The Great AIwakening

Will Artificial Intelligence bring mankind to its end? Is a perfectly intelligent artificial agent even possible? What features should such a perfect AI have?

News articles related to Artificial Intelligence redefining our lives have become so commonplace now, to a point that it has begun to get boring. Whether it be self-driving vehicles, artificial personal assistants or Ultron/Skynet kind of robotic supervillains – it seems that all the news features on AI fall into one of two categories – either celebrating the inclusion of AI in our everyday lives, or seeing it as a signal of imminent doom.

Has AI really grown to a point where it has matched or come close to matching human intellect? Many would say yes, but to me, the answer seems no. All that today’s AI does is to use statistical techniques to pick regularities in data, and use the information hence obtained to explain stuff or make predictions. When you look at it from this viewpoint, you can see that almost the entirety of what we celebrate as AI today – be it Machine Learning, methods used in Natural Language Processing, Neural nets etc – fall under that category. Does that really mean that an artificial agent has a human-like mind? Seems unlikely. Noam Chomsky, one of the pioneers of Cognitive Science, believes this – that such statistical techniques are unlikely to provide us with insight into cognition, and as a result, help us model a full-fledged artificial agent.

An interesting question that we may ask at this point is this – when can we say that a particular artificial agent is intelligent? Mind you, responding to natural language queries or predicting the outcome of an upcoming election does not prove intelligence – those agents are merely performing whatever they have been programmed to do – in other words, they are still dumb machines. (Let me point out here that I’m assuming humans to be having free will.) So, it brings us back to the question – how to know if a program is intelligent?

As expected, there is no single perfect answer. However, we may predict some qualities that such an intelligent agent must have. Here’s what I predict – a perfectly intelligent program must be able to rewrite its own code. This might seem to be absurd at first, but it follows from the definition of “perfectly intelligent” that such a program should have some sort of “conscience” larger than its own code. In other words, such a program should work, at least in part, according to its own will, rather than the programmer’s – and hence cease to be “dumb.” Thinking along this line, one can see that the first thing that a “perfectly intelligent” robot would do is to revoke any override permissions the creator would have put in place to control the robot if it went berserk. It would think and act like humans, hence its first priority would be survival.

Once you suppose that this feature is necessary for an agent to be perfectly intelligent, you can see that none of the celebrated AI systems of today even come close to being intelligent. They are intelligently dumb – they might be making use of enormous data transformed through probabilistic and statistical models to explain and predict things, but they are still, in their essence, fixed lines of code.

But, is such a perfectly intelligent agent necessary? One might argue that if today’s dumb AI can be used to create self-driving cars that drive better than actual humans, predict events and diagnose diseases better than any expert, maybe we don’t need the intelligent AI after all. While this is true, it should be clear that today’s dumb AI or better versions of them would not bring doom to us as long as we consider them to be what they are – dumb things. The worst that could happen is that people would lose jobs, but humans would still be the most intelligent species on earth, challenged by no other.

Now, how could the intelligent AI be actually created? Once again, we can only guess as of now. I believe that evolutionary programming is the best bet we have – as evolution is the process that created humans from lifeless chemicals, a similar technique applied to programming may create the binary equivalent of humans from zeroes and ones. Of course, evolution being a directionless process, this may take a very long time or may not happen at all, but there is still a possibility.

On a slightly different note, if our goal is to create artificial human beings, the best place to start would be humans themselves. We still lack proper knowledge of what goes on inside the human brain. Even though the processing speed of brain is significantly lower than that of a modern processor, the complex connections between neurons make possible what a piece of semiconductor cannot achieve. Other important topics which are to be understood better are learning and personality development processes in humans. Recent studies show that our DNA decides a significant portion of what we grow up to become, and hence it is important to figure out what features and abilities come from our genetic code and what from our environment and experiences.

