Categories
General Thinking

AI for Good

One of the questions I often used to be asked was; Would AI cause joblessness?

My answer always was, a hammer can be used to make things or destroy things. The hammer is not at fault, it is the user, usually, a man wielding the hammer who is at fault.

AI will not cause joblessness. AI in the hands of the capitalist certainly will. The fundamental tenet of capitalism is to hoard money till the day you die, only so that the next generation can continue the good work.

Economists believe that for some people, it is the only way that they can be “motivated”.

I came across an advertisement this morning. The video had a snippet of Shah Rukh Khan and hence I assumed that it had something to do with the political saga unfolding around his son. I was gladly surprised!

This is the ad.

The ad asks local retailers to go to notjustacadburyad.com and make their own ad with Shah Rukh Khan endorsing their store. They can use the video to promote their store on Whatsapp or on any other social media.

You do not expect Shah Rukh Khan to be shooting a million videos right!

Here comes AI to the rescue.

There you see how AI is used to make something good. This is also the power of AI. Do you want to make or break things, you decide.


PS – This is not an endorsement of Cadbury’s. I think it is fuckall company pursuing practices that are detrimental to the climate and destroying the rainforests in Brazil. So, don’t buy Cadbury’s but DO buy from all the rest.

Categories
General Thinking

Work in Progress

We all are works in progress.

We always have been; always will be.

None of us is the same as the day before. Just like a tree which is never the same on a subsequent day as the day before. The trouble is that the change is hard to see. Have you ever woken up, looked out the window, seen a tree you see every day and thought; that has changed!

As humans, we are only capable of seeing big changes. 

If someone loses 15 Kgs you will notice. But who the hell has ever lost 15 Kgs in a day. Alas, we just do not have the ability to see that we lost 100 Grams. This is part of the reason most people give up on their exercise regime. Improvement is never a step change but a series of small changes that accumulate over time to make a huge difference. Weight is still something that can be measured.

Have you gone back to something you had written years ago and found it to be crap? The you, who wrote it would not have felt it was crap. If you had thought so, you would not have written it. But sometimes the only way to get better is by writing a lot of crap. You hope that there will still be those who take the time to read it and encourage you.

The most important thing is to make sure that you are moving in the right direction. The only way to establish that for a fact is by asking for the opinion of others. When it comes to weight, we ask the opinion of the weighing machine. Who do you ask, when it is a creative pursuit?

Create something – ask people what they think about the creation – improve – repeat.

Apply this to anything you want to get better at.

Ultimately, you need to persist. You need to keep doing whatever it is and keep improving a little bit at a time.

When you do not lose weight at first, don’t give up.

When you write junk at first, don’t give up.

Keep working and progress will come to you. Even when that progress comes, you will still be a work in progress.

Categories
General Thinking

Wrong Lessons

Often the outcome of a decision ends up determining our assessment of the quality of the decision. What it also does is that it makes sure that we learn all the wrong lessons.

In 1986 as the space shuttle program was reaching maturity, people were losing interest in the human spaceflight program. As public interest waned, NASA was under serious threat of budget cuts. Determined to reinvigorate interest, they recruited a school teacher to go to space. The idea of a civilian travelling to space would reinvigorate imagination, get the entire schooling system excited and keep the interest alive. This was going to be the 25th mission that the space shuttle would be undertaking.

One of the engineers on the team flagged an issue with the rubber rings that were used to seal the fuel tank. He found out that in very cold temperatures they do not work as expected. The shuttle had been flown 24 times without an issue, consensus in the higher management was that there was no reason to assume anything would go wrong.

With the teacher on the shuttle, this was a high profile national television event and they did not want to delay the launch because someone had a hunch.

The Challenger exploded second after liftoff and it was the first loss of human life since the NASA spaceflight program had taken off the ground.

You can make bad decisions and still succeed. Success only makes you assume that you did everything right. You discount luck completely. Tell a successful person that they got lucky, they will look at you as if you slapped them in the face. You need to constantly be on the hunt for what can fail you, especially when you succeed.

The corollary can also be true. You can make really good decisions and still fail.  We often do not have any problem ascribing this to bad luck.

Do not take away the wrong lessons from success or failure. They are two sides of the same coin. Your decisions matter, but so do a lot of factors that you would never be able to control. Always keep your eye on things that you cannot control. Especially when you succeed.

The dog is making a good decision but failing!

Categories
General Thinking

Unknown Known

The model of knowns and unknowns.

Known knowns are facts that you know. Known unknowns are facts that you are certain you don’t know. Unknown unknowns are facts that you don’t even know exist.

Unknown known is fact that you do not know but others do. Also the most fertile ground of conspiracy theories.

When you are ignorant of something you get a free pass to make up any fact and attribute that knowledge to someone else who is in the know of it.

Here is the issue –

There are more people who are not well versed with even the most basic things. Not to mention, what could be considered basic has been widening rapidly.

