Latest Orwell!

You may think that Pramod is thinking like George Orwell! This is where the comparison ends. Orwell was a great British thinker whereas I am just a blogger!  But from what I have been reading and what I observe things, are going to get quite complex. Similar to Orwell’s theory of big brother watching, a group of companies are jointly becoming this New Big Brother (NBB). No, they are not coming together or forming a cartel or a caucus, nothing of that sort is happening. But Microsoft, Amazon, Google, Apple and Facebook jointly have a large amount of information about us, stored on their servers.   

Orwell

The adjective “Orwellian” connotes an attitude and a policy of control by propaganda, surveillance, misinformation, denial of truth and manipulation of the past. In the novel Nineteen Eighty-Four, Orwell described a totalitarian government that controlled thought by controlling language, making certain ideas literally unthinkable. Several words and phrases from Nineteen Eighty-Four have entered the popular language. “Newspeak” is a simplified and confusing language designed to make independent thought impossible. “Doublethink” means holding two contradictory beliefs simultaneously. The “Thought Police” are those who suppress all dissenting opinion. “Prolefeed” is homogenised, manufactured superficial literature, film and music used to control and indoctrinate the populace through docility. “Big Brother” is a supreme dictator who watches everyone.   

All the liberals and radicals in India had raised a hue and cry about Aadhar data going to Government. Firstly, we have been sharing a lot of information about us through Income tax department, when we get our PAN card or Election card made. Aadhar additionally took biometric data. Apple, Microsoft has been encouraging biometric recognition using thumbprint and face recognition, we have not even thought for a second whether to share these details with them or not. This is going to create a more secure environment, we were told. We shared this info with no questions asked!  

The New Big Brother (NBB) is very powerful. They not only have our data but also have the wherewithal to use analytical tools and understand everything about us. Let me give a very intimate example, then you will know what I mean. Suppose a lady buys her sanitary requirements for her monthly period on Amazon. Amazon has her age and buying history, so don’t be surprised if she gets a reminder from them, “Hey, you seem to have forgotten to buy your Tampons!” Whether Amazon is using the data for such purpose, I don’t know, yet.   

You have been always taught since childhood not to accept chocolates or biscuits from strangers or never to talk with them. Here you become friends with hundreds of near strangers and share your very intimate details with the whole world. People share their cell number on FB wall! Is it not risky in the cyber world? Fraudsters can cheat you, with your money; some people use this for stalking!  There was a big scandal regarding data sharing and breach by a company called Cambridge Analytica! They were given data of US citizens by Facebook. This data was used to create a campaign against Hillary Clinton in her election campaign against Trump. Later on, it was found out that this company used data about sexual scandals to help a group of politicians in Sri Lanka! It seems the cyber tentacles have spread in all directions!   

How can the NBB be stopped from taking policy decisions which can be against the right to secrecy? The option is for workers, many having entered tech company with idealistic rather than financial motives, to help regulate and restrict their own employers. Many have already begun to express regret over the effectiveness of their innovations, a phenomenon perhaps best exemplified by the Center for Humane Technology, led by the former Google design ethicist Tristan Harris. But the problem in this method is that the employees who are protesting or are whistleblowers are ultimately products of the same system that created the issue in the first place.  

Less clear to most people, however, is the extent to which the companies that make the technology, apps, and browsers that we use are not just tracking but shaping our behaviour. Thanks to the border-breaking nature of these technologies, and particularly the smartphone, the success of the NBB companies has put an unfathomable amount of wealth, power, and direct influence on the consumer in the hands of just a few individuals – individuals who can affect billions of lives with a tweak in the code of their products.  

Self-driving and electric vehicles are expected to come in a big way. These vehicles will use a lot of onboard computers. Any issue reported in the vehicle will be instantaneously captured on servers. Experts will analyze and create a software solution. The correction software patch will be released simultaneously to hundreds of thousands of vehicles. Great, no more visits to the workshop; next time you start the car the patch will be auto-downloaded. Does this bother you? No. But it bothers me. In the same way, the patch is released, a malicious person can send a malicious program and release it in the computers of thousands of cars. You just put imagination glasses on and wonder how damaging this can be!   

NBB may be shaping our behaviour! This is where the fundamental democracy deficit comes from: you have this incredibly concentrated private power with zero transparency or accountability, and then they have this unprecedented wealth of data about their users to work with. We have allowed these private companies to take over a lot of functions that we have historically thought of as public functions or social goods, like letting Google be the world’s library. Microsoft runs our life by controlling the operating systems on computers. Android and IOS control our cell phone operating systems. Android has a remarkable share of 80% plus. Democracy and the very concept of social goods – that tradition is so eroded globally that people are ready to let these private companies assume control.   