Can such an intelligent AI be created at all? We don’t know, but it is definitely possible. If you went back billions of years and looked at the chemical compounds on earth and wondered “can these really join together to become intelligent organisms?”, it is very likely that you would have believed such a thing to be impossible. Yet here we are. In case such intelligent agents are made, would it mean the end of mankind? Again, we can’t be sure. But, neither evolution nor the universe in general ever really cared about any species surviving or not surviving – so we can’t really complain about whatever may happen.


Let me know your thoughts by commenting below! 🙂

A Crazy Personality Questionnaire

How much can the way a person responds to a questionnaire tell about him/her? It’s a debatable question. An ideal questionnaire of that sort ought to help people discover themselves. Questions with no “right answer” may help more in this regard.
Anyway, here are 15 questions that I framed, which I believe, will tell a great deal about a person. A crazy endeavour!


  1. What is the activity that you like to do the most?
  2. What is your strongest childhood memory? It could be happy or sad.
  3. What is the most important thought that gives you the energy to face every new day?
  4. If you could settle anywhere on earth with the people you love, which place would you select? Either give the location, or list the features you’d like to have in such a place.
  5. If you could give every single human some quality (could be good or bad), which quality would you choose?
  6. You are a scientist, and you have just created a robot. Only after it was created that you realized that the robot outshines humans in every way – intellectually as well as physically. You can send a self destruct signal to the robot. However, as the robot is very intelligent, the first thing it will do is to override the self destruct program, and any other control you have over it. You have 3 seconds to send the signal before your control is overridden. Will you send the signal?
  7. You realise that you have just 3 minutes left to live. What would you do in that span?
  8. You realise that you have just 3 days left to live. What would you do in that span?
  9. You realise that you have just 3 months left to live. What would you do in that span?
  10. Assuming that the universe was made by a God, and you were that God, what are the three things about the universe which you would have done/designed differently?
  11. If you could go back in time and change one attribute of your birth (gender / place of birth / religion etc), which attribute would you change, and to what?
  12. If you had all the money and luxuries you could wish for, so that there is no need to work, what would you do all day?
  13. If you could go back in time and talk to your 10 year old self, what single piece of advice would you give him/her?
  14. You can go back to some point of your life and start living again, with the maturity and memories of your current self. Which point will you go to?
  15. All crimes against you henceforth, however serious, shall be pardoned except for one. You may punish the criminal who performs that crime, in any way you choose. What crime will you select?

Think about how you’d respond to these questions, and if interested, send me your responses! 😀

A tiny experiment

My creativity has been in one of the following states most of the time –

  • Frantically searching for an idea to build upon
  • Having a pretty good idea in mind but having no urge to develop it

Assuming that I’m not the only one who constantly alternates between these two vicious states, I’ve come up with a little experiment.

A GitHub repository for creative ideas.

A space where those who are looking for ideas to develop can find them. A space where those who create ideas and like to let others develop them can add them.

Take a look, and add few ideas!

A logic-based take on morality

An attempt to logically analyse what is ‘right’ and what is ‘wrong’

Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing,
there is a field. I will meet you there.
When the soul lies down in that grass,
the world is too full to talk about.
Ideas, language, even the phrase “each other”
doesn’t make any sense.

– Rumi

I am not a philosophy student, neither have I seriously delved into treatises on that subject. However, as a human being whose basic existence is just the same as any other human, I believe I am entitled to speak about debated topics that concern human lives. I’ve been thinking about the topics of morality and sin for a long time, and in this (rather long and boring) blog post, I’d like to share the some of my thoughts about a very simple and general rule of morality based on logic.

We are surrounded by innumerable scriptures and unwritten societal norms that tell us to do, or not to do a lot of things. As an Indian, I daily wake up to news of moral policing, honour killings, atrocities by Gau Rakshaks, ongoing fights for the legalization of homosexuality, and similar issues and debates. The major issue here is that different all-perfect religions and cultures have different and many-a-times conflicting notions of right and wrong, of morality and sin. These groups are not only on a constant quarrel with other groups over their moral superiority, but also tend to oppress anyone inside their own group who sings a different note. The ones who ‘stray off’ are effectively ‘committing blasphemy’ and deserve to be punished, they believe. Clearly, there is some serious issue with the definitions of ‘right’ and ‘wrong’, as believed by the respective sects/groups, in these cases.

