Monday, August 15, 2016

Development as selective genocide

A large number of Dalits are not free yet as indicated by the Una incident and similar incidents. Trickle down development is a tool for genocide when development does not trickle down, traditional demeaning jobs/professions are inadequate for survival and fragmented voting power prevents powers-that-be from allocating and/or spending allocated funds fully to transform the destinies of Dalits.

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Need to manage technology is more urgent than ever

Note: These are my personal views and not those of my employers, Tata Consultancy Services
I just read this article by HfS regarding TCS Ignio. I had written this article long ago regarding Ignio. HfS mention that over next few months "We’ll also shine a light on how the lessons of incident management can be ported to business process delivery to make it more intelligent". As I keenly await their view on this, I am sharing my view on this, since I think we are at the cusp of something radical. And I will take the example of insurance.
As mentioned in this article and this article, the competitive advantage for commercial insurers lies in their ability to capture and manage the knowledge of the individual and aggregate causal matrices of losses and translating this knowledge into tools for risk survey, risk selection, risk pricing, exposure management, capital allocation, claims adjudication and reserving decisions. Risk survey and loss adjustment data are static secondary sources of potential and actual loss data respectively, while IoT data can be the primary source of potential and actual loss data. Just imagine, if it were to be possible to apply a technology first approach to gather the knowledge needed to support the above types of tool, where will that take insurance to? Just like automated underwriting and claims processing has change the scenario in general insurance, will the same happen in commercial insurance too. Training new underwriters and claims adjusters used to be simpler before, but is no longer so.
If AI "tools" do more and more of the "use-cases", what will the role of humans in business processes be? Clearly it will be to handle the most complex, never-seen-before "use-cases". But how do we train humans to do this. And how do we "test" and "control" the AI over time, whether it remains correct and/or accurate. As humans lose knowledge and AI contains more and more of it, will we lose the ability within humans to make good quality decisions without AI? As we become more and more dependent on AI, will we lose the ability to survive without AI? I speculated on a lot of these fearful scenarios in 2013 in my blogs on blogger. Never felt that I would start thinking of those scenarios coming real so soon.
It is important to think long and hard about how we manage technology going forward to make sure that we survive and remain in charge over our destinies.

Avoiding monopolies in the digital economy

Note: These are my personal views and not those of my employers, Tata Consultancy Services.
Just read a fabulous article making a key point about how digital economy is different from non-digital one. I would like to summarize and crystallize the import of this article by saying that digital unicorns seek to reduce the scope of individual labor in providing the end-to-end services of different kind, by providing the environment which embeds disparate laboring individuals into a "matrix" such that the laborer is lesser and lesser in charge of the end-to-end service and the digital unicorn is in charge of operating this "matrix" to control the provision of the end-to-end service, seeking to derive monopolistic returns limited only by demographics.
Based on my observations about the free software movement and my thinking related to Oasis (particularly this article and this article), I think that humanity needs to figure out how much of the technosphere around it should be public and how much should be private. This is the only way to avoid the monopolies in my view.
Is this really surprising and new? The public and private divide existed in the non-digital world too. It exists because of the nature of the difference of the needs we separately have and the one's we together have. If the "public" sector's services and the "private" sector's services are both provided digitally as part of each end-to-end services with varying degree's of public and private elements in each public service, such that "core" services are public, it would only be a natural extension of our current ways of living and working into the digital realm. It is true that things are not visibly evolving in this direction yet, but I see the seeds of this in Oasis and am sure are visible elsewhere. The reason for this is that this is the natural solution to the nature of interest structures collision problem in a digital world.
I have been thinking about how a blockchain based end-to-end economy could work and might write about it in the future. We certainly have outgrown the analogue ways of living and working, (the iconic example being that fingerprints can easily be fudged from publicly taken high resolution photographs). The new ways of living and working are being experimented with all around us. If we remember and represent our best interests in our economic choices, I am sure we will arrive at the destination I describe sooner or later.

Impact of "legacy" on "ways of living and working"

Note: These are my personal views and not those of my employers, Tata Consultancy Services
I read this excellent article by Robin Merttens and quickly sent an update based on it "Juniors in London market are worried about that the inaction of seniors is jeopardizing their future, because non-London places might implement the required actions and reduce London's share of global market by offering lower financial/solvency risk, better price, more covers and better service. Why reduce just 9 basis points if more can be reduced? Why share operations but not data, despite obvious benefits in reducing financial/solvency risks, improving pricing, increasing covers and improving service esp. if the problems can be avoided?"
Then I saw an update by someone complaining how British broadband speeds are behind broadband speed in some developing countries. And knowing how many Banks and Insurers are struggling with FinTech and InsTech, due to legacy, I quickly realized "Everywhere it is the same story. Legacy prevents bank/insurers/brokers/telco's match the productivity levels that those unburdened by legacy can leapfrog to. And its the older folk guarding the fort jeopardizing the future of the young".
But thinking further, I realized more fundamental points about differences in business cases and the abilities to invest. Some have stronger business cases than others to invest, since the productive capacity that the investments will unleash are higher and so the investment is attractive. Secondly debt-laden folks can scarcely facilitate the investments required to rip out legacy and replace with the new, shiny things.
If the present ways of living and working are "good enough" for the older folk and the business cases of investment are not strong, because the benefits of the new ways of living and working are "abstract, fuzzy and difficult to predict", it is far too easy for the older folk to reject the investment. The burden's of previous borrowings for previous investments prevent flexibility anyway in incremental investments. So the decision becomes even more easy to make.
But someone elsewhere, unburdened by legacy is jumping on the next wave directly and leapfrogging. Their business case will be obvious and if they have the flexibility to borrow and invest in their own future, they will do so as many developing countries are doing.
Those who invest protect the future of their young and those who do not risk the future of their young. But we make investment decisions using net present value techniques and the pain and gain of future generations has less value in our present decisions. 
Is there any way, present generation investment decisions can be made by private, public and government actors in UK so that the future ways of living and working of the future people of UK are not compromised?
I think this theme deserves some deep thought extending Robin's proposal.

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