Democratic governments can be changed through elections but how can you change ways NBB works, with lack of transparency? But at the same time for NBB, everything is not a walk in the park. They are multinationals, incidentally all having headquarters in the USA. But they are answerable to all governments in the world.  Zuckerberg faced the music in the US after Cambridge Analytica fiasco. He was called by the British Government but somehow managed to skip the “invite”! Sundar Pichai is being grilled by US Government about suppressing conservative views on Google search engine. European Union has been really pushing Google about their search engine monopoly. In China Google had to withdraw in 2010 because of censorship and other issues, thereby losing big business. The Indian government is pressurizing Microsoft/Amazon that cloud servers for Government data must be on Indian soil! They will have to relent, looking at the size of business that India operations can generate. Indian Government has been after WhatsApp and Apple about certain issues.  

NBB is forced to use freedom available to multinationals with care and responsibility because they are being forced to become transparent in their dealings by combined efforts of whistleblowers and governments. These checks and balances will fall in place over a period of time.   

Orwell’s theory of Totalitarianism gets challenged, every time we see somebody trying to control freedom. Indira Gandhi was forced to cancel emergency, Russian communism collapsed in the late 80’s/ early ’90s of the last century. Berlin Wall fell in 1989. How China and NBB fight with each other is a test case for the world. Both are trying to keep each other’s monopoly in check. Its early days of this battle but as computers become more and more powerful, as software becomes all compassing there can be spectacular battles. But as an optimist, I am sure the good will win in the end! By the way, I don’t believe in Orwellian thoughts!

GoodALwaysWins

  

  

  

  

  

   

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The world with No Boundaries!

This is a beautiful song from Hindi movie Refugee (Year 2000) beautifully sung by Sonu Nigam and Alka Yagnik.   

youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6nvTzT5hhD0&w=521&h=391

The lyrics are just superb. Birds, rivers and the breeze can never be stopped by any borders between the two nations. Borders are for us, humans! But my friend, give a thought, what you and me have achieved by being humans!  

Similarly, our life has gone under a major change; it has happened discretely over the last 10 to 15 years. Our world has become Cyberabad! Now “the world is a village” term fits aptly to our universe. In the late ’90s of the last century, the internet came into the public domain. Before this, it was being used by the scientific community since the early ’70s.  

But in the initial period, it was a special space, independent of our normal life. In those days, we went to our computers and entered the world of mystery. But the real revolution started with the advent of Smart Phones. A smartphone is a device which makes phones, sends a text message; but it is a computer. The first PC that I bought at home, in 1989 had 20 MB hard disc (Yes, MB!) and 640 kb RAM. My current smartphone has 128 GB storage and 6 GB RAM.   

With the smartphone, our life started changing and cyberspace started becoming our appendage! People must have their device with them all the time; they may go to the washroom, they may be taking a bath, they may be in bed with the wife but the phone will be there like a सवत or co-wife! It is applicable to both sexes!  

Consider an example of a piece of paper and a pen, which helps us remember things, a duty otherwise performed by the brain. The shopping list becomes part of our memory, this list helps us in not taxing our brain.  

On the same lines idea that our self is expanding through our phones is plausible, and that’s because our phones, and our digital devices generally – our smartwatches, our iPads – all these things have become a really intimate part of how we go about our daily lives. Intimate in the sense in which they’re not only on our body, but we sleep with them, we wake up with them, and the air we breathe is filled, in both a literal and figurative sense, with the trails of ones and zeros that these devices leave behind.”  

One of the essential differences between a smartphone and a piece of paper is that our relationship with our phones is reciprocal; we not only put information into the device, we also receive information from it, and, in that sense, it shapes our lives far more actively than would a shopping list. The shopping list isn’t suggesting to us, based on algorithmic responses to our past and current shopping behaviour, what we should buy; the phone can suggest.  

Everything has two sides good and bad! Our life has changed very much due to the internet. There is no point in comparing current life with pre-internet days. Life Before Internet (LBI) and Life After Internet (LAI) are two different species. Many of the day to day activities, like banking, purchasing, communication, photos have changed completely. Some things which were almost impossible during LBI are now possible after LAI! Camera has become democratic as it is available to almost everyone. Locating old friends, communicating with people living in different places, countries is just a click away. With the internet being available on flights, that dark connection less tunnel is slowly becoming history. You are now connected 24/7/365!   

But LAI has its downside too! We forget that we are supposed to rest, we are supposed to sleep soundly every night. If you get up to go to the washroom at night, you go with your cell phone. During that window of wakefulness, you see the WhatsApp messages, Email and Instagram! Whatever notification you have received from any App, you access it! As if not seeing these will cause a tsunami in your life! This many time results in insufficient sleep!  

Since childhood, we have been taught basic rules. LAI is full of breaking rules, making foul in the language of my granddaughter. She is being taught the importance of remaining away from “screens” as much as possible. When eating food, no screen, got nothing to do, no screen; screen time is limited, and  has to be earned. But do we adults follow the same rules? If we manage to come to the dining table together, everybody is looking at his/her screen. We make these fouls without fail. We have hundreds of “friends” but we don’t know most of the people in our condo, including our neighbours!

