Monday, November 16, 2015

Fear - Uncertainty - Doubt: Threat to Liberty: Role of P2P technologies

As mentioned in my recent article, there is an increase in the number of abnormal events that citizens and their governments are having to deal with. And I believe that due to technology change as well as climate change, this number will rise and the proportion of man-made events will rise further. Governments use such events to cause shift-of-power to them, to take resources from their alternative uses and get them assigned to complex means of preventing/managing such events, setup policy structures. Essentially governments use the fear-uncertainty and doubt caused by such events to raise questions after such events about the ability of citizens to take care of themselves and its ability to provide security based on the then existing distribution of power. They then use these question to crystallise a deal with citizens to exchange liberty for security. Sometimes citizens later during relatively normal events trigger repealing of relevant laws to recover their power. Sometimes supreme court's prevent executive arms of governments from acquiring too much power. Different countries therefore are in different situations, but this dynamic has played out multiple times before. But something has changed.

P2P technologies with unprecedented capabilities are spreading and pose a challenge to the ability of governments to acquire too much power over the rest of us. I am yet to see a cogent recognition of the changed reality in ongoing debates related to this in UK. The noises about making ISP's do this and do that sound silly to me, assuming my understanding of what these new technologies are capable of, is correct. Is the proposed legislation to give governments control over all encryption within the country enforceable? I am not an expert, but I am not sure based on what I read on the Internet about P2P technologies. I would much appreciate pointers to discussion whether such legislation is enforceable technically in face of the growing capabilities of P2P technologies.

Given such technologies could easily be used by the dark forces to plan and carry out abnormal events, how should the good forces (assuming the governments are good) protect us given the growing capabilities of P2P technologies. I just do not understand the inability of powers-that-be to understand that the technology tiger they are riding has already bolted and is running quickly into a deep, dark jungle. Why do they carry on applying yesterday thinking to today's problems? After all 1900 MI-5/6 people, increased funding are hardly enough to solving the technical challenge that needs solving. IMHO we are now in a new dynamic, since non-legislated dark hardware+software leveraging publicly available algorithms may not be too easy to legislate. I hope and pray I am wrong.
Pratap Tambay

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Structures and processes of humanity: Implications for events like Paris and Mumbai

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

The structures of processes of humanity are designed to help humanity to act/react in face of normal and abnormal events. Different multi-human units are designed for different combination of normal and abnormal events. What is abnormal for some human and multi-human units is normal for other humans and multi-human units. Multi-human units organize their structures and processes to handle normal events differently and have pre-planned reorganisations to handle abnormal events.

In the past, the main cause of abnormal events were acts-of-god. But I contend that this is changing. Due to technological evolution, the number of abnormal events due to acts-of-man is increasing.

I have written about this before. But my current thoughts are prompted by the events in Paris, which were quite similar to the events in Mumbai in the past. The pressure on public services to cut costs results in reduction of the capability of public services to handle abnormal events. The preparedness to handle one/few abnormal event at one time may not be enough anymore, as technology enables some people to coordinate better across time and space to disrupt the lives of the rest of us at multiple points of time and space. But this is not visible till the abnormal events happen and it is difficult to comprehend what one does not starkly see. So most humans will remain substantially unaware of this as they continue in their day-to-day reverie.

I am not educated in the dynamics of public choice. But it is my firm conviction that we have a complex problem facing us. If democracies authorise the expenditure to deal with abnormal events, the transparency of what is achieved using these expenditures will be low creating the risk that these might be used by the wrong sort of people in power to build  structures to control the rest of us far too much than we might be ok with. And if democracies do not authorise such expenditures, then the random idiots will continue to create the Mumbai and Paris type of events. Also there is a question of public finance. How much should be spent reasonably on handling abnormal events and how much should spent on normal events? As technology changes the risk landscape, how should this proportion change? So in essence there is a genuine public governance issue. I believe these to be urgent and important issues. Sadly I do not think that as usual, reactions to Paris will not go beyond actions which are constrained by the continuing inability of those that matter and those advising them to see beyond the tip of the nose.


