For Charlie to tango

The interesting question is, just because something thinks differently from you, does that mean it’s not thinking? We allow that humans have such divergences from one another. You like strawberries. I hate ice-skating. You cry at sad films. I’m allergic to pollen. What does it mean to have different tastes – different preferences – other than to say that our brains work differently? That we think differently from one another?
~ The Imitation Game (via)

I watched the movie last weekend, and this was one of the scenes that stayed with me. By sheer coincidence, the book I was reading then was The Age of Spiritual Machines, which dwells on the progress of artificial intelligence, and therefore, its impact on humanity. Humanity will be forced to reckon with AI sooner than later, (an earlier post) but long before that, we will need to learn to deal with ourselves. Have we really learned to live with our divergences? Take this as an example :

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The Change Imperative

Ever since I first wrote about institutional realignment, I have been more conscious of it and its implications on our lives. To a certain extent, even paranoid, because of the pace of change. Ray Kurzweil is hard at work to make himself immortal, and believes we should get really close by the 2030s. He has been right before on many things of this nature. Moore’s law, digitisation and everything related are also getting us really close to the singularity. I am reasonably convinced that I will see both in my lifetime. If you live to be 200 and have robots smarter than you around, what does that do to education, money, marriage, work and pretty much everything that constitutes life? On the flip side, natural resources are running out, and I can see the complications already. It’s not a good sight, or experience!

I am finding it impossible to wrap my head around what all of  this would mean to our concept of life. In the meanwhile, I do know that everything is changing at breakneck speed, and in order to survive, we need to be cognizant of things that can impact our lives – as individuals, and as organisations.  I have deliberately avoided the word ‘disruption’ because it gives me a sense of suddenness and it is a furiously debated topic these days. Rather, to quote John Green (said in another context) I think we’re in the first state of “Slowly, and then all at once”.  This, is my take on ‘Change’.

(Thanks Nikhil for helping on a couple of alphabets and Amit for Unsplash, the source of many images used)

 

An age when age doesn’t matter

While discussing a ’40 under 40′ list, I joked the other day to a colleague that my only chance of getting into one now was to reduce my weight by about 15 kg in a few years! It made me think of a strange yardstick I have employed in valuing others’ achievements – their age. To elaborate, if I came across a person who had attained a measure of success, I would be mollified if I figured that the person was at least as old as I was. If they were younger, mollified would be replaced by mortified. How dare they achieve something earlier in life?! Very strange, I know. I have quite a few theories on it – upbringing, a ‘paying your dues’ perspective, the way I have progressed in my career and what I’ve had to do, or perhaps just the result of being brought up in an age when folks worked hard all their life to attain things that we might consider a basic need now.

I gained freedom from it (or so I think) quite recently. The irony was that this realisation dawned  just after a meeting with someone whom I would say has been quite successful in his profession. As I made my way back home in a cab, I passed quite a few bus stops. It was late evening, and people were waiting for a bus to take them home.  Young people, middle aged people, and even a few old people, their faces echoing their toils. Perhaps they had a long bus ride ahead of them, perhaps they would have to stand all the way, perhaps they would have to get down midway and catch another bus. This was their life everyday, the cards they were dealt. Some might be unhappy, some would have made their peace, and some might even be happy. Their lot in life, or a bus they missed at some point in their life. Even as I had many, many things to be thankful for. So, what business did I have grudging someone because they worked hard and/or were lucky enough to make a mark early in life? More

Rajinikanth: The Definitive Biography

Naman Ramachandran

The definitive biography of perhaps the biggest star that India has seen – THE superstar Rajinikanth – is quite a big thing to bite off. At 255 pages, I’m not too sure it does complete justice. This is not to say that the author hasn’t tried, but to me, the contents just didn’t seem enough. In fact, it was in the second half that I felt he was warming up to the task at hand.

The first half includes the early years of Rajinikanth, his entry into movies, and the first decade and a half of his movies. The author does try hard to remain objective and not be in awe of the object of his attention, but that’s obviously not an easy task. What results is a mix of two things – a kind of retrofit applied to his formative years which tries to show that he was always meant to be the Superstar, and an almost bare factual filmography. It’s probably not the author’s fault because he might have found it difficult to find anecdotal material from that era, or people might have altered their memory to fit the image of the superstar who exists now. Either way, the first half swings between these two, and does not really make a great read in terms of narrative. You’ll love it if you’re a Rajini facts junkie and it also shows the amount of research the author has done, as he tries to explain the milieu and the context of life, culture, movies and politics of the era, mostly in Tamil Nadu, but sometimes even beyond that. (this was really done well, I thought) We do get glimpses of Rajini the person, and his life outside cinema, but never really enough. It almost seems as though the author was in a hurry to start with the contemporary era. [To be noted that this part also manages to show how big a star and talented an actor Kamal Hassan was in that era] More

Time, Chaos, and Organisational Change

The first chapter of The Age of Spiritual Machines, by Ray Kurzweil, is titled The Law of Time and Chaos. The law has two strands- The Law of Increasing Chaos and The Law of Increasing Returns, and together they dictate that in a process, the time interval between salient events (i.e. events that change the nature of the process, or significantly affect the future of the process) expands or contracts along with the amount of chaos.  In the book, this is used to explain evolution. Evolution draws upon the chaos in the larger system in which it takes place for its options for diversity, and evolution builds on its own increasing order. Therefore, in an evolutionary process, order increases exponentially, time speeds up, and the returns accelerate.

It becomes very interesting when I put this in the context of organisations and the business environment they operate in. The business environment consists of various other organisations (exactly like life forms in evolution) and therefore the time interval between salient events (a new ‘disruption’) is becoming shorter. On the flip side, the organisation (akin to evolution of a single organism) is becoming more complex, and thus the time interval between salient events (their own breakthrough developments/innovations) increases. More

Mamagoto

In the war of cuisines on Indiranagar 12th Main, Asian is very close to complete domination! I chanced upon Mamagoto when I visited that part of the world and decided to drop in for dinner the same day. We reserved a table and that turned out to be a good idea, judging by the waiting crowd. It’s on the ground floor of the same building as The Humming Tree. (map) I think they have valet parking.

Apparently, the conspicuous yellow door, (which seemed a little resistant to push) is a sort of signature across its outlets in Delhi and Mumbai. The decor inside is bohemian hangout meets underground pub. I quite liked the graphic art that adorned the brick walls, especially a tiny one that I think was a take on The Last Supper. The chairs we sat on reminded me of the ones in government offices – Breuer chairs, though there are some plush sofa options as well. I could smell lemon grass, though I also caught a whiff of sea food, probably because I am extra sensitive to that! More

Loneliness and the AI evolution

In a post that I found extremely poignant and true, the Guardian calls it out as The Age of Loneliness. It lists out the structural shifts causing this social collapse. “The war of every man against every man – competition and individualism, in other words – is the religion of our timeWhat counts is to win. The rest is collateral damage.” Seems we are but slaves of a ‘hedonic treadmill’, in denial.

In earlier posts (The Art of Live In, Emotion as a Service) I’d written on how (IMO) even the micro-unit of society – the family- is ripe for disruption. At both societal and familial levels, I think the related fallout is an increasing lack of compassion and empathy, something that I notice a lot on Twitter, for example. Irony that the more connected we are, the more disconnected we are from each others’ emotions, and what impact our actions/inactions have. But guess who is coming to the rescue? Quite possibly, robots, that care! (12) More

Empire of the Moghul: The Tainted Throne

Alex Rutherford 

The fourth and (I think) penultimate installment of the ‘Empire of the Moghul’. The book begins with Jahangir quelling Khusrau’s rebellion and ascending the throne. This episode, as well as his machinations to get back Mehrunissa, give us a sense of the ruthlessness in him.

The book also brings out the chequered relationship between him and Khurram, who was also a favourite of Akbar. Though the main protagonists appear to be these two, the book is brought to life by Mehrunissa, portrayed as an intelligent and shrewd queen who will stop at nothing to make sure that she is a relevant force in the scheme of things. As Jahangir succumbs increasingly to opium and alcohol (possibly encouraged by the queen) she takes control of the running of the empire and then tries to ensure that Jahangir’s successor would also be her puppet. The narrative also features Europeans in fairly prominent roles and is a representation of their increasing presence in the subcontinent. More

Tapwater

First published in Bangalore Mirror

Wimpy’s is one of those Bangalore icons that serve as a good indicator of how long one has been in Bangalore. You can categorise Bangaloreans based on whether they were around when Wimpy’s was.  When I gave N the directions (map) to Tapwater, (on Brigade Road) her immediate reaction was “OMG, it’s Wimpy’s!” That iconic outlet no longer exists, I pointed out, and also realised that the new gastropub that has taken its place happens to have a name similar to something that is fast becoming extinct in Bangalore – Tapwater! The name actually seems to come from a key offering – beer on tap, which was yet to start when we visited. The basement location, the wooden benches, the lounge seating in the fringes, the lighting – all attempt a new age hangout ambiance. What kills it quite a bit is the musical hat tip to its underground placement – Pitbull, at volumes – in sound and quantity – to cause permanent damage! It was only fun at some points when the Kabaddi action happening on the other screen seemed to match steps with the music! The most interesting thing we noticed about the place was the crowd – a completely random mix of college kids, elderly families, foreigners, and Malayalis in traditional mundu! We drank it all in before moving on to what we came for – food and beverages.

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Wallet Wars

Recently, thanks to Uber having to comply with RBI regulations, I was forced to introduce myself to Paytm. The entire signing up episode reminded me of a post I had written in early 2014 – “The overhaul of currency“, though that dwelt more on the broad changes and implications rather than the functional aspects. Mobile payment systems have been on a fast evolutionary path for a while now. (a bit dated, but I found this infographic to be a good primer)

I also remembered a Seth Godin post from 2009 that called Twitter a protocol. On the web, the subsequent discussion then was that just as we were transferring links and messages on the platform, we would soon be transferring money too. That took a while coming though – it was only in late 2014 that Twitter released a payment service.  A week before that, a hacked screenshot had begun rumours of Facebook’s Messenger having the wherewithal for money transfer. But they were both late entrants in a market that was already crowded with the likes of Paypal, Google, banks, credit card companies and so on. Apple Pay would join later. More

The Last War

Sandipan Deb

Sandipan Deb’s rendition of the Mahabharata in Mumbai. This is obviously not the first rendition of the Mahabharata in contemporary events – Tharoor’s The Great Indian Novel, Mani Ratnam’s Thalapathi, Prakash Jha’s Rajneeti – but this one manages to shift the scene to what seems like an apt arena – the Mumbai underground. Bombay is Kurukshetra and Bombay is the prize.

As with all the other renditions, it is practically impossible to fit all characters and events into the new canvass, so the author has been clinical in removing characters and reshaping events to fit his narrative. On a positive note, the interpretation is not altogether flawed, but is written very clearly on a simplistic level. Many characters have been well etched and can be seen as very close parallels of their originals. There are also contemporary incidents like match fixing, 9/11 etc which have been woven into the plot.

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