PDA (Public Display of Affection) is a new phenomenon. It has become fashionable to display how much you love your spouse! This includes photos kissing each other! Honestly who else cares about your affections? Why these things are shared publicly when that person is next to you, probably with you in the bed!   

You have been always taught since childhood not to accept chocolates or biscuits from strangers or never to talk with them. Here you become friends with hundreds of them whom you may have just met, and share your very intimate details with the whole world. People share their cell number on FB wall! Is it not risky in the cyber world? Fraudsters can cheat you, with your money; some people use this information for stalking! We raised a hue and cry when the government collected our data in the form of the Aadhar card. Most of the same data is shared by us easily with big fives of this world, including biometrics. Of course, I am talking of Microsoft, Google, Facebook, Apple, Amazon. They not only have our data but also have the wherewithal to use analytical tools and understand everything about us.

I am techno-savvy and have used social media regularly for years. I have reached a conclusion that I need to do social media detox, in fact, everybody needs to do that. Social Media has some fantastic usages, by all means, use them. I use it these days mainly to make my blogs available to as many people as possible. Some people are surprised that I am on the detox but SMS is also equally good if you want to exchange messages, using WA is too addictive!   

Going back the song mentioned above, it’s great to have borderless life but to me, there are more pitfalls than advantages. The life after LAI is as addictive as cocaine or maybe worse. To get drugs, you need an unlimited supply of money but for cyber addiction you only need the latest drug that has come on Indian cyberspace called “Jio” and let me assure you it is inexpensive. To detox is like joining AA (Alcoholic Anonymous), discipline yourself along with your child and but is tough. To not share very personal intimate personal thing is as tough as giving up smoking. Use this borderless space like birds take the flights at random (भरारी), rivers simply don’t bother about borders and meander, like the breeze which cannot be prevented by a thousand feet tall wall to cross the border! But don’t forget that birds can get caught in the crossfire generated by cyber wars and cyber thieves!   

  

  

  

  

  

 

Is everything fine with this world?

Famines, Fevers and Fights is the troika that has been ruling the world for a long, long time! Not that situation has changed much but the effects of this troika appear to be under control. Why was this happening in this world? What led to such situations? What were the issues that brought the human race to their knees? Was everything well with life? Were people happy when the troika controlled everything and kept humans on the leash?

We, humans, are such that we get used to everything in life. We get used to poverty, we get used to wealth, we get used to disabilities, we get used to a continuous state of war, with a break in between! Till the second world war, somewhere in the world, fights led to disputes, which would result in the war of words, finally into the real war. These wars have killed so many people that during any century, these would contribute significantly to the death toll.  The number of casualties in WW I was forty million and in WW II were 60 million which was 30% of those of the then world population of 2.3 Billion! Now deaths are more due to man-made reasons, old age than due to illnesses and wars that could not be controlled.

Famine deaths have been very common but during the last 50 to 70 years famines have been manageable. It’s not that the crops have not been failing, there have been seasons of no rain. In Australia, it did not rain for five years in a certain area. It was interesting that the children born during that period could not understand the meaning of the poem “Rain, Rain Go Away”! A couple of years ago, due to poor rains in Maharashtra, water tanker trains hauled water 500 km away and helped alleviate the problems in Latur. The world still has a large number of people who don’t get food but it is the failure of management and food distribution system of the world. Food has been available in plenty. Farm and milk revolutions have created massive stocks about which governments don’t know what to do! There have been mountains of butter and stacks of milk powder which cannot be sold. Shortages and famines are much more controllable and are things not to be afraid of!

Why this troika is not feared anymore as it was 100 years back? Main reasons are the fast speed of financial growth, leading to plenty of everything; another reason is the improvement in the medical field, general cleanliness and hygiene! One more reason is that human race has become wiser and does not try and start a war at the drop of a hat! Nuclear Arms are the good deterrent! People have seen the effect of these on Hiroshima and Nagasaki! So, two sides may take belligerent stands but will try their utmost to see that wars are not actually started! Brink of war situations are many but the conversion ratio of the brink of war situation to the actual wars has become poorer leading to more peace than war.

The troika now looks to have been reined and if any of the three F’s bring up their heads, it is because of system failures or errors. Third F, Fights or wars, were the end result of Famine and Fever! Why is this so? It is because the human race felt helpless to control the outbreaks of first two F’s and would try to cure them or overcome them by invoking the Gods, praying to the Gods! In the famous Hindi movie Guide (1965), the people of the village take help of Dev Anand, whom they mistake as a Guru! They try to invoke the God taking Guru’s help! The helplessness created despondence in the human race and nobody ever thought that it was possible to overcome such issues!