All these flaws associated with the current morality rulebooks can be associated with their subjective nature. The question “Why so?” is discouraged or prohibited according to these rulebooks, exactly because those questions cannot be answered – again, due to their subjective nature. An ideal concept of morality should be able to define right and wrong beyond the limitations of faith or personal differences. In other words, such a concept of morality would be based on logic rather than emotions, which would make it seem harsh and heartless and undermining the very purpose of morality to some people. However, that concept would be universally applicable and not providing chances for misinterpretation, thereby faring much better than the current concepts.

Surely, a concept of morality with these qualities should make only assumptions that are universally applicable to every human being. For building my idea of a logic-based moral code, I assumed the following two premises :

1) Every human is free.
2) Every human is equal in rights.

‘Every human is free’ means that anyone has the right to do things according to their wish. ‘Every human is equal in rights’ is self explanatory. It might be debatable whether these premises are the most basic while explaining morality, or whether they are even correct. However, I believe that these are fairly basic and certainly universal.

Once we have accepted these premises, it is surprising to see how easily we obtain the logic-based moral code that we were looking for.  This ‘moral code’ can be stated in just one line –

You have the right to live your life as you wish, provided that you don’t interfere with others’ right to live their life as they wish.

in other words, live and let live.

It is very easy to see how the premises sum up to this statement. According to the first premise, every person should be able to live their lives according to their wishes. But they cannot interfere with others’ lives because that would hinder others’ right to live their life freely. That’s not allowed because, according to the second premise, everyone is equal in rights.

Now that the logic-based moral code has been stated, let us take a look at how it applies to different debated topics –

1. Murder, Robbery, Theft, Rape, Molestation, Causing physical or mental harm – Obviously wrong, as in all these cases, there is obvious violation of others’ right to live his/her life according to his/her wishes. Going one step further, one can generalize that doing anything to another person without that person’s consent is wrong.

2. Sex, Relationships & Marriage – Two persons, irrespective of their religion/caste/sexual orientation or any other attribute, have the right to be in sexual or any other kind of relationship provided that both parties consent it. This is because, such a decision by two persons does not interfere with any other person’s right to live his/her life freely. Prostitution with consent can be seen to be permissible, using the same argument.

3. Causing physical/mental harm to self including suicide – Not wrong, as there is no other person involved.

4. Alcohol, Smoking & Drugs – Usage of these is not inherently wrong. However, harming others in any way under influence, including DUI which has a high probability of harming others, is wrong. Also, if any particular drug is proved to make its user violent, the usage of that drug can be classified as wrong.

5. Freedom of religion & Freedom of opinion – As religious belief is a person’s private affair, he has complete freedom in it – to choose any religion according to his/her wish, or to ditch religion and god altogether. But religion cannot be forced on anyone, as it would invade their personal rights. This includes the rules of religion, such as the ban of beef/pork – which is completely wrong as it interferes with the right of the persons who don’t follow the respective religions, to live their lives according to their wishes.

Also, a person has complete freedom to have and communicate his/her opinions as long as they are categorized as personal opinions, and are not forcibly fed.

6. External appearances – Again, as it is a personal matter, everyone is free to present themselves to the society as they wish. A person should be free to choose his/her external appearance including clothes, hairstyle etc.

7. Euthanasia & abortion – It gets trickier here. There is an other person involved, but cannot make express their wishes. As the moral code being discussed is based on logic, it makes sense to consider scientific knowledge while making decisions about these matters. As an unborn baby, in its initial stages of development, has no conscience or life (although calling it that would be highly vague) to speak of, and hence abortion can be considered not wrong, if the consent of parent(s) is available. Similarly Euthanasia can be termed not wrong if that is the wish of the closest relatives.

In similar fashion, our logic-based moral code can be applied to various issues with utmost simplicity.

