artificial intelligence

In a world of abstractions…

It was in Douglas Rushkoff’s Throwing Rocks at the Google Bus that I first became really aware of how much of an abstraction money is. Just to clarify what ‘abstraction’ is in this context, vegetables, meat, human labour etc all have clear, tangible value. Money is a transactional device with many advantages but it has no inherent value. Its common acceptance is its value. The exercise on 8th November 2016 is a great example to illustrate this –  those pieces of paper we thought were valuable until a minute ago suddenly became worthless. In fact, at one point, there was a chance that after Dec 31st, they would even be harmful!

At some point, I started thinking of abstraction with respect to consciousness. At a very broad level, I think of consciousness as having three basic fluid forces at play – sensations, emotions, and thoughts. We tend to use the adjacent ones (sensation/emotion and emotion/thought) interchangeably but if you think about it, nuances separate them. They all have a role to play, but I also see them as a hierarchy with respect to their influence on consciousness – thoughts at the top. More

Money : AI :: Present : Future


I might have found a remedy for the Mad Men withdrawal symptoms. “Halt and Catch Fire” – that’s where the line is from. While the show has me glued, it also made me really consider the connection between money & AI.

A key factor that is driving the increasing adoption of AI in the work context is efficiency. Somewhere in the equation of calculating efficiency lies money, and how much of it can be saved. I am ignoring ‘time’ for now, because even that, mostly comes down to “time is money”. Jobs increasingly become task oriented and the objective is to make each task more and more efficient. If we continue that way, the pessimistic AI future is easy to imagine – it will happen in a ‘frog in boiling water’ manner, but it will happen. More

Brand Interfaces

A couple of months ago, I had written a post on the inevitable ambient future of what we now call the internet, and the role of AI in it. The post was mostly on the rapidly changing nature of interfaces. The ones we actively interact with – mobile, VR/AR, gesture/haptic based tech – and the relatively more ambient ones like a certain kind of wearables and IoT. In that post, the argument was that Google was best placed to tie together data from mobile, social, sensor, location etc and give it context with the help of AI. (Hello, Alphabet!) As this Wired post states, Google is not a search company, it is a machine learning company. Do read about Google Brain while you’re at it! It has a role in several Google products we use, and shows the potential of what is possible when machine learning really works on content surfacing.

But all that is only context setting. Something that has been occupying a lot of my mind space these days is the impact of these continuing developments on brand communication and distribution. For years, the limitations of traditional media have forced brands to communicate to lumpy masses of ‘target audiences’. As the internet transitions into a much more ambient an ubiquitous form, all of brand marketing will be digital either overtly or under the hood. But even digital’s early versions have been on the same path, with incremental changes based on intent/interest. That, I think, is about to change fast. This superb article on the same subject puts it really well – we need not simply digital strategies but strategies for a digital world. It also explores the technological and platform advances that will allow frictionless experiences for consumers and what it means for brands.  More

The redefinition of life

This article about the man who was one-upping Darwin interested me a lot, because of the question he asked – What qualifies something as alive or not. His paper, currently under peer review, explains theoretically how, under certain physical circumstances, life could emerge from nonlife. Arguably, consciousness is the factor that separates life from non life. However, there’s also a new theory that proposes that consciousness is far less powerful than people believe, serving as a passive conduit rather than an active force that exerts control. The article compares it to the internet, and says that just like the internet can be used to discover, share, buy etc, it’s actually the person on the web/mobile who is actually deciding. It even argues that consciousness is not made to study itself.  More

Inequality & Technology

A few weeks ago, I’d written about inequality and the role of meritocracy in shaping its future. Another related force, whose influence has been rising rapidly, is technology. I had written about it earlier in a post – Algorithms of Wealth – and my thoughts ended in at least three directions! At least two are relevant here. In the post, I had mentioned the abundance that The Second Machine Age promises and whether the disparity we see now is an inevitable step towards that. But I had also wondered whether any notion of sustained reduced disparity is a lost cause and that as we advance further, the gaps will keep widening.

A recent HBR article titled The Great Decoupling, based on an interview with the authors of The Second Machine Age, indicates that the authors themselves now believe in the second path – while digital technologies will help economies grow faster, not everyone will benefit equally. In my earlier post I had also brought up how I had hoped that the internet would be the great leveller, and my disillusionment since then when I realised that it created its own hierarchies. (on a related note, read) More

In an ambient future…

Digi-Capital claims that by 2020, Virtual and Augmented Reality combined would have hit $150 bn, eclipsing mobile. What is interesting is that a recent Juniper report predicts an $80 bn market for wearables by 2020. (via) If I read that together, by 2020 we would have witnessed three interface cycles – mobile, wearables and AR+VR. The shelf life of interfaces is shrinking, much like other business cycles. In fact, in Trendwatching’s No Interface trend brief, you can get a preview of this. I’d think that by 2020 web access would be much better than what we have now, and with other technology like IoT advancing sufficiently, we would be poised for ambient interfaces to consume and create what we do on the web and mobile now.

It is widely believed that Google is only a challenger in the  mobile and wearable domains – to Facebook and Apple, despite Android. With Facebook’s Oculus move and Glass’ demise, it would seem that the interface that follows the two above would also see a fight. In an insightful post, Ben Evans asks “What does Google need on mobile?” He notes that all of Google’s play is about reach – to collect and surface data. Mobile, and specifically apps, challenge this and create a world of perfect complexity. He ends with saying that Google needs to win at search,  whatever that means and wherever and however far from PageRank that leads you. Christian Hernandez goes further in his post ‘Into the Age of Context‘. He points out that the glue that connects mobile, social and sensor trends is data, but to take it to the next level, it needs machine learning and AI. He sees Google Now as the perfect example of The Age of Context. 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. 😀 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

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

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.