The change in thought process came about because of plenty of good things, in fact, plenty of everything. Last 50 to 70 years have shown major changes in the two most populated nations in the world, China and India. China has been on the Maglev high-speed train of progress since the late 70’s. Now China has become number two world economy. It already manufacturers the largest number of cars in the world. It produces 55% of EV’s in the world!  India with its own 25 years of Bullet Train type of high-speed progress at the rate of 6 to 8% for last 25 years, is expected to become number three economy in the world in next 10 to 15 years. India manufactured 2.4 million two-wheelers in the last month. Both these nations are bringing out large number people from below poverty line every year. Things are looking rosy for the time being!

So, what should the world be afraid of? Why the world should be afraid of? The real world cannot have any vacuum! History tells us that something major happens somewhere in the world, all the time. There has to be a major flood or an earthquake or too much snow! There has to be a typhoon or a major accident! So, these things will keep on happening but the two major issues that could bring things to boil can be climate issues and bull in the China shop syndrome!

Climate issues are too well known and humans have been flogging the globe for a long time, in most cases knowingly, some cases unknowingly. Then there are “smart” world leaders like Mr Trump who has taken a decision that the USA should withdraw from worldwide climate control efforts! The other major irritants are terrorists and their organizations. They do some spectacular things like World Trade centre and Bombay attacks on Hotel Tajmahal! But compared to the calamities the human race has faced, on the scale of 1 to 10, these attacks could be at one or maximum two on the scale of ten! Their actions have TRP value, their actions have caused hurt to our psyches! Their actions are like flies flying around us. But some of the flies are smart and go inside the bull’s ear! The bull is always waiting around the China shop. Fall of Saddam Hussain was caused by a reaction by the world causing the irritation inside the ear of the bull known as the USA! It resulted into one-sided spectacular war; event almost on par with World Trade centre attack and destroyed Saddam’s Iraq!

Humans need to be careful about such reactions or like reactions by Mr Trump. By delaying actions on climate control humans might make irreversible damage! By leading to Iraq type of war, humans can press the wrong button leading to the catastrophe which the world has never seen before! The progress in high tech areas is at a breakneck speed. If we don’t keep track of what is happening in areas like AI, Biotech and others, some bad eggs could create an unprecedented disaster. All you may need is a bottle some highly poisonous liquid to be poured into the lake supplying water to large cities! All you may need is a mad set of people who can push the “modern virus” not the killer fever virus, but the computer variety. This attack could be a mutating type of attack and in a matter of hours can cripple everything like the movement of planes, cars and trains; banking operations, critical operations like satellite operations. Of course, I am talking of an Orwellian scenario! Things hopefully will remain controlled, such attacks could remain contained in a local area! But humans will have to remain alert, all the time. Outwardly everything will look fine but we will never know when the “attack” will come!

Humans took thousands of years to reach a reasonable state of stability; let us all remain together in our endeavour to keep the earth interesting but peaceful place! We will always be “blessed” with real-life characters like Saddam and Trump! But there are reasons like Himalayas, Alps and Rockies to ignore them. Let us all work together to retain the beauty of Niagara Falls, Machi Pichu and Tajmahal. Let us keep the atmosphere such that we have more Tagore’s and Shakespeare than having more Hitlers and Mussolini’s! Let us enjoy beaches and forests rather than creating forests of buildings! Let us fill the Vacuum, I have talked about, with better and better glorious things!  But this will make us work hard on climate change and pollution. Let New Delhi, (the most polluted city in the world)  be the first city which will be able to see the Sunrise and Sunset every day!

What to do with galloping Technology?

Exponential

The curve above is representative of how technology is developing at a breakneck speed. The title is neither a rhetorical question nor a controversial statement. This thought came to my mind while I was reading about the galloping speed of progress in many areas the humans are making. In the movie “Back to the Future” (1985) the person goes back to the year 1955 using a time machine. The differences he sees are interesting but not surprising. There was nothing exceptionally different or path-breaking in those 30 years. Had the movie been produced in 2015, the time machine would have taken the person to 1985, with 30-year logic. That change would have been exceptional for the person to guess!  What is the meaning of life with no PC’s, no Cell phones, no Internet, no WA, no FB? The person would not believe that life only 30 years back was so different.  

Just imagine that a human being was transported from 12000 years back, pre-farming era, to the year 1500. The cities, the carriageways, farming equipment would be such a big change that this person suddenly exposed to so many changes, might die of shock. A person from the year 1500, will be reasonably shocked to be taken to the year 1750 but he won’t die! How much change can human mind accept and absorb at a time? The rate of change is really galloping in the recent past. Change from the year 1500 to the year 1750 and the change from 1750 to 2015 cannot be compared. Change of scene that we see in the year 2015 compared to the year 1985 is really vast. But the human mind will not be able to accept changes from 1750 to 2015, the person could also simply die! It initially took 12000 plus years for such deadly changes to occur but later it took only 250 plus years for similar deadly changes. We can call such changes as “Deadly Change” (DC).

This comparison tells us that the rate of change is dependent on how advanced the society is at that time, it is the datum level that is important. For obvious reasons, we see terrific changes happening in the Bay area in the USA. We know that such change was happening in the area of Electronics, Computers and the Internet; but along with these changes, it appears that this area may also surge ahead in Car manufacturing as indicated by Tesla! We really don’t know where Apple and Google are the car domain but one thing is sure, they have technical wherewithal, passion and money. All changes are not DC type but the rate of change is galloping.  

If such changes have happened in the first 18 years of 21st century itself, what is lying ahead, we simply do not know. The changes that happened between the year 2000 to the year 2015 could get squeezed to seven years between the year 2015 and year 2022! Enormous changes can happen initially in 7 seven years, then in 3 years and then one year and then one month and then one day! Friends you may think that Pramod is dreaming and writing a fictional scenario of how things will change. But I get a feeling that changes that are going to happen in future will take an exponential curve.

The curve shown above displays the rapid speed at which things are moving.

  1. The rate of change can be represented up to the year 2000 by the slope at value –1 on X axis! What we are going to get in future will be slope after that! The high growth slope at +1 value is due to Microsoft, Google, Facebook coming in the picture during that time period between years 2000 and 2005. 
  2. Our historical perspective has been up to –1 value so we keep on thinking and expecting that the change will always be gradual and slow!  
  3. We are “Old people” of the gone era and I am talking of people in 50’s too! We are stubborn and we say that change can happen only so fast! How can change happen exponentially?  

But something is already happening in the background; you, me and the general public think that AI is something that is shown in Sci-Fi movies. It is for graduate students to take up the projects as a requirement, it is not real life! When we talk of AI, we always think of Robots; Robots are containers for AI stuff. AI is the brain and Robots is the body. When we talk of AI, we always think of computers but do not forget that another area which is making progress in leaps and bounds is biotechnology. The progress in this area is the result of tremendous progress made in the last 30 years; along with this terrific progress is made in the medical field too! These technologies are going to be the drivers of rapid change.

All this lead leads to a question of how much is the shelf life of technology? To me, some will evolve slowly and the concept will continue for a long time. For example, aeroplanes. Aeroplanes have been there for more than hundred years, only major has been jet engine! But no other path-breaking stuff is visualized. The telephone also has been around for a similar time but this technology has also changed slowly. The change now is faster after cell phones arrived on the scene. But now cell phone is really evolving in a different animal, fast! It is getting converted into a personal tool which might do everything for you, from phones to camera, to photo repository, to the music system, to chat system, to a chequebook and a bank! This change has really happened fast in the last 15 years and what form and shape it will take, only God knows. 

Biotechnology and medical fields are progressing rapidly! Last hundred years have seen some major breakthroughs in reining in epidemics. People dying in hundreds of thousands or in millions due to illnesses,  was a norm, in old days! There was plague, there was black death. The systems and the doctors just could not contain them and the way was you die or you run away elsewhere! Medicines and cures were, more prayer and faith-based than science-based. Last fifty years have seen the dramatic change in this scenario; when AIDs became rampant, doctors found basic details about it, in 2 years and now they know that it is an Auto Immune thing and per se is not as dangerous as it looks. A person with AIDs dies with other infections! Had AIDs appeared 500 years back, half the then population of the world could have been wiped out. Ebola came but was reasonably well controlled, quickly!  

This speed is good for humans but technology changes in day to day stuff can be difficult to handle with galloping speed. We have seen in front of our eyes, pagers come and go, so did fax! Cameras with the film are a history and music pieces can be composed in two different continents and a song gets created in the third continent.  

Some of these changes, humans will handle well and others can be tough to absorb. The working population will have to get themselves reskilled every ten years (am I too optimistic?) or perish. You can’t become a banker and a chartered accountant and work lifelong in the same career. Block Chain technology may eliminate such concepts! Experts may make a lot of money by the time they are 40 and may want to retire! And do what? Some young friends of ours are already contemplating this scenario.

Average Deepak or a John did not have face Cancer or Heart Attack because he never lived that long. With better products, diagnostics tools,  and cures, better solutions from biotechnology, the lifespan of Deepak and John is increasing rapidly. With better cures, these dangerous diseases are also more controllable and many times curable. Now more people die of old age instead of dying due to illnesses.  

Friends, I am very positive that humans will find a way to handle these galloping changes but some thoughts and concepts will change on their heads! Don’t be surprised if you meet a banker friend of yours after ten years and find him growing organic farms or has become potter of beautiful ceramics! We always find our path, some find it quickly, some find it late and some don’t find at all! Darwin’s theory of “Survival of the fittest” is one thing that will never change!  

 

 

 

What is really intelligent? Intelligence or Artificial Intelligence!

In the last ten years, terms like AI, AR, VR et al are coming in news and in discussions. AI is artificial intelligence whereas AR is augmented reality and VR is virtual reality.

Augmented Reality is an interactive experience of a real-world environment whereby the objects that reside in the real-world are “augmented” by computer-generated perceptual information, sometimes across multiple sensory modalities, including visual, auditory, haptic, somatosensory, and olfactory.  Virtual reality completely replaces the user’s real-world environment with a simulated one.