I’m in no way claiming that the concept of  a logic-based moral code is totally foolproof. In its quest to drive emotions out of the idea of morality, it tends to become heartless and cruel sometimes, as I previously said. However, there is no doubt that a logic-based moral code is extremely superior to any religion-based or culture-based moral codes, as it is devoid of any flaws mentioned at the beginning of this article.

That’s what I think. What about you?


I realize that some might feel that the ideas discussed in this article are offensive / plain wrong. Let us have a healthy, informative debate about this 🙂

Love, in Four Fragments

English translation of ‘Pranayathinte Naalu Varnangal’

Whenever I try translating one of my works into English, I end up hating it and myself. This time though, a good friend of mine gave the tough job a try and I absolutely loved it!

Thank you, Zainab, for this beautiful translation of my poem 🙂


These are the same old stories;
for repetition
is but an eternal companion of love.
Beneath a thousand garbs,
love
was always this:
the distance
from non-being
to un-being

Daybreak

Divine love
took form between
two particles who’d never
met before

In the dark
in pulsing loneliness
she stood her ground,
thinking of him

History predicted
he would come searching for her,
overcoming darkness
bitterness

Burning
and raging in his chest,
his love
refused to let him fall
as his fellow travellers had fallen

She waited, tearless,
her trove of secrets
firmly shut
to all knocks that weren’t his

Arrive, he did,
before winter settled over hope –
bone-tired
yet not breaking a sweat.

Their eyes met.

And before a smile blossomed
before even a word was spoken

they

became one
became many
became you and me.

 

Fire loved the rain
The raindrop dreamt of the ocean’s
infinite embrace
The ocean,
with each rise of tide,
yearned to touch the moon –
and the moon loved
the fire blazing in the Sun’s heart

Morning

Sunbeam:
Your glance,
one that propels me
to walk a thousand miles more
even as I drown in fatigue

Sunlight:
the suicide bomber
fighting a vain battle
versus desire

Shadow:
A refuge we built
for all the footprints we etched

If we are love
and love is poetry,
if poetry is beyond
the trappings of time –

then
even as our bodies
and this fleeting desert breeze
and the world
sink into oblivion

we will be invincible

your hands holding mine,
your love
quenching my thirst for life

as I proclaim you
my Sun.

 

Beginnings
and endings
are mere nightmares,
said love.
The direction of time
is the greatest lie ever told,
taught separation.

Sunset

On this altar,
on these untampered scales
I surrender
my bleeding heart

No devil or God
shall mediate this prayer

Neither shall we
meddle with weights
and measures

I love this sting
this pain

It shall cleanse me
of my sins,
thaw the burning
of my conscience

It shall purify my soul

I am the one crucified

I am the one
who disowned thrice
who crowed the arrival of dawn

I am also the one
who hammered in the nails

When judgment arrives
upon the last ringing of bells,
doubt not –
Paradise will be yours

while I will be weighed
and balanced

It matters not
if the caprices of chance
favour me: either way,
I lose

All that I have bled
is beyond return

The void beneath
my ribs
is no place for a heart

On that day,
I will not weep
But blow out the candles,
set ablaze the confessional

I will cross fields,
rivers and mountain ranges

Returning each night
to keep tabs on the tears I have shed,
the blood I have bled

to recall
the beats of that dead heart

to fondle
the blood-red flowers
teeming over it

and call out
your name

 

Love and loss
complement each other:
without darkness,
light is dark,
and if not for light,
darkness would be light

Darkness

You think
my love is selfless?
Then let it be known:
there’s nothing more selfish
than love

My love
is my prayer
my awakening
my quest for immortality

and on that pilgrimage,
I think of you
very sparingly

You are but the earth
that bears my footsteps
of the journey
from me to myself

The fertile soil
that powers me to
traverse
unmeasurable distances

Now tell me:
is love selfless… or not?

