zoo or sanctuary type of environments and constraining these ethnic identities when they seek to move out of these environments. It does not always have to take the form of the Nazi holocast. Human progress is possible without retaining ethnic diversity, but is this a desirable destination? The trajectory of human progress in the history and current affairs of many countries seems directed to reduce ethnic diversity in those countries. Does human progress have to mean destroying ethnic diversity?

What is the desirable destination for humanity? The evidence that diversity (ethnic, gender, lingual, sexual preferences, physical ability, etc) is positively correlated with business value indicates that the diverse experiences in living and working gives diversity in ways of viewing the world and thinking about it. This diversity in ways of viewing the world is a source of business value. This diversity also has potential value in terms of representing the interests of the segment of humanity in various business decisions. But this may no longer be necessary esp. considering that it is already possible to capture all the genetic diversity into bits and bytes and it might be soon possible to capture the life experiences of humans into machines. As AI evolves, the rich and powerful among humans can leverage machines to navigate the future of humanity with artificial diversity.

We have verbally articulated the destination in many documents, but failed to achieve the destination and now the commitment to it seems to be flagging. Trickle down development is a tool for ethnic cleansing when development stops trickling down and fewer and fewer people are in charge of the development of the rest of us. Those at the bottom of the pyramid will be cleansed first and slowly over time others will follow, reducing diversity incrementally. This seems inevitable, unless we correct our trajectory. Are we keen to do this?

How do we want humanity to be? Is diversity still desirable?



Sunday, November 12, 2017

Is the Indian Nation near an inflexion point?

Note: These are my personal views and not those of my employers, Tata Consultancy Services

For a long time, as my earlier articles testify, like many others, I have raised multiple doubts about how the Indian nation does not represent the fair interests of dalits. The quality of representatives given to dalits by the Pune-pact, the systematic ignoring of caste issues in court cases preventing the formation of jurisprudence for caste discrimination law, the lack of differential legal support to secure the legal rights of the disadvantaged have been pointed out by many others too. I had articulated the Manifesto of the common Ambedkarite as my suggested route for emancipation. But things have near a critical inflexion point. Let me explain.

The continuing slide in India's ranking in focusing on the condition of its poorest is being shouted down by loud proclamations about India's increase in the ranking for ease of doing business. Increasing the ease by relaxing the rights of the weak is designed to favor those already doing well. Despite coming to power promising more jobs for all, that does not seem to be a priority. The strategy of this government is to focus on investing in development of the strong, so that trickle-down development occurs for the weak, but the way it is working out is that the weak are being killed off due to the trickle down development not occurring. And the deaths of the weak are being used to justify further investment in the development of the strong, so that the development trickles down. The need to link everything to Aadhar and PAN for all transactions except for high value jewellery is the clearest example of this. Things are designed to transfer wealth from the weak to the strong.

Moreover over recent days, I fear that the nation has taken a turn for the worse. There are multiple dimensions to the malaise. The Chandrashekhar Rawan and Kancha Illiah episodes indicate the deep problems in the executive apparatus. The misapplication of the NSA to a case where the court granted bail placing Mr Rawan in jail, where he may soon die and the placing of Kancha Illiah under house arrest are indicate that Justice is a pipe-dream for the champions of the disadvantaged. The representatives of the majority community, emboldened with three years of power seek to subdue the minorities by force. Given the disarray among the opposition, the Pune-pact and the potential fraud in the electoral process alluded to by many, the emboldening process is only accelerating. The calls for reviewing the constitution and questioning the fundamentals of the constitution are becoming more frequent and strident. But one hoped and wished that the core judiciary was strong and would not let the constitution be put to risk. This article and the whole Justice Karnan episode is representative of the deep problems in the legal apparatus, which make me more worried.

India has so many alternative versions of history, each designed to manufacture a political unity. The Congress has its version, RSS has its own and the BAMCEF has its own. The social media posts questioning all the history that I was taught without providing adequate evidence have made me suspicious of all of these guys. Academic history, previously a handmaiden to the Congress is currently a handmaiden to the RSS and hence a waste of time. I reject all these debatable pasts. The time has come to define political unity by the destination vision. Do we want the Ram-Rajya of the RSS, where different caste partitions of India pursue history determined destinies, or do we want the Begumpura defined by Guru Ravidas, or do we want to pursue to vision laid by our constitution in the real sense? We need crisply designed  destination visions to choose from.

