Frenzy or the Bench?

Work style and ethics have been changing over a period. Life was much more straightforward in historical times, until as late as before the industrial revolution. The revolution has started new products, new facilities, new systems, and modern ethics. Round the clock availability of electricity has changed everything upside down. In olden days, one was required to go home before it became too dark. Dependence on sunlight decided many things including lighting and heating needed in winter. We take for granted many things that support the workplace to run round the clock. Hence, we have started thinking that work must be done 365/24/7 by individuals.  Looks like time has come to take a relook at how we handle these changes.

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From olden times there have been people who were very efficient and extremely sharp. There have been others like you and me. The super smart or go getter-gang can do things maybe 50% better or faster than others. They rise up in the hierarchy quickly. The people reporting to them are fascinated and tend to hold back. The downside of this is that “others” don’t grow because they never get the opportunity to develop; the boss has already done their work. There is a line of people for getting instructions from the boss. The boss never waits for others, the task is rarely delegated.  

A typical example is that of a Banyan Tree. When Indira Gandhi died, it was said that no other leaders developed under her. All were followers, they became good party workers. Indira Gandhi helped many people to survive, somewhat like the Banyan Tree provides shade to many. The earth beneath the tree does not allow anything else to grow. 

There are other fruit and flower trees like Banana Trees, Apple Tress, and some Berries, which start giving fruits and flowers in six months to one year. These trees have a minimal cycle of production, but they also help many birds and others like butterflies. This quick recycling creates a clump of such trees around. Unlike the Banyan tree, other trees are allowed to grow in their vicinity. 

The Banyan tree type of leaders create many followers or support people, but no leader is allowed to grow, there is no successor. This is because they do not enable the generation of leaders. But when the time to replace Banyan tree comes, there are no candidates.  

I have known of an organisation chief who observed a Banyan Tree type leader in her organisation. The leader was giving tremendous results, and his area showed promising results. But the boss realised that under him, no new leaders were coming up. Another aspect she observed was that the leader would always go home late, sometimes as late as 9 pm. He would drag all the group to work in this fashion. A couple of smart people resigned and went elsewhere. In exit interviews, they wrote that they could not handle the daily routine of 9 am to 9 pm work. People started depending too much on the leader and work would suffer in his absence. The leader forgot the principle that the efficiency of your department is really seen when you are absent. The owner felt that such a status was not good for the organisation as well to the individual.  

She called the leader for a one on one meeting and discussed everything threadbare. The leader was a nice man and agreed that the things on the home front were not so good for him; he had two kids. He was rarely present for any programs, celebrations or sometimes on weekly offs too! The boss explained to him the issues surrounding the methods of the leaders work. The boss told him about the possibility of burnout. Then a plan was chalked out. It took almost six months, but it worked out in the end. 

The master plan started with a delegation of work, but that was obvious and essential. Slowly the leader started reducing the time spent in the office. Well, he started going home on time, began delegating work. In the initial phase, he would check if his colleagues managed things well. One more thing the leader started was letting things go. He realised that some meetings were not very important; so he started excusing himself from such a meeting for 15 minutes, to attend another quick meeting. While doing this, a colleague would cover him in the original meeting.   With this tactic, he became available to more people;  colleagues also started going home on time.

One more important thing he started, was finding out from his colleagues about the area where they wanted his help. One of the colleagues told him that she wished for his suggestions on new projects. For running and routine projects, he started getting updates on email. Additional time was now available to him.  

The top boss also realised after his discussion with the leader that, the leaders never complain of overload. They just keep on accepting the load and doing it. But many times they just go away without any hint. Overload does affect lives is a fact of life. It is for the senior management to track the fast-rising stars and nurture them carefully so that they don’t burn out.  

Infosys had a great leader in Narayanmurthy, who had formally written to all employees against working more than regular stipulated hours. If you get a customer call late, the organisation should decide the cut-off point, beyond that time, the call should be handled on the next working day. Of course, there can be an exception. Exception handling should be a transparent and fast process.  

There is a downside to the frenzy. Service and Support organisations in the IT field started a new system. When taking up projects, they commit, say, 100 people. The contracts are made such that an additional 20% of people are held in reserve. These (20%) poor souls have no work. When projects are completed, sometimes it takes months for people to get the next project. Obviously, there is no work. There is a pay cut. But the employee must complete their xx hours every day in the office doing nothing! This is the other extreme of the frenzy I was talking about. Some people start getting used to the “Bench.” The most important aspect is that these are humans, individuals first and the company employees later! These matters need to be handled with sensitivity; I am aware that there are commercial matters involved. But for all companies human assets are vital.  

