Monday, November 16, 2015

Fear - Uncertainty - Doubt: Threat to Liberty: Role of P2P technologies

As mentioned in my recent article, there is an increase in the number of abnormal events that citizens and their governments are having to deal with. And I believe that due to technology change as well as climate change, this number will rise and the proportion of man-made events will rise further. Governments use such events to cause shift-of-power to them, to take resources from their alternative uses and get them assigned to complex means of preventing/managing such events, setup policy structures. Essentially governments use the fear-uncertainty and doubt caused by such events to raise questions after such events about the ability of citizens to take care of themselves and its ability to provide security based on the then existing distribution of power. They then use these question to crystallise a deal with citizens to exchange liberty for security. Sometimes citizens later during relatively normal events trigger repealing of relevant laws to recover their power. Sometimes supreme court's prevent executive arms of governments from acquiring too much power. Different countries therefore are in different situations, but this dynamic has played out multiple times before. But something has changed.

P2P technologies with unprecedented capabilities are spreading and pose a challenge to the ability of governments to acquire too much power over the rest of us. I am yet to see a cogent recognition of the changed reality in ongoing debates related to this in UK. The noises about making ISP's do this and do that sound silly to me, assuming my understanding of what these new technologies are capable of, is correct. Is the proposed legislation to give governments control over all encryption within the country enforceable? I am not an expert, but I am not sure based on what I read on the Internet about P2P technologies. I would much appreciate pointers to discussion whether such legislation is enforceable technically in face of the growing capabilities of P2P technologies.

Given such technologies could easily be used by the dark forces to plan and carry out abnormal events, how should the good forces (assuming the governments are good) protect us given the growing capabilities of P2P technologies. I just do not understand the inability of powers-that-be to understand that the technology tiger they are riding has already bolted and is running quickly into a deep, dark jungle. Why do they carry on applying yesterday thinking to today's problems? After all 1900 MI-5/6 people, increased funding are hardly enough to solving the technical challenge that needs solving. IMHO we are now in a new dynamic, since non-legislated dark hardware+software leveraging publicly available algorithms may not be too easy to legislate. I hope and pray I am wrong.
Pratap Tambay

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Structures and processes of humanity: Implications for events like Paris and Mumbai

Note: These are my personal views and not those of my employers, Tata Consultancy Services.

The structures of processes of humanity are designed to help humanity to act/react in face of normal and abnormal events. Different multi-human units are designed for different combination of normal and abnormal events. What is abnormal for some human and multi-human units is normal for other humans and multi-human units. Multi-human units organize their structures and processes to handle normal events differently and have pre-planned reorganisations to handle abnormal events.

In the past, the main cause of abnormal events were acts-of-god. But I contend that this is changing. Due to technological evolution, the number of abnormal events due to acts-of-man is increasing.

I have written about this before. But my current thoughts are prompted by the events in Paris, which were quite similar to the events in Mumbai in the past. The pressure on public services to cut costs results in reduction of the capability of public services to handle abnormal events. The preparedness to handle one/few abnormal event at one time may not be enough anymore, as technology enables some people to coordinate better across time and space to disrupt the lives of the rest of us at multiple points of time and space. But this is not visible till the abnormal events happen and it is difficult to comprehend what one does not starkly see. So most humans will remain substantially unaware of this as they continue in their day-to-day reverie.

I am not educated in the dynamics of public choice. But it is my firm conviction that we have a complex problem facing us. If democracies authorise the expenditure to deal with abnormal events, the transparency of what is achieved using these expenditures will be low creating the risk that these might be used by the wrong sort of people in power to build  structures to control the rest of us far too much than we might be ok with. And if democracies do not authorise such expenditures, then the random idiots will continue to create the Mumbai and Paris type of events. Also there is a question of public finance. How much should be spent reasonably on handling abnormal events and how much should spent on normal events? As technology changes the risk landscape, how should this proportion change? So in essence there is a genuine public governance issue. I believe these to be urgent and important issues. Sadly I do not think that as usual, reactions to Paris will not go beyond actions which are constrained by the continuing inability of those that matter and those advising them to see beyond the tip of the nose.


Pratap Tambay

Monday, November 09, 2015

Caste and Development

Low castes voting by caste are voting for development with social justice because voting BJP/Cong sacrifices social justice at the altar of development. The upper caste BJP/Cong aim for growth and believe in trickle down development of the lower caste's.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Trust at the base of humanity

Note: These are my personal views and not those of my employers, Tata Consultancy  Services
Bitcoin is a way of transferring value between a nodes of a network whose trust for each other is not based on any third-party. Bitcoin and its progeny Blockchain are being proposed as technologies to organize personal and professional relationships between humans, multi-human units and things (i.e. between people/firm/thing nodes of the Internet). There are undeniably advantages of doing this, but what are the implications of this?

Tim Swanson provides his views regarding the implications in this video which ought to be mandatory viewing for every senior leader making BIG statements at present. Tim goes on to in this one to articulate the value of permissioned distributed ledgers. I want to join my voice to Tim's voice of caution. Humanity is presently riding a tiger called technology and the tiger is running into a deep and dark jungle. If we do not make right choices about how we organize the affairs of humanity, we may reduce the degrees of freedom (in an Amartya Sen sense) that our progeny will have.

Essentially bitcoin and blockchain are technologies which maintain a distributed digital ledger keeping track of value exchanges between a network where the trust between nodes does not depend on any third-party. While permissioned distributed digital ledgers are technologies which maintain a distributed digital ledger keeping track of value exchange between a network where the trust between nodes depends on a trusted third party.

Anyone who has been reasonably observant about the crisis of trust on today's Internet itself will share my worry about how this crisis will grow in a world where the existence of human trust based trusted party is at the centre vanishes. When it is possible to achieve similar objectives using permissioned distributed ledgers, is it reasonable to trust computers/things more than humans by putting bitcoin/blockchain at the base? My point goes beyond the lacunae pointed out by Tim in terms of the vulnerability of "mining". Even if an option better than "mining" were to be invented by another ghost like Satoshi Nakamoto, my point is that in the final analysis, we should have trust between humans at the core rather than some abstract mechanism invented especially by a ghost. Please note that I  am concerned what is at the core. As  long as human trust is at the core of our key systems and processes, I am ok with the co-existence of the two options.

As AI based computers/things learn to pass the Turing test, which is likely to happen sooner than all of us think, "physical" face-to-face trust between human's is likely to protect us from being overrun by computers/things. Of course, unless we somehow find a way of controlling the technology tiger and find our way out of the jungle that a million uncontrolled empire-building humans are excited about being in, this possibility will also be lost as technology eliminates that final reliable basis of human trust.

I have written multiple articles on LinkedIn and Blogger since mid-2013 as have many others. I am also connected to a few of these people who share my concerns. But till the key leaders manage to look beyond the tip of their noses, we can only hope and pray. 


Pratap Tambay

Friday, September 18, 2015

WWGD - What Will Google Do?

Note: These are my personal views and not those of my employer, Tata Consultancy Services

I just read this article about Google in insurance. The key idea seems to be that Google is gathering, organizing and processing data about the real world which gives it more competitive advantage over others and might set it up as THE disruptive new insurer on the block. I have'nt read carefully what people in other industries are saying about WWGD to disrupt their industries, but there is every possibility that other industries are also worried about this information industry behemoth might steal their lunch.

In my view, data is a relatively new kind of property. Who gathers, organizes and processes what data has evolved over time in human civilization. The rules about ownership of intellectual property like data are also relatively new. I suspect that these rules designed for a previous state-of-the-world are increasing not well suited to humanity as it is evolving. I suspect that the tools by which humans and multi-human-units generate, gather, organize and process their respective data while respecting the rights of such humans and multi-human-units over their data are currently primitive. Blockchain technology provides a direction for the IT infrastructure of humanity to evolve from this primitive stage to a better situation. The main thing that will stop if this happens is that the wild west situation of humans and multi-human-units (e.g. Google) capturing/gathering data about other humans and multi-human units, organizing and processing it to derive competitive advantage over others will stop. This kind of technological destination might emerge through bottom-up political pressure applied by the 99% against the 1% (e.g. Google case in EU court), or it might evolve through the 1% (a benevolent? part of it like the Blockchain innovators) facilitating incremental innovations each of each reaches a bigger segment of humanity till the entire humanity is covered.

But what would such a destination look like. Each human will own his/her data, each multi-human-unit (firms, communities, states) would own their data. Data generated during interactions between parties will be regulated by laws evolving from current data privacy laws existing/evolving in multiple geographies to prevent random third-parties from acquiring data about humans and multi-human-units, organizing it and processing it unless explicitly sanctioned by a clear chain from the respective owners in a transparent manner. Today too, much of these legal constructs exists, but our IT is not yet evolved to handle the natural language based laws and related contracts smoothly. The electronic contracts of Blockchain technology provides a direction for reorganizing our laws and contracts to be less ambigious and ensure contract certainty.

Not many people seem to have grasped the situation in its comprehensive breadth and depth. As I have said multiple times, humanity is like a man sitting on a fierce tiger called technology and the tiger is running away into a deep and dense jungle. I say this, because while the above utopia painted by me avoids the problems of WWGD, we just do not know what problems automation, cyber-security and AI will cause in a much more electronic process based human and social life. I know that "trust" will be THE big problem, much more than it already is and it is my firm opinion that humanity should never fully automate itself i.e. the primary basis for trust should remain between humans and trust between human and system as well as system and system should be secondary/tertiary. I intuitively know this should be the case, but do not yet know explicitly why.


