Month: August 2019
The BADKISMATI of being Pakistan
The presidential order of August 5 abrogating article 370 of the constitution has been called many things. Large masses of Indians have heralded it as a correction of a historical wrong. Some have tried to advice caution on such unilateral ‘adventurism’. Others have called it a black day in Indian democracy. Across the border, the voices have been loud but empty. The sound and fury, although clearly pain-filled, has been one of a hurt child too weak to take revenge. Reactions from their political leaders, prime-minister and media have been calculated and cautionary. Although the defence and religious mouthpieces have attempted to invigorate the people with fierce statements, the official line from ISPR has been much more reserved. The statement released by them has been ambiguous and curtailed.
“Pakistan Army firmly stands by the Kashmiris in their just struggle to the very end. We are prepared and shall go to any extent to fulfill our obligations in this regard”
Pakistan today is in a very weak position on most fronts- internal and external. Its “evergreen friendship” with China has been under stress because of a climate change event called CPEC. Economy has been sluggish for years and loans from IMF have put major restrictions on its Jehadi options against India. Besides, for almost two decades now, the world opinion of Pakistan has been in a nosedive. It has few listeners besides the opportunist countries waiting to reap huge rewards for tiniest help offered- China and USA being clear frontrunner in the list aside from Saudi Arabia and other gulf nations. Given its current position, Pakistan indeed is a sorry state- through and through. The badkismatiof the situation for Pakistan is not, however, in realisation of this reality but the internalisation and incessant repetition of it.
The first reactions from leadership of Pakistan after the presentation of the bill in RajyaSabha were understandably delayed. They were taken by surprise as was much of the world. Apart from the few unverified rumours circulating the web for two days prior to announcement, there was little to speculate for the public. Even the Indian media, which is generally aware of the realties (but more often than not chooses to keep mum) was actively denouncing any such rumours.
The discussions in joint sessions called by Pakistan bordered on helplessness. While Imran Khan was attacked by the opposition on being caught sleeping, there was a clear attempt by the opposition to give an image of a united political opposition. Criticisms were passive in language and emotional rather than rational in appeal. All except Miriam Nawaz Sharif have refrained from openly criticizing Imran Khan and his party. In the 11 months he has been in power, there were too many structural problems internally for him to focus on complex issues such as Kashmir.
Mirroring its leadership, most rational media outlets have spoken cautiously on the issue. Military options are clearly out of the window for Pakistan given its precarious internal situations and lack of global support. In the attempts to placate the masses, some vernacular press and tv shows have brought out well known war mongers to feed and fulfil hurt egos of the people. Much of their rhetoric centres around an awakening of Jehadi armed struggle and irrational insistence on use of Nuclear Weapon. While it is well understood that there is little weight attached to their words, they serve the military recruitments high and Rawalpindi rewards these touts happily. It should be noted that no public processions have been carried out by the Jehadi outlets under a banner – either in PoK or rest of Pakistan. Such processions were often seen in the paston slightest of trouble in Kashmir often instigated by Pakistan sponsored Jehadis to keep the pot boiling.
All quarters of Pakistan have insisted on the “badkismati” of its existence. They have blamed the past in as many ways it could find. Starting their history with Indus Valley Civilization and linking it to Islam up to modern age, their attempt to construct a chain of bad luck has been futile and self-defeating. The infighting between civil and military establishment has evaluated the reasons for this ill-fated birth from both perspectives. A relatively open society has been vocal while suffering under this misfortune of being Pakistan. The solution out of misery, however, is not in being historians of ill-judgement but in actors of the moment. The constitutional amendments on Kashmir are here to stay and no future Indian government will be adventurous enough to reverse the stance. People of Kashmir and Pakistan have little option but to accept the Indian position and seek out favourable terms for frictionless integration with rest of India. Pakistan’s best options lie in looking within its borders and getting its house in order. Ending Jehadi schools (atleast in public presence and recruitment) has been a positive start, but much remains on the economic and social front. Coming to a world stage of equals where its voice could be heard and trusted will be a long and difficult journey. But that’s the only option that Pakistan has right now.
AI and its promises
Recent marches in technology with great focus on cloud computing has brought AI to the market forefront. Every organisation appears eager to portray itself as AI ready and AI friendly. Buzz words are thrown around as a gimmick to attract potential customer. Such was my experience from a recent conference titled “Customer For Life” organised by The Economic Time.
The conversations around AI seem to be full of positivity and energy. Countless benefits of a godlike benign, thinking machine are recounted at every opportunity to sell. The problem with the current discourse is that most people talking about AI are managers and salespersons who know little about the underlying technology. With the sellable positives getting the limelight and start-status, the unresolved questions of ethics and social change are left in the backburner- delegated to people in academia to solve.