Virtual Reality is the computer-generated simulation of a three-dimensional image or environment that can be interacted with, in a seemingly real or physical way by a person using special electronic equipment, such as a helmet with a screen inside or gloves fitted with sensors.

Artificial Intelligence is the theory and development of computer systems able to perform tasks normally requiring human intelligence, such as visual perception, speech recognition, decision-making, and translation between languages. I will be writing today only about AI, in the language that I can understand.

Enough of tech things, hopefully, these definitions have indicated what these things really are. Coming back to the title, an obvious conclusion will be Intelligence is more intelligent than Artificial Intelligence. The answer is both yes and no! Yes, is because after all the creator of artificial intelligence is a human. When we talk of intelligence it is about human intelligence! QED! No, because Intelligence and Artificial Intelligence are two different animals and supposed to handle different things. Hence making this comparison may not be the right thing. In human life, decisions are not taken as 1 & 0 every time. AI activity is about a decision-making activity, always, as 1 & 0!

Consider the BOTS. BOTS are Web Robots. When we go into a Chat mode with a site like Amazon, chats are handled by BOTS, these days. How do the BOTS work? During chat customers usually, ask a certain set of questions. Depending on the standard questions asked BOTS are trained to give replies. Generally, it will say, “How may I help you?” Depending on the what the customer says, about a certain order or delivery issue or a quality issue, BOTS system (yes, it is a system though initially it is trained to say I am Vijay or some such name!)  in Nanoseconds, will run through its database and type an appropriate reply. Maybe in 70 to 80 % of cases, BOT can find the answer. But in certain situations, it cannot find a reply. In this case, it is trained to say, “let me ask my seniors, could you hold on, please?” Then a human supervisor, who handles about 20 BOTS, takes over and resolves the issue. This is like self-checkout counters in foreign countries where there is one supervisor to support ten machines used by us!

What really is AI? Even the most sophisticated AI technology is, at its core, no different from other computer software: bits of data running through circuits at super-fast rates. Where AI falls short is thinking in the abstract, applying common sense, or transferring knowledge from one area to another. For instance, Zomato might be very good at reserving restaurant tables, a narrow and a very specific task. There are many proven instances in which AI models fail in spectacular and illogical ways as soon as they’re presented with an example that falls outside of their problem domain or is different from the data they’ve been trained on. The broader the domain, the more data the AI needs to be able to master it, and there will always be boundary line cases, scenarios that haven’t been covered by the training data and will cause the AI to fail.

Contrary to computers, humans are terrible at storing and processing information, comparatively. For instance, you must listen to a song several times before you can memorize it. But for a computer, memorizing a song is as simple as pressing “Save” in an application or copying the file into its hard drive. Likewise, un memorizing is hard for humans. Try as you might, you can’t forget bad memories. For a computer, it’s as easy as deleting a file.

When it comes to processing data, humans are obviously inferior to AI.  Humans might be able to perform the same tasks as computers. However, in the time that it takes for a human to identify and label an image, an AI algorithm can classify one million images. However, humans can make abstract decisions based on instinct, common sense and scarce information. A human child learns to handle objects at a very young age. For an AI algorithm, it takes hundreds of years of training to perform the same task.

There are robots in Japan to take care of senior citizens. They handle routine tasks. But if it is suddenly asked which was that movie you had seen in 1960, it will not know. But if you ask this question to a human who is your friend from childhood, he will suggest to you the names of five different movies from that period. This is the difference between Human Intelligence and Artificial Intelligence. The robot, in this case, is not expected to give a reply. Artificial intelligence is good at processing data, bad at thinking in abstract whereas Humans are bad at processing data, good at making abstract decisions.

Humans can invent new things, including all the technologies that have ushered in the era of artificial intelligence. AI can only take data, compare it, come up with new combinations and presentations, and predict trends based on previous sequences.

Humans can feel, imagine, dream. They can be selfless or greedy. They can love and hate, they can lie, they forget, they confuse facts. And all of those emotions can change their decisions in rational or irrational ways. They’re imperfect and flawed beings made of flesh, which decays with time. But every single one of them is unique in his or her own way and can create things that no one else can. Robots do not have all these properties. They will keep on doing a repetitive job, every time. They don’t get old but their component may fail. They are emotionless.

While chatting with friends, one of the friends, who is in the same field as Jaya, was pulling Jaya’s leg.  He asked her, “What is the difference between AI and real Intelligence?”  Jaya smiled and told him, “You are artificially intelligent, I am really intelligent”! So, it’s simple, never compare AI and human Intelligence; they are oranges and apples!

Do we have it in us?

Historically, in the last two hundred years at least, we have seen nations moving from Agro Based economies to Manufacturing economies to Service based Economies. The latest classic example of this is China. From 7th decade in the last century, till today they have shown fascinating growth and China has become the manufacturing hub of the world. India was late in this transformation and we were forced into liberalization by the precipice we reached in 1992. India had no money to pay for foreign goods/debts and had to move their “family gold” (it is the gold stock that nations hold for such situations) abroad to borrow the money. Rest as they say is history. 