The whole problem with the world is that fools and fanatics are always so certain of themselves, and wiser people so full of doubts. ~ Bertrand Russell

The worst thing that the internet has done is allowed for the broadcast of such thoughts to a wider and wider audience without the fear of any repercussion.

The weapon of choice for such people is stories. Stories are used to establish these conspiracies. Stories are far more certain than any data can ever be. They will look at the pictures of astronauts on the moon and argue that there are no stars in the background, conveniently ignoring the fact that they don’t see stars during the day on earth either.

The Unknown known gives people the ability to make assumptions about the things others know and concoct whatever theories that suit their fancy.

Categories
General Thinking

Your image of yourself

We all have an image of ourselves that we have constructed in our minds. 

I had this image of myself as being that person who loves to play the piano and would imagine myself playing fluently on a keyboard or a piano. Because of this image of myself, I not only spent money on buying a keyboard but also wasted space in my house to accommodate the same. The truth is that I did not need a keyboard, I needed discipline, which was lacking. 

We all are prisoners of the image that we have of ourselves. It is liberating when you realise that reality is divorced from that image. You take a lot of pressure off yourself and you are able to focus on the things that you can actually be disciplined with. 

In my case writing. 

Just take a look at the things around your house that are there just to conform with your idea of who you are. You will often find that those are the things you use the least and most certainly amass the most, to compensate for the fact that you suck at it. Here are a list of things and the excuses you offer yourself – 

Musical Instruments – I love playing, just learning it slowly.

Books – I love reading, there are just so many books I have, it is hard to make up my mind which one to start with…

Workout Equipment – I have decided that I will start exercising next year as my new year’s resolution.

Cookware – I could be the greatest chef. I am just watching a lot of videos, for now, will start making it soon.

and the list goes on…

Get rid of it.

Liberate yourself. Make the image in your mind consistent with reality.

Categories
General Thinking

Exponential Growth

The common Silicon Valley refrain goes – Solve a problem and then use technology to scale it. Do not build technology and then look for problems to solve. The underlying assumption is that technology would take the burden of scaling the solution rather than throwing more people at the problem. This can help achieve exponential growth.

Technology is not perfect. If it was, a product once built would require almost no maintenance and would work perfectly without fail. When technology fails, someone is required to step in and field all of the queries and help resolve the problem. Exponential growth often comes with an exponential need to solve problems and here is where technology gives birth to inequity.

Take any SaaS company. Most SaaS solutions are software, but there are several challenges with deploying a SaaS product and integrating it with the website and other tools that any company utilises. Typically,  hundreds if not thousands are hired to provide “support”. They are some of the worst paid employees in the company. But the “Exponential” growth will not be possible without them.

Even worse is the story of companies that have a real-world interface. Take Amazon or Uber. They need the people on the street to make their delivery or ferrying possible. These are some of the worst paid people. The technology in this case is literally being used to rob those who are referred to as partners while making the few at the top rich.

The first thing Uber does is to saddle the driver with a loan for buying the car. Then there is no way to run. Most of them end up working below subsistence to pay off the EMI.

There is no exponential technology. There are companies that use technology and combine it with capitalism to legitimise turning people into slaves under the banner of job creation. 

In the meantime, the pay gap between the CEO and the average employee has widened to 30,000%. The very same CEO would be incapable of providing customer support if he was the last person left in the company.

Categories
General Thinking

Scientific Method

The scientific method is a series of steps

 – Observation

 – Research

 – Hypothesis

 – Test with Experiment

 – Analyse Data

 – Report conclusion

This is prescribed by every university in the world as the blueprint to create knowledge. I think this is a huge problem. Here is why…

Take for instance the theory of relativity, Einstein hypothesised about the theory decades before we would be able to observe the effects that the theory predicted. It was a moment of thoughtful genius that led to the theory of relativity. Almost all of the things we know about this world started out as hypotheses more often than observations.

Observation is only possible when you know what to look for. Problems at a universal scale are hard to observe first-hand.

Even today, it is easier to prove that the earth is flat if we were to depend solely on observation. To show that the earth round requires a conceptual leap.

Laura Beloff’s plant seemed to be clicking. She had rigged its roots up to a contact microphone in order to detect faint, high-pitched clicks in the soil. With the help of software she had written for her computer, the frequency of the clicks had been lowered, making them audible to humans.

As she worked at her desk, the plant apparatus next to her happily chattered away. And that’s when it happened. “This was the weirdest thing,” says Beloff, an artist and associate professor at Aalto University in Finland. A visitor came into her room, at which point the plant’s clicking stopped. When the visitor left, the clicking resumed. Later, more people arrived and, again, the clicking ceased. It only recommenced when the people departed. “I still don’t know what to think about it,” says Beloff.

Source: BBC

You have to assume… sorry hypothesise, that the plants would have something to say even before you decide to stick a mic in there.