The situation and mass belief system of worshiping AI can be described as “irrational exuberance” as used by Bob Schiller in reference to the subprime crisis of 2008. The over enthusiasm of acolytes deifies questionable and unethical practices. While Schiller expanded on the term in a narrower financial domain, the conduct of human mind in groups has been shown to exhibit irrationality in almost every bubble the world has seen. The questions that need answering today in relation to AI, however, are not ones that we can let organisations or governments decide. The best case scenario would be a public debate in a world where every citizen is a subject expert. This world, however, comprises people from all walks of life. And to complicate matters exponentially- this world is in the middle of a full scale crisis. Overpopulation has led to resource crunch and massive stress on the environment. People today are desperately looking for immediate solution and will follow any cult (religious or scientific) to dispel such fears for borrowed peace of mind.
Enter AI. An all-powerful mind that can outsmart all of smartest people that ever walked the earth-Combined. Ray Kurzweil in his book titled “The singularity is Near” talked about current times been a knee of a exponential growth curve of intelligence. He argues that while our past has seen a linear growth in technology, once silicon intelligence gains the critical mass, the world will see levels of growth unheard or unimagined in the past. While projections of the future are always riddled with uncertainty, the past 20 years have indeed given us much to project with. Even without new advances in AI, present ML techniques have started giving reliable insights given enough data. The scale of data on the cloud has increased massively- thanks to the cost savings the cloud offers. Gargantuan datacentre with embedded tools for AI, data mining and easy deploy for every new patch are already a reality. There appears no reason for this to slow down in near future.
If the AI God , let’s say, is “switched ON” one day, it can be fed enough data to grow in size in relatively short amount of time. In December 2018, Deepmind announced that its AlphaZero was capable of learning every game by itself and perform better than all human players in each. As an example, AlphaZero defeated Stockfish, the smartest Chess playing engine (which itself is smarter than any human player) by learning the game for just 4 hours. This feat is especially remarkable because the machine achieved it without feeding in any initial opening moves or configurations into the algorithm. Most chess engines rely on humans to hardcode the opening books and configurations since the initial possibilities are too diverse . To put it into perspective- AlphaZero would have been able to defeat Kasprov very easily in just 4 hours after it knew what “Chess” and its rules were. That’s 35 years of a great human mind being outsmarted by 4 hours of a computer mind. Now imagine all games and puzzles that you ever played and realize that AlphaZero can do it better than anyone in the world in a matter of minutes or hours at max.
The other school on AI and its future refuses to accept that consciousness can be derived merely from information processing. Roger Penrose argued long back in his book Emperor’s New Mind about the quantum nature of the brain and how consciousness seems to arise out of quantum interactions of the nervous system. While work on Quantum Computers is showing progress and IBM is geared towards making quantum computer susable in some years, most of what is known about AI doesn’t directly transfer to quantum realm. Present day AI is focused on information processing to generate intelligence. If the nature of consciousness, however, turns out to be biological and not logical, it may turn out that we have been beating around the wrong bush. Chirstof Koch known for his work on neurology believes that consciousness, like mass, is fundamental to the universe. He argues that simulating consciousness on silicon and passing the turing test is much different than experiencing it first hand. If consciousness does turn out to be biological or chemical, it could be a matter of relief to humans. The knowledge that the smartest being on earth is not sentient still doesn’t dethrone humans from exalted position of “experiencing” things.
While the debate on consciousness remains unresolved- as do many questions in AI- it seems clear that the path already taken will lead to major changes in the world in next 100 years. The smart phone today is getting us ready for that future- both by fetching behavioural data from us and sending back easy result. Technology is already granting us great dividends to the point that 50 years ago, present levels of prosperity, luxury and interconnectedness would have been unimaginable. The promises of AI are too great and its worshipers too many. The cult behaviour of the primal human brain is easily seen amongst all of us. If an AI God/Master is offered to such society, it may well be that blind following will grow around it. There is high chance then that there may be no going back once we do invent a super-intelligent machine there won’t be any going back- not just because of dependency but also the primal need for subjugation of the human mind.
Ray Kurzweil had a positive outlook towards AI in his book where he imagined a universe where intelligence radiates out of the solar-system and saturates all of matter. While that makes us appear to be the pioneer species in a desolate universe, it is also the best case scenario. Anyone who has dealt with uncertainty understands how lucrative and fatal best-case scenarios are. The questions that AI raises about ethics need to be answered by society through effortful and scientific grit. The people must study and understand the principles that govern present day technology and the trade-off between future promises and risks.
