Future

The Gatekeepers

To quote Robert Wright from Non Zero: 

To stay strong, a society must adopt new technologies. In particular, it must reap the non-zero-sum fruits they offer. Yet new technologies often redistribute power within societies. (They often do this precisely because they raise non-zero-sumness- because they expand the number of people who profit from the system and so wield power within it.) And if there is one opinion common to all ruling classes everywhere, it is that power is not in urgent need of redistributing. Hence the Hobson’s choice for the governing elite: accept valuable technologies that may erode your power, or resist them so well that you may find yourself with nothing to govern.  

I consider the ruling class as gatekeepers because they control the access of the remaining populace to prosperity. Across time, different entities have played the role of gatekeeper by controlling different facets that can change society’s general prosperity. To name a few, religion by controlling behaviour, government (aristocracy to democracy) by controlling the central currency and freedom of all sorts, media by controlling information,  and the wealthy, by the sheer ability to control deployment of capital, and thereby job creation.   More

Empathy with AI

I have increasingly felt that our ability to find common ground is rapidly diminishing. This has a cyclical relationship with empathy and therefore our ability to empathise would reduce too. Since a big pillar of our species is cooperation, there is a good chance that the loss of empathy would lead to extinction. This is essentially what I wrote in Empathy & Extinction. “The death of nuance and the rise of binary.”

That’s why I was intrigued by How AI will teach us how to more empathy. While it did make a compelling argument, I was skeptical because to me, the very idea of empathy is because we took the effort to think about the other person. Despite data and information about ourselves and others that will be fed into AI, would it really be able to sense and help us see the other person’s point of view? More

AI: Learns, Rules

The potential applications of blockchain are fascinating, and Melanie Swan’s book provides an excellent view of these. The part that I found particularly interesting is ‘buried’ on page 26 – the blockchain as a path to artificial intelligence. This happens through the increasing advancement of smart contracts on automation, autonomy and complexity parameters through an emergent form of AI that develops. Either by the introduction of non AI, non blockchain rule- based systems or by the implementation of programmatic ideas from AI research fields.

It led me to think of the development of AI in a Conway’s Game of Life manner – a zero player game that starts with an initial state and evolves based on the rules, and interactions with other entities within the system. In the recent past, I have come across several phenomena that are interesting especially when seen in this frame. More

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

Free* Will

*Conditions Apply

The first documented appearance of the subject on the blog is in 2011, and I seem to have posted on the subject every alternate year, the last being in 2015. But it’s sheer coincidence and not really pattern following that led me to think, and write, about free will now.

Across my life, I have moved from having a faith and believing in predestination (will of God), to being agnostic and believing in karma, to being an atheist and believing in the influence of luck (random chance) in all the plans I make. In the last version, the view is that my free will is dominant – I make my own choices which dictate my future and nothing is predetermined. The luck explains the good and bad out-of-ordinary things that change my future, but it is random. Karma stories are a forced narrative based on hindsight. More

The brand protocol

I have spent a few posts thinking about this concept – the ‘why’ in Scarcity Thinking in Marketing and Feels & Fields in Marketing and some of the ‘what’ in Brand with a world view. Essentially, the idea is that as customer attention becomes increasingly more scarce, brands will have to think beyond ‘fracking’ and the efficiency driven marketing approach (with all the seemingly contextually relevant data they offer) for a sustainable advantage.

I have to confess that it doesn’t seem that way now. In Pipeline to Platform Organisations, Neil Perkin makes the point that this  (pipelines to platforms) is one of the most significant shifts in internet era business economics. And the argument is indeed right, proven by the fact that Facebook, Google, Amazon, Uber, Airbnb and even Apple to a lesser extent are all great examples of platform companies. In fact, the article he has linked to states that in 2013, 14 of the top 30 global brands were platform companies. They have been built to scale, which they have achieved to a large extent by building fairly insurmountable ‘moats’, hugely powered by network effects. And there lies my problem because they are now well on their way to becoming platform monopolies (euphemistically called ecosystems) – the new intermediaries on the very web that was supposed to help level the playing field. Arguably, it’s becoming increasingly clear that a fight against them based on efficiency/network effects is either doomed from the start, or becomes unsustainable. More

The bang & the buck

A decade ago, while working with a newspaper group where our small team managed three brands, we had an interesting situation. One of the brands, a vernacular broadsheet, was at an advanced stage in its lifecycle where it had to be made relevant and exciting for a newer set of readers who were native to the region. Another brand, an English compact daily (we didn’t like to be called a tabloid!), was an absolute newbie aimed at what could broadly be called an ‘immigrant’ audience. This was made interesting because research showed that the ‘triggers’ for the two sets of readers were quite at odds with each other. To elaborate, but without nuances, the positioning of the vernacular brand would be around showcasing pride in local language and culture, laced with jingoism, and that of the English brand would be around a cosmopolitan outlook. Holding both these diametrically different ideologies and doing justice to both was quite an exciting experience.

That nostalgia bout was triggered because I’m increasingly seeing this friction between different parts of the population escalate. A certain angst that seems to flare up on various seemingly unconnected issues. So here’s a thought. I am not really a Javed Akhtar fan, and a lot of people dissed him when he connected the Bangalore New Year molestation incident to social segregation and economic divide, but I strongly believe that many of the horrors we witness today – from terrorism to road rage – have economic disparity at its heart. I had written about this in the context of our convenience attitude towards injustice during the Nirbhaya incident. To note, this is not a right-wrong commentary, because I also strongly believe that moral objectivity is an oxymoron. More

Brand with a world view

In Feels & Fields in Marketing, I had written about my view that the sustainable advantage in data driven marketing over the long term might be lesser than an approach where the brand is marketed as a worldview – reflected in thought and deed. A couple of nuances I’d like to point out here. One, the reason I feel so is because from the evolution of digital media thus far, the end game of new platforms/technologies arguably seem to be a version of a “cost per” arms race, and that end game is reached rather fast. Two, I don’t strictly see data and story telling as an either/or. It’s just that I don’t see a lot of justice being done to the latter thanks to the focus on the former, and I also see the dumbing down/tempering of messaging to access a larger mass.

However, I’ll admit that putting down ‘brand with a worldview’ into a generic framework is a rather challenging. But I have seen quite a few examples – personal experiences as well as larger campaigns – that highlight various aspects of this approach. The new POTUS has in fact, provided quite some fodder for this. Hardly surprising, since his usage of extreme stances contributed majorly to his victory.  More

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

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