I read a case study of a lady, who was really a go-getter; she was smart and a bit abrasive. She was extremely efficient, so she started going up the ladder fast. She did everything very fast and every day at 4.30 pm would call a meeting of her team. She was ready with the “To Do” list for all. At the end of the session, she would update the lists, if required. She expected others to complete their work. But she would leave the office every day at 5 pm because she had finished her work. Senior management found it difficult to handle her. She now runs her own business.   

Superstars need to remember that they should not try and take over every project, learn to say no, extend work hours as not all can handle these hours, force ideas on others. At least once in a while, use someone else’s opinion though it may be second best.  

Superstars also should prioritise demand on their time, avoid overwork and burnout, and most important remember that there is a  team; you are not the only one!

A different view of looking at go-getters!

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Why technologies are replaced?

How does technology evolve? How long does it take for technology to become commercially viable? What are the pluses and minuses of this evolution? Who will win these races? All these questions always come to mind, but I am really not sure if there is a right answer for this. There are divergent technologies, and there are convergent technologies. What I mean is that some techniques start as all-encompassing technologies but end up into a particular technology or an application. Whereas some begin with a very focused technology but end up into divergent usage of the technology.  But the ultimate question is why technologies are replaced?

I am really not sure if the inventors of these are also sure how long the product developed will last in the market. It is possible that I may interchange the word technology and product. Some products have a very long life, and some have a very short life.  

Telephones 

The typical case is the telephone. The phone was invented more than hundred years back. Over a period, it became popular and useful; later it became mandatory in our lives. World over the proliferation of phones was quite fast and penetrating. I remember that during my visit to the USA in 1981, there were telephone booths at Carlsbad Caverns 800 feet below the surface. However, in India, it got delayed. Till 1984, I did not have a phone at home. In that year too we got it by making a misleading declaration of medical emergency to get it. Rest as they say is history. But nobody had expected the revolution that will come when the Telephone’s cousin Cell phone came around. As usual, it started as an expensive toy; they charged Rs.16/ minute to make and receive a call in 1997. The cell phones could store 100/200 numbers in the directory. Now 20 years hence, calling is free, data is as good as free, and storage space is as good as unlimited! Proliferation in India is 80% plus. Telephone, which is now called landline has now become a distant, poor cousin of the Cell phone. The cell phone has democratised the society. Now almost everybody has a cell phone. Along with this by providing decent cameras, cameras are also democratised. After ten years in what format cell phone will be available and what it will do is tough to predict.  

Credit and Debit cards 

Another product whose technological days seem to be numbered is credit/debit cards. These came into vogue on ‘70 s and ‘80 s. But the first one in use was Diners Club credit card in 1950. Initially, it took time to spread but later on it came up with magnetic tape authorisations, and now embedded chips have replaced the tape. With the introduction of debit cards, card business was also democratised. By democratised, I mean that the proliferation and spread have gone beyond 70% in the country like India with a very high population. But now the cards are getting a run for their money. With net banking, UPI, PayTM et al. making payments has become really easy. The only advantage with Credit cards is some Credit that people get when they use credit cards. But with QR code Technology the chip technology authorisation may become obsolete. Check the link below 

https://www.bing.com/search?q=QRCode&form=WNSGPH&qs=SW&cvid=7c3ff0870d024924a802ecbfc4cc27a3&pq=QRCode&cc=IN&setlang=en-US&nclid=24A557D17F20EE04675E8683A3F58054&ts=1546314473043&elv=AY3%21uAY7tbNNZGZ2yiGNjfMOcjiriOwJ1nqF69MVaiRhknXKq2yVeO57P6iMx77Fso5jrbCq%21wVi3FpaWVUx2j6Gw8VgYd6zPRlWeMWfOlVK&wsso=Moderate 

Click this link, you will see a box showing QR code generator. Type whatever you want and scan the generated code! There you are!  

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I am giving below a link for QR code reader app for android

https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=tw.mobileapp.qrcode.banner&hl=en

This one is for iOS

https://itunes.apple.com/in/app/qr-reader-for-iphone/id368494609?mt=8

Download this or any other on your cell phone and scan the QR I have shown above! This is just for fun!

The QR code and touch type authorisation are the next technologies which can derail the business of Credit cards, but I am sure they will also come up with their own systems to remain in the race.  

Hotel Room Keys 

Another technology that has changed is the for room keys in the hotel.  