Pratap Tambay

Monday, November 09, 2015

Caste and Development

Low castes voting by caste are voting for development with social justice because voting BJP/Cong sacrifices social justice at the altar of development. The upper caste BJP/Cong aim for growth and believe in trickle down development of the lower caste's.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Trust at the base of humanity

Note: These are my personal views and not those of my employers, Tata Consultancy  Services
Bitcoin is a way of transferring value between a nodes of a network whose trust for each other is not based on any third-party. Bitcoin and its progeny Blockchain are being proposed as technologies to organize personal and professional relationships between humans, multi-human units and things (i.e. between people/firm/thing nodes of the Internet). There are undeniably advantages of doing this, but what are the implications of this?

Tim Swanson provides his views regarding the implications in this video which ought to be mandatory viewing for every senior leader making BIG statements at present. Tim goes on to in this one to articulate the value of permissioned distributed ledgers. I want to join my voice to Tim's voice of caution. Humanity is presently riding a tiger called technology and the tiger is running into a deep and dark jungle. If we do not make right choices about how we organize the affairs of humanity, we may reduce the degrees of freedom (in an Amartya Sen sense) that our progeny will have.

Essentially bitcoin and blockchain are technologies which maintain a distributed digital ledger keeping track of value exchanges between a network where the trust between nodes does not depend on any third-party. While permissioned distributed digital ledgers are technologies which maintain a distributed digital ledger keeping track of value exchange between a network where the trust between nodes depends on a trusted third party.

Anyone who has been reasonably observant about the crisis of trust on today's Internet itself will share my worry about how this crisis will grow in a world where the existence of human trust based trusted party is at the centre vanishes. When it is possible to achieve similar objectives using permissioned distributed ledgers, is it reasonable to trust computers/things more than humans by putting bitcoin/blockchain at the base? My point goes beyond the lacunae pointed out by Tim in terms of the vulnerability of "mining". Even if an option better than "mining" were to be invented by another ghost like Satoshi Nakamoto, my point is that in the final analysis, we should have trust between humans at the core rather than some abstract mechanism invented especially by a ghost. Please note that I  am concerned what is at the core. As  long as human trust is at the core of our key systems and processes, I am ok with the co-existence of the two options.

As AI based computers/things learn to pass the Turing test, which is likely to happen sooner than all of us think, "physical" face-to-face trust between human's is likely to protect us from being overrun by computers/things. Of course, unless we somehow find a way of controlling the technology tiger and find our way out of the jungle that a million uncontrolled empire-building humans are excited about being in, this possibility will also be lost as technology eliminates that final reliable basis of human trust.

I have written multiple articles on LinkedIn and Blogger since mid-2013 as have many others. I am also connected to a few of these people who share my concerns. But till the key leaders manage to look beyond the tip of their noses, we can only hope and pray. 


Pratap Tambay

Friday, September 18, 2015

WWGD - What Will Google Do?

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

I just read this article about Google in insurance. The key idea seems to be that Google is gathering, organizing and processing data about the real world which gives it more competitive advantage over others and might set it up as THE disruptive new insurer on the block. I have'nt read carefully what people in other industries are saying about WWGD to disrupt their industries, but there is every possibility that other industries are also worried about this information industry behemoth might steal their lunch.

In my view, data is a relatively new kind of property. Who gathers, organizes and processes what data has evolved over time in human civilization. The rules about ownership of intellectual property like data are also relatively new. I suspect that these rules designed for a previous state-of-the-world are increasing not well suited to humanity as it is evolving. I suspect that the tools by which humans and multi-human-units generate, gather, organize and process their respective data while respecting the rights of such humans and multi-human-units over their data are currently primitive. Blockchain technology provides a direction for the IT infrastructure of humanity to evolve from this primitive stage to a better situation. The main thing that will stop if this happens is that the wild west situation of humans and multi-human-units (e.g. Google) capturing/gathering data about other humans and multi-human units, organizing and processing it to derive competitive advantage over others will stop. This kind of technological destination might emerge through bottom-up political pressure applied by the 99% against the 1% (e.g. Google case in EU court), or it might evolve through the 1% (a benevolent? part of it like the Blockchain innovators) facilitating incremental innovations each of each reaches a bigger segment of humanity till the entire humanity is covered.

