Tis all a Chequer-board of nights and days
Where Destiny with men for Pieces plays:
Hither and thither moves, and mates,and slays,
And one by one back in the closet lays.
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.
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, 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.
के ये जो शोर मचा है गलियों में, इस भोर,
ये जो जुलूस निकला है खूनियों का घनघोर ,
ये जो चहक है चीखों की-कच्छ के वीराने को भेदती,
किसने छेड़ी ये राग,
किसने थामी इस बार,
कठ्पुतलियों की डोर?
I’m a programmer and all these seemingly philosophical questions “does stuff exist when nobody looks at it?” and “does particle obtain real properties only when we measure them?” really, I mean REALLY remind me of how computer 3D game engines work. In a multiplayer 3D game you have a server which stores game world data and rules. These are essentially just numeric values for some properties of game stuff. Server DOES NOT render any stuff and it even does not process physics rules in game regions when nobody has been logged in. Still, it might run some game logic rules to ensure that some game character properties change even when nobody is looking at them, e.g. aging of game characters, earning money from game deposits in game banks etc. When somebody logs in, fun begins. On the player’s computer a client program gets launched. It downloads deterministic data from the server (“this house should be here because it was there last time, and we want a consistent game not some crazy world, right?”) and resources (textures, 3D models etc.). But if we had enough powerful computers, the client could theoretically generate everything from some “game stuff particles” or using some mathematical functions. Actually, there have been some games with so called procedural graphics but they were pain in the ass to create, thus mainstream game engines prefer to do it the old way with pre-created 3D stuff. So, I’ve logged in and I’m in the game world now. Does all the stuff in the world have to be created and rendered for me? Ohh, that would be such a heavy task for my computer to handle. It’s much easier to cheat and render only the stuff that I look at. Don’t understand me wrong – the stuff I don’t see does not disappear, it still exists in the informational level on the server, it just isn’t rendered for the observer. Actually, in some games if you move through the game world too fast, you might notice that some suff just pops right in front of your eyes – houses, trees. That’s because of lazy-loading issues – the stuff gets loaded only at the last moment when you request it, and sometimes it might be too late. Blame game engine designers for that. Or maybe you need a faster computer. Now let’s get deeper into this. There is one more exciting thing. The game stuff has multiple levels – so called levels-of-detail. It reminds me the real world with molecules, atoms and subatomic particles. If you are far from some guy in the game, a simplified model of the guy is rendered for you to preserve computer resources. For example, the model might be such that the guy has no nose and no lips, but you don’t care – you are far from him and for you the guy seems real and OK. When you come closer, your application thinks – oh, he’s dangerously close. “I should load the next level-of-detail now – the one with nose and lips and brows and nice smooth skin”. Does it remind anything quantum to you? No? Then let’s pretend, that you can somehow cheat the game and get real close the very last level-of-detail, closer than developers have expected. You look at someone’s skin. It’s blurry and uncertain like an interference pattern. Yeah, the difference from the quantum world is that in a 3D game the skin texture still has predefined pixels, although they are blurred. But let’s pretend that we have a game which creates stuff from particles instead of pre-created models, and you’ve reached the last level-of-details through some cheating (hacked in-game microscope maybe?). The game would be very reluctant to render any real properties – it would still try to be uncertain and blurry to preserve computing resources, and only if you do some tricky experiments which could potentially put the game in the danger of inconsistency, then the game engine would give up and render the requested level-of-detail for you. Essentially, here’s how a “quantum game engine” would work with its level-of-details. “Oh, man, you were not supposed to see atoms of the skin of this guy. I don’t even know where the electron you asked for is located exactly. Hmm, ok, I’ll launch my random generator and adjust some probabilities to make it seem more real but I won’t do in-depth calculations … here you go, have an electron and shut up. What? You are tearing this electron out of the guy’s nose and trying to run it through slits? Fine. I said, I don’t know where this electron was and how exactly should it behave in this situation, so maybe it will go through that slit… or not. Here you go, an interference pattern. What now? Oh, you put that detector in there… now I have to calculate the exact position of this particle. But don’t even ask for other properties, I don’t have time for that… Oh no. You’ve got the quantum eraser. But I’m still doing my lazy loading. I won’t calculate properties of the particle if I can do just fine without them. If you think you erased a property before looking at the results, then you’re wrong – I didn’t even calculate the property, so you actually did not have anything to “erase”. Oh, you think you did a measurement because the detector was turned on? Ha! The detector is made of the game stuff so I don’t have to calculate its actions if you “erase” the results before acknowledging them, got it? And don’t even think about retrocausality – I don’t have time for time paradoxes, and as I said, I didn’t somehow magically change the property back in time, the property just didn’t have any value at that point but I pretended that it did because you forced me to do so with your experiments. What about quantum entanglement? I call it lazy-loading or load-on-demand. When Alice requests a property, I’ll render it, and also render it for Bob to make the results as consistent as possible, but don’t be surprised if it doesn’t turn out as you’d expect – as I said, I’ll render only the property you asked for and no other properties – I’m trying to efficient with my calculation resources here. Space? Information moving faster than the speed of light? Comon, location is just a number, I can change a property of a particle no matter how far it is. This is how I work at this level.” Ok, enough from me, I guess you got the idea – I’m a fan of some simulation theory 😀 I’ve heard about digital physics by Nick Bostrom and Ed Fredkin but I’m not sure if they are talking about the same things as I did.
