Ray Kurzweil is a noted innovator and futurist, who has been consistently making the right technological predictions for a couple of decades. Recently, he has started making certain predictions that many people considered outrageous and way beyond the mark.
Sunday, August 16, 2009
Sunday, May 10, 2009
- Rating : The iPod should have an easy button to adjust the rating for a song being played.
- Synchronization : When the iPod is connected to my computer, it should synchronize automatically with the iTunes database of how many times a song is played, and how well it is rated.
- Sharing : The iTunes (or the cool iLike application) should provide an easy way of sharing my favorite artists across to my friends on Facebook and on other social networking websites.
- Proactive Recommendations : I should be able to gift and recommend tunes to friends on my social network. I should be able to receive their recommendations when I plug in my computer. This should happen by podcasts.
- Remuneration : Based on my profile of likes and dislikes (and the frequency with which certain songs are played), iTunes should compute a pie chart which tells how a dollar of my money is distributed to several individual artists. If and when I decide to patronize artists (at the beginning of each month, for example) iTunes should compute the list of artists on my favorite list and transmit their share of patronizing money (how many cents out of the 10 dollars I give, for example). All the money should go directly to artists, not even a single penny should go to middlemen.
- Recognition : The fact that I have spent money patronizing artists should be visible as a certificate on my Facebook profile. Certain physical certificates (posters, buttons, mugs etc) should also be sent to my postal address as a reward for my patronizing.
- Concert Alerts : iTunes should automatically alert me to the concerts of my favorite artists when they are playing in a nearby town. iTunes should compile a list of gold members who patronized these artists, and if I am amongst them, I should get seats closer to the concert stage.
- Personal Communication : iTunes should provide an easy way of leaving comments, blog-posts, pictures, videos and emails to my favorite artists. If and when an artist or fellow-fan replies to my comments, iTunes should alert me in the corresponding artist's tab when I open it.
- Discovery (Passive Recommendations) : Based on my profile of likes and dislikes, iTunes (or the iLike application) should recommend me similar and upcoming artists. This way, I will be able to patronize new artists when they will be badly in need of financial support. The recommendation algorithm should employ both feature analysis of music and also statistical analysis of correlated correspondences like how Amazon does (if my friends on Facebook share musical tastes with me, their favorite artists should be recommended to me).
- Mixing of media : I should be able to mix media and publish this work online. iTunes should automatically prepare a copyleft document (such as the Creative Commons license) which provides pointers to the individual artists who have contributed to the pieces inside my work. If a user likes my work and decides to patronize it, he/she should automatically be alerted to the various artists who contributed to portions of my work. The user then is provided the choice of default patronizing chart (that prepared by me) or according to his/her own decision.
Wednesday, April 08, 2009
In an earlier post, I have mentioned a few techniques to win a debate against a worthy adversary. But in some cases, the objective is not to win the debate, but to just prevent the debate from happening. This is the case when one is very scared of losing.
- Sustaining the illusion of normalcy : The success of any religion depends on how effectively it can sustain the illusion of normalcy in the minds of people. For most of the time, a human brain is functionally equivalent to a copying machine. It springs into an "intelligent" state of questioning only when something drastic happens that shatters the impression of normalcy. Therefore, a religion has to work to provide the illusion of normalcy even amidst an extraordinary crisis. For example, in the current severe economic recession, people are constantly fooled on the media that life is going on normally. That a second and stronger Wall Street is rising from the ashes. And that all the loopholes in the financial sector are being fixed.
- Keeping an issue complicated by jargon : If the illusion of normalcy fails, and a person is intrigued to question, he can be immediately assaulted by stating that the subject at hand is too complicated for his mind to process. This is achieved by presenting the case in legal and economic jargon with which he might not be aware. Complicated graphs and mathematical equations will be produced to scare the person away. Imposing persons with strings of diplomas at the end of their names will appear on the television to explain the situation, or better, to express their helplessness that the situation is beyond even their smart brains. In fact, any complicated scientific theory (including quantum mechanics and string theory) can be explained to the layman without the use of jargon. It all depends on the willingness of the speaker to communicate.
- Keeping the opposition divided : Despite the above efforts, some opposition will coalesce socially against a religion. Then the success of a religion depends critically on how efficiently it can keep the opposition divided. The religion tries its best to emphasize the differences amongst the opponents, and provoke one party against the other. For example, one of the biggest heists of modern politics is to divide Libertarians from the Social Democrats. The former are told that the latter are opponents of freedom, while the latter are told that the former are opponents of equality. In fact, even if both of these accusations are partially true, they are usually not concerned to the topic at hand, which could be about monopolization of resources, to which both the parties are equally opposed.