But what would such a destination look like. Each human will own his/her data, each multi-human-unit (firms, communities, states) would own their data. Data generated during interactions between parties will be regulated by laws evolving from current data privacy laws existing/evolving in multiple geographies to prevent random third-parties from acquiring data about humans and multi-human-units, organizing it and processing it unless explicitly sanctioned by a clear chain from the respective owners in a transparent manner. Today too, much of these legal constructs exists, but our IT is not yet evolved to handle the natural language based laws and related contracts smoothly. The electronic contracts of Blockchain technology provides a direction for reorganizing our laws and contracts to be less ambigious and ensure contract certainty.

Not many people seem to have grasped the situation in its comprehensive breadth and depth. As I have said multiple times, humanity is like a man sitting on a fierce tiger called technology and the tiger is running away into a deep and dense jungle. I say this, because while the above utopia painted by me avoids the problems of WWGD, we just do not know what problems automation, cyber-security and AI will cause in a much more electronic process based human and social life. I know that "trust" will be THE big problem, much more than it already is and it is my firm opinion that humanity should never fully automate itself i.e. the primary basis for trust should remain between humans and trust between human and system as well as system and system should be secondary/tertiary. I intuitively know this should be the case, but do not yet know explicitly why.


Pratap Tambay

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Living a life more on the front foot

There are many ways of living one's life. And I am sure there are advantages and disadvantages of living one's life in particular ways. I recently realised that I have lived my life till now in a particular way and it has given me some advantages now, though the journey seemed troublesome. I am writing this to help my young relatives and friends apply my learnings to their lives.

I remained very true to myself. This did not mean that I always knew what I wanted. It meant that I made interim choices fully well knowing that those were interim choices because I did not know what I wanted/liked/was-good-at. At times I made deeply thought through choices, which seemed fully right when I made them. But later on realising the need to rewind and choose something else, I re-winded and chose the something else. I remember telling myself that starting from scratch once or twice is ok, but scratching too much might be bad for health as well as career. Fortunately as I meandered through various choices, the alignment between my life, career and deepest needs improved. What initially seemed like Brownian motion settled down.

I lived and loved on the front foot - a particular way of being a true to oneself as against a withdrawn or reticent approach. I made choices and intensely lived and loved each choice trying to achieve the fulfilment in the direction of the specific choice. Essentially I tried hard to learn, do, get what I liked, wanted or felt strongly about. Except for drugs, breaking the law and taking advantage of any girl, everything was fair game. I found that one could be randomly competitive or do what one loved/liked and found that the latter worked for me. But the nature of life is such that one cannot necessarily/easily/immediately learn, do, get what one likes, wants or feels strongly about. There are norms, structures, processes which one must deal with. But if one really likes, wants or feels strongly about something, then if one does not do anything about it, one is sure to regret it later in life. Making such mistakes and learning from them helps to subsequently not repeat such mistakes in the new opportunities that life inevitably puts one's way. And if one goes hammer and tongs after what one really likes, wants or feels strongly about, even if one does not succeed, one can be satisfied that one tried one's best. And most importantly since it is the very nature of life (norms, structures, processes included) that not everyone gets what one really likes, wants or feels strongly about, one learns through the successes and failures. Failures as well as success teaches you about whether what you liked, wanted or felt strongly about is really for you or not, whether it is practical and worthwhile as well as what the gaps are in getting to it. If it is really worthwhile, one should typically go right ahead until and unless the heart tells you whether what you liked, wanted or felt strongly is not for you. The heart and head are very  useful tools to live one's life.

Now consider the benefits of living this way. I felt strongly about people, issues and domains and problems in my life. I gave my best in the respective pursuit under the guidance  of my head and heart. I immersed myself so intensely that it helped me generate good poetry, great insights and develop significant expertise, all the while tuning my  life to its natural best frequency. While I have still a lot to achieve, I am definitely happy and set on a road, where I am sure I will improve each day. I would like my young relatives and friends to follow their heart and head in their lives.

This is not to say that my life has been problem-free and joyous throughout. Far from it, it has been a tumultuous journey. But it has been worthwhile and fulfilling. Unchallengeable success would be a good-to-have, but living a worthwhile and fulfilling life is full of intrinsic joy. And if you live for the intrinsic joy, then life is a toy.



Thursday, August 13, 2015

IT Strategies for Mutually owned organizations

Note: These are my personal views and not those of my employer, Tata consultancy services

Many years ago I was fascinated by building societies after doing some work for Cheshire Building Society. I wrote an article describing the strategies that I felt that such mutually owned institutions should adopt. I now find the article very simplistic, unnecessarily jingoistic, presumptive and not wide-enough in tangible ideas for action. But my reading, thinking and experience has evolved since then. So here are my key illustrative current thoughts on IT strategies for Mutuals

1. Mutuals have a natural advantage compared to non-mutuals in combining data about their customers, since they typically capture the membership number along with every product/service sold/setup for the customer. Using this to maintain consolidated information (with relatively simpler MDM exercises) about the customer can help in classifying customers into tiers. These tiers and customer aggregates can then be used to customize the pricing and customer experience including making special offers to expand the share of the wallet for that customer.

2. Because their customers own them, their customers are likely to be willing to share more data about themselves than customers of non-mutual organizations. This fact can be used by mutual organizations to to identify ways and means to source more information from their customers/members through wearable's, IoT, IIoT and social media and use this information to generate more value for the Mutual and its customers. Such information can help in better risk selection, pricing, exposure management and capital allocation as well as fraud management.

3. Mutuals typical face restrictions on raising funds in wholesale markets due to being a mutual, this typically means that they need to manage cash/funds and risks (including asset-liability gaps) lot more intensively than others. Due to this, they need to implement business policies/processes enabled through IT platforms which manage operations more tightly than others so that
a. The IT platform helps them to generate maximum cash from operations for investment as well as manage these investments better
b. The IT platform helps them in better risk management (risk selection, pricing, exposure management and capital allocation as well as fraud management).

Would appreciate comments.


Pratap Tambe

Sunday, August 09, 2015

Our favorite movies

1. 12 Angry Man
2. Mona Lisa smile
3. Freedom Writer
4. Finding Forrester
5. My big fat Greek wedding
6. The Japanese wife
7. Stealing Beauty
8. Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter
9. Casablanca
10. Roman Holliday
11. To kill a mockingbird
12. Courage of Colour
13. A few good men
14. Gone with the wind
15. Annie
16. Forrest Gump
17. Evan Almighty
18. Miracle on 34th Street (old and new - old is better)
19. Godfather
20. My cousin Vinny
21. Unforgiven

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Dalits and "izzat"

I had a delightful long leave recently which resulted in a few key changes in me. A key experience during this leave was watching this scene from Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Gam, where Amitabh advises his son about how he should earn/maintain "izzat" and not merely "paisa" - a message which his father gave him many years ago and which he is passing on to his son. It reminded me of multiple conversations with my father on similar lines. My father choice of expressions in communicating these messages were rather more colourful than Amitabh's sophistry, but I recognized while watching this scene that the essence of those messages was universal and eternal.

This message and reminiscing about my father was important because I had occasion during this leave to debate the legacy of my father Pandurang Ganpat Tambe as well as the father of dalits, Dr. B.R. Ambedkar. I have recorded my view of this legacy in various articles (1, 2, 3). I was discussing this again with a friend today and how the above scene from Kabhi Khusi Kabhi Gam relates to this legacy. Let me explain.

The dalit community has less "paisa" and "izzat" compared to non-dalits. Given that Dr. Ambedkar's constitution has changed the rules of the game, there are many routes to progress available and being followed by dalit individuals. Some are not ethical and do not give "izzat". Others give "izzat", but do not challenge the basis of how "izzat" is awarded  in Indian culture (due to hidden pre-assumption that higher castes have in-borne "izzat" and lower castes do not). Following Ambedkarite Buddhism and the 22 vows given by Ambedkar is one way of beginning the process which will eventually challenge and change this assumption. More importantly even if one is ethical and follows Ambedkarite Buddhism, does that mean that "izzat" and "paisa" will come easily. In this world "izzat" and "paisa" can hardly be given. They have to be earned. For dalits, they have to be earned by doing good kamma and working against the legacy of the "system" (prejudices, vested interests, etc). Denied the route of politics to obtain re-distribution of national wealth and positions, the short and simple manifesto of the common Ambedkarite is to earn wealth and position by moral means. The specific choice of each common Ambedkarite may vary. Some may be wage-laborers, some public/private sector employees/executives, others businessmen. It is only through stellar achievements based on moral means that "izzat" and "paisa" can be earned together. Each common Ambedkarite needs to choose a national bastion and scale it through moral (non-violent, ethical, legal) means. This is a war that every dalit needs to fight every day and everywhere. There is nothing else needed to create the India that the constitution exhorts us to.