It was in a much-cited paper published in 2012 that she and her co-authors reported the detection of clicking noises from plant roots. The researchers used a laser vibrometer to detect these sounds right at the root tips. Gagliano says that the laser was trained on the roots when they were submerged in water in a lab setting, to help ensure that the detected sounds were indeed emanating from the roots themselves.

To say that those clicks have any communicative function requires further evidence, however. Gagliano says that she has observed plant roots responding to sounds at similar frequencies by changing their direction of growth.

[…]

She says that this experience is “outside the strictly scientific realm” and that a third-party observer would not be able to measure the sounds she heard with laboratory instruments. But she is quite certain that she has perceived plants speaking to her on multiple occasions.

Source: BBC

The other problem is that ‘Test with experiment’ is only possible if you have the equipment capable of measuring and the framework meant to understand what is going on. Marie Curie lost her life studying Uranium radiation. She did not know either the effects of radiation or how to measure it.

Isaac Newton laid down some of the most important scientific theories we read today. He also was enamoured by alchemy and tried converting many elements into others. Alas! he did not know nuclear physics back then. But he had the right idea. Even today, he is ridiculed for his ideas of alchemy. 

The scientific method only works with known knows or known unknowns. The universe is filled with unknown unknowns; what about that?

Think about all the PhD students toiling away on useless research because this is the method they are mandated to follow. The scientific method is holding science back.

Categories
General Thinking

Time

Almost all of us have gone through those important exams. In India, it is the 10th and the 12th class. Those board exams are supposed to make or break your life. Then there is the college entrance and so on. We remember them because they are unfortunately turned into life milestones. Do you remember any other exams that you took during the many years of education?

10 years hence, was it really worth the tension and stress you put yourself through? Does it really matter?

Have you ever been in a situation where you had to deliver a project to a client where you worked all night to ensure that it got delivered? I have done it several times. The real gut punch is when you slog to meet this artificial deadline only to discover the next day that the client is not available and would only see it the week after. 

The problem you worried about never came to be. Half the things you worry about never even come to be.

We often make our lives miserable because of diktats that are imposed from the outside to us. We obsess over things that would not matter the least bit once a moment has passed. We make ourselves miserable and also makes the lives of those around us miserable. 

Have you ever bought something that you never used, but would not throw away just because you bought it and it is still new. We spend so much time and energy accumulating things that serve no purpose. We reduce our living or storage space to retain that, which is not useful. 

Worrying is a little bit like this. 

Time makes the futility of those things obvious. It is unfortunate that we waste so much time before realising it. 

Categories
General Thinking

Suffering

Is the purpose of human life.

Ambition ~ The emotion that leads to self-inflicted suffering

If you look back at all the work that you did, I am sure it is going to be that one project that kept you up through the night; that seemed impossible to finish, which you would remember fondly. I have come across nobody who told me that the highlight of their career was – ‘those three weeks when they got to sit around and do nothing in office.’

We thrive when we are suffering.

Celebrities who have made it and earned so much that they do not have to work another day of their lives often end up committing suicide. Their life promises no more suffering and therefore no purpose. Also, perhaps they do not have the ambition to invent a new kind of suffering for themselves, like say, starting a production company. 

Every fallen businessman seemed to have it made, till they did not. Vijay Mallya could have just partied for the rest of his life and he would not have exhausted all his wealth. But he had to start an airline. It gave his life purpose.

Amitabh Bachchan had peaked and done some of the best work of his life by the late 90s but he had to start a production company. Both people ended up almost bankrupt thanks to their ambition. 

One has not bounced back, the other has and incredibly so, but that is for another blog.

What we call ambition is just another way of describing a person who is willing to put himself/herself through a degree of suffering that is greater than what they are currently going through.

It might seem like hell when you are going through it, but you will get to the other side and you will look back at it fondly. For sure. 

Suffering is what great stories are made of.

Have you read any story that ended – “then he got a job and had a steady salary for the next 30 years.” 

Categories
General Thinking

Observe

Picture this.

pixabay.com

You are sitting in a train that is stationary on the platform. There is another train standing on the other side of the platform. You look out from your train and you see people milling about and you see the other train. The time to leave draws closer.

And then you see movement. You are not sure if it is your train or the train on the other side of the platform. You feel disoriented. Almost helpless; till you observe. Look for a context, the platform or the people on it and determine whether it is your train that is moving or the other one. 

Our minds find solace in knowing the cause of the change. We always seek an explanation.

But there is another thing that is at work over here which is far more important.

Who is creating the change?

If you are the change maker then you need not worry too much about finding the explanation for the change. 

Change is inevitable. We often get caught wrong-footed when we have no role to play in making the change happen. Surviving change is a lot worse and a lot more difficult when you do not know it is coming. You cannot always be the person who is effecting the change either. 

Be observant. 

The more observant you are, the more you are aware of the context and the better you are prepared for change. 

In the case of the train, if you had been observing the platform, you may not have been disoriented. Do the same for your business, your career, or whatever you are pursuing in life.