 

Hotel rooms had large locks and keys, which then graduated to brass keys, latch keys and so on. Then came the locking systems where customers were given a card, and the key for the room was “prepared”!  

Magnetic credit card size hotel key cards may soon be phased out in favour of smartphone app digital keys reasonably quickly. While key cards felt like a massive step into the future when they were first introduced, they do have their issues. 

Many large hotel chains like Starwood, Hilton, and Hyatt are already making the transition to digital apps in many of their establishments. Guests directly download the relevant app and enter and lock their rooms via Bluetooth. 

Car Mirrors 

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Many higher-end cars tend to come with camera-and-display setups as standard. Primarily, to provide functions like aiding the driver when reversing or parking. 

While each manufacturer will give the technology a different name but these technologies are all essentially a form of CCTV for the car’s immediate vicinity. These systems also tend to provide the driver with other information like speed, direction, and obstacle proximity etc. 

In fact, from May 2018 it became mandatory for all manufacturers to include backup camera systems for all new cars, in certain countries. Other manufacturers, like Tesla, have also announced they plan to replace all side-view mirrors with cameras in the future. 

This will provide various benefits to the driver but also make the vehicle more aerodynamic. Physical mirror replacement will also work in tandem with the drive, excuse the pun, for fully automated driverless, or partially automated, vehicles in the future. 

Photographic Films 

Kodak was the company which was linked to photography. It had so much hold on technology and market that generic name for photo films manufactured by any company would be called Kodak films. 

What happened to Kodak? They apparently dug their own grave, unknowingly.  They developed the digital camera and apparently forgot about it. Maybe their marketing arm did not understand and visualise the market potential for digital cameras. Kodak really never knew what hit them. Other manufacturers picked the digital camera technology and galloped ahead. Then the cell phones with the cameras started coming to the market, and they have become the norm for smartphones. Camera technology and camera film existed for a long time, but digital camera simply pushed them aside.  

This is a classic case having invented the technology and lack of vision from the pioneer company. But why are technologies replaced? Ease of use, safer and there is cost benefit. With the advent of IT and computers, many manual systems are getting replaced with software; software once established is effortless to use and cost-effective. The new technologies are superior too! There is one crucial aspect; nobody can stop the progress and onslaught of the latest technology, in any field. Some technologies come like typhoons or floods. Society has to accept it and go along with it. Those who ignore can become new Kodaks!

 

 

 

Value of Ignorance!

 

Ignorance is bliss translates to “ignorantia sit beatitudo” in Latin! But is it true? Unless we humans accept that we do not know many things in this world we cannot become smarter, knowledgeable and wise! 

Everybody in the world is “blessed” with lack of knowledge! The list includes Einstein, Mozart, Chanakya, Tesla and all greats in their field. Ok, I am still sane but I wanted to make a sensational statement. What I am trying to say is that the greats in their field have terrific subject knowledge, maybe the ultimate knowledge but it is limited to their own field. In other areas, their knowledge could be from limited to zero. I am a Metallurgist by training, worked in foundries, business development and marketing area in my career; did reasonable work in the software area. But my knowledge in these fields is limited and in all other fields closer to nil. I am not shy to talk about it. It’s a fact of life.

 

How much can one learn during the lifetime? After you learn something, unless it is tested in real life, you cannot be sure if the knowledge gained is deep enough! So, with exception of a few people, most have the knowledge or are well versed in one to three areas. Rarest of the rare persons will be highly knowledgeable about more than one areas. But what all this indicates or suggests? This suggests that all of us must be humble enough to realize that this is true status in life and have the humility to accept our general lack of knowledge about everything else!  

What could be a way to attempt to correct this situation? First and foremost is the accept this with humility. The second method, I read somewhere recently about it, and I liked it. Someone suggested that you buy as many books as you can, both physical or e-books. These can be on your favourite subject as well as other subjects which you like, but naturally, you are not an expert in. What does this do? This keeps on giving you reminders of how many things you don’t know, we remain humble! At the same time, should the need arise the books can be referred to readily and we will be able to improve our knowledge?

During your career period, you may not really get time to read books but you can always skim through them. But at the same time, a habit must be cultivated to read something every year, every month and every week! Unless you are 100% sure that you are never going to read any of the books that you buy, keep on buying. Till you develop this habit of reading, maybe joining a library can be a good idea!  

Lifelong learning will help you to be happier, and even stay healthier. Plus, plenty of the smartest names in the business, from Bill Gates to Elon Musk, insist that the best way to get smarter is to read. So, what do you do? You go out and buy books, lots of them. 

