Think About It

Remember that we’ll be forgotten

To my pleasant surprise, an old school friend commented on my breadcrumbs and Black Swans post. I continue to be amazed by how much digital has allowed us to find and discuss shared interests. The post was around a couple of themes – whether the set of digital breadcrumbs we are leaving now (courtesy everyone being a publisher) will allow generations later to have a better sense of our history, and whether, therefore, our species will be more anti-fragile thanks to this data and the predictive analytics AI can build out of it.

My friend shared an article that talked of Vint Cerf’s warning about us being a ‘forgotten generation’. (I had read the Guardian version earlier) Essentially, his fear is that the lack of guarantee in backward compatibility of software means that documents stored many not be accessible at all. Both led me to Digital Vellum and Project Olive, which aims to establish a robust ecosystem for long-term preservation of software, games, and other executable content. More

Algorithms of wealth

Some strange quirk in the cosmic order of things led to Landmark shipping me Piketty’s ‘Capital in the Twenty-First century’ instead of Rana Dasgupta’s Capital! I kept the book (yet to read it though) because economic disparity has been an interest area for a while now, I had touched upon it in the context of AI and job loss in Artificial Humanity. Reading The Black Swan has only accelerated this interest.

Taleb divides the world  into Mediocristan and Extremistan to point out the extent of predictability in the context. Mediocristan can safely use Gaussian distribution, (bell curve)  but in Extemistan, that’s dangerous. From what I understand, given that there’s no real limit upper limit of scale, individual wealth will increasingly behave in a more Extremistan way. To quote his own example, “You randomly sample two persons from the US population. You are told that they earn jointly a million dollars per annum. What is the most likely breakdown of their income? In Mediocristan, the most likely combination is half a million each. In Extremistan, it would be $50,000 and $950,000.” He states that almost all social matters are from Extremistan. More

Of Digital Breadcrumbs and Black Swans

I don’t remember where I first heard ‘Digital breadcrumbs’, but I thought it nailed this blog’s raison d’être. Pages from a human being’s existence on this planet, to be read by himself later in time, and if humanity does get desperate, maybe even by a sociologist later. :D I came across the phrase recently again in this superb post on Farnam Street blog titled  “Big Data as a Lens on Human Culture.”

To quote from it, (originally from the book Uncharted: Big Data as a Lens on Human Culture) “At its core, this big data revolution is about how humans create and preserve a historical record of their activities. Its consequences will transform how we look at ourselves. It will enable the creation of new scopes that make it possible for our society to more effectively probe its own nature.” Indeed, GMail, Facebook, Twitter all have ‘permanent’ records of our conversations and activities. More

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

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

Happy Tradeoffs

It’s in the nature of thought that it never ceases to exist. In Happiness: The End, it would seem as though I’d found the track I wanted to follow. But it isn’t ever so simple, is it? The books I read somehow seem to have words that phrase my thoughts just right

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The first roadblock I have found in the ‘happiness plan’ is sensitivity. It works in at least a couple of ways. On one hand, when I act with my own happiness as the key filter, I find it difficult to ignore the effect it has on other people. Do my actions make them unhappy? On the other hand, I am also in situations when others’ behaviour makes me unhappy but one or more constraints prevent me from doing anything about it. In both cases, I have to compromise.

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Memories & Consciousness

I was looking at the bookshelf a few days ago, and realised that though their relative position indicates they are among my favourites, I couldn’t recall some specific plot points and in some cases, even the ending, of some of the books! I was more than a little dismayed, but thankfully, found some solace in this post “How You Know“, specifically “Reading and experience train your model of the world. And even if you forget the experience or what you read, its effect on your model of the world persists.” It immediately set me thinking on the idea of consciousness and what technology can do to it, and it was a wonderful coincidence that the author too touched upon it towards the end of that post. But we’ll get to that in a bit.

Two nieces have ‘happened’ to me in the recent past, :) and I have clocked a few hours with them. The older one is just over a year old and is in general, a happy child. In my erm, ‘conversations’ with her during her stay with us, I have wondered what she perceives of the world around her. This was probably influenced by the fact that I had just finished reading Michio Kaku’s “The Future of the Mind” (must read!) and the four levels (starts at zero – plants) of consciousness. The final level, where humans are, are distinguished because of self awareness, and our understanding of time – specifically the enormous amount of feedback loops. This allows us to simulate, in our mind, possible future situations, and go beyond instinct and even emotions.

