Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Rise of the Robots - 3

Rise of the Robots: Technology and the Threat of a Jobless Future
Martin Ford

Part 3 of 3 (part 1, part 2)

As 2014 drew to a close, the Indian IT industry was rocked by rumours that TCS (the largest Indian IT company by annual revenues) had completed an internal review and had initiated lay offs of thousands of employees - mostly in middle management. Some stories talked about a number as high as 30,000. The saga finally ended with a round of clarifications and denials by TCS and some well-deserved opprobrium over its inept handling of the needless controversy. What the fracas however served to highlight was a stark truth that's been staring at the Indian IT industry for some time now - the skills that the typical Indian IT worker possesses are mostly undifferentiated and prime candidates for automation.
What is worse, from at least one perspective, is the fact that (smart) humans have built technology that has becoming adept at "engineering the labor out of the product." One will need to be particularly myopic to not also recognize that "the machines are coming for the higher-skill jobs as well." This much should have been clear in part two of this series, through the examples I cited from Martin Ford's book.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Rise of the Robots - 2

Rise of the Robots: Technology and the Threat of a Jobless Future
Martin Ford

Part 2 of 3 (part 1)

Machines have been able to do mechanical jobs faster than humans, with greater precision, and for longer periods of time - the cotton gin invented in the eighteenth century for example. The inevitable loss of jobs called for a re-skilling of the people affected, and the mantra went that you had to pull yourself up by your socks, learn a new skill, and get productive again. Martin Ford's book shatters that illusion. There is not a single profession left - whether unskilled or skilled, whether in technology or medicine or liberal arts, whether one that can be performed remotely or requires direct human interaction - that is not at threat from the machines. Whichever way you slice and dice it, you are left facing one or the other variation of a dystopian future, with stark income inequalities, a substantial population that will require doles on a permanent doles, and the concomitant social upheavals.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Rise of the Robots - 1

Rise of the Robots: Technology and the Threat of a Jobless Future
Martin Ford

Part 1 of 3

"I'm smart; you're dumb. I'm big; you're small. I'm right; you're wrong. And there's nothing you can do about it."

Thus spake Harry Wormwood in the movie "Matilda". This well could be the message that robots will have for us in the not too distant future. The dramatic improvements in the speed, the accuracy, and the areas in which computers have begun to comprehensively outperform humans leads one to believe that while a so-called singularity may well be some ways off, the more immediate effects of this automation are already being felt in permanent job losses. In a country like India, which has used digital technologies quite effectively in the last decade and a half to grow a $150 billion IT-BPM industry, the impact could be devastating - especially where an estimated 10 million people are employed.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Deepavali 2015

Deepavali (also called Diwali in much of North India) came this year on the 11th of November, 2015. The date, as per the Gregorian calendar, is quite meaningless. But if you look at this tithi (date) according to the Hindu calendar, light strikes! It was Ashwin amavasya, of Krishna paksha. Which means it was a moonless night. As Rama and Sita, along with Lakshman, returned to Ayodhya, the stars were the only heavenly bodies that provided light.  Thus the residents of Ayodhya, having waited for more than fourteen years for their prince, lit lamps to light the way. In more ways than one, they were dispelling the darkness that had persisted in Ayodhya for many years. 

Yugas have passed, but the thought and tradition lives on.

Friday, November 6, 2015

Tales from the Mahabharata - 15 - When Bhima Was At a Loss of Words

Bhima throws an elephant at Karna
(credit: Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia)
That Bhima was a man of action is not in dispute. One could write an epic in itself on Bhima's love for letting his actions do the talking. But do not think his words lacked a punch either! Far from it. Bhima was never short of strong words either. Let us examine a few instances.

Yudhishthira's weakness for gambling combined with his ineptness at the game to hand over his kingdom, liberty, his brothers and wife to the Kauravas. Bhima had watched quietly as Yudhishthira had gambled away - losing round after round - everything, but Droupadi's insult in the assembly hall was too much for him to bear. He turned to his elder brother and spoke - "O Yudhishthira! Gamblers have many courtesans in their country. But they are kind even towards those, and do not stake them in gambling. ... I think you committed a most improper act in staking Droupadi. She did not deserve this. ... It is because of her that my anger descends on you. I will burn your hands. O Sahadeva! Bring the fire." [Dyuta Parva]

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Vamsee Juluri - Hinduism and Its Culture Wars

Hinduism and its culture wars

Vamsee Juluri's essay in 2012 has been published as an e-book, "Hinduism and its culture wars", and I would recommend it whole-heartedly for all. In some ways, it can also serve as a short primer for his longer, and more recent, book - "Rearming Hinduism".

For those unaware, there has been a raging battle being fought for more than two decades for the soul of Hindu academia. On one side have been the liberals, the orientalist academia, the Hinduphobes - all of whom have had a stranglehold on the mainstream narrative of Hinduism. On the other side have been a section of Hindus who have risen up to challenge this bigoted and jaundiced view of their faith.