But life is busy, and intentions are one thing, actions another. Soon you find your shelves (or e-reader) overflowing with titles you intend to read one day, or books you flipped through once but then abandoned. Is this a disaster for your project to become a smarter, wiser person? 

You might want to read up on tricks to squeeze more reading into your hectic life and why it pays to commit a few hours every week to learning. To start the process why not buy a book which will teach you “how to do” about book reading? But after learning this, it is still possible that your book reading in no way keeps pace with your book buying. Your overstuffed library isn’t a sign of failure or ignorance, but it is a sign that you want and hope to delve in the knowledge bank you have with you. Yes! Your library or can it be called “Virtual library”! It is virtual because though it is there it is not there till you access it!  

Are you actually going to read all those books in your lifetime? Of course not, but that isn’t the point of surrounding yourself with so much potential but as-yet-unrealized knowledge. By providing a constant reminder of all the things you don’t know, your library will keep you intellectually hungry and perpetually curious. An ever-growing collection of books you haven’t yet read can do the same for you.  

A private library is not an ego-boosting extension but a research tool. Read books are far less valuable than unread ones. The library should contain as much of what you do not know as much as your pocket allows you.  You will accumulate more knowledge and more books as you grow older, and the growing number of unread books on the shelves will look at you menacingly. Indeed, the more you know, the larger the rows of unread books.  

The virtual library is a powerful reminder of your limitations — the vast quantity of things you don’t know, half-know, or will one day realize you’re wrong about. By living with that reminder daily you can nudge yourself toward the kind of intellectual humility that improves decision-making and drives learning. 

So, stop worrying yourself for buying too many books or for having a to-read list that you could never get through in three lifetimes. All those books you haven’t read are indeed a sign of your ignorance. But if you know how ignorant you are, you’re way ahead of the vast majority of other people. 

At two ends of the spectrum, there are “know all” people and there are “know nothing” people. You and I are in between. Like knowledge of different things, you will realize the real meaning of buying and keeping a large number of books on different subjects.  

“Curiosity killed the cat” is a proverb used to warn of the dangers of unnecessary investigation or experimentation. But in the case of a virtual library that we are talking about, this proverb is not true! Unless you are curious, you won’t feel the urge to know more about different things that we don’t know or areas where your knowledge is limited.

In the current scenario, it makes a lot of sense to understand and know the new things, that are mushrooming around us in IT/Digital area. If we don’t track these things for five years, you will be left far, far behind and will find it difficult to catch up; then you will tend to ignore the subject further because you are left behind. Whether we like it or not, we will have to know about these new things. The situation of being left out is not good. Knowledge about these new IT/Digital things is going to be essential and mandatory. It is going to be like learning of basic reading and writing, of yesterday.

Friends, in pre-modern IT/Digital era, knowledge was essential to remain smarter, knowledgeable and wiser and books have been a major source for that. But post IT/Digital era, this requirement of knowledge update is going to remain but it’s going to be mandatory to continuously update yourself to survive or you may perish! The virtual library in future will be needed to survive! So start downloading or buying those books!

 

 

 

 

 

  

Jack of All Trades!

Jack of all trades and Master of none is a figure of speech that has been very famous for a long time. Since I am not an Etymologist, I had to work hard to understand how this figure of speech came up. 

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The shortened version “a jack of all trades” is often a compliment for a person who is good at fixing things, and has a very good broad knowledge. A “Jack of all trades” may be a master of integration, as such an individual who knows enough from many learned trades and skills to be able to bring the individual’s disciplines together in a practical manner. This person is a generalist rather than a specialist.  

There is also a longer version “Jack of all trades, master of none, but oftentimes better than master of one” which refers to a person who is not the best at all skills, but is better than someone who is only a master of one.  

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The “master of none” element appears to have been added later; which made the statement less flattering to the person receiving. Today, the phrase used in its entirety generally describes a person whose knowledge, while covering a number of areas, is superficial in all of them. When abbreviated as simply “jack of all trades”, it is an ambiguous statement; the user’s intention is then dependent on context. However, when “master of none” is added this is unflattering and sometimes added in jest. 

Over the last fifty years, things are going in the direction of specialization. I am told that in the medical field this specialization is quite deep. General Surgeons, Orthopedic Surgeons was the initial norm. Now we have Surgeons for different Organs. We have Spline Surgeon or maybe a Spleen Surgeon. We have Knee Surgeons and we have Shoulder specialists. In dentistry now we have a Pediatric dentist and Implant Dentist. We have experts for our 7th tooth and so on. What happened was that these experts got themselves trained in specialities and later they became such experts that they continued to work only in their specialized areas. Don’t be surprised if you have an expert surgeon who works only middle finger of the left hand!  