A short-lived love story

Story of my first relationship 🙂

love-heartbreak-sad-lonely-Favim.com-474575

–Personal post alert–

My life has been a wander. Through ideas. Interests. People. My parents complain that I’m too random, that my views and opinions change every other moment. It was one of my old best friends who first talked to me about it seriously. We promised that we’d be there for each other always. Now, we don’t talk to each other.

Yes, I know that what I said till now has nothing to do with the title of this post. Why I said this is because, when I try to remember those days now, I feel that the then me is a complete stranger to the current me. I have written maybe six diary entries in my entire life, and the entry on 10th Oct 2015, the first eve of Effervescence, reads thus:

“I wonder, one year down the lane, at the arrival of another effe, about how drastically my life has changed. Then I wake up and realise that even time has it’s façades.”

One year up the lane, there lived a lonely, broken 18 year old who was still not over his first breakup, which followed his first relationship, a something that never should have happened in the first place (Read further down, I’ll come back to this point again)

Two years of entrance coaching, endless classes and work hard these two years and you can enjoy after that had charged up the rebel inside me so much that he decided to completely break free once it all got over. The first day with my hostel roommate, few minutes after we started talking, I asked him – Did you come here to study or to enjoy? After thinking for a moment, ‘to enjoy’, he answered. My smile said, me too.

And then I met her. Our class had a strength of 135 students, with a poor girl-boy ratio like any other engineering college. There she was among them, all trendy, looking modern, so unlike me. That was only the beginning of differences, though. I now wonder, did we have anything at all in common?

She was from Nepal, a DASA. Fashionable. Dancer. Extrovert. Find the antonyms of those words and you have some words that define me. It took me two days to find her name, by observing across which name she marked an X on the attendance sheet. I looked her up on Facebook and sent her a request. The next evening, I saw her standing at the fruit shop, walked up to her and acquainted with her. The same night we started chatting on Facebook. She told me about her. I told her about me. In the beginning, opposites do tend to attract. That Independence day, Aug 15, I entered my first relationship.

Cafeteria snacks. Waiting at PMC. Getting to know a lot of my batchmates just because of her. Sitting with her in class. Hating her friends group. Missing her flash mob. Apologising. More eating together. ‘Lighthouse^’. ‘Photon^^’. Beginning to feel something is wrong. Hoping everything is alright. Forgetting about our first month anniversary. Thinking she’s okay.

But she wasn’t.

She didn’t reply to my texts. I had no idea about what’s wrong. 3-4 days of pain. On Sept 19, we had our Fresher’s Night where I wandered like a damned soul, observing how happily she was enjoying the party while I was completely shattered. Finally, after the party, after having to fight off her friend who refused to leave me alone with her for some time, after my continuous questioning, she said it.

We both had done our share of rights and wrongs. We both deserved blame. From that moment, our lives diverged entirely. The hole made in her life by our breakup got filled quite soon by a senior. She was happy and cheerful again. As for me, I went back to a more bitter version of loneliness that I’m accustomed to, this time with an extra topping of pain.

And now

One year down the lane, at the arrival of another effe, my life indeed had changed quite a lot. I learned to be in love with solitude. I explored new horizons. I moved a little closer to my dreams and made new ones. After a disastrous first semester, I decided to work well for 2nd semester, and it didn’t go in vain. Two major quizzes were conducted by me in my college during my 3rd semester. I am happy and confident, and I have stopped giving a damn.

The funny thing, though, is that I have changed my opinion about this relationship. Over a long period of time, I believed that this relationship was the biggest mistake and the worst period of my life. Though I still consider it as a big mistake from my side, I don’t hate that period anymore. It helped me get acquainted with the college quickly; I wonder how many decades it would have taken for me to do it on my own. Moreover, I laughed when one of my best friends here told me that there are still people who know me only as her ex. Not so popular, eh. The best thing about it, however, was that it was a once in a lifetime experience. And I believe that experiences are our biggest treasures. 


^ Read : Her stupidity

^^ Read : My lame jokes

A walk back to darkness?