We reached a growth rate between six and eight % and the effect of that growth is seen all over India, in the last 25 years. But there is a twist in the story here. India has not exactly skipped the manufacturing phase of the growth but it appears that we are jumping more towards the Service based economy. I was wondering why this is happening and as usual, found that this is very complex to understand and even more complex to explain but still I am venturing into trying to explain.  

First and foremost, I feel that with the internet around and excellent connectivity world over, we all know what is happening anywhere in the world. What new products are available, what better gadgets are available is known the world over,  very fast. So, aspirations of the people change very rapidly. But the generations don’t become rich in such small durations. With 8% kind of growth and the speed of growth, this change is even more lopsided than in olden days. Rich are becoming richer faster and by leaps and bound. The disparity between the rich and the poor is galloping rapidly.  This is where the comparison between China and India always comes into the picture. There is no question that China has done much better than India during this period but at the same time, there are certain human aspects that need to be understood. 

China still has a lot of poverty but with the authoritarian government, they make sure to hide this fact. If required, they block websites which try to display such things. Beijing does have a large poor area, well hidden from prying reporters. If any reporter tries to break the government diktat, the reporters get thrown into jail. China simply crushes uprisings or behaviours they don’t like. In India, we are opposite to that. We have people in our society who love the display and discuss India’s poverty by making an argument about freedom of speech but the main reasons are always political. We have this history. In the olden days, 60’s in the last century, we had people like Satyajit Ray who took pride in producing films which advertised India’s poverty. By no means I am saying not to discuss our poverty, in fact, we as a nation should accept facts of life then only we can improve, denial mode is not going to help anyone. But pride in showing poverty is a bit too much.  

With an authoritarian government, it was very easy for China to declare one-child policy. This has brought down population growth rate drastically from 90’s of last decade. This helped China improve per capita income. In India, we tried family planning but it did not succeed as it was done half-heartedly. In poor strata of the society the family planning was a disaster and hence our per capita income showed an increase but not to the extent China could show!  

Government policies about manufacturing, imports and exports have changed very slowly over a period. With this, there was not much incentive for global giants to be in India. By the time they started coming in the bigger way, we see the reversal of trend due to other reasons. Electric Vehicles! EV’s are changing world scenario rapidly, though we may not see many EV’s on road for next five years, the development and investment patterns of these giants are now changing and trying to adapt to their new global strategies based on EV’s. India is not a priority for them! For their own reasons GM and MAN trucks have withdrawn from India and some more are expected to do so. But what happens in China? India’ pride and numero uno, Suzuki has completely withdrawn from China. In India, its share is more than 50% but in China, it was less than 1% of the market! This indicates that Chinese and Indian market requirements are poles apart. Hence, bigger and larger want to be in China and not India!

Another thing that happened in between was Y2K. I am not still sure if it was a real problem! Not a single failure of any system was declared in the world when on 01/01/2001, the Sun rose in the sky! To me, it was more of hype than the real problem. Indian service company giants made a real killing out of it! There came up new industry czars and they popularized the culture of white-collar subcontractors. It was good for the country that finally we started making big money. We started to have a society of young millionaires initially in Rupee terms, then in dollar terms too! Life has been Roses all the way. So, why bother to disturb the bandwagon.

There were some hopes in the industry when small companies like Quick Heal and Tally started making software products but this trend never caught up for the fear that we will lose on easy money. Yes, there appeared to be the trend which showed some changes a couple of years back. But these were due to one Mr Trump who started changing visa rules for our service giants. Not because the Giants wanted to change their ways and go up the value chain! What’s in a name? As long as hot dollars keep coming in the kitty nobody is bothered. Even in the IT industry where we supposedly have thousands of trained manpower, we have missed on things like IOT, AI, the Virtual reality which are already on the way. Are we ready for this? Using these new things company’s world over are creating “products”. Do our glorified contractors have the gumption to take up the challenge? Do they have will to fight it out with Silicon Valleys of the US, Israel? Or do we want to remain service providers to these new product companies? I am hearing the names like Tally and Quick Heal of the new era but I am honestly doubtful that big shots will take it up. Probably, it is better to be the doyen of the industry with billions in the pocket, giving talks blah blah blah. Why bother about being a struggling product creator?  

I am always positive about everything, but I am really not sure of service providers switching to a new avatar of products manufacturer. There are always very few Steve Jobs and Bill Gates! India has already jumped to service industry in the transition!  

Lathe Joshi!

Lathe Joshi is a film about one Joshi, who is an expert lathe machine operator. As per the famous rule of this world, “Change is the only constant”, one day his world changes when the workshop owner decides to close his workshop as it is not profitable. Joshi loses his job. But he is not willing to change. He does not want to acquire new skills, nor does he want to retire and join a bhajani mandal to pass his time. He tries to buy the lathe from his old owner but it does not work out. His wife, and son change as per needs of the modern world; though they struggle initially, later they settle down with a reasonable success taking up modern work. They change with the time. Joshi who is known as Lathe Joshi remains Lathe Joshi and has a tough time in later life as he is out of tune with his family, who try to help Joshi. 