Dr. Ambedkar accumulated wealth through moral means and left a monument to his views in this matter in terms of his large house in Dadar. Some people find creative means of interpreting Ambedkar and find short-cuts justifying running away from fighting this war, denying the dalit movement of much more potent contributions and satisfy themselves with token contributions away from the real battlefields of the modern world. But the rest of us will fight this war with our lives and careers until our dying breaths. So my message to young dalits is to join the Ambedkarite tribe and live the manifesto of the common Ambedkarite by fighting this holy war by moral means.

Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar, May his tribe increase (A la Abou Ben Adhem)


Pratap Tambe
A common Ambedkarite

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Will as-a-service business models lead to utility computing?

Just like humanity evolved from each human family building the things they needed to networks of supply chains leading from natural resources to markets through which customers bought the things they need, software services is evolving from even enterprise developing its operational IT platform to "as-a-service" IT platform interconnecting supply chains of providers of specialised algorithms and sources of different types of data (internal and external). Just like electricity/broadband comes through a point in the wall, the computing each house/office needs will come off a point in the wall. Home/work based devices will exchange data/computing-agents with the point in the wall and provide the interface to use/configure the computing capability. We will get monthly bills for the data/computing resources used and pay them using the same. This is the utility computing destination we are headed towards.

Utility computing will need "as-a-service" customising/configuring the computing needs as well as "as-as-service" operational support. There are many ways in which these can evolve. There is a huge amount of financial wastage in the current way of building and managing the evolving software needs of enterprises despite there being a lot common in the needs of enterprises around the world. Industry level thought is needed. New community, industry, country, global IT institutions are needed as part of the global IT operational framework to support the global utility computing model. One can of course start distributed and converge later. If one looks carefully, the process is already underway. It is the software industry which is lagging in terms of the way it does things and the tools/offerings it  provides.

Why should there be multiple implementations of each algorithm/code-component within the Internet as connectivity and computing becomes cheap and reliable? Why can't code for specific algorithm/code-component be sourced as needed from central repository? Why do customers have to pay for setup and operations of new IT platforms - assemblies of such algorithms/code-component? Why can't they merely pay for their usage of services from the IT platform and expect a specific SLA for each service they use from it?

Things are moving towards this in substantial measure as ISV's seek to keep their product/services updated through better service oriented architectures. Enterprise IT platforms are beginning to get automatically updated with new versions of code components with minimum down time

Need to simplify aggregate global technosphere

As I have said multiple times before, complexity is increasing in day to day life. Daily lives of humans, which were dependent on natural uncertainties for the most part are increasingly dependent directly or indirectly on man-made uncertainties embedded in network of machines and/or computers. Some of the natural uncertainties like climate have changed with large impact, but man-made uncertainties continue to increase in number and complexity as the technosphere around humanity deepens.

I wish to reflect here about the changing nature of our ways and means of carrying out our activities in modern life. Computing power is becoming cheaper and easily available. The nature of problems to which computing is being applied is increasing. The number and types of algorithms being deployed are increasing. But there are certain complex categories of problems to which simple algorithms can be proved not to exist. The equivalence class of real-life problems where one encounters these limitations is significantly large by itself and I contend that as systems (of systems(of systems...)) increase, this equivalence class is increasing in size. Essentially there are more and more significant aspects of our day-to-day lives which are limited only by the computational complexity of these algorithms.

Now consider the complexity of enterprise IT architectures (including code and data) where such code and data is embedded in. I recently saw a Gartner video about why the only way that digital transformation can meet the goals of reducing TCO and improving agility of adapting to business change is to reduce complexity of IT architectures. Actions by CIO's to reduce the complexity of enterprise IT architectures while adapting to business change are the only way of reducing future cost of change, the need for which in a very dynamic business environment will always be high.

In my view every human needs to be actively involved in managing the complexity of the technosphere around him and how his/her technosphere connects to the enterprise technosphere, community technosphere, national technosphere and global technosphere. Unless we together actively manage the complexity in this inter-network of techosphere, the aggregate technosphere will increase in complexity thereby increasing the future cost of change and/or future inequality of service delivered through the technosphere. Every individual and enterprise need to do their bit to keep the aggregate technosphere simple. The service environment architecture that is emerging as the technosphere around each individual/home/car/factory also need to be managed and interconnected in ways which preserve good "network" properties (e.g. equality of opportunity and freedom of speech within the network), else our humanity might waste a lot of money later due to increased complexity to modify the network to create these properties.

Netneutrality illustrates type of principles we need to ensure and I am sure we will see more and more debates of the net neutrality kind as the Internet (the BIG NEW WORLD)  continues to be colonized, just like democracy emerged and grew in America during the colonization.



13th May 2015

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Thinking of the As-a-Service Economy

I have really tried hard to understand the  emerging As-a-service economy. I am glad to say that I think I now understand the term better and agree that things are evolving in that direction. Let me explain what I have understood in my words.

Organisations use business service catalogues delivered to them through a mix of people and technology. Typically the business service catalogue has a back-to-back IT service catalogue. Business staff orchestrate the business services from the catalogue into business processes achieving business outcomes. IT staff orchestrate the IT services from the catalogue to support the business services. The agility (through flexible capability and flexible capacity) of the above business processes (and recursively those of its business services and IT services) and their cost are key to business success/failure. Business always wants more agility and ever lower costs. Depending on the people and technology portfolio of each organisation, its agility and cost get determined.

The As-a-service Nirvana is that the people portfolio is highly skilled, good at learning-unlearning-relearning and value-add focused supported by a technology portfolio which provides flexible capability and capacity. In the As-a-service Nirvana these are delivered through the IT service catalogue, business service catalogue forming the business processes supporting the business with a high degree of fast flexibility to vary services their providers as per the needs of the business to produce specific outcomes in the context of its business environment. The most important point about the As-a-service Nirvana is that it assumes a huge amount of automation and a huge amount of cloud usage, so that the cost structure options that BPaas/SaaS/Iaas can deliver are leveraged to the full.

Why is this important what is new about this?

Till date, the focus has been on each customer making one-time and on-going investments (and/or expenses) in infrastructure, software applications and (IT and business process) staff which tied up capital, made reducing people cost through offshoring/outsourcing the only way of reducing cost and reduced agility due to high cost/duration of change. It is a bit like building, maintaining and driving one's own manually driven car using T&M/Fixed price service and standard components and being locked into it when all you need is a car and Avis/Hertz can provide on-demand selection of car's with various configurations (including more automated self-driving ones) for a much lower operating cost overall. The key difference between this example and As-a-service Nirvana is that Avis/Hertz in the As-a-service economy will assemble the "car" on-demand from services provided by multiple providers and the next time you need a car, you can change any of these providers easily.

As I described in this article I think that things are moving towards utility computing provided through "standardised access" infrastructure just like electricity. Everyone does not need their own power generation, transmission infrastructure to use electricity. "Standardised "access" infrastructure is enough to leverage flexible computing as described in that article. As we reach there enterprises will primarily interconnect multiple "standardised access" infrastructure elements which separately/jointly plug into the computing coming through the wall. It is basically a more evolved way of living and it will locate the responsibilities in a more socially optimal manner.


Pratap Tambay

23 May 2015

Thursday, May 07, 2015

What is poetry? An elaborate definition

A long time ago, when I was at IITB, I thought hard about my poetry. What did it mean and what was its place in my life. What was the benefit of writing poetry to my life and to society? Those days there was a particular hindi song illustrating the regularity with which outstanding poets tended to be failures in practical life, which used to scare me. I had realised that I had some talent for writing but hadn't realised exactly how much I had. I knew I liked to write, needed to write and felt better by writing, but did not really understand my relationship with my writing, particularly poetry, which was the mainstay of my writing. But I was worried big time that I might become a failure in practical life like poets in many movies of those days were shown and like even the might Ghalib was a failure in practical life. One of the good things about living in IITB campus was that I was able to reflect deeply on what is poetry and what it meant to my life.

