evolution

Empathy & Extinction

In Sapiens, Yuval Noah Harari explains how we’re the most dominant species on the planet because we’re the only ones able to cooperate flexibly in large numbers. The ‘funny’ part is that the things we cooperate on usually exist only in our collective imagination – religion, nation, money. Intersubjective realities.

But it gets funnier. When I look around now, I see these intersubjective realities actually causing more divisiveness between groups than unity. Offended because Spiegel allegedly called it a poor nation. Offended because Katy Perry used a Hindu goddess to describe her mood. New day, new reason to be offended.  More

A case for the showcase

Clever tees have been an attraction for quite a while now. Less generic, and more fun mashups. This one is an example from a few years ago.

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Once, when I wore this while out in a group, one kind soul complimented the design. Another person in the group immediately commented that people wore such tees to send a “look how smart I am” message. My views was that at least for me, it was less vanity/personality and more a means of expression and identity, which served as a conversation starter, given my less-than-gregarious nature. But it did stay with with me, and make me wonder whether he had a point. More

Cult of impersonality

Koramangala rarely disappoints. This time, it was the Uber ride, and the thoughts it sparked. From Whitefield to Koramangala, I repeatedly watched the driver refusing to learn from his mistakes. e.g. sticking to the right lane and getting stuck behind cars waiting to take a U turn, when we had to go straight. Advice was futile. This (the behaviour, not the driving!) took me in a couple of directions.

First, our species’ (generalising, of course) refusal to rethink belief systems even when new data presents other possibilities. In the last few weeks, I have seen two levels of this. One is at a (public) personality level – from Modi to Tata. While I have little reason to doubt the Prime Minister’s intent in the entire demonetisation exercise, I see the absolute lack of empathy (no, crying and listing one’s sacrifices doesn’t count) and the failure to course correct as arrogant and cruel. When multiple sources indicate that Ratan Tata’s governance wasn’t really spotless, shouldn’t he be attempting a better route than allowing the spat to be drawn into something as silly as Twitter hashtag wars, especially when the claim is that the organisation’s legacy (and not his own) is paramount for him. In both cases, ego could be the barrier. More

The evolution of growth

The decreasing life expectancy of Fortune 500 companies is no secret – from about 75 years half a century ago to 15 years now! Martin Reeves’ TED talk “How to build a business that lasts 100 years” becomes all the more interesting in this context.

On the one hand, there is the day to day pressure of meeting business goals (read metrics) while on the other, there’s really no telling what black swan event in the business’ landscape might happen. As the thinking goes, the business would have to monitor changing consumer needs and ‘disrupt’ itself before others do the job for them.

The Four Horsemen seem to have an ability to balance these two forces quite well. Microsoft is now reviving itself. That would explain why they are now pretty much platform monopolies who increasingly have only each other as competition. Most other businesses focus predominantly chase growth, with efficiency as a key driver and corresponding metrics as score keepers.  More

Work, Parenting & the Monoculture

Sunday morning gave me a fantastic read, via  multiple shares on my timeline – “Why do we work so hard?“, in which Ryan Avent traces the evolution of work (hours) from the time after the second world war, and wonders why a trend was reversed and we started working more hours. She considers her own as well as her father’s experiences, and explores whether it is the treadmill effect, the satisfaction of work, or a combination of both. She sums up one of her answers thus –

It is a cognitive and emotional relief to immerse oneself in something all-consuming while other difficulties float by. The complexities of intellectual puzzles are nothing to those of emotional ones. Work is a wonderful refuge.

Something about it gave me a sense of deja vu. I realised that this has also been my hypothesis about parenting! Back to that in a bit. Meanwhile, she ends the article with

..precisely why what I’m doing appeals to me. They are asking about a job. I am thinking about identity, community, purpose – the things that provide meaning and motivation. I am talking about my life.

It reminded me of a short conversation with S recently, where we agreed about how (many) people follow up their introductory “Hi, I am XYZ” with their designation and/or place of work, irrespective of the meeting context.  More

The case against cosmic justice

Evolution, as I have already stated sometime back on this blog, is a fascination these days. Fundamentally, I see it as a gigantic A/B testing mechanism operating over large swathes of time, with only one seeming agenda – moving on. A lot of things make immense sense when I accept that as the only framework. Including the idea of God, which has several key roles. e.g. to provide the impetus to move on even when things are not going well (faith), explain the things that science cannot (yet) and so on. If it helps someone, it is a great idea, though as a species we have been consistently been stupid enough to let the practitioners of organised faith take advantage of us for their own needs.