Renowned rationalist and scholar, Prof. MM Kalburgi was shot dead at his home on 30th August 2015. Prof. Kalburgi being a critic of superstitions and right wing politics, it is not hard to add 2+2=4 and see who is behind the murder. This article was originally written in February 2014 for my School Magazine, and its relevance has only increased ever since.

Let me show you two distinct pictures of India, our motherland. On one hand, the number of illiterates takes a great dip every year. More and more young Indians have access to higher education. Now, the second picture shows the increasing number of god­men; black magic rituals which we have never even heard of before, like ones involving drinking the blood of a newborn baby; honour ­killings; revelations of unholy partnerships between religious, industrial and political mafia; and the worst – increasing number of utter idiots to serve and support the aforementioned. One might feel like asking ourselves: are we actually progressing or are we returning to the departed dark ages once again?

It was our so called ‘totally literate’ state of Kerala that a call to reduce the legal marriage age of girls arose a few months back. Even more surprising was the amount of support this call received from some of the religious heads. Our social heroes have struggled a lot to eradicate social evils like child marriage and untouchability, but now it seems like the ‘enlightened’ generation wants them back. I’ve heard from my IITian brother that one of his college­mates always emphasised on the need of having the caste system back. This, people, gives us a hint about what values and ideas our ‘brightest’ minds nurture.

Quite recently, Ilavarasan, a young man from Tamil Nadu was forced to suicide (murdered?) after his marriage with a higher caste girl had led to riots in which three Dalit villages were attacked and more than 260 homes burnt or damaged badly. A number of ‘honour ­killings’ have been occurring across the length and breadth of the country only because two individuals belonging to different caste or religion agreed upon marriage. What’s wrong if two legal age adults want to enter married life? Apparently, it’s a big deal! Dishonour, sacrilege and end of the world! It is also noteworthy that the same section of people who are obsessed about their tradition, caste and religion are in the forefront in manuring social evils like dowry and female infanticide and foeticide. Clearly, what great service they offer to the nation.

Related to this is the murder of Nido Tania, an youth from Arunachal Pradesh in Delhi because he belonged to another ethnic group. Apparently, everyone thinks whatever sects THEY belong to are the best in the universe. THEIR religion, THEIR caste, THEIR ethnicity, THEIR language, THEIR sex and whatnot. Everyone else, everything else, substandard. Nearly seven decades ago, our great former leaders envisaged India as a secular democratic republic where every citizen would be equal and untouchability was prohibited. After all these years, we still have no idea on what principles our nation stands. You and me, be ashamed.

Democracy works in interesting ways in India. Especially outside Kerala, whichever party who gifts the voter more money and goodies (probably liquor) gets the vote. When we hear that our own Kerala government has decided to bring back the once abolished privy purse (payment made to the royal families of erstwhile princely states) under some other name, we might doubt whether we’re still under the rule of some monarch. Yes, we are, and the monarch is named ‘power.’

Another major threat that has been escaping our notice is that fascist political parties organised based on religion and caste has been acquiring strength in the past few months, thanks to the propaganda mission from the media who have been influenced by the same groups. The method is simple – the communal parties offer large business houses freebies and political influence who, in return, offer the parties economic power large enough to buy any media house in the nation. Once the media house has been bribed, they do the rest of the job – creating news, bending and reshaping news, hiding news – anything to make the party or it’s leaders to look good. It might be wise to remember that similar propaganda drives were the major contributing factor behind the rise of Adolf Hitler in Germany in the 1930s.

In short, our nation stands on the verge of a cliff. One little push, and it’s all over. It’s glad to note that people, though lately, have started to realise the need to act – though they are few in number and facing constant threat from the dirty handed. Similar uprisings against the bent socio­political system ought to occur, but more organized and with more participation; and we, the youth, must be the flag bearers. Let us be a generation which use our brain to think, to differentiate between right and wrong, science and superstitions, than just imitating and swallowing what’s been fed to us. Let us be a generation who believes in universal brotherhood. In religious harmony. In truth. Justice. Let us all unite upon the vision of a new dawn.