Friday, October 16, 2015

Tales from the Mahabharata - 14 - Playing By the Book? I Don’t Think So!

Playing by the book to win is a myth that has cost us dear. We should know better, but we're probably poor learners! Among several arguments put forth to explain Indians’ losses against foreign invaders, one of the more commonly heard one is that Indians could not – or refused to – adapt to the new rules of warfare and insisted on fighting by the more traditional, dharmic, rules of war. But is that really the case?

Let’s use the Mahabharata to evaluate this assumption more closely. Was this war at Kurukshetra fought as a dharmic war? The Pandavas certainly believed theirs to be a just war, yes. But the means? Most would disagree, I hope. Women were not supposed to take part in the war – at least one did. There was not supposed to be any fighting at night – there was. The unarmed were not to be attacked – they were. A warrior was not to be engaged in battle without warning – he was. Warriors were not to be attacked when sleeping - they were. And so on… Every single rule was broken, by both sides.

Kripa and Shikhandi fight
(credit: Wikpedia, the free encyclopedia)
Shikhandi had been born Shikhandini – a woman. You could also see her as Amba reborn. A yaksha gave Shikhandini his male form, and she thus became Shikhandi. Bhishma looked at Shikhandi as a woman and refused to engage him in a duel. The Pandavas used this to shield Arjuna from Bhishma. Thus was brought down the first commander of the Kaurava army. Rules of engagement were clearly asymmetric. The Pandavas adapted when faced with rules that put them at a disadvantage.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Tales from the Mahabharata 13 - Fated to Fail, the Sarpa Satra

Sarpa satra of Janamajeya
(credit: Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia)
Yagyas do not always end happily in the Mahabharata. I wrote about two such sacrifices earlier, both performed by Yudhishthira. The most famous was the first one - the Rajsuya Yagya. It ended with the death of Shishupala at the hands of Krishna, and initiated a series of events that culminated finally with the eighteen-day war on the battlefield at Kurukshetra.

My favourite however is the Sarpa Satra. This was the sacrifice initiated by Janamejaya to avenge his father's death, who had been bitten to death by Takshaka. The sacrifice was to ensure the destruction of all snakes. The sacrifice started, but did not complete. It was halted, at the instructions of Janamejaya himself! What followed thereafter was the first public retelling of the tale of the sons of Krishna Dvapayana.

So who were batting - so to say - for the sacrifice to be successful?

Friday, September 25, 2015

Hygiene as the New Burden

The white man's burden, 1898 Detroit Journal cartoon
Remember the “White Man’s Burden” – the phrase that grew out of Rudyard Kipling’s nineteenth-century poem of the same name, and which exhorted the white man to take on the “burden” of colonizing and serving their “captives’ need”? This was but a natural duty befalling the white man because in the words of the Scottish philosopher David Hume, “negroes” and “all other species of men … to be naturally inferior to the whites.”

Well, times have changed. It is now no longer politically palatable to be using such phrases. What has however stayed invariant is the assumption of the west’s superiority over the unwashed, unlettered heathens. Hygiene is the latest burden the western man has to bear.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

History - 1 - The Accumulated Wealth of 348 Years

Nadir Shah at the sack of Delhi
(credit: Wikpedia, the free encyclopedia)
Of all the depredations that Delhi has suffered over the centuries at the hands of invaders, the one that stands out the most is the plunder by Nadir Shah in 1739. The Mughal empire would finally dissolve more than a century after this event, though it had started to become dissolute and decrepit after the death of Aurangzeb in 1707.

Nadir Shah had consolidated his position in Persia, and had conquered Kandahar to buttress the security of his eastern provinces. This conquest of Kandahar however left him cash-strapped for further conquests against the Turks. He wanted territory, money, and fame. The decaying Mughal empire looked like an ideal candidate to satisfy all three urges.

Nadir Shah's pretext, we are told, for invading India was the Mughal ruler's refusal to stop giving asylum to the Afghan rebels that had been troubling the eastern provinces of Nadir Shah's kingdom. This is only partially true. Such firmness in refusing Nadir Shah would have been quite out of character for Muhammad Shah.

Nadir Shah had first sent two envoys - Ali Mardan Khan Shamlu and Muhammad Ali Khan - to deliver this request to Muhammad Shah - the Mughal emperor - but "had received evasive replies." Nadir Shah then sent Muhammad Khan Turkman as his Persian envoy to deliver another protest to Muhammad Shah, with instructions to the envoy that he not "prolong his stay beyond forty days." Muhammad Shah again did not give any firm reply. Instead, "his advisers wasted their time in the controversy as to how to address the Persian upstart." The last straw for Nadir Shah was "the murder of two Persian courtiers who had been sent to Delhi under escort to bring news of Muhammad Khan Turkman."
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...