Friday, February 29, 2008

Would a technological singularity really happen?

I am not sure how many of you are familiar with the concept of "technological singularity". I wasn't as well, till last Thursday!

Singularity is a state (from Kurzweil's The Singularity is Near) when human intelligence transcends the barriers of the laws we govern our physical and virtual realities with. It is a point which is predicted to arrive in this century where there won't be apparent differences between man and machines any more; because we would be capable of designing ultra-intelligent machines. Our intelligence coupled with the machines, humans would take technological strides not only on Earth, but the entire universe. As Kurzweil's book describes it,

"Now, in The Singularity Is Near, he examines the next step in this inexorable evolutionary process: the union of human and machine, in which the knowledge and skills embedded in our brains will be combined with the vastly greater capacity, speed, and knowledge-sharing ability of our own creations."

And ironically this first ultra-intelligent machine would probabaly be the last invention would ever make; as the world would then be taken over a more superior species: the species Man would make himself through technological evolution (compare, biological evolution which yields homo sapiens).

But I am skeptical about the advent of this kind of a technological singularity at least this century. Here are a few reasons for that:
  1. I agree we have been increasing our technological capabilities at a accelerating rate: a form comparable to Moore's law. But depends how much extensible it is: is there a threshold to it? We still don't know the future of the exponential curve of technological progress.
  2. Now the comes the capabilities of Artificial Intelligence in playing a significant role in reaching the Singularity. Look up the kind of AI paper that used to be written in the 90's. Most of the visionary or theoretical papers' goal was how to design that ultimate intelligent machine: which can perceive the world as we do through our five senses, reason, learn and take intelligent decisions. And now see the AI research today: most of the research has been segmented; people work on building an intelligent system which can either analyze human speech, or computer vision, or a robot navigating a rough terrain and taking optimal decisions for movement. The concept of intelligence is now distributed; we are trying to build a host of intelligent machines which render a focused task intelligently. However our knowledge or capabilities of how to integrate all those intelligent machines into one single ultra-intelligent one is still very limited unfortunately. The future of this kind of integration research is also pretty bleak!
  3. The achievement of morality. The book says, we might be able to get over the morality that characterizes us today. But the question is, one the way, aren't we giving rise to more deadly diseases? Isn't a significant part of the research diverted to that?
  4. The only hope I see that can render technological singularity is nano-technology or bio-informatics. The hope to see an ultra-intelligent machine is predicated by the fact that genetically it has to be coherent with human brain. The question still remains: can we with our limited brains, build a machine which is smarter?
Only future can tell us...

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Easy to make Cold Sandwich Wrap Recipe!

Here is a great sandwich wrap recipe that is healthy and quick to make! The preparation time is about 10 minutes and ideal for a tasty lunch (that doesn't need to be heated or microwaved) or quick dinner. The only thing you need to have ready is slices of grilled chicken breast, although for a vegetarian substitute you can well discount this or substitute it with scrambled eggs! I usually grill the chicken in the weekend and refrigerate it for the week.

(Ingredients for 1 serving)

1 burrito size tortilla
salad spring mix (or cut iceberg lettuce, romaine and spinach leaves)
1 avocado (ripe) thinly sliced or mashed freshly
cut red onions (optional)
diced cucumber
diced tomatoes
Alfalfa sprouts
sliced grilled chicken breast
Bit of Mayo
Ranch dressing
Hot sauce
Pinch of salt / pepper to taste


Place the tortilla on a plate and layer it thinly with Mayo. Then align the salad spring mix in the middle of the tortilla along a narrow line. Heap the tomatoes, cucumbers, onions, sprouts, avocados and the chicken on it. Apply the Ranch dressing along with the hot sauce. Sprinkle a little bit of salt and pepper to taste. Now roll the whole tortilla into a narrow roll and tuck it with a toothpick in the center. Your lunch is good to go!

Thursday, February 14, 2008

A dedication note

On this very "hyped" day, when I don't really have anything to celebrate upon (and I am perfectly fine with that!), I randomly came across this lines from the movie Om Shanti Om:

Itni Shiddat Se Maine Tujhe Paane Ki Koshish Ki hai,
Ki Har Zarre Ne Mujhe Tujhse Milane ki Saazish Ki Hai.

And looking back I see that whatever I am doing today, it is really what I wanted to do in life yet! Sometimes I feel lucky; lucky having got an opportunity to do stuff I wanted to do - when the PhD thing happened!

Somebody back from my college asked me a few questions on the PhD thing. I have put two of my favorite ones here. The shayari from Om Shanti Om is dedicated to all the interesting endeavors I am doing, and wish to do in the times to come! The questions are a little tweaked for certain reasons.

1) Why should one go for a PhD, i.e what are the basic qualities or interests required that would help one in doing PhD?

A: I think the primary urge the student needs to have is the desire to learn, apply his knowledge, look beyond $$ and books and explore the world. With a suitable academic background, the only thing a student needs is a "free mind" to nurture his or her academic interests in a more organized fashion.

2) With a lot of emphasis on other careers now-a-days, what makes the PhD course attractive enough?

A: Using the word "emphasis" on a career decision is probably a bad idea. A person's academic or professional interest is not like walking the ramp at a fashion show where you display the "in" or the "attractive" thing of today. A career is merely a person's own choice, unbiased by time; what the person wants out of life. It is not about a "competition" between other careers and PhD as most of you would think today. I would suggest grow out of these wrong notions! Life is much bigger than you have thought of!

There is nothing like a situation when one career is universally better than others. Coming here I see that the physicists, the mathematicians and the psychologists are actually much more insightful than we, the "engineer scientists"! As much as these guys are intelligent, make as much good money as our community, they are actually more respected in the society than just "another programmer" or just "another manager"!

So it was never the "emphasis" laid on me by some career professionals that affected by decisions in life. I have found PhD "attractive" because it is letting me work on something which I want to; something which can strike a difference to the world of tomorrow, someway; a manner which can let me vent out the crazy thoughts inside me; the tool for me to explore and gain insights about the world we live in today! It has definitely been the best decision I have taken in my life, and so would many of my peers agree. Talking of "emphasis", which other career lets you do all these? :)

Monday, February 11, 2008

"The Ideal Relationship"

We often talk about the "ideal relationship". A relationship which we would cherish through our lives.

I believe an ideal relationships is one which does not compel you to change.
I believe an ideal relationship is one which is built on trust and mutual understanding.
I believe an ideal relationship is one which is a strength to us.
I believe an ideal relationship is one which lets you tide over tough times.
I believe an ideal relationship is one where you can always go back at the end of the day; after good or bad happens, after love or fight.
I believe an ideal relationship is one which would not need a physical co-existence.
I believe an ideal relationship is one which you know you are with day in and day out.
I believe an ideal relationship is one when you weigh it more than your personal reasonings.
I believe an ideal relationship is one which is an integral part of your life.
I believe an ideal relationship is one which lets you live...

I read this somewhere and found it to be so true. Relationships might not have worked out so good for me, but I would remember this always...

"Love is patient. Love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil, but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails. "
- Corinthians, The New Testament.

An ideal relationship is built on love: love which happens and exists this way...

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Surviving Life as the Fittest

Scientists say, one of the primary reasons the dinosaurs got extinct was that with the beginning of the ice age, they could not cope with the changing environment. And Nature did not choose them because they didn't satisfy the needs of the "survival of the fittest". I guess this is very true of ourselves as well. Life is a great test. And we survive it only when we satiate the condition: survival of the fittest.

It is so easy to snap at a friend when you don't like something about his or her. It is so easy to curse destiny and life for all the bad things that happened. It is so easy to feel self-pity when something goes wrong in life. And it is so easy to feel that life is meaningless without certain things. And it is also so easy to say "I lost it".

However, we forget all this while that the way to lead life is to be the survivor of the fittest! Tests after tests, we need to gear up and running every time for newer horizons whatever life yields us: good or bad. And the way to survive life is to make the good times the strength, and the bad times the closed chapters - the source of learning. And looking ahead. Trust in self. The faith that we can live better. The ability to be ourselves whatever happens.

Saturday, February 09, 2008

Another one of my insights...

Life can often be described by several crossroads and some dead ends. Sometimes we have too many choices. Sometimes we are forced to pick one option over the other. And sometimes that option leads us through a road which lands us in a dead end. Sometimes a narrow beam of hope springs us alive. And again sometimes the gloom takes over our very essence of life.

I wonder if life can ever be perfect, or the way we want it to be. I am sure every one of us would have some complain or the other. We would often say "I wish I could change this chapter of my life". And these are the chapters which prevent lives from reaching our notion of perfection.

And so the very truth is, life is not perfect. There are days of high and low; there are times easy and hard. There are weeks we shatter and we repair. And the worst thing probably is, the easy times seem to drift away so soon; but it is the hard times that stick along all the time.

I feel like reflecting on my life since I came here in Tempe. Life has been really variegated: with tough times and little sweet memories. It has been an altogether different life, totally on oneself, trying to build an identity, trying to survive the life of a PhD student and experiments with other aspects of life. Yeah, I would call them experiments. Because you never know one of those chapters of life until you lead it. And if not a surprise, then yeah some of those experiments turned out something I probably would never expect. Some for the good, and some for the bad. Although it is the bad which sticks through; and I am okay with it, because it helped me learn about life probably. And the good, obviously it kept me alive!

Sometimes certain things come very expensive; I am talking about the ambitious career decisions I have made yet. I had to leave several of those chapters behind which were nice. And had to take up several of the other dark chapters, because the ambition cost it. Today, I am torn between several dimensions. But one dimension I know; the dimension of my ambition has always stuck together with me. It has let me justify all those dark chapters, sometime, somewhere. And also helped me learn to complain less about the so-called imperfect life. As long as this ambition lets me justify life, I would continue to make choices, shatter and repair even through those dead ends.

I guess this is what individualizes me after all...

Friday, February 08, 2008

The Wind Blew it All!

When the wind rose alive,
Before it could take her by any surprise,
In just the flick of a minute,
Blew away those memories, till then so vivid.

A cozy corner and a caring shoulder,
Was all that she would need to lead a life more bolder;
Smothered she was in so much of affection,
Memories were intertwined in every nook and corner of her life's jubilation.

Till the day when her life succumbed to a dark sunrise,
Made all the things so difficult to tackle and to stand and rise;
The tombs on which the memories were so enshrined,
The fleeting thoughts pulled her life to move forward and rewind.

Till that day when the wind blew along,
Sweeping the pains in her heart's core so deep and long,
She saw the storm come and the storm go,
And she knew it was no more the time to feel any low!

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

The Best I can Do!!

May be this should make me learn something! :D
1. The second option is the best I can do.
2. Find a non-nerd life partner!
3. Don't carry a laptop while going shopping.
4. Not have a wireless card in the laptop.
5. Pick the first thing you see in the store.

Now you tell me, why are so many jokes on nerds? :D

Saturday, February 02, 2008

Microsoft's Yahoo Buzz

I have been pretty much following the possibility of Microsoft's Yahoo acquisition. I was reading this article here where experts are discussing how this can impact Microsoft and more, the culture in the Silicon Valley. It is indeed interesting how a three decade old company Microsoft and a decade old Yahoo seem to be succumbing to much less than a decade old Internet computing leader of today Google! As the article aptly describes,
"It (Google) has unleashed the power of free — not a new idea for the Valley — to endear itself to a new generation of computer users with services they find they cannot live without, like e-mail, digital video and social networking."

I couldn't have agreed more! To me today, "I can spend a month on green salads only but not without gmail / orkut / youtube !"

I don't understand much of business or the kind of speculations that are being made by people about how such a big acquisition might impact the innovation structure in the Silicon Valley. But I do understand the concern for Microsoft.

Microsoft has never been ahead of coming up with the "next cool thing", rather have often re-done things already existent before (compare Vista to Mac, for example). And the reason they are one of the biggest companies today is definitely because of their wide array of licensed software!

However, I know people in Microsoft and Yahoo Research; and ironically most of the people in their Research Labs are one of the smartest people in those areas today! Google paradoxically doesn't have a research lab, which they say they integrate with their main modules. This is probably partly true; because being in my research area, we know that Microsoft and Yahoo Research do much starter things (thinking ahead 10 years say) than what Google does!

Nevertheless, the picture is completely reversed in the market! Google is the leader of the "next cool thing" in Internet computing; be it emails, multimedia management, social networking and undoubtedly search.

The observations are pretty interesting. We in research / academics often consider the key to success is to have smart people doing smart things which are look ahead, at least five years from now. However, this smart man power is not enough for Microsoft or Yahoo to succeed! Google with great programmers and their search tool capital are ready to take much bigger strides into the software industry today. They know that acquiring a potential start-up doing an innovative thing is much smarter than acquiring a dead giant like Yahoo. And with their increasing automatically generative user data profiles, Google can probably dictate several cool things in the coming years which we, in academics, despite knowing them much ahead of time, haven't really been able to strike due to limited availability of gigs of user data!