There is one more thing which is somewhat hard to conceptually grasp at first, and I admit, for me also it was hard until I learned to think about information as being primary and all physical being secondary. So, it is not that your hand disappears when nobody is watching it. You have to take into account not only watching but also any other perception and awareness of your hand or any other physical object. Thus, when you are not watching, it is only visual part of information which is no more being rendered. You still receive all the other information aspects about your hand – touch, weight, smell. In the “lazy rendering” reality, your hand does not consist of molecules as long as you don’t take a microscope to find a molecule – only at that moment molecules are rendered. If someone robs a bank, then the robber will know it, hence the information about the robbery will get fixed into our physical world, and thus the money will be gone from the bank. But let’s say, the robber managed to rob a bank and no-one knew about it, but then on his way home his car exploded and everything burned down. So from that moment, there is no more any source of conscious observer in our reality, who knew that there was robbery. Now the simulation is free to do as it wishes – to restore the amount of money in the bank as if robbery never happened or to leave it as it is now. Another way to think about is as you think about dreams. Consider our reality to be a shared, highly stabilized but still dream-like. If you have experienced vivid dreams – or even lucid, controllable dreams – you will know that in a dream things seem to materialize from nowhere as soon as you think about them and go away as soon as you forget. In a dream you might think about a library and suddenly it will “materialize” around you. You can take a book and open it, and you’ll see how the text in the book is being created on the fly. As dreaming consciousness is very confused, most probably the text in the book will change each time you look at it. It’s as if your subconscious “dream machine” is some kind of “probability computer” which computes what is the probability for you to see some specific text, based on multiple probability variables – your current emotions, your past experience. And this dream book does not consist of atoms. It’s easy to accept this idea, because we intuitively know that dreams are just illusion, so it is logically that there exists only what we see (and don’t forget other sensory inputs – feel, touch, hear, smell, taste) but everything else does not exist. But imagine, that in your dream you have a super microscope (everything is possible in dreams) which is capable of showing you atoms of the book. When you use this microscope, your subconscious “dream machine” will be forced to create and show you the atoms of the book because you really expected them to see there, and that’s how dream mechanics work – it cannot avoid creating information which you expect to receive. So, now you have a bunch of dream atoms in front of your eyes. But does that mean the dream book always really consists of dream atoms? Of course not. It consists of atoms only when you – the only observer of your dream – expect to experience the atoms. The more stable is your consciousness during the dream, the more stable will be the world, but at some point your consciousness will take over and the dream will fade away and you’ll wake up in the real world where things are real and consist of real atoms even when nobody is looking (touching, listening, smelling) them. But is this world that real? Is there even possible to prove that it’s not real if it tries to match your (and millions of other people) expectations every second, but everything beyond these expectations is in some virtual probability state? Still, there is this disturbing question – if our real world is capable to pretend to be so real, then why it fails to do so in atomic level? Maybe it’s so on purpose, to give us a chance to think about such crazy ideas. But maybe it’s some limitation of the “reality computer” and it starts to give up on such low scale. It’s like texture blur and pixelation in old games – everything looks nice from a distance, but if you happen to move really close – closer than the game developer intended – you’ll see textures getting blurry and pixelated. Maybe atoms are pixels of our physical part of reality, but as they are being rendered on the fly (thing about procedural content generation in games), they are mostly remaining in probability states unless explicitly asked to become more real.
The problem with the simulation theory is “Pi”. How would a finite simulator include an infinite irrational number in it. as long as we do not ask the simulation to retrieve X digits of Pi ( where X is larger than the capabilities of the simulator itself), we are good. But to reach that limit we would have to create our own calculator that reaches at least the power of the “reality calculator” itself. I guess, it should be impossible to do that – the number of available digits of Pi in the “reality calculator” might be that large that we would need to use all the physical matter in the Universe to store the previously calculated digits, which means that we ourselves should also go extinct (because we’d have to use our own atoms to store the calculation results), in which case the “reality calculator” could say: “Finally, I can stop calculating that stupid Pi because the conscious observers who requested it have gone for good. Request for Pi was aborted.”
Growing individualism is a sign of growth in the modern world. An oversized house, an opulent SUV in city traffic, a taste of art different from all other. Individualism signifies a social order which allows diversity to exist under a common rule of law. A big feat for humankind. What is often forgotten in the victory ballads of individualism, however, is the forced slavery to the idea of “good life” it creates.
In an unforgiving world where your mistakes define you, individualism has left a burgeoning death toll in its wake. While those at top tout the merits of self-ism, the race to pinnacle leaves many exhausted. The promised “good-life” has a dark underbelly that never surfaces in the glittery halls of media. It is sometimes written in the biographies of suicidal comics, the loner ascetics that chased the mirage. Sooner or later, the race of individualism either breaks down the individual or makes him the cause of disenchantment for thousands.
Humans society did not progress on the war cry of the irrational few. The movements, reforms and revolutions that brought us to the present are witness to countless men and women of valour who believed in an idea more than a person. Gandhi was not bigger than his cause, nor was Krishna greater than his teachings. Historians may have deified personalities for convenience of intellectual preaching and embedded it in the minds of the generations to come, the will of the people and their devotion to the idea always trumps the leader. The leader then, is just a symbol of the public will. He derives power from them. The charisma he commands is a reflection of the brightness that glows through society at such times.
Ours is a movement without leaders, without a name and without a holy book. The values of our people shine through the eyes of each of our members. The world will see a new dawn- a world imagined by many but one that existed never before.