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Artificial Humanity

In Natural Law, I had touched upon the idea that we will have to make choices as a species in the context of the role of artificial intelligence in our lives, and how/if compassion towards each other would play a part in these decisions. As I watch thoughts and events unfolding around me, I am beginning to think that it will most likely not be one crucial decision later in time, but a lot of smaller choices, made at individual and regional levels now, that will shape our society in terms of acceptability, morality etc. And so, just as I wrote in a post around five years ago, that we might not be able to recognise the final step we make in our integration with AI, there might be an increasing inevitability about our choices as we move forward in time.

What sparked this line of thought? On one hand, I read a New Yorker post titled “Better All the Time” which begins with how a focus on performance came to athletics and has now moved on to many other spheres of our life. On the other hand, I read this very scary post in The Telegraph “The Dark Side of Silicon Valley” and a bus that’s named Hotel 22 because it serves as an unofficial home for the homeless. It shows one of the first manifestations of an extreme scenario (the nation’s highest percentage of homeless and highest average household income are in the same area!) that could soon become common. The connection I made between these two posts is that increasingly, there will be one set of humans who have the will and the means to be economically viable and another much larger set that doesn’t have one, or both. This disparity is going to become even more stark as we move forward in time. I think, before we reach the golden age of abundance, (if we do) there will be a near and medium term of scarcity for the majority.

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Happiness: The End

A while ago, in Happiness and Compassion, I had written about what Fahadh Fasil described as the biggest lesson he learnt from failure – he said it made him decide that he would only do things that made him happy. The more I read, the more I think, and the more I live, the more I start relating to what Fahadh is doing, and what Aristotle said, “Happiness is the meaning and the purpose of life, the whole aim and end of human existence.” Everything else – fame, power, money, compassion, detachment etc – is probably just the means we create.

The thing though is, even if happiness were indeed the purpose, I can see at least a couple of challenges. In this excellent read “10 truths you will learn before you find happiness“, the first point is “It is impossible for anyone else to define YOU”. This echoed my first challenge – a difficulty in defining what happiness is to me. At the next level, I felt that the paths to happiness are confusing and have many things going against them. For instance, fame – “..other people’s heads are a wretched place to be the home of a man’s true happiness.” (Schopenhauer) Or compassion/pity (not kindness, which I regard as a more active expression, though the following might apply to it as well) – “There is a certain indelicacy and intrusiveness in pity; ‘visiting the sick’ is an orgasm of superiority in the contemplation of our neighbour’s helplessness” (Nietzsche) As you can see, it isn’t difficult to bring each down.

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Natural Law

After a couple of years of Samsung, I bought a Moto X (2nd gen) phone, the Droid Turbo and Nexus 6 also being considerations. In the first few days of use, the automation that Moto’s Assist, Actions and Voice allows has impressed upon me the potential of such technologies and the dependency we could have on them.  As Karen Landis states in the Pew Internet Project’s Killer Apps in the Gigabit Age, “Implants and wearables will replace tools we carry or purchase…It will also redefine what a ‘thought’ is, as we won’t ‘think’ unassisted.

It reminded me of an article I’d read in Vanity Fair titled ‘The Human Factor“, and a particular observation in it – To put it briefly, automation has made it more and more unlikely that ordinary airline pilots will ever have to face a raw crisis in flight—but also more and more unlikely that they will be able to cope with such a crisis if one arises. This thought is elaborated in ‘Automation Makes Us Dumb‘, drawing the difference between two design philosophies – “technology – centred automation” and “human- centred automation”. The former is dominant now and if one were to extrapolate this , a scary thought emerges.

I think the best articulation of that scary thought is by George Dyson in Darwin Among the Machines – “In the game of life and evolution there are three players at the table: human beings, nature, and machines. I am firmly on the side of nature. But nature, I suspect, is on the side of the machines.” I had seen this in Bill Joy’s amazing 2000 Wired article “Why the Future doesn’t need us“, which itself discusses the idea that Our most powerful 21st-century technologies – robotics, genetic engineering, and nanotech – are threatening to make humans an endangered species. More