One's personality is both a composition and reflection, but if I have to choose one of them, I will choose reflection as the "self" is more important to me than "me". One's composition may change, walking across the cultural landscapes and climbing the social ladder but one's self is tied to one's reflections. The fun part is that reflections are not bound to "Time-Space" barriers ( it is not time-space) and respective mental constructs, which have grown so thick over ages, that they had reduced the image of humans to Sisyphus, rolling different sizes of boulders on hills of different heights.… As the name of this Blog indicates, knols are my perspectives on topics of interests, sweet/bitter experiences or just doodling :)

Saturday, April 28, 2018

The Bigger Picture

Passion, while an essential force behind the drive for excellence, often blinds us from seeing the whole (or broader) picture. Very often, I find the younger talents struggling with hope related their works. Too much time and energy and little results make them disoriented. While the common expectation is that, those who are sitting on the higher rungs of corporate/trade/organization ladder to offer bigger picture for the younger talents, it's the closest elders who do the job much better:

The old lady limped a bit, was a bit overweight and struggled with her sari as she moved around the stoves. She was cooking several dishes while making puffed roti, all at the same time.

On another side of the table, her young niece updated her on the latest professional achievements, she scored. The old lady listened attentively while cooking. She only talked when her niece drifted into complaints. Her talks were mostly snippets from her young self and at end of each story she reminded her niece that things have much improved.

While there was a stark difference between the spoken and body languages of the two ladies but I could see the visible gaps between sounding smart and wisdom.

While the young lady went back and forth between showcasing her achievements and worrying, the old lady listened calmly and told her personal stories to reassure her that despite ups and downs, things have always gravitated towards better. It was amusing to be a silent part of the conversation thinking that if there was a mental state such as wisdom then, the hope that things always gravitated towards better definitely qualified for it.

Monday, April 16, 2018

Artificial Intelligence & Moral Economy : An Opinion (Part III)

Shrinking Attention Span and Missing To Notice Important Societal Changes:

In the last blog on the subject, I argued that human brain is so good at recognizing patterns that it strongly inclines for overfitting which is one of the main reasons for the biases we have in the systems we build.  

In this blog, I want to argue for another BIG PROBLEM that is only getting worse and that The Shrinking Attention Span which is (will) deepening our biases:

You may have donated in one of the campaigns run by one of the big box stores, giant food chains or online retails companies that had promised to match each dollar of your donation by a dollar for some noble cause (curing a disease, food drive or help a disaster hit the community and so on). You also may have read the news about the mega-philanthropic projects by founders of the fortune 500 companies. You may have also noticed the mushrooming of crowdfunding for the smart solutions of the major problems like poverty, education, health, environment, refugees, ...etc.

If you have donated in or noticed any of the above-mentioned developments, it is very likely that you may have asked yourself, despite the generosity of commoners and corporate businesses, why there is so much frustration over access to healthcare and insecurity of job, housing, and even nutritional food? No doubt, commoners, corporates, and techs are getting smarter. Why generosity and smartness are failing to solve the problems that smaller countries (with much smaller economies) have efficiently handled?


While people have noticed the most advertised gestures like donation campaigns, mega-philanthropic projects and crowd-funding and so forth, they have failed noticed the most important societal change and THAT'S in words of the Michael Sandel (The political philosopher) becoming a MARKET SOCIETY (Please read about the difference between Market Economy and Market Society by following this link or you can watch here a talk by Prof. Sandel the role of Market Society in increasing economic inequality).

While the common expectation is that by the evolution and ease of access to media, people become more politically aware and their ability for cross-referencing and weighing facts increase linearly, an important factor is usually downplayed and THAT IS THE SHRINKING ATTENTION SPANS on the most important societal changes.


Who could imagine that one day the most popular source of news will become a platform where tweets will be limited to 280 characters? The popularity of the twitter as the largest news source illustrates the extent of the shrinkage of attention span. Still, not convinced? How about communicating important policies of the US via twitter by POTUS? Could anyone have imagined that one day POTUS will declare war via twitter?