- Infiltrating the opposition by stone-throwers : The survival of a religion depends on the majority acceptance of people in the society. Whenever an opposition germinates against a religion, it will have to work to gain acceptance amongst neutral and undecided people in the society. If such people are worried that the opposition is filled with extremists, the religion has a better chance of survival. Hence, a religion actually infiltrates the opposition with spies who project this image of extremism. A very simple demonstration of this is when the opposition holds a peaceful rally - a few spies can throw stones, sullying the name of the entire opposition. More often, this stone-throwing phenomenon happens metaphorically in the media. Several writers will be paid to write radical essays or make provocative statements in the name of the opposition. For example, (a) a spy might shout anti-semitic slogans in an anti-war rally to protest against Israeli aggression (b) a spy might argue for totalitarian state ownership of means of production, during a critique of the current banking fiasco.
- Exploiting false associations : In several cases, it will be possible to associate the opponent of a religion to evil actors, through similarity in name (for example, nuclear power to nuclear weapons), through evils of the past (for example, any mention of socialism to gulags in the Soviet Union), through a freak joint appearance (for example, anti-war activists with radical-Islamic activists), or through use by other evil actors (for example, Osama bin Laden sullying the name of Noam Chomsky). Human brain has an associative memory, and it has difficulties in differentiating correlation from causation, cause from effect, and the irrelevant from the relevant. If the false associations are repeated frequent enough, they will sink well in the minds of the population. It helps if the associations are phoenetically rhyming or have a sing-song about them.
- Shaping the identity of people with empty attributes : The biggest threat of a religion are people, and the biggest weapon of a religion are again people. The success of a religion lies in infiltrating the identity of people. When people think that their own identities are at threat, they become extremely defensive, and go to the extent of even laying their lives down for the sake of the religion. A religion shapes the identity of people in terms of empty attributes that it claims to have a monopoly on : honor, self-respect, love of freedom, democracy, respect for elders etc. In reality, none of these attributes are actually related to the religion concerned, but people will find it extremely difficult to disentangle the associations. Whenever a religion is questioned on specific issues : such as the murder of human beings, swindling of money, or blatant violation of freedoms, the religion responds by whipping the people into a frenzy saying that their own identities are being questioned (defined on empty attributes such as honor or respect, of course).
- Not overdoing the exploitation : The success of any slave-owner depends on how well the slave is fed. Nobody can be exploited till exhaustion. A human being will first rebel before he succumbs to death by exhaustion. And if people are famished, the rebellion will be exceedingly difficult to control. So a religion alternates between exploiting people and providing them with a small respite. This is especially true with democratic governments, which provide tax-breaks, or poverty-alleviation schemes just before elections. Human brain is extremely sensitive to alternating stimuli of pain and pleasure. Any pleasure felt in the aftermath of pain is exceedingly strong, and people will be very well-disposed towards a religion when they receive their shot of pleasure.
- Socially ostracizing the skeptics : The religion creates an aura of taboo on certain topics, forcing people not to discuss them. Anyone who starts a discussion on such topics has to fear that he/she will be socially ostracized. For example, the issue of race is a strong taboo in several societies. The religion inflicts strongly negative and unpleasant sensations in people whenever such topics are mentioned. In this way, a debate is terminated even before it could germinate. The history of human beings is replete with brilliant scientists and artists who produced masterpieces even during the worst periods of oppression and enslavement. Most likely, these great minds would have questioned the religion, if only they had less to fear that they would deeply offend their colleagues.
- Developing a symbiotic identity from diverse ideologies : This is the most subtle form a religion can take. In nature, animals and plants have symbiotic relationships. Predators are necessary to ensure that a prey species doesn't overpopulate, and thence suffer extinction. There exists a complex give and take relationship between different forms of life : an entire environment, known as a "biome", is created out of such relationships. For example : the sea-anemone and the hermit crab often occur together. The anemone protects the crab from enemies with its poisonous sting, and the crab carries the anemone around. We don't need such exotic examples, every plant and animal requires millions of other species for survival. Plants need bees for pollination, we human beings need thousands of bacteria for digesting our food. This type of symbiotic relationship is also the norm for artificial life, or religions. For example : the extreme right-wing sections of two religions need each other to reinforce each other. A right wing party needs to alternate the government with a center-left party in order to provide some respite for the people (point 7). In such cases of symbiotic existence of a religion, the agents of exploitation and enslavement are present in all the parