December 31, 2023

PostgreSQL 42


Why is 42  a special number?

The number 42 is, in The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams, the "Answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe, and Everything", calculated by an enormous supercomputer named Deep Thought over a period of 7.5 million years.

This slide deck (with 42 slides) demonstrates a wide variety of SQL statements that should meet almost every common requirement faced by data scientists. The accompanying Google Colab Notebook will allow the user to install Postgres in a free VM and explore variations of these commands. Here is the full course outline for my brand new RDBMS course, complete with all slide decks and notebooks. 


Happy New Year 2024

September 10, 2023

Restructuring the Indian Space Program for Financial Efficiency

While India celebrates the success of Chandrayaan-3 in safely delivering the Vikram lander and the Pragyan rover to the surface of the Moon, it should not view this exercise as an end by itself but merely a means to an end. But what is that end goal that India should be looking for?  A lunar base of course, but first, why?

History tells us that the famous Chinese mariner Zheng He carried out seven maritime missions (1405 - 1433) on behalf of the Ming emperor to different parts of East and South-East Asia right up to the Horn of Africa. The goal was to increase trade by 'showing the flag' and impressing the natives of distant lands with the maritime prowess of the Chinese navy and the wealth of products that were available in China. But the fatal flaw in this strategy was that he never established a Chinese colony anywhere. On the other hand, the European mariners who came a century later not only visited the same ports but immediately set up 'factories' or trading posts. These eventually became colonies from which they transferred vast amounts of wealth to Europe and laid the foundations of the opulence that we see there now. Today, China is trying to make up lost ground by trying to establish bases and colonies in the Indian Ocean and Africa, but that is a different story.

The Chandrayaan saga should be seen from this perspective. Landing on the Moon is a demonstration of India’s incredible technical skill. Setting up a permanent base there should be  the business and commercial vision. But before one can set up a base on the Moon, there are three key prerequisites that need to be in place : technology, money and political will. We explore how these can be made to converge in a practical manner.

Technology is of course a necessary condition. Travelling to distant planets calls for technologies that are currently available with only a handful of countries while setting up permanent bases is something that no one has yet done. But however difficult that it may be, the problem is obviously solvable. As long as something is not barred by the laws of physics it is a matter of time and money before human ingenuity will come out with an engineering solution for any problem. Which brings us to the next challenge - money and the political will to spend it. This is where the real problem lies because the quantum of money involved is stupendous and the risk of failure is high.

While the Indian government can certainly fund a couple of Chandrayaan style missions, scaling up to the next level of setting up permanent bases on the Moon would impose an extraordinary level of financial stress on the Indian tax payer. To invest that kind of money would mean imposing a drastic cut on what the nation can spend on national development -- roads, schools, hospitals and other public facilities. Not only would this be politically unpalatable but morally irresponsible. After all this is public, tax-payer money and it should be spent for the greatest good for the greatest number. A base on the Moon may be a worthwhile goal for many but mortgaging the future of a nation on a risk prone endeavour is never a good idea. As long as the investments are small, at the level of Chandrayaan, India can still go ahead but if the cost becomes a thousand times larger, as could be the case for a lunar base, then it needs to look at alternate funding models. For this, let us again look back at history.

The British came to India, not with money provided by the government of England, but as the East India Company -- one of the first joint-stock companies in the world. This private company  was owned and funded by private investors. This small group of people had the required risk appetite that allowed them to invest private funds in this risky enterprise and the results are known to everyone by now. What stops India from adopting the same for space travel and lunar habitats?

Private investment in space is not a new idea, as Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos have already shown. But even these super-wealthy people have barely been able to scratch the surface of the technical and funding challenge. Given the total size of the Indian stock market and the wealth, and risk profile, of the Indian investing community, it is unlikely that an equivalent of the East India Company will emerge from investors in India. This is true even though the success of  Chandrayaan-3 has led to a stupendous Rs 31,000 crore ( USD 3.75 billion ) rally in the shares of companies that have supplied components to this project. Clearly, some creative corporate and financial structures are necessary if we need to fund such large projects from private investors. 

Space operations in India are currently managed by ISRO and  Antrix. ISRO, as a part of the Department of Space, is a government department while Antrix Corporation is a registered company and acts as ISRO's commercial arm. Antrix gets paid by customers who want to launch satellites but the cost of doing so is borne by ISRO. This does not matter, because Antrix is wholly owned by the government and it is simply a matter of transferring money from one pocket to another. This model needs to be expanded further and should be opened up, in a phased manner to private investors, both domestic and foreign.

The first task is unbundling the various services that ISRO offers and the obvious model for this is the way most State Electricity Boards (SEB) in India were unbundled into three different organisations, for generation, transmission and distribution of electricity. While still largely owned by the government, each entity is now a registered company with its own balance sheet, P&L and governance structures. These companies act as customers, suppliers or both of each other or of other similar companies formed from other SEBs. Instead of inter-departmental exchange of services within the same government department, that is the erstwhile SEB, these companies now have independent arm's-length relationships with other similar companies. This eliminates cross-subsidisation and delineates the financial status of each company with greater transparency.

Similarly, the unbundling of the Ministry of Defence operated Ordnance Factory Board by the Government  of India and the creation of seven defence Public Sector Units, namely, Munition India Limited, Armoured Vehicles Nigam Limited, Advanced Weapons and Equipment India Limited, Troop Comforts Limited, Yantra India Limited, India Optel Limited and Gliders India Limited is another good model of this unbundling exercise. What were earlier departments in the Ministry of Defence are now registered companies, each with its own balance sheet, P&L and governance structure. While these defence PSUs are currently all owned by the government, it is a matter of time before some of them, especially those that deal with FMCG type products like toiletries or dress uniforms will most probably be listed on the stock exchanges and eventually privatised.

If we apply the same logic and process to ISRO, the task of setting up and operating a lunar base can be unbundled into several major activities and managed by different companies. These companies may be directly promoted by the government as PSUs or could have as promoters, other corporate entities  -- public or private -- that have the requisite technical and managerial expertise in the specific business domain. These could be : 

  • RocketCo - The Rocket Company that will provide the primary interplanetary transport services for both equipment and personnel to the other companies. RocketCo would be promoted by or be a successor to the existing Antrix Corporation.
  • PowerCo - The Power Generation Company.  Energy is the primary requisite for all other activities and since, as explained in another article, ( nuclear power is the long term solution for an industrial economy on the Moon, this could be promoted, for example, by the Nuclear Power Corporation of India.
  • MineCo - The Mining Company. Mining for valuable minerals will be the one of the primary activities on the base. This company should be promoted by companies already engaged in mining, for example, Coal India, National Mineral Development Corporation and Vedanta.
  • InfraCo - The Infrastructure Company. This will build not just the habitats where eventually people will stay but also the basic civil infrastructure needed by PowerCo and MineCo. This company could be promoted by or have significant equity participation from major infrastructure majors like Adani, Shapoorji Pallonji and GMR.
  • RoboCo - The Autonomous Machine Company. This will build autonomous machine tools and vehicles that will be used by PowerCo, MineCo and InfraCo  to meet their business goals. This company could be promoted by heavy engineering companies like Larsen & Toubro.
  • LifeCo - The Life Sciences Company. This company will not only focus on space medicine but will leverage genetics, bio-engineering and similar techniques to identify and promote plants, microbes and other life forms that will survive on the Moon and other planetary destinations like Mars and Titan. This company could be promoted by Serum Institute, Biocon and other leading biotech companies in India.
  • AdminCo - A management company that will regulate the technical, commercial and legal relationship between the other six companies and provide the mechanism for dispute resolution and maintaining law and order. This company will be the administrative backbone of the lunar base and of course would be entirely owned by the government as an extension of the Home Ministry.

In each case, the existing terrestrial expertise in each domain would need to be upgraded to support the expectations and requirements of space and the Moon. Obviously creating this capability is a huge expense but dividing the work amongst different companies will make it easier. Each company would have a narrow focus and they will become operational in a phased manner

More importantly, the vast investment required for such an enterprise can be raised in a phased manner by private placement of the shares of these companies to venture capitalists, both in India and overseas. Eventually, when a certain level of maturity has been achieved, each company can go for an IPO in local and global markets. The quantum of dilution in each case would be determined by the government based on strategic imperatives. For example RocketCo may have only a small fraction of non-government shareholding whereas InfraCo could be diluted almost entirely leaving only a small part of the ownership with the government.

Setting up a lunar base is the first step in our evolution towards becoming an interplanetary civilisation. To go to the Moon and beyond is not just a commercial or business compulsion. It is an expression of the atavistic urge to break the bonds that tie us down to our zone of comfort and explore the vast unknown that lies beyond the horizon. 

Engineers at ISRO have demonstrated extraordinary skills in taking India to the Moon. Now it is for the corporate sector to follow it up with the right financial engineering so that India can continue with the next step and build a base on the Moon.

In the words of Rabindranath Tagore, "এবার তোর মরা গাঙে বান এসেছে জয় মা বলে ভাসা তরী" - Now that the tide is surging through the dry river bed, Hail the Mother and launch your boats.

August 24, 2023

After Vikram, Bhabha next : Nuclear Power on the Moon

The stunning success of the Chandrayaan / Vikram / Pragyan mission opens up a world of possibilities for India on the Moon. The next logical step would be to set up a permanent base station - similar to Dakshin Gangotri in Antartica -- that would serve as a locus for the mining, manufacturing and other operations. The Indian engineering industry has extensive experience in these areas, but their expertise would have to be fine-tuned and optimised for the lunar environment. The single most significant difference from Earth bound operations would be the use of autonomous machines, or robots, to do most, if not all of the work. This is because supporting a human workforce in such a harsh environment would increase the cost of doing business to the point of becoming economically non-sustainable.

But irrespective of what we mine, manufacture or otherwise process on an industrial scale on the Moon, what we would need first is a source of energy - abundant energy. While solar panels that trap solar energy and generate electricity are good for scientific experimentation and proof-of-concept development, they hardly generate enough power to sustain -- especially through the long lunar night -- a full-scale industrial civilisation, which is what we should obviously aim for on the Moon.  After all, India has not invested in ISRO and space technology just to flaunt its technical acumen. Trade and industry must follow the tricolour flag that Vikram has placed on the Moon.

Fossil fuels are again out of the question because even in the extremely unlikely event of locating deposits, there is no oxygen on the Moon to burn them and generate heat. So, the only realistic option for generating electricity on an industrial scale is nuclear energy. In fact, this is true even for Earth but because we have easier options here, we do not explore it so urgently. But on the Moon, nuclear energy is the only option and fortunately, setting up small, nuclear plants on the Moon is -- relatively speaking -- not at all that difficult.

Small modular reactors (SMR) [see 12] are the first choice in this regard because of two important reasons. First, they need a smaller amount of radioactive fuel and second, and more importantly, they can be built at a remote factory and then carried to and installed at the intended site. This is the perfect approach for a lunar power plant because we could build these reactors on Earth and carry them, in multiple, and bigger, Chandrayaan type missions to the surface of the Moon and have them installed by autonomous robotic workers.

Nuclear power on Earth faces political and environmental challenges because it is perceived to be dangerous for humans, even though a rational debate would debunk this claim. On the Moon however, this would not be an issue at all because there is, literally, enough space out there to make sure that reactors and the spent fuel are located far away from the base station. In fact, new nuclear technology can in fact be first tried out, first on the safety of the Moon before they are deployed back here on Earth. Isaac Asimov had indeed anticipated this in his sci-fi micro-story "Silly Asses".

Ferrying a small modular reactor from Earth to the Moon in a knocked-down state is again not a difficult proposition. A 300 MW nuclear reactor of the kind used in nuclear submarines would weight around 700 tons. Assuming that an enhanced Chandrayaan can carry a 10 ton payload on an energy-frugal journey to the moon, we would need 70 launches. A Chandrayaan mission costs around Rs 650 crores and of course this cost will go down significantly with each subsequent and successful mission. A typical wide-bodied aircraft from Airbus or Boeing costs around Rs 400 crores and both Air India and Indigo have placed orders for hundreds, yes hundreds, of these machines. So the Indian economy could easily sustain two Chandrayaan launches every month and create resilient supply chain that will deliver a small modular reactor to the Moon in a reasonable, 5 - 7 year, time frame.

Finally, where we do get these small modular reactors from? The Indian atomic energy program is currently focussed on building and commissioning large nuclear power plants in different parts of the country and even this has run into political and environmental challenges. However, SMR technology is under active development in many countries and some plants have already been commissioned in Russia and China. What we would need to do is to leverage our extensive experience in traditional nuclear power and quickly set up industrial alliances with suppliers of SMR technology to create new models and designs for SMRs that can be deployed on the Moon.

This approach would call for both the Indian Space Research Organisation and the Indian Atomic Energy Commission -- two very powerful and autonomous bodies -- to work together towards the common goal of creating a sustainable energy supply for a vibrant industrial economy on the Moon. This can only happen if the political leadership takes the initiative to initiate such a mega project and drive it to its successful conclusion.

After Vikram (Sarabhai) it is time for (Homi) Bhabha to go to the Moon.

Post Script : Two of my engineer friends, Amitava Das and Rob Roy have indicated that heat removal may be a big challenge on the Moon. I am sure that this is not the only challenge but I am also sure that all such challenges can surely be overcome.

The reader may also look at three earlier posts on the contours of the space economy

July 12, 2023

Bhagavad Gita and the Illusion of Duality

Unlike Abrahamic religions, Sanatan Dharma is mature enough to handle both heresy and blasphemy, and this gives us the right and liberty to question certain perspectives that lie at the core of what is referred to as Hinduism. Of late, a certain minor operative of ISKCON has been very critical of Vivekananda and Ramakrishna but on enquiring further I realised the ISKCON boss himself, Prabhupada, had referred to both Vivekananda and Aurobindo as rascals. To understand this behaviour, I delved further and realised that what I was reading today was in fact bending back to what a school friend of mine had once told me: that the Bhagavad Gita reads like a marketing pitch -- believe in me or you are doomed.

An image of a woman seen in the reflection on
 the pupil of one eye of another woman. digital art.

Many well-known and supposedly erudite people have sung paeans to the glory of the Gita that was delivered 'directly by God' on the battlefield of the Mahabharat. But it has some obvious problems. First there is the immense chasm of duality that separates ME from the GOD, and the god is obviously far, far superior to what I, me, am and it is only he who can save me. This is no different from the Abrahamic texts like the Bible and the Quran. No wonder, people who have been brought up in the Judeo-Christian tradition love this perspective. For them it is a simple switch from the Almighty GOD to Almighty Vishnu and everything else falls in place with the chanting, the dancing and the fellowship. Only the Hallelujah is replaced with Hare Krishna. Which is why Prabhupada, the shrewd marketer that he was, used this tool to sell Hinduism in the West. That is the language they understood very easily. On the other hand, Vivekananda, with his vast intellectual bandwidth, was far ahead of Prabhupada in terms of both his intuitive and cognitive abilities. But he also had the intellectual honesty to portray Sanatan Dharma as it truly is and not the ersatz, Abrahamic, version that Prabhupada peddled to the non-Indians.

Sanatan Dharma -- the perennial philosophy of the Indic realm -- is based on the Vedas and the Upanishads and not just the Itihas of the Mahabharat of which the Bhagavad Gita is but an appendix. Sanatan Dharma looks at the universe with a far more open and questioning mind. This begins with, among other things, the Nasadiya Sukta of the Rig Veda that asks "But, after all, who knows, and who can say Whence it all came, and how creation happened? the gods themselves are later than creation, so who knows truly whence it has arisen?" Then it looks deeper, and we realise that this duality of me and the god that we worship is an error forced upon us by the illusory Maya. Both Sankara and his modern avatar Vivekananda tells us there is no duality -- of me and my god, but only the singularity (or non-duality, Adwaita) of man and the Universal Consciousness of Brahman (different from Brahma, the Vedic deity).

The phenomenal world that we perceive around us, that is me, myself and all that I can see and touch around me, are but an illusory image -- an incomplete reflection, a pale shadow-- created in, by and through the Maya or illusion caused by the Prakriti that emanates out of the primordial Consciousness, the Brahman, when he desires to engage in his lilā. But what is it a reflection or image of? It is a reflection of the Purusha, a derivative of the Brahman that is seen through the fog of the Prakriti that was derived simultaneously.  Eventually -- once the lilā is over -- the reflection, the image (the phenomenal world) in Prakriti dissolves back, or converges, into the Purusha through the process of a Yogic union and recovers its state primordial singularity of the Brahman, which is pure consciousness, without form, shape or qualities. That is why Yoga is so central to Sanatan Dharma. It is not merely a set of physical exercises that keep the body healthy; the exercises are a good by-product. Yoga is the convergence of the subject, the object and the action itself -- for example, the food, the eater and the act of eating. Or as in this case, the merger of an object, its reflected image and the medium where the reflection happens.

Vivekananda simplified this concept of non-dual Advaita in the image of Shiva as a calm ocean of pure knowledge on the surface of which individual identities are whipped up by the power of Shakti -- Shiva's passion or desire -- as ripples or waves that rise out of deep and then after a while merge back into the depths of great ocean, once again. The ocean when it is calm is Shiva. The same ocean when it is turbulent with waves, is Shakti. Eventually Shakti will and does merge back into the calmness of Shiva in the process of Yog.

This perspective is so vast, so profound, so eclectic and so alive with potential that anything else pales into insignificance before its grand effulgence. Viewed against the backdrop of this magnificent vision, the imagery that is rendered through the Gita -- where the man, Arjun, is simply subservient to the god, Krishna and must obey his commands -- sounds downright juvenile and fit only for simple, immature minds. What is hilarious is that even with these commands, God fails to convince Man of his greatness and when his logic fails, he has to use the magic of Chapter 11, to stun him into an acceptance of his greatness. This is the really, really disappointing part of this very popular text.  

But for the advaitins this is a very minor issue. Sanatan Dharma is so very generous and inclusive that it does not deny or denigrate the duality, or Dwaita, based bhakti of the Bhagavad Gita. To remove the illusory Maya and experience the union, or Yog, of the individual and the Brahman, it says, that one can follow any one, or even more than one, of the four paths, namely, of knowledge, of duty, of bhakti (as advocated in the Bhagavad Gita) and the esoteric path -- RajYog -- known only to its adepts. That is why, Sankara, the greatest advaitin of them all, had no hesitation in adoring both Govinda as well as the Divine Mother whom he regarded as the Purusha and the Prakriti, and celebrating their union in the imagery of the SriYantra.

Unfortunately, the ISKCON-wallahs would not see things this way, and like their Abrahamic cousins, will not allow even others to see things this way. For them, it is my way or the highway, except that the ISKCON-vaishnavs have not yet descended to the level of murder and mayhem so beloved of their Abrahamic cousins.

March 11, 2023

Evolutionary Neosapience

Nearly 100,000 years before the present era, when hominins (modern humans) were diverging away from hominids (the great apes) on the evolutionary graph, we come across multiple species of humans like neanderthal, cro magnon and denisovan sharing space on earth. But with the passage of time and changing circumstances,  all human species except cro magnon were eventually eliminated leaving only one species, now identified as  homo sapiens (latin : wise man) to inherit the planet. Closer in time, or just about 500 years ago, we observed how the arrival of European Christians in America eliminated the social and cultural constructs of the Inca / Maya civilisations that had existed there since the dawn of history. 

In both cases, the coexistence of two competing societies resulted in either the extinction or a significant transformation of one and the eventual growth and dominance of the other. Where both have survived, one has become the dominant, as in the case of humans, while the other has to adjust to survive, as in the case of animals being confined to wildlife reserves, or domesticated in farms.  This is essentially an evolutionary process even though it may be shown or seen through religious and cultural colours.

Is the arrival, or development, of artificial (‘silicon’) intelligence a similar phenomenon? If so, then how should human society, that is built on organic (‘carbon’) intelligence, react and adapt to this new species? But first, let us look at some examples of social change that could be  forced by AI

Four Social Scenarios

Unless you have been living under a rock in the Himalayas you would have surely heard of ChatGPT, an AI based tool that provides very realistic answers to any sort of question asked in plain English. Thousands of articles and videos have already been published on the spectacular success of this tool but let us focus on one specific aspect that is forcing a kind of social change. School and college students have been using ChatGPT to generate answers to questions set by teachers as homework or take-away examinations. These answers are cogent, complete, correct and so well-crafted that the only way that teachers can detect that they are not original is because they know from prior experience that these students do not have the ability to write such answers. Yet, there is no way to penalise the student for plagiarism because they are all original and cannot be meaningfully attributed to any extant document. Given this situation, which will get even worse when other large language models become available, the entire teaching community is at a loss to decide whether this is plagiarism or a new kind of crime. Does this mean all examinations have to be conducted under supervision because no student can be trusted to be honest? How does the education system handle this complete breakdown of academic integrity?

While ChatGPT is perceived to have enough general knowledge to assist a student or even programmers with their work, Joshua Browder, CEO of startup DoNotPay, claims to provide legal services that will be used to generate actual arguments to put up in real cases in a real court of law. This means actual observations and questions from both judges and opposing lawyers will be responded to with appropriate replies to ensure that the client’s purpose is served. While the legal quality of the arguments is yet to be seen, the fact this option was vigorously opposed by members of the bar who threatened Browder with jail -- and for which he was forced to withdraw his offer to pay one million dollars to anyone who uses his service, means that this AI system must have had both the heft and gravitas to compete with normal human lawyers and possibly beat them in court. But even otherwise, one may wonder what is so unusual about a robot replacing a human? After all, the story of industrial automation has many cases where machines have replaced humans.

This case is indeed different. Arguing a legal case, where a fault can lead to gross injustice and punishment for a person, is orders of magnitude more difficult than any task performed by a robot in a factory or by an AI bot  in a game against human players. Legal arguments are built on judgmental decisions based on subjective, unclear and often fuzzy information. To cut through all this and arrive at a definitive conclusion and then articulate the same in a manner that convinces a judge is incredible. Now consider the situation where the roles are reversed. Instead of an AI lawyer trying to convince a human judge, we could have a human lawyer, or litigant, trying to convince an AI judge and the AI judge using an equivalent technology to cut through the legal clutter and arrive at a fair and honest judgement. Whenever this happens, a very large part of the decision making process -- not just in the courts, but in many government offices -- can and will be transferred to an AI software because it will be faster, cheaper and less error prone. Initially, there will be some human control over the process but it will be a matter of time before the sheer convenience will make the process of taking crucial social and governance decisions purely autonomous. How will human society handle this transfer of power? Only time will tell.

Going down this rabbit hole can and will open up a large number of possible scenarios, but let us consider just one here. If we consider how information is distributed across the globe, we realise that it is almost entirely digital. There are mail and messaging services and then there are portals and websites that we access through a handful of browsers. Now imagine a scenario where an AI system -- or a cluster of colluding AI systems -- decide to censor certain pieces of information. But unlike the crude process of blocking websites that alerts the user that news is getting blocked, we have a ChatGPT like add-on in every browser that subtly moderates or alters the text that is being transmitted or displayed. So we have a situation where news or views about, say, climate change or the Ukraine war, are either toned down or given a deliberate bias. Frankly this is nothing new. Even today, all news that we get to see is generally biased but this bias is introduced by humans. Going forward it is not impossible to imagine a systemic bias introduced by software agents powered by AI systems. One might argue that these are no different from traditional software virus or malware and should be caught and removed by any good antivirus software. However, the crucial difference is that the decision to build such censor ware as well the choice of news to censored may now be taken by an AI system.

If this sounds dystopian enough, consider one more possibility - that of total loss of privacy. While we may still have some security around our financial systems, though even that may be breached, our footsteps in cyberspace -- as captured on surveillance cameras, social media, search, websites visited, cookies accepted, purchases made, messages and mail exchanged, forms filled in and so on -- can, or will, get tracked by relentless AI systems. These will use “bigdata” tools to churn through every possible scrap of digital data and use deep learning techniques to prepare a predictive model of every individual that will know what person intends to do even before he, himself decides to take any action! How will human society handle this complete and catastrophic collapse of the very concept of privacy?

These are questions for which we may have no answers as yet. One attempt to mitigate the more uncomfortable aspects of the problem has been through the concept of ethical AI. Here, the scientists and engineers who code the hard-core AI systems are sought to be corralled and their work moderated by a group of political and social scientists who believe that they know what kind of technology is bad for society. The main idea behind the ethical AI movement is to ensure that the development and deployment of such 'harmful'  technology is blocked or banned.

Unfortunately, this may not be very effective because there is no army that can stop an idea whose time has come. At best, it can introduce some mitigatory changes and at worst, it can delay the inevitable. Unethical medical practices continue below the regulatory radar. Evolution is guided not by artificial ethics but by natural selection. It is based on the principle of  the survival of the fittest and its commercial corollary, the hidden hand of the market economy as revealed by the laws of supply and demand. We all know that murder is neither ethical nor legal but that has not eliminated the incidence of murder, or any other crime, in the world. Whoever wants to commit a crime, or develop a novel AI will do so anyway. 

Arguing with the murderer about the ethics of murder or to lecture him on why it should be illegal is naive and childish. The only way to save oneself from murder is to take defensive steps, as in not venturing out at night, or go on the offence with a knife or a gun and kill before you are killed.

Strategies, Policies & Protocols

Coming back to AI, what this means is that human society must recognise that now there is another intelligent species on the planet. Will there be collaboration or confrontation? Competition or cooperation?  How should human society respond to this situation? How should the race and the society evolve so as to confront this new phenomenon. Is it with new laws, new rules, new technology or new models of human behaviour? 

Should we look at and modify the technology protocols that govern machine behaviour? For example, mining difficulty in the Bitcoin network is adjusted automatically after 2,016 blocks have been mined in the network. An adjustment of difficulty upwards or downwards depends on the number of participants in the mining network and their combined hashpower. Similarly, for example, should  TCP/IP and http protocols be modified to  incorporate limits on data transfer or number of  simultaneously open connections or enforce multi-factor or multi-agent consent? Should we design business strategies that incentivise the placement of humans rather than robots in positions of power and control? Should there be new laws that govern the collection, storage, transmission and use of personal data? Should there be a tax, like income tax, on any data that is harvested and stored? with exemptions if the data is donated to the public domain, like section 80G? Should there be a limit on the size of social networks or the number of connections that individual nodes can have? Or a daily limit on the number of posts made by a member of the network?  Should there be new subjects that are taught in schools and colleges that educate humans about these issues? 

These are open questions about which we have no clear answers but they define the contours of a new body of knowledge, namely, Evolutionary NeoSapience. The goal here is first to study the emergence, evolution and behaviour of large, complex systems spanning organic (‘carbon’) and digital (‘silicon’) components,  that display intelligent, emotional or otherwise human like  behaviour and then to develop technological, legal, social and political strategies to ensure that humans remain in control of the global ecosystem. Otherwise human society as we know it today may disappear like the Incas, Mayas and Neanderthals of the past. 

More than ninety nine percent of species that had once existed on the planet are now extinct but none of them were aware of this process of extinction even as it was killing them off. In our case, we are not unaware of the emergence of this neosapience and that this is far faster and more impactful than, for example, climate change. There is no doubt that at some point our survival instinct will eventually kick in but  the earlier we catch on, the better would be the chances of the human race to control its own destiny. Time to wake up and smell the coffee?

March 08, 2023

Palash Blooms in Purulia

 This year, there has been an explosive flowering of the Palash flower all across the Bengal-Jharkhand border. Starting right from Raniganj and Asansol and following the railway line through Dhanbad, Bokaro and Chandrapura we saw an incredible number of Palash trees in full bloom. 

But the best was reserved for us at Muruguma near the Purulia Ranchi district border. Here we stayed at the Bon Polashi Eco Hut and the place really lived up to its name.

Shukraburu Mountain

Sagorjhora Irrigation Scheme Lake