Pratap Tambay

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Living a life more on the front foot

There are many ways of living one's life. And I am sure there are advantages and disadvantages of living one's life in particular ways. I recently realised that I have lived my life till now in a particular way and it has given me some advantages now, though the journey seemed troublesome. I am writing this to help my young relatives and friends apply my learnings to their lives.

I remained very true to myself. This did not mean that I always knew what I wanted. It meant that I made interim choices fully well knowing that those were interim choices because I did not know what I wanted/liked/was-good-at. At times I made deeply thought through choices, which seemed fully right when I made them. But later on realising the need to rewind and choose something else, I re-winded and chose the something else. I remember telling myself that starting from scratch once or twice is ok, but scratching too much might be bad for health as well as career. Fortunately as I meandered through various choices, the alignment between my life, career and deepest needs improved. What initially seemed like Brownian motion settled down.

I lived and loved on the front foot - a particular way of being a true to oneself as against a withdrawn or reticent approach. I made choices and intensely lived and loved each choice trying to achieve the fulfilment in the direction of the specific choice. Essentially I tried hard to learn, do, get what I liked, wanted or felt strongly about. Except for drugs, breaking the law and taking advantage of any girl, everything was fair game. I found that one could be randomly competitive or do what one loved/liked and found that the latter worked for me. But the nature of life is such that one cannot necessarily/easily/immediately learn, do, get what one likes, wants or feels strongly about. There are norms, structures, processes which one must deal with. But if one really likes, wants or feels strongly about something, then if one does not do anything about it, one is sure to regret it later in life. Making such mistakes and learning from them helps to subsequently not repeat such mistakes in the new opportunities that life inevitably puts one's way. And if one goes hammer and tongs after what one really likes, wants or feels strongly about, even if one does not succeed, one can be satisfied that one tried one's best. And most importantly since it is the very nature of life (norms, structures, processes included) that not everyone gets what one really likes, wants or feels strongly about, one learns through the successes and failures. Failures as well as success teaches you about whether what you liked, wanted or felt strongly about is really for you or not, whether it is practical and worthwhile as well as what the gaps are in getting to it. If it is really worthwhile, one should typically go right ahead until and unless the heart tells you whether what you liked, wanted or felt strongly is not for you. The heart and head are very  useful tools to live one's life.

Now consider the benefits of living this way. I felt strongly about people, issues and domains and problems in my life. I gave my best in the respective pursuit under the guidance  of my head and heart. I immersed myself so intensely that it helped me generate good poetry, great insights and develop significant expertise, all the while tuning my  life to its natural best frequency. While I have still a lot to achieve, I am definitely happy and set on a road, where I am sure I will improve each day. I would like my young relatives and friends to follow their heart and head in their lives.

This is not to say that my life has been problem-free and joyous throughout. Far from it, it has been a tumultuous journey. But it has been worthwhile and fulfilling. Unchallengeable success would be a good-to-have, but living a worthwhile and fulfilling life is full of intrinsic joy. And if you live for the intrinsic joy, then life is a toy.



Thursday, August 13, 2015

IT Strategies for Mutually owned organizations

Note: These are my personal views and not those of my employer, Tata consultancy services

Many years ago I was fascinated by building societies after doing some work for Cheshire Building Society. I wrote an article describing the strategies that I felt that such mutually owned institutions should adopt. I now find the article very simplistic, unnecessarily jingoistic, presumptive and not wide-enough in tangible ideas for action. But my reading, thinking and experience has evolved since then. So here are my key illustrative current thoughts on IT strategies for Mutuals

1. Mutuals have a natural advantage compared to non-mutuals in combining data about their customers, since they typically capture the membership number along with every product/service sold/setup for the customer. Using this to maintain consolidated information (with relatively simpler MDM exercises) about the customer can help in classifying customers into tiers. These tiers and customer aggregates can then be used to customize the pricing and customer experience including making special offers to expand the share of the wallet for that customer.

2. Because their customers own them, their customers are likely to be willing to share more data about themselves than customers of non-mutual organizations. This fact can be used by mutual organizations to to identify ways and means to source more information from their customers/members through wearable's, IoT, IIoT and social media and use this information to generate more value for the Mutual and its customers. Such information can help in better risk selection, pricing, exposure management and capital allocation as well as fraud management.

3. Mutuals typical face restrictions on raising funds in wholesale markets due to being a mutual, this typically means that they need to manage cash/funds and risks (including asset-liability gaps) lot more intensively than others. Due to this, they need to implement business policies/processes enabled through IT platforms which manage operations more tightly than others so that
a. The IT platform helps them to generate maximum cash from operations for investment as well as manage these investments better
b. The IT platform helps them in better risk management (risk selection, pricing, exposure management and capital allocation as well as fraud management).

Would appreciate comments.


Pratap Tambe