I hope I am wrong, but I suspect that all of us, irrespective of which past-determined formation we are part of, will soon need to choose among a set of alternative destination visions. Some well defined, some-ill-defined and sadly some of the options may be revisions of the constitution. That has been the game of those who have seized power. Be prepared. Think through what you want India to be. Else when the time comes, you might make a wrong choice or you might incorrectly encourage a wrong choice among others.

Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar...may his tribe increase (a la Abou Ben Adam).



Saturday, November 04, 2017

Diversity at IIT Bombay --- A draft proposal

Draft Proposal for a letter to be submitted to IIT Bombay by 1992 batch

Dear Institute,

We the undersigned are students of the 1992 batch wish to record our views regarding increasing the diversity of the student and faculty at IIT Bombay.

In our view, based on our experience across the globe, diversity is an important goal in itself because representative institutions are better than merely effective institutions in terms of actualizing the potential of all students and all faculty. We do not want our institute to over-represent any individual sub-segment of the population wherever possible, because this is proven in the research literature to be sub-optimal compared to diverse representation in proportion of the population.

Moreover we surveyed the students of our batch and the issue of student wellness was the second ranking issue in terms of priority overall.

In our view, the diversity of students and faculty is an important structural factor driving student wellness. Since the institute has asked us to prioritize student wellness, our batch believes that the improving the diversity of students and faculty also needs to be considered by the institute.  While reservations for students and faculty can increase the diversity of students and faculty, these are sometimes not filled up and adequate effort is sometimes not made to fill them up. We believe that a lack of diversity is not in the best interest of the institute, so the the institute should implement reservations in full. While preparatory courses, post-admission courses and other student support initiatives have improved the diversity of the student population, we believe that the institute needs to create a pipeline of suitably qualified faculty by encouraging students from less represented segments to join doctoral and post-doctoral programmes at IIT Bombay. We do not recommend diluting quality at the altar of such diversity, but we do recommend clear, consistent and comprehensive efforts to improve the diversity of student and faculty at IIT Bombay.

As part of the student wellness initiative, we would like to work with the institute to create a zero suicide student community through a focus on mental well-being of all students. While we believe that the student wellness initiative should address the needs of all segments of students, we recognize that some segments need more support than others and such support to these segments should be sensitive to their special needs (e.g. on gender, caste and language dimensions). For example the appropriate segment of students and faculty should be engaged wherever possible to support students needing support from the student wellness initiative. We also believe that all students and faculty should annually undergo a mandatory, well designed, digital gender, caste and language sensitization training programme as part of the student wellness initiative.


Students of 1992 batch of IIT Bombay

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Blockchain based economy and society

Note: These are my personal views and not those of my employers, Tata Consultancy Services
Over the last 1.5+ years, I have been thinking about how blockchains will affect insurance and the wider economy. My latest independent thinking is in this article. I am sure the ideas there are influenced by reading material from others, but I am unable to recall any specific one (other than those linked to therein). I recently had two great discussions with Venky from Cognizant and Prakash Sunkara, a batchmate from IITB, CFO at Elavon. Venky and I spoke about how blockchain offers an alternate way of organising affairs among a group of competing/collaborating humans/firms. Prakash and I spoke about how once some core identity infrastructure is available, digital transfer of value and risks can be enabled.
Thinking of relationships between parents and children, there is an implicit social contract supported by social norms/sanctions which could potentially be implemented by smart contracts. Similarly social organisation is created and sustained by social contracts. Could these be captured through more expressive smart contracts, so as to enforce the social organisation through some means?
Similarly, I recalled discussions with my wife, Prerna Tambay about industrial relations wherein the attempt is to study the fundamental conflict/cooperation between the capitalist and the worker. The capitalist brings capital, the worker brings his labour and they together generate economic surplus and the challenge is to divide it equitably. Many relationships in human/firms are of this conflict/cooperation nature. Blockchains offer a way of organising firms so that capitalists and worker can work together without one exploiting other. One needs to work out the smart contracts for this.
Extending this thinking further, Adam Smith's invisible hand could very well be a smart contract based way of organising the economic affairs of humanity balancing the wastage of capitalism with the dissatisfaction of communism.
Constitutions and law need not be paper based. Factoring in IoT based data about the actions of humans/firms, it should be possible to monitor the compliance to laws and/or enforce the same.
I know this is exotic thinking, but I know that capturing these thoughts for posterity is my duty. I may not live to see this come true in part or full, but I feel in my bones that this is the direction for the future. The nature of evolution of the human technosphere till now has been that it is far too fragmented and the fragmented pieces do not coordinated well with each other on their own in a trustless (in a blockchain sense). This makes it difficult to build complicated structures on top of this brittle base, since human elements are needed for the end-to-end coordination and trust in humans is not as reliable a means for organising affairs as the trustless coordination offered by blockchains. If we find a way of building a layer on top of the brittle base, which is complete and reliable, we might be able to build complex coordination structures on top of it, like some of the one's alluded to above.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Blockchain based end-to-end digital economy

