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Learning by Proxy

Police – Students – Fashion | Learning by Proxy

Every Saturday, I publish this series called ‘Learning by Proxy’. It is a capsule of some of the stuff that I found interesting over the week along with some context to it. I hope you enjoy it.


Follow Up

India has had by far the most draconian lockdown in the world. The only other city (not country) to have a lockdown as strict and as prolonged was Wuhan. I had written a blog about the number of non-COVID deaths that COVID will cause. A pregnant woman died in Noida last week, trying to get into a hospital, being shunted from one to another for 13 hours! 

Despite the most draconian lockdown, testing was limited and continues to be. I had mentioned this last time as well. Delhi is still dissuading testing!

Asymptomatic people need not get tested for Covid-19, said Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal Saturday while stressing on the need to test symptomatic and severe patients.

Source: Indian Express

And…

Delhi Police Constable Tests Positive For Coronavirus After Death

I had also written about the flash reforms that were undertaken under the guise of “stimulus”. Now, the government is offering embedded clearances for environmental and forest clearance for the auction of mineral mines.

[…] the government has now come out with a scheme under which non-coal, non-fuel mining blocks will have most clearances ready before these are put up for auction. According to an order issued by the mines ministry on June 3, the system of embedded clearances will be tried in at five green-field blocks in each mineral-rich state on a pilot basis, with the intent to scale it up over time.

Source: Financial Express

Politics

Police

A few years ago I was fortunate to have visited a Rotary meeting where Maja Daruwala happened to be speaking. She is the daughter of Field Marshall Sam Manekshaw and the executive director at the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative. She said, India borrowed its police force from the British and never re-trained them. This is part of the reason, one often dreads getting even a complaint registered. The police were a tool of oppression under the British and we never changed their culture. Seems like something similar is afoot in the USA. There is a call for change and there are models that exist.

One small example: In a 2012 study in Queensland, Australia, officers at random checkpoints would either read from a specially designed script that invoked the principles of procedural justice (asking the citizen for input, meeting them at eye level, thanking them for their time), while other officers conducted themselves as usual. Citizens who encountered script-reading officers were more compliant and more satisfied with the interaction.

Source: Quartz

Student Power

When I first visited Vellore Institute of Technology (VIT), I had no idea what power an institution can wield on a city’s economy. VIT was plenty important to the economic growth of Vellore. The 25,000 students would create demand for food, retails, services and much more. So much so that Amazon set up a distribution centre in the city only to cater to the institution, thanks to the sheer volume that it represents. 

Indians don’t go to any educational institution to get educated. They go to get a job. Period. Now with work Visas seeming unlikely, they are making their way from the USA to Canada. Think about the University towns in America, their economy.

The number of Indians enrolled in graduate-level computer science and engineering courses at American universities declined by more than 25% between 2016-17 and 2018-19, according to an analysis of government data by the National Foundation for American Policy (NFAP).

Source: Quartz

Economics

Chinese Jobs

The Chinese pressure cooker requires a very important ingredient – Jobs. One and a half Billion people submit to some of the harshest laws on the planet with a complete absence of discontent because their lives keep improving each day. What the American Cops can do to the Blacks, the Chinese government can do to any citizen, rich or poor; powerful or not, and get away with impunity. The trade wars with the US, Coronavirus and the global slowdown has hurt Chinese jobs. Over the past decade, China had embarked on a journey to purge their cities of street vendors – now they are encouraging them!

Chinese premier Li Keqiang said on Monday (June 1, link in Chinese) that street stalls and small shops, just like bigger and high-end industries, are important sources of jobs and vital to the country’s economy.[…]

Prior to Li’s remarks, Beijing recently sent other welcoming signals to street vendors, marking a significant shift from the pastwhen municipal officials used to relocate, evict or fine them as China sought to “civilize” its cities into tidy, shiny places that evoke the gadgets its high-tech economy produces.

Source: Quartz

Gig Economy – The Saviour?

Over the past few years, the gig economy has taken a lot of brickbats. Gig workers are treated as contractors who can take up one sliver of work. Legislators across the globe have been after these entities to regulate them and force them to classify these gig workers as employees and provide them with full benefit. But what happens when employers throw them out due to poor economic conditions? Gig work might just have a silver lining! Call it part-time but it is a way out.

The numbers suggest efforts to restart the US economy are working as several states and metropolitan areas reopen many types of businesses. But they also point to a slow recovery: 40% of the new jobs, or 1.6 million, were part-time. 

Part-time positions often pay less than full-time employment. They don’t offer benefits like health insurance and paid leave, and are more unstable.

Source: Quartz

Business

Changing Fashion

During the 30 year war in Croatia, the Croatian soldiers used to wear a cloth around their neck to make them easier to identify. The French borrowed it and turned it into fashion. Even the French word for tie ‘Cravate’ comes from ‘Croat’. Every miserable period brings its fashion. 

So what about this pandemic? The excess work from home has resulted in fashion being redefined. The pant business is a tough one to thrive in today! Peter England is begging people to keep their pants on and Amazon is promoting ‘Lounge Wear’ and ‘[email protected]

Even Jamie Dimon, the CEO of Chase was photographed with shorts on!

Technical Ethics

Over the last 5 years, there has been a huge push to use AI. AI – in today’s parlance, refers to technologies that can attempt to replicate human senses. Sight is Computer Vision; Listening is Natural Language Processing; and so on. 

Using Computer Vision there have been a whole host of facial recognition solutions that have been created. While a company like Apple uses it to authenticate users. Countries like China have been furthering their totalitarian state. Tech companies seem to have suddenly grown a conscience. IBM announced that they will abandon their facial recognition project.