But all this is likely to change over a period. At the same time in the times of super specialities, there have been generalists who have done well. There are certain areas in life which need the human being to have knowledge of many things. Super specialization occurs when humans work with their own hands, or they do research in a very specific area e.g. molecular biology. But there are many general-purpose work areas which need cross-functional knowledge, leadership, understanding of commercial aspects. (I have just mentioned a few disciplines.) A superb knee surgeon may not be able to run a hospital. A nerdy computer expert like Steve Jobs came up with fantastic products. But Apple as an organization was way beyond him, though he was one of the founder members.  It requires deep knowledge of the area in which you are an expert, but you need to get the ideas on paper, converted into reality. The specialist may not be an expert in getting these ideas to become a commercial success or be able to convert it into a publicly usable product.  

A new concept is already on the horizon for knowledge of those like you and me, but it is existence since last 10 to 15. But now it is discussed more openly. It is an idea of making use of Supercomputing power, Data Sciences as powerful tools which will help humans to cross new boundaries. How will this happen? In which area could this happen? What are the views of experts?  

Human biology is one area where the impact could be the maximum. We have had great thinkers, great designers in history but to me, HE is the greatest of them all by miles. Human body is a real complex design made by HIM! We have now started understanding many things about humans, the functioning of the human body, diseases, repairs and so on. Ageing of the human body is one area where a lot of work is being done. Why does a human die other than by diseases, accidents? The main reason is old age. Though ultimately the death could be because of heart failure, kidney failure, liver failure; but generally, the reason for death can be described as multiple organ failure. As we grow in age, things start going wrong.

Let us understand how the word “Age” is used. As a noun, it means “the length of time that a person has lived or a thing has existed.” As a verb, it means “grow old or older.” So, when we Age, as in the verb, our body also ages, its functions slowly start diminishing. One area where humans have always been fascinated is overcoming death. Immortality with aged organs, bent back, poor digestion, joints creaking, not able to see and hear properly will be meaningless. Hence there is a lot of research going on in the area of overcoming death and consequent research in the area of reversing ageing of our organs. We already know that knee joint and hip joint replacements are reasonably common surgeries. Some heart replacements are taking place but are not very common.  

Imagine the new Ashwathama who never dies,  having a weak heart. I am sure that there is research going on somewhere to make an artificial heart at a reasonable price. Will this be made by a heart surgeon? Will this be made by a hydraulics engineer? Will it be designed by an electrical engineer, as heart gets electrical impulses to keep pumping on and on! To me, this person will be a generalist or a jack of many (if not all) trades but may be master of none. That entity has to understand hydraulics for a heart pumping, medical knowledge to understand the concept of what heart does and an electrical engineer to understand impulses. (I have considered only a few areas for the purpose of discussion) This generalist will also need to have good computer programming knowledge required for simulating the concept of an artificial heart. 

Jack of all trades term said in jest can become history. You need a jack of all trades. The knowledge of how the huge collected data can be processed using data science will also be useful! Are we talking of a Superman? Are we talking of a “Super specialist Generalist”? Is it already getting complicated? But to overcome the Yamaraj (the god of death) humans need to work hard, work smarter. It is definitely not a job of a super specialist but a super generalist!  

In the medical field, results of the Jack of All trade concept has become commonly known to us. Knee joints, Hip joints, putting stainless rods in place of bones, words like Stainless Steel and Titanium have become common. This is a language of a mechanical engineer and a metallurgist! Then there are teeth implants! Use of Gold in dentistry is quite common for years! Scattered usage of such combination of expert generalist has been happening for quite some time. 

But AI and supercomputing are going to give a real boost to such efforts as these are powerful tools. AI is self-learning as it can learn from historical data generated, as the project progresses. What will Immortality project involve? To start with, stop ageing of your skin, a 150-year-old person would also like to have young looking skin. Then stop the ageing of joints! Revive heart function, revive brain function and so on. This means the whole-body function will need revival. This will involve more generalists than having super specialists! Combination cross functional knowledge comes into picture. 

So, stop calling “Jack of All Trades” to someone in jest! That is going to be the need of the hour! Do you know who can replace the super specialist? It can be Robot made by Super generalists! Amen!

To me the best example of Jack of All Trades:

JACK OF ALL TRADES

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MASTER OF ALL

 

 

 

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

  

  

  

  

  

   

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!