जो आज को मोड कर फिर कल बना दूँ,
बहती नदिया चली जिस छोर,
विपरीत उसके बहाव चला दूँ,
टूटे तारों को फिर सेजोड़,
नक्षत्र मंडली आबाद करा दूँ,
तो भी क्या है.
चल पड़ी जिस ओर समय की राह,
मन, मंजिल, राही भी चले हैं उसी प्रवाह,
मुरझाये पत्तों से खिला बागान,
क्यों रूखे मन को लुभाएगा,
विज्ञान का यह समय-यंत्र,
क्यों बीते कल को वापस लाएगा.
उम्र बीती है,
संगणक बक्से का कोई खेल नहीं है,
यादों की बरिश की झंकार,
तूफ़ान की गरज बन चुकी है,
बटन दबाते फिर हो जाए स्टार्ट,
कल और आज का ऐसा मेल नहीं है.
इस मार्ग के अनुरक्षक तुम राही,
तम, ताप, वर्षा, शिशिर हैं सहचर,
लिखे पन्नों पर सूख चुकी है सियाही,
नये पृष्ठ पर नयी कल्पना साकार करो,
जो गरजे बादल तुम पर,
तुम भी भीषण हुंकार भरो.
हर साल जलती होली की जय-जयकार करो,
काल की रचना के हर पल का त्यौहार करो,
हर चुनौती पर हंस कर गहरी सांस भरो,
रात के दृष्ट अँधेरे का अपने तेज से नाश करो,
समय के वेग से तेज अपनी धार करो,
जीवन के उआल्स से मृत्यु को लाचार करो.
On an Overcast Monday Evening
On an overcast Monday evening, the eagle perched disquieted on the corner of an edge of structural assembly hanger. Some paces away, in a miniature glen within the factory premise, a noisy horde of crows alarmingly cawed to wade off the eagle. The dense canopy of treetops where these crows now hearteningly made ruckus was a conflux of many trees streaming towards the sky and patching the steel blue with different shades of green and brown. It had been raining intermittently for past 4 days. Little sunshine had reached the floor. Much of its quarry had kept to the bills and holes awaiting the soils to dry up.
The eagle was hungry and tired of the long wait. Wet days of past had not been suitable for flight. When the first spell of monsoon started, he was unprepared and in the open- taking the hit of heavy unrestricted rains. Itwas as unprepared as last yearand the year before that. Memory was not a gift that nature chose to grant to the eagle. The perturbed crows tried to unhinge the branches they sat on with swaying motions. The group was large enough and evening sun too low for him to penetrate the leafy fortress. Besides, the crows had inherited a sharp brain and group learning. His dexterity and hunger-fuelled will might have been a match for their brain on a clear day, but the tired and cold body was too weak on this quickly descending evening.
The previous day, being a Sunday, had brought little commotion on the streets. Usually, the eagle liked his weekends. It was a relief from sudden noises of hammer striking anvils and trucks starting. However, food was in shortage on Sunday. The humans brought food- some for him and some for his hunt. The rats and squirrels that feasted on left around food were easy prey for his sharp eyes and might of airpower. On many occasions he had tried to raise the issue of food provisioning for the weekends with the Committee of Members that presided over all factory related matters. His polite screeches in front of the HR office were wordlessly ignored. It was clear that there was a communication barrier between management and employees. With decreasing number of eagles, the workload of keeping premises pest free had increased substantially. In the heydays of hunting, he remembered plenty of eagles sharing the sky and feasting on abundant supply of rats. Competition was little and they had started forming community feelings. Culture, after all, is a product of comfort.
The new factory shops coming up around the campus had reduced forest cover. Most of snake population had been culled. Initially it had elicited an exciting response from much of eagles. The snakes were competitive in hunt for rats and outnumbered them greatly. Gestation periods and easy conditions to lay eggs on ground gave them biological superiority over the eagles. Gradually, most eagles found the pastures unreliable and unsustainable and left for better grounds. Only two of his kind remained- taking charge of northern and southern half respectively.
He had thought of moving on and a place where his work would be appreciated. While each year the targets were revised and bottomlines cherished, little had trickled down in his bucket. These four days had reminded him of how lonely he had become with each passing season. Tomorrow he would submit his resignation. He was thinking of moving to the suburbs. Guarding the agricultural fields was fulfilling. The diversity of role and freedom to fly high over the endless fields was exhilarating. He would redirect his life and make new companions over clearer skies.