On June 8, IBM CEO Arvind Krishna announced the end of his firm’s involvement in facial recognition in a letter to US Senators. The company, he wrote, “firmly opposes and will not condone uses of any technology, including facial recognition technology offered by other vendors, for mass surveillance, racial profiling, violations of basic human rights and freedoms.”

Source: Quartz

And then Amazon announced that it will keep their system out of police hands for ONE YEAR because that is how long it takes for conscience to fade. 

Amazon announced on Wednesday it was implementing a “one-year moratorium” on police use of Rekognition, its facial-recognition technology. Lawmakers and civil liberties groups have expressed growing alarm over the tool’s potential for misuse by law enforcement for years, particularly against communities of color.

Source: Wired

Technology / Science

Fight fire with fire

WhatsApp recently limited the number of people you could forward a message to. The move has reduced forward on the app by 30%. This was a step that was taken to curb misinformation. Misinformation is a massive problem across the world and such networks have been leveraged to influence elections. But when it comes to public health, there needs to be a firm solution. The Taiwanese government seems to have found a solution. 

But Taiwan, which is lauded for its success in containing the spread of coronavirus, has adopted humour as a tool in fighting the pandemic. Speaking at the TED conference this week, Taiwan’s digital minister Audrey Tang explained how a tactic called “humour over rumour” has effectively quashed misinformation about Covid-19.

Every time a hoax surfaces on social media, Tang and her band of civic hackers unleash a joke containing the facts of the matter within two hours of spotting the post, based on the idea that since people like to share funny memes on social media, doing so allows the government to wrest control of the narrative. Tang also said that government agencies have employed professional comedians as “engagement officers” to help in the cause. If they miss the two-hour window, Tang’s team locates the perpetrators and recruits them as allies in Taiwan’s coronavirus effort.

Source: Quartz

Fintech Rejoice

Telangana State is one of the most supportive of new technologies. The government encourages startups that are working in areas such as blockchain to explore the possibility of deploying it within the government. They see it as a way to encourage such startups to be based out of Telangana. Now, the SEBI is taking a step in creating a sandbox for startups that are working on new technologies.

Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI), on Friday (June 5), rolled out a circular to pave way for financial innovations in stock exchanges through regulatory sandboxes.[…]

For this, SEBI is looking to grant certain facilities and flexibilities to fintech platforms to test technologies in a live environment on a limited set of real customers for a limited time frame. “These features will be fortified with necessary safeguards for investor protection and risk mitigation,” SEBI said.

Source: Inc42

Misc

Some data – TomTom, the french company that makes GPS guidance systems for cars puts out a traffic congestion index. Guess what? Bangalore is Number One. Check it out, four Indian cities make the top 10. I was surprised to see Pune as a part of it.

And finally, I have heard of landslides on the hills when it rains too much. Have you ever seen a continental shelf just cede land to the sea? I hope the houses were empty.

Signing off…

Categories
General Thinking

AI and Jobs

Most jobs that you see around the world monetise a specific knowledge that a person possesses. An accountant knows to account and you pay him/her to do it. This knowledge is transferable, the work is pretty repetitive and can be easily turned into an algorithm.

Do you know the kind of knowledge that is hardest to monetise? Creative skills. Take a writer or a painter. Their work is not repetitive, their knowledge cannot be easily transferred and each time they take a risk.

Risk aversion is built into everything that we do. Therefore, we make it harder for those who are willing to take the risk.

Even in the repetitive, transferrable job of an accountant, there is more than just the knowledge that they bring to the table. If you want to see how creative accountants can be, you need to look no further than Enron, or perhaps the Indian government! They make things better, influence another human and raise the game.

The capitalistic system necessitates standardisation and repeatability. Standardisation brings scale. This, in turn, means that you strip the human of their creativity and turn them into cogs that are doing repetitive work. All of this is pursued in the name of productivity and greater efficiency.

In this pursuit, we have stripped education of encouraging and imbibing curiosity. Education today only plays the role of setting a person up to be a perfect mule. All creativity is stripped out of a person over 15 years systematically.

Almost every service we use sucks because people do not contribute as humans. They are contributing as a replaceable cog who is uninspired to do better.

And the capitalists that have brought this fate upon millions on humans, now, dare to replace them with code. AI systems that are great Cogs. They are not inspired or creative. They will do a said repeatable task efficiently.

Where does this take us?

A creative revolution. A revolution where humans will discover that they were capable of a lot more than what they were holding themselves back to. A place where capitalists will realise that the value lost to creativity is greater than standardised repeat work. A renaissance where we see some amazing leaps in politics, arts, sciences that open the doors for a new phase of humanity.

Or

Will be let AI replace us and agree to live on the alms that capitalists give away in the name of Universal Basic Income.

I hope it is the former

Categories
General Thinking

Manufacturing and Jobs

There was a time when the hinterland was where all the jobs went. People in the cities bought what was produced in the hinterland. Then shipping and air transportation took off big time and it made more sense to transport things that to produce them in your own country. It was easier to specialise and transport than it was to generalise.

As technology and manufacturing evolved this is going to start moving back in the opposite direction.

Adidas has come up with they call a Speedfactory which brings all part of manufacturing into a small area. (See link the illustration is just brilliant!)

With the advent of 3D printing and customisation there is no more sense in undertaking manufacturing at remote destinations. It is easier to do individual pieces based on customer requirements at the location where the delivery needs to happen. Adidas seems to have found a way to do this. Given that they are not a startup, I am sure they have figured out how to do this profitably as well.

This is not a question of manufacturing but one of jobs. How do you think this will impact how job creation takes place in the future?