It was understood that the earlier exposure of children to television makes them struggle with sustaining attention in their later age. But the becoming of twitter as a communication tool for highest ranks of the government shows that it is not just common people who suffer from shrinkage of the attention span but also leadership and policymakers.

According to the statistics, the size of the indexed pages on Google increased on average of 1.5 billion pages per year, in last two years (There are an estimated more than 45 billion indexed web pages on Google). Now, add to that the gaming and binge-watching as the most dominant forms of the entertainments and time passing activities.

Yes, people have access to media and they are smarter than ever but if the attention spans to the important issues have kept shrinking, then, while people know the little details of the most events, they will fail to see the big picture. AND THAT'S TRAGIC.


Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Artificial Intelligence And Moral Economy: An Opinion

Let's begin with three boring statements (and my hypothesis for the why, and how AI help):

1. The market economies with good managers out-performed the communist economies with equally competent managers.

2. Communist economies age at the young age.

3. Market economies with bad managers create a social dichotomy of winners and losers.

Let me give some examples so you can make sense of what I mean by those three statements.

1. Market Economies with Good Managers:

Market economy shined in countries like Japan, Germany, Asian Tigers/dragons (Hong Kong, Singapore, South Korea and Taiwan), Malaysia and the even Gulf States (oil export economies - no manufacturing or knowledge-based services- with the monarch systems of governance). No doubt, there are other Western countries with market economies much bigger than the listed economies but the purpose of the list to mention the stars. 

Market economy rebuilt Germany and Japan that were destroyed by world war second. It enabled four small countries/administrative regions to be big enough economic players to be called Asian Tigers and even make the desert states of gulfs to become the major investment destinations. While the cultures, composition of markets and geography of the listed economies vary considerably, they had one thing in common and that's good management.

3. Market Economy With Bad Managers:

Before going to the second point, I brought up the second point for the obvious reason of stressing that Market Economy does not do well by default. It needs proper management;

The memory of the 2008 US government bailout of the banks after the real-estate-market-crash is still fresh. That was a defining moment in the history of the market economy that exposed the effect of bad management. While the bailout saved the banks but the fallouts of the bad management pushed the forking of the losers (who live under fear of losing jobs, homes, and saving) and winners economic classes to the extreme that led to the occupied wall street movement and election an administration that has promised to run US government as a successful business.

I can add the long list of the countries with soured market economies from the four continents of Asia, Africa, America and Europe but for the sake of staying on the point, I prefer to restrict this knol to the big names. So, let's bring in China. Everybody talks about China, one or another way. From Chinese products to ambitious Chinese land-based-economic-corridor projects to the US-China trade war. It all indicates the success of Chinese economy that is unlike any other economy is very unique. So far, it is a very well managed hybrid market economy that pulled millions of Chinese out of poverty, what communist China couldn't achieve. The Chinese model showed that well-managed communist economy soon expands to its limits but a well-managed market economy can sustain growth much better for a longer time period.

2. The short lifespan of Communist Economy:

Since the powerhouse of the communist economy barely lived for eight decades and there does not exist any mentionable communist economy, this subtitle is almost self-explanatory.

NOW, let's consider a plausible answer to the WHY:

It's common sense that smaller the number or size of something (at macro-scale), it's management is easier. Small villages are mostly self-sufficient populations that neatly recycle their resources. In comparison, the bigger the population of an area, the more they rely on the exchange of goods with other populations, the greater are their waste and more obvious are the economic segregation of the populations.

Size of Problem: My hypothesis is that the bigger the size and complexity of the economy, the greater are the chances of the mishaps and mismanagements. That's one of the main reason for an inherent short lifespan of the communist economy. The government can manage certain amounts of mishaps. Once, the number of mishaps increase, they start tearing down the whole system.