I realised that if one stays true to one's self and lives life on the front foot emotionally i.e. follows one's heart, one tends to be hurt far too easily. This was my experience too and I will skip the detail of that/those experience because that is not central to what I have to say. Essentially life is challenging and following one's heart leads to difficult emotional situations of various kinds. Some might be of not being sure, about so sure that one has doubts, of hope, of loss and lots and lots of other typical human emotions related to searching and finding one's goals and then achieving one's goals. I investigated myself deeply and found that I carried an emotional burden with me and wrote due to that emotional burden. Forcibly ditching the emotional burden did not seem possible and emotional burden tended to influence my life far too much in ways which were not always good. Even through writing the burden did not seem to go away. It seemed almost like my heart had some scars/lacunae which needed healing/filling. When I realised this, I also realised that I wanted to feel light and whole hearted again. But I did not know how this would happen but felt that poetry somehow would help me understand how this would happen. I decided that I would go deep into myself and make sense of what I felt deeply and write poetry about my deepest feelings. That helped me write some good poetry and helped release some of the burden. It helped me move on. I realised the truth of this song.

Writing poetry based on sense made out of one's deepest emotions (which might be shared with others for social/national/religious poetry) is articulating a problem and CHOOSING to view it in a particular way, which makes emotional and practical sense. I am writing this article for few friends who have mentioned that they do not get release from writing poetry. I KNOW that writing poetry helps one to move on. For these people who have tried and have not been able to move on, I would suggest that they explore themselves even more deeply and try to articulate the "problem" and review the various ways of looking at the "problem". If they do this, the heart and mind will tell them the right way of viewing the "problem", so that they can come out of it. There was a time when I felt good about poetry celebrating pain. Perhaps there are some people for whom, there is no way of viewing the "problem" in a way that provides release/meaning. But for most people, I think that viewing one's pain at a deep level differently can help find a way away from it to a richer experience of life. Most of the time, we never celebrate what we have and keep crying over what we do not and/or cannot have. Your problem and your view may vary. But going deep within oneself, reviewing one's pain and CHOOSING the right view can help release the pain.

So poetry is a way of making and sharing sense of the residue of one's experienced and imagined reality. It can help in healing scars and filling gaps so that one can experience life more deeply and whole heartedly. If one spends life with scars and gaps in the heart, one is likely to live lives of a particular kind. I believe that those who live more deeply and wholeheartedly are likely to be more socially responsible and sensitive. So poetry is a good thing. It is an intensely practical tool for anyone wishing to live a life emotionally on the front foot to get in and stay in touch with one's deepest self and live a life that really makes sense from the core, despite the very nature of life expressed in this song. Living a dignified and practical life is easier if one uses poetry as a tool.



Sunday, April 19, 2015

Deep learning AI - current dangers

This article about deep learning AI scientist Geoffrey Hinton mentions expert opinions that doomsday scenarios of intelligent AI being destroying humanity scenario are more than 40 years away at the least, but focus on such doomsday scenarios are distracting attention away from other current dangers like the following.

"The National Security Agency in the U.S. has a huge amount of data at its fingertips. It would be shocking if it wasn’t using neural networks to make sense of it. The U.S. Department of Defence continues to fund AI research: how much autonomy can we as a society comfortably transfer to intelligent drones or robots? Appropriate boundaries for lethal autonomous weapons systems are an ongoing international debate. And if you’re already uncomfortable with ads that pick up keywords from your Facebook posts and email correspondence, you might not look forward to those systems getting smarter.

Then there’s the job question. Traditional computing replaced many menial tasks; neural nets are adept at navigating deep reservoirs of knowledge. Startups such as San Francisco-based Enlitic believe that deep learning algorithms can do a better, faster job of reading medical scans than the best-trained human beings."

