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

Consumer-facing AI : Phase One

Since the launch of the Messenger Platform and bots, (a handy summary by Mashable) the world has had a lot to say about this move by Facebook – ranging from “fantastic start” to “frustrating and useless“. Somewhere in the middle probably lies the truth. Facebook is, of course, not the only player in this specific game – to name a few, Slack, Telegram, Kik all are at it! A more elaborate representation of the landscape can be found here.

Somewhere in all this hype is a little grain of truth. For instance, two (plus one) trends, as explained in this post by MG Siegler, are pretty evident – the rise of messaging, app saturation and the increasing application of AI/machine learning. Bots are well placed in the intersection of these three. More

A shift in the world order

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It has been a while since I wrote about nation states, or notion states as I call them. Now is not really a good time to bring this up in India, but hey, it’s a free country. Oh, wait! Therefore, let’s talk about Apple vs the FBI on where digital security ends and national security begins. (via The GuardianWashington-Silicon Valley shadowboxing as the publication puts it, and Apple has the support of Google, Facebook and Twitter. [If this were happening in India, by now Tim Cook would have probably been lynched by a mob, and charged for sedition – now a very loose word that can be applied to even things such as sneezing while watching the Republic Day parade on TV]

This battle is interesting as it is because it will set a precedent for an individual’s privacy rights, and is being fought between the world’s most valuable corporation and the world’s biggest (one might even say only) superpower. On one side, we have and entity whose decisions affect billions of lives around the world, and on the other, a country marked by boundaries but influencing policies that affect an equal number. Phenomenally intriguing and layered as this is, I actually find it riveting because I see a couple of my favourite narratives coming to a boil. More

Alpha Bets

Yahoo’s seemingly imminent demise, and the flip flop at the very top of the food chain – Apple taking back the title of the most valuable company in the world before you could say Alphabet – made me wonder about the next theatre of war. I’ve been fascinated with GAFA (is that AAFA now?) for a while, though I prefer the title that Scott Galloway gave them a year back – The Four Horsemen. If you haven’t seen his presentation from the DLD conference, you should. It gives a lot of perspective on the scale at which Google, Amazon, Facebook and Apple operate, and the impact they are having on every other business there is.

The Four Horsemen symbolise conquest, and that’s what each of them are after. That’s also why I’m inclined to think that the fate of our species is increasingly tied to the fates of these four companies! While they are not busy fighting turf wars with the ‘smaller’ folks like Uber, Netflix, Slack, China etc, they are increasingly encroaching each others’ key focus areas – from shopping to providing internet to health to devices to social to VR to OS (phones, cars, things!) to content to.. you get the picture! This year, Scott’s presentation was on the same subject and titled ‘Gang of Four‘. It makes things even clearer!


The IoT battlefield

The last time I wrote about the Internet of Things, I hoped for an application layer that could sense and collect data and convert it into use cases. In fact, the title of the post was Interweb of Things, the nuanced difference between them being connection (IoT) and interoperability. (WoT) (read) In the few months since that post, there has been quite some activity in the space. I saw a very useful classification a few days ago that illustrated both the ‘things’ as well as the infrastructure and showed the possibilities of interoperability. (via)



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)


Moral Signs

A little more than a year back, I remember writing a post on identity – what exactly constitutes the individual – work, relationships, consumption, combinations of these…….

More recently, I read a Scott Adams post which actually asks the same question ‘Who are you?’ He also provides his best answer to it ‘You are what you learn’. It’s an interesting point and I do agree that what you learn is what gives you additional perspective. It changes the way you view older experiences and how you react to new experiences. And so, despite believing in being prisoners of birth to some extent, and knowing that the apple never falls far from the tree, and at the risk of generalisation, I would tend to agree.

Which brings me to learning. In an earlier era, our ‘channels’ of learning were limited – parents, relatives, friends, teachers, literature, some amounts of media, and so on. Limited when compared to the abundance that a media explosion and the internet have brought into our lives. Sometime back, I read a post in the NYT titled ‘If it feels right‘, which discussed a study on the role of morality (rather, the lack of it) in the lives of America’s youth. The author clarifies that it isn’t as though they are living a life of debauchery, it’s just that they don’t even think of moral dilemmas, the meaning of life and such. The study ‘found an atmosphere of extreme moral individualism’, mostly because they have not been given the resources to develop their thinking on such matters.

It led me to think about the moral frameworks that were instilled in us by our sources when were young. At the very least, value systems existed, though obviously their ‘quality’ would be a subjective affair. I wonder, if in this era of abundant sources, we are missing out on inculcating the basic moral guidelines that are necessary for a society’s sustenance and  evolution. If people are what they learn, then the least we could do is take a closer look at our own moral framework. The next generation, despite the abundance of sources, could be learning from it. Or perhaps this is the way it has always been, between generations. :)

until next time, moral poultice

PS: a beauuuutiful related video

The Future Belongs to the Curious from Skillshare on Vimeo.