Seeing Patterns That Matters: The human factor is another reason for mishaps when it comes to the handling of large numbers/sizes. In one of the databook (I don't remember where) I read, "Human brains are so good at detecting patterns, they most often overfit." The overfittings make them see things that are either not there (noise) or make predictions based on averages ignoring big chunks of important information that actually matters.

Trusting The Judgements of the Performers Instead of Performance: 

If you have closely watched the politicians, they are good performers, the composition of voices, body languages, the environments, and messages are appealing that make people follow them. In comparison, not too many people really care what kinds of laws they pass. It's too much of boring and complex information that is not pleasing at all. People want excitements and relaxations after dealing with exhausting jobs and dealing with their daily personal battles.

Transparency And Fairness Are the Building Blocks of A Moral Economy:

I guess I may better not to go into defining a moral economy here (the risk of undermining the main topic, that's setting the role of artificial intelligence in creating a fairer economy). Still, it's essential to point out that without fairness and transparency there will be not any moral economy. Having said that, I very like to stress that even if intentions are good, complexity and size of problems reduce significantly the transparency of information and hence the fairness of the decisions based on the poor understanding of information. Here comes the role of the AI.

As I prefer short blogs, I will try to add more on the topic in my next blog post.

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Artificial Intelligence: An Opinion

I remember asking Ustad, "Why religion is so powerful?" an obscure question (that could be interpreted in many ways, both positive and negative). 

Instead of a direct answer (as was his signature way of explaining things), he began with an example, "If we give students the choice between researching the topics and preparing their personalized set of a knowledge-base and prepared notes, which method you think, the majority of the students will choose?" 

"No doubt, there are students who genuinely do go their own way out of their personal drive for knowledge but I think the majority of students prefer ready notes...."

"And it's not just the education, the same rule is equally applicable in all spheres of life. Take the example of the food. The health hazards of fast food are in the news and advertisements, almost everyday in one or other form and yet, it is the cooking at home that's in decline instead of fast food [An interesting statistics about the number of the eating places in the new york city. There are 24000 eating establishments in NYC and if you want to eat at a different place, you would need about 65 years  (24000/365 = 65.75) from the day you are born to be able to eat at all the stores]."

"Don't you think that it's just a practical need of the modern lifestyle?" I asked him.
"Of course, all the ready-made products are very practical for time-crunched city dwellers but also have become a modern style as you mentioned and that's part of human nature. That's strong inclination towards easiest of the choices. And there lies the strength of both religion and culture. Religion free its followers from the burden of thinking hard in distinguishing rights and wrongs and making right choices. As a follower, one has just to believe that the religion he/she follows ae true and he/she can have the piece of the mind that the algorithms he/she are following are the best of the choices that he/she could make. Even better than that it gives you the assurances that your religion is true and others are false...." 

I mentioned our conversation to bring in another phenomenon that's functioning the same way (as religion and culture) and have become part of our daily lives (most of the time, we don't even realize it) and that's the artificial intelligence. Based on the digital footprints (the data we feed by our online activities), specific products, services, news, opinions and organizations (even friends and social groups are recommended) appear in search engines and millions of the other potential products, services, and opinions do not reach us. Therefore, we can say that services empowered by artificial intelligence are not only thinking for us but on the long-run influence our personalities. We do not need to have machines embedded in our bodies to be defined as bionics. We can claim that we are already bionics and artificial intelligence are replacing traditional roles of culture and religions in many ways. Once a cultured person or a religious person easily easy identify himself or herself as belonging to the particular group and see the group as an extension of himself/herself. That simple categorization is disintegrating. Artificial intelligence is designed by companies and in addition to the personalizations of the education, culture, and lifestyles, they also promote the cultures and worldviews beneficial to those companies and therefore, except the small number of individuals who do take the burden of thinking for themselves, the majority of people let AI think for them. 