  1. In June 2013, in this article, I expressed concern about the how most citizens are not aware about the technology capabilities available to their governments and how the secrecy about governmental technology capability development efforts reduces the control of citizens over ways and means governments can use to repress them if the governments decide to act despotically. Despots have an incentive to increase this secrecy to build technology to help them retain power.
  2. Degree of autonomous systems will increase and interactions between these autonomous systems will increase and humans might lose control/knowledge-of-control. I reflect on such scenarios in this article. I face one such scenario every morning when I walk through my living room littered with toys by my twin daughters earlier night. I never know which action by me will trigger unpredictable series of interconnected actions/reactions (of sound, lights, motion) between toys and have to be careful to avoid waking them up. Rogue software can complicate these scenarios as illustrated in this article.
  3. In this article, I talk about how it is important to regulate correctly to give citizens control over their data using correct technology, (something that is being done through data broker regulations and consumer privacy regulations being considered by USA) so that the scenario of leveraging ever advanced technology to process this data using deep learning AI will become illegal. Of course if this is not done or not done correctly, freedoms of citizens will be at risk. Their thoughts, words and actions will become vulnerable to influence from those mining their data and planting advertisements and/or other content.
  4. In this article, I talk about how the quickly emerging scenario of large scale job destruction due to technology is dangerous because our social sciences (including economics) are not able to predict the kind of society and state we will soon have as this happens. I worry that this might be intentional.
As deep learning AI technology in its various forms and scale accelerates, we will become more and more of a knowledge based society. Generating, leveraging and protecting intellectual property (algorithms and data) is already quite important and over time will become the most important differentiator between success and failure. Intellectual property has already become the organizing principle of humanity. Due to its nature, humanity will need to organise its affairs differently than at present to survive and thrive. This article talks about issues and challenges in protecting intellectual property and the implications for vulnerability of humanity. This article talks about whether ALL intellectual property should be allowed to be private irrespective of its nature.

When I wrote all these articles, I expected the issues they talk about to become important soon. So I am not surprised to find that they are becoming important. My only concern is that we are not ready to handle these issues. We need to do much more and soon.


Pratap Tambay

19 April 2015

Friday, April 17, 2015

Importance of the EU-Google case


As described in this article, "The European Union's competition commissioner filed a "statement of objections" on Wednesday that brings Google a step closer to facing legal sanctions under European law. The European Commission's specific allegation is a relatively narrow one — that the search giant has broken the law by giving Google Shopping a more favourable position in search results than other comparison shopping services — but the underlying policy issue is much broader. Following the logic of the EU complaint would require a massive transformation of Google's search product. The key point is that Google doesn't just give prime real estate to Google Shopping results. It unapologetically does it for products like Google Images, Google Maps, and Google News — all of which regularly show up in special boxes near the top of Google search results."

I recently wrote this article describing how the inter-network between humans and firms/institutions is becoming more and more centralised and few humans, firms and institutions are having increasingly disproportionate and unfair influence over the daily lives of the rest of humanity. Technology increases the ability of few to "serve" (and in effect control) the many. This is the real issue in the EU-Google case. As I pleaded in my article, humanity urgently needs to change democracy and markets to prevent small portions of humanity from dominating the rest using technology.

In a way, this goes into the fundamentals of our civilization as it stands today. Higher weightage in global wealth distribution has moved from physical property to intellectual property over the years. The limitations applicable to this intellectual property are different. In this article, I ask where should one draw the line between individual property, community property and humanity's property? Should'nt intellectual property which gives significant market power be managed differently from mundane intellectual property? How does one decide what rules should apply to which type of intellectual property?

John Stuart Mill has warned all who are interested in the maintenance of democracy, namely, not "to lay their liberties at the feet of even a great man, or to trust him with powers which enable him to subvert their institutions." There is nothing wrong in being grateful to great men who have rendered life-long services to the country. But there are limits to gratefulness. Similarly Irish Patriot Daniel O'Connel has said that no man can be grateful at the cost of his honour, no woman can be grateful at the cost of her chastity and no nation can be grateful at the cost of its liberty.

Democracy and markets are modes of association between humans and the above guidance applies to both in the context of gratefulness to Google for the benefits it's intellectual property has already generated and can generate for humanity. While Googles intellectual property's benefit to humanity is significant, surrendering significant market power to it cannot be justified. It is a threat to liberty and fair market competition. Any person, firm, institution which subverts the optimality of "aggregate social choice" happening through markets is just as dangerous as a great man entrusted with power to subvert the institutions of democracy.

The phenomena of SIB (systemically important Banks), SII (Systemically important insurers), the phenomenon of "too big to fail" corporates and its collateral phenomenon of "differential rewards to the guilty" are also caused by the increasing centralisation of the internetwork of humans and firms. Adam Smith's  "invisible hand" allocating resources to its uses generates reasonable outcomes for humanity here and now at small scale, but does not necessarily generate good outcomes far, later and large scale. Increasing centralisation of the network makes few visible hands uncontrolled by democratic forces dangerous for the survival and prosperity of humanity.

I predict that we should see more and more of such cases arising, since humanity is riding the technology tiger and the tiger is running fast into a deep, dark and dense jungle.


Pratap Tambay

17 April 2015