We see many Lathe Joshi’s in this world! Last 50 years of previous century changed our world drastically but the changes in the 18 years of this century are breath taking to even reasonably techno comfortable people. Many new things, modern things are making life easy and tough at the same time. Many gadgets that were standard in any office, have become extinct e.g. type writers, filing cabinets, typists, filing clerks. Now every person whether he or she likes it or not needs to reskill, retrain. If it is not done then it will not take time for these people to become Lathe Joshi.  

But is it necessary to change everything old? No way! Everything in the world does not become modern. Old values of love and empathy remain intact! We should all respect each other as human beings. In many areas, what changes is the method of doing things, processes being followed but basics don’t change.  

When anyone goes to take a loan from a bank, that company or the individual needs to provide various documents. These documents now can be submitted electronically, processed electronically and approved electronically. I am sure loan departments of banks are shrinking. We see the same thing while making payments and withdrawing cash. It is said that in next five years number of physical branches of banks will reduce drastically! More Lathe Joshi’s?  

Modern technology makes buying a totally new experience. Amazons and Flipkarts are changing the way we buy things; items bought still need to be shipped so shipping industry will not change. In fact, there will be more and more jobs available in this sector. The courier service, tracking of parcels will become more efficient. But in logistics basics don’t change! Whenever we have any issues with these companies, we chat with their representatives. These “representatives” are many a time BOTS, robots who can chat with you. There could be one human supervising 10 BOTS, same as self-check-out counters in the malls. As far as humans are concerned, obsolescence will happen! Retraining for people in this field is a must!  

Obsolescence looks to be the name of the game but it is difficult to predict what will happen in future. When experts find it difficult to predict, for common person it will be almost impossible to predict and judge about future. Look at the automobile industry. Since last decade, people have been talking of Electric Vehicle (EV). But it looks like finally everybody is jumping the bandwagon. In an IC Engine vehicle there are hundreds of parts in the drive train, which is in between radiator in the front and the exhaust system at the back. These hundreds of parts will be replaced by about 18 parts in the EV. Out of these 18 parts 10 will be electronic controllers! What will be the scenario in 2030/2040? This change is bound to happen once the inflection point is reached.  

An inflection point is an event that results in a significant change in the progress of a company, industry, sector, economy or geopolitical situation and can be considered a turning point after which a dramatic change, with either positive or negative results, is expected to result. Companies, industries, sectors and economies are dynamic and constantly evolving. Inflection points are more significant than the small day-to-day progress typically made, and the effects of the change are often well known and widespread.  

The automobile sector changes, will affect this world in both good and bad ways! Good way is that air pollution will reduce drastically due to lesser use of petroleum products. World will become free of OPEC hegemony. But the bad part will be that  hundreds of thousands of parts currently used in the industry will not be needed. These industries will become obsolete, even though they may want to change. The industries like casting, forging, heat treatment will shrink in size, drastically, world over. This obsolescence will be simply path breaking and breath taking. Top manpower, highly skilled, will become Lathe Joshi’s in very large numbers! Even though they may be willing to change, system will find it difficult to accommodate such large numbers.  

Friends there appear to be obsolescence of two kinds, one is like our friend Lathe Joshi. He simply refused to change and adapt. He did now want to go with the flow and change. Lathe machines were replaced by modern system performing many things simultaneously. But the changes I have mentioned due to EV, are mind boggling. I was chatting with a younger friend running a service industry and manufacturing machinery, for auto industry. His is a core automobile business. He is running the business very successfully. While we were discussing life in general in a party, I asked him a pertinent question about effect of EV’s on his business model. He said, “Pramod, I simply shudder to think about it. I am in business for 25 years, I have funds, I have technology and I have risk taking ability. Business  men running auto ancillaries today, will have to adopt from 2030 onward. There will be thousands of people with my background running businesses very successfully today. How can they re-skill themselves? How can they retrain themselves? It is going to be extremely tough. Luckily by that time, I should be around 70, so it will be left to my next generation to bother about these things.” He smiled and said, “I will make sure that I have retired by then”.  

If a smart person like my friend who employs 100 people, does not know what to do ten years hence, what will these 100 people know about their future?  I am definitely a positive guy but as of now, I am also flummoxed! Yes, there will be solutions, but people will have to make massive changes in their thinking. In whatever new industries come up, people will have to retrain massively to join them. When a lathe was replaced by machining centers, it affected a small group of people world over. But the advent of EV’s is going to create a tsunami and will create more Lathe Joshi’s in the initial period, as there will be millions and millions who will have to adopt! Retrain, re-skill from today? What skills will not be obsolete 20 years hence, I do not know!