Saturday, March 31, 2018

Malala and the Cultural Struggles Between Large and Peripheral Cities

I planned to wake up, early. I woke up at 3 a.m. I had still time to get up, so I checked my social news feed. There were fierce battles between the two opposing camps over the return of Malala. In fact, it was amusing like the WWE wrestling shows than serious debates. Rationalizations, sarcasm and faking of news to undermine the opponent point of views were at their best, something I could rarely find in the traditional news outlets (except in the comment sections 😜). Besides, worrying about Malala's safety (although, being an international celebrity she has better security, now), I couldn't resist thinking that despite all the shortcomings, the original confusions and emotions expressed with  broken language and poor illustrations in social media were more capable in capturing the interests of the visitors than what professional reporters try to achieve with the professional maskings of their reports (professional reporters still have the advantage of higher confidence levels 😑). Anyhow, what I understood from all the debates were that Malala as a person was not the concern. The concern was the shift of cultural leadership from big seats of power like Lahore, Karachi, and Islamabad to the peripheral cities. This is now a continuous process. Persons who manage to go outside the circle of the big cities are seen as anomalies (In popular culture, for example, the break out of the artists to outside world (particularly Bollywood) were not welcomed as such, too).

To outside world, Malala was seen as a girl who had stood for the education of girls (an anti-Taliban voice, to sum up). But I surprised noticing that many of those who opposed Malala were not conservatives (there were highly educated women, too).

Before going further, I want to emphasize that the cultural war between big cities and peripheral cities are not just limited to Pakistan. It's a regional phenomenon. In neighboring Afghanistan, this battle is the fiercest. The like battles  (when become imbalanced by foreign interferences) have torn apart countries like Iraq, Libya, Syria, Yemen, and Bahrain. I'm expecting it in Saudi Arabia too if the country continues to open up in a zigzag manner (the way she is going these days). Once the peripheral cities/populations find themselves culturally compatible with traditional cultural leaders of the country, then the culture war will become visible and the desperate attempts of the traditional cultural leaders to maintain their status quo will turn into open cultural battles. (Please see the additional note at the end of the knol)

Back to the story:

While reading the arguments, I fell back to sleep, and dreamt:

Children were picking sellable items among garbage pile in the garbage-tub (The municipality used to build brick-walled-garbage-dumping-sites in the neighborhood that were called garbage-tubs). A garbage truck dumped its load on the garbage picking children. I didn't see what happened to other children but I saw a girl struggling to get out the pile of the garbage. The pile of garbage was heavy, stinking and suffocating. She was about to give up when she felt something hit her head. It was the bucket of an excavator. She cried in pain and grabbed firmly the bucket. The excavator pulled her out of garbage and lifted her in the air. She cried for help and the spectators cheered and applauded her. She collected herself and felt like a heroine.

I don't see any patterns in the dreams and do not believe in the interpretations. But nonetheless, it was an amusing dream that very likely had some connections with the current divide on a girl from a periphery area that has become a cultural symbol. And that symbolic representation has made her a target practice of the politico-cultural struggles between metropolitan and peripheral cities.


Additional Note:

                         With the exception of East Asia (which somehow managed to transition to modern world in more organized manner, if not linearly), the rest of Asia has maintained its historical ethno-cultural identities. Historically, while the boundaries of the kingdoms shifted, the boundaries of ethno-cultural identities remained mostly unchanged. The game of power was played by changes of alliances between those identities. The imposition of nation states based on the culture of the majority population has pushed the smaller cultural identities into the peripheries. It's slowly changing (Enriched by global cultural influences, particularly Western cultures and empowered by the digital communications, the peripheral cultures are reinventing their identities. I may go in more details in a future knol on the issue) and that's creating lots of confusions and chaos. Controversial individuals and events are not all linked to this phenomenon. The Syrian experience has made people even more sensitive and the reactions to the controversial individuals and events were taken more seriously (as existential threats) now than any time before.