Hari Seldon

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

Linking learning & labour

I’m a huge Asimov fan, and am constantly amazed at how he was able to have a perspective of the future on multiple fronts. I was reminded of two of those recently thanks to their application (of sorts) in contemporary scenarios.

First, Hari Seldon‘s (pretty much the foundation of Asimov’s Foundation series) psychohistory, which was able to make general predictions on the future behaviour of large populations using history, sociology and statistics. The easy contemporary connection is big data and predictive analytics.

Second, a short story written by him called ‘Profession‘, (do read) in which every person’s profession is based on an analysis of his/her brain, and no choice is given to the person in this matter! In India, we seem to be already there even without the analysis!

Collectively, these two made me think of employment, and on a related note, education. The thought was that with so much of data available on education and employment, we should be able to create ‘tests’ to compute the interest and aptitude of individuals at a very early age. What this would aim to do is to eliminate the herd education that currently exists. Instead, children would learn things that help them in a profession for which they have the intent and interest, using say, a combination of traditional classrooms and MOOCs. Also, this would no longer be one part of a life cycle, but a continuous process – helping the individual thrive in a dynamic environment.

If you remember, LinkedIn was my representative for ‘L’ in the ‘change imperative‘ deck. That was because I felt that it had the data and the vision to be the catalyst for this kind of a change. I was very happy when it underscored this faith with the fantastic ‘future self‘ experiment, in which they identified the future professional self (5 year time frame) of LinkedIn user Kurt Wagner – another user Mussarat Bata – using various data points!

LinkedIn hasn’t really built this as a public tool, but just imagine the possibilities! A platform that shows people the possibilities which take them closer to their ‘purpose’. (remember ‘The Evolution of Work and the Workplace‘?) I sincerely hope to see this in my lifetime. :)

until next time, live and learn


Conscious choices

I found this video shared by K (part of a series by Professor Russell Stannard) offering me a very interesting perspective on the free will vs determinism debate. (earlier post)


He starts with talking about the brain as a physical object which is governed by the physical/chemical/biological rules of nature – like a computer works within a  set of mechanical/electronic laws – and therefore predictable. So it should be possible to predict our choices. But it doesn’t work that way. Consciousness is different.

He then talks about how some are trying to apply quantum theory to the free will – determinism debate. Apparently, at sub atomic level, the ‘future’ is not predictable with absolute certainty. It has a built-in uncertainty in it. What we can do, however, is predict the odds of various possible outcomes – the average behaviour of various items. So if this is applied to individual cells whose behaviour is unpredictable, it would be free will, say the proponents of this theory. But the prof refutes this, and says that this is one of the debates that can’t be solved to everyone’s satisfaction.

[This prediction of group behaviour reminded me of Asimov’s Foundation series and specifically Hari Seldon‘s psychohistory, through which he predicts the future in probabilistic terms.]

But more importantly, it made me think that if indeed, there is a creator, maybe he built the automaton inside our head to make us predictable. The automaton grows with us, making most of our decisions unconscious ones, based on baggage accumulated over time – conditioning. That could explain why those few who break out of it are able to attain a higher level of thinking in which they can bend the rules, predict the future and so on and the only advice they can give others is to be aware of every second.

And when I think of predicting the odds of outcomes, I wonder if the results of all our free will choices are written, like a tree with infinite branches. And as we continue our journey of choices that is life, one by one the branches disappear, until on hindsight, they look like one straight line that was always meant to be that way.

 until next time, a predictable end