Note: These are my personal views and not those of my employers, Tata Consultancy Services
I wrote this article long ago about how to avoid monopolies in the digital economy and at its end promised myself that I would write about my view about how an end-to-end blockchain based digital economy could function, solving some of the problems of our generation.
As per Wikipedia, digital economy means
  • e-business infrastructure (hardware, software, telecoms, networks, human capital, etc.)
  • e-business (how business is conducted, any process that an organization conducts over computer-mediated networks)
  • e-commerce (transfer of goods, for example when a book is sold online).
The common element of all the three is data. As well all know data is the new oil. There are so many cowboy individuals and firms exploiting data to derive differential advantages over competition in their respective pursuit of wealth. I contend that the current digital economy is not currently fairly organised and while the emerging data protection regulations are a step in the right direction, there is no clear definition of the destination yet.
Individuals/firms in digital economies have common and separate need for products and services. As described in my last article, I expect an interconnected network of public and private OLTP blockchains to emerge to provide these products and services. As described in the article just before that, the "bulk" data will be stored in off-grid servers and only their hashes will be on the blockchains. The off-grid servers will provide information and OLAP services compliant with data protection regulations.
Individuals/firms can view their own data and request OLAP services for the same. Community information/OLAP services can be provided compliant with data protection regulations. Regulatory information/OLAP services can be provided to regulators directly from the off-grid servers.
The free for all "data analysis" party needs to come to an end. Some monopolists like Google gather and control far too much data than is good for the rest of us. It is only be creating the OLTP blockchain infrastructure and parallel OLAP information management infrastructure, that we can regain control over our own data and liberate ourselves from the monopolists. The current situation where there is no way to verify if these guys follow the data protection regulations needs to stop. The right way to do it is to locate the data itself into OLAP information management infrastructure, which provides OLAP services. Technologically we are nearly there in terms of such kind of OLAP information management infrastructure. The means are there. The will and legal support are needed.

Saturday, February 11, 2017

Solutions for a post-truth world

Note: These are my personal views and not those of my employers, Tata Consultancy Services
A recent BBC program described how our world has become post-truth giving examples of US and UK politics. In both these elections, different partitions of citizens got drawn into webs of public and social media, which created and sustained totally different viewpoints influencing the outcome of the elections. This is itself not unique. What was unique was that the content which influenced on both sides was "post-truth" in the sense that it was not necessarily factually and totally true. Data when tortured long enough can confess anything. And after the moment of consuming a nugget viewpoint, attention span shifts to the next, without always validating the nugget and as time passes, the interest in validating past nugget is lost but the impact of the past nugget on the person remains. So with a stream of such nuggets, it is possible to shape viewpoints of partitions of citizens over time. It is due to this that public and social media strategy has become more important in electoral strategy.
Rajesh Shewale, a childhood friend, in a personal discussion today suggested a way of deploying technology to solve this problem. I really like the idea and think it should be mandated by regulation and enabled through the correct technology solution.
Essentially, real-time audio/video/text streams should be processed to validate the facts (to whatever extent is possible) and the results should be displayed in parallel with the display of the audio/video/text stream. Even if this is done for all public media and provided as an option for social media, this will suddenly change the way information is consumed by humans. The effort to validate facts is high and so people find it difficult to validate them and hence become vulnerable. The capability to support such a service should be a government provided service and its usage should be audited.
The technology to create this kind of solution exists. We merely need the will and legal support to enable this.

Monday, August 15, 2016

Development as selective genocide

A large number of Dalits are not free yet as indicated by the Una incident and similar incidents. Trickle down development is a tool for genocide when development does not trickle down, traditional demeaning jobs/professions are inadequate for survival and fragmented voting power prevents powers-that-be from allocating and/or spending allocated funds fully to transform the destinies of Dalits.