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But that’s not what this post is about. One of the offshoots of faith (God/Cosmos/insert whatever works for you) is the related idea of cosmic/divine justice. I used to believe in that until very recently, and it was one of the attributes of being what I called myself – a spiritual person. But at this point, I don’t think it exists. There are at least two perspectives that brought me to it. More

Re-framing employment

For untold generations work was simply a matter of maintaining the status quo.

Across the world, the debates on productivity, reduced work hours, 4 day work weeks, DND after work hours etc are intensifying. Add to this the narratives of “the end of employment” and the “gig economy”, (and therefore the case against full time employment) and the signs of an upheaval of our concept of work seems imminent. I can vouch for that from my own experience as well – expressed to a certain extent in earlier posts –  The Entrepreneur & the Professional, and Re-skill. My posts on AI and its impact on employment are also related to this in a “bigger picture” way.

It is personal in a different way too, because it’s increasingly an application of a broader life framework and worldview. In fact, I was accusing myself of over thinking this, until I read this fantastic piece – How Not to Let Work Explode Your Life. That’s where the quote at the start has been taken from. It traces the origin of the clashes we are facing in our work-life environments now to trends that have been forming for centuries. Long, fascinating read, and a confirmation of many of my complicated thoughts! 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

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

The Art of Live In

I borrowed the title from a post I wrote nine years ago on live in relationships. We have come quite a way since then, but I am also seeing an evolution in this narrative. I call it the same narrative because fundamentally it challenges the institution of marriage as we know it. The way I see it, marriage was an evolutionary necessity – as a relatively structured process of procreation, and thereby organising society. The words below are from a work of fiction based on the life of the Buddha, it would seem that neither is it far from truth nor have things changed much.

Sid

So why is this institution primed for ‘disruption’ now?

Technology is one factor. The family unit made sense when younger members of the species had to be protected. As AI advances, maybe a family unit will not be necessary for safety or security. Technology also might play a hand in the physiological aspects, more on that in a bit. As I mentioned in an earlier post (Emotion As A Service) marriage is as much a transactional relationship as an emotional one. To paraphrase Scott Adams,  (fromthe internet has allowed us to have a barter economy of relationships….a virtual spouse comprised of a dozen separate relationships

The second factor – advances in medicine and increasing lifespans. Imagine living up to 150. The ‘life partner’ that you chose when you were a carefree 20 year old may not be the one you’d want to have fireside conversations with in your middle age – 95. Interests, outlook, worldview, personality etc change with time. Maybe you’d be living in different cities at different stages. 

Another factor I’d consider is depleting resources – these may be natural, (on a larger scale) and economic (on an individual scale) (any thing else you can think of?) These might force the species to rethink the institution, even though it seems hardwired into the brain by now. 

I can already see several paths diverging from this point. Robots as companions for the aged is a fast developing area, it could be used for young ones in future. In a physiological context,  though we might not be there yet, s3x with robots is a distinct possibility by 2025. There’s bound to be a learning curve, but hey! 

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In a relationship context, The Atlantic had a long article on polyamory, including perspectives on how society sees them, and the challenges involved. I was actually more surprised when Bangalore Times carried an article on the subject on its front page recently. The point here is that it is getting mainstream attention, arguably the first step in societal acceptance of units that are radically different from the traditional family. Even children with DNA from three parents might soon overcome legal hurdles and become an accepted practice.  

With all these paths, and many more, the institution of marriage might become one of the many options available. Some communities might hold on to it – as a tradition. But as time progresses, both individuals and society will undergo not just transformations on the outside, but in mindset as well.  After all, isn’t evolution just a logical response to a creature’s living environment? If it is, once the evolutionary necessity has passed, even this tradition might just fade away.  

(The views expressed above are just the author’s attempts at intellectuality, and do not represent his actuality. He hopes he doesn’t have to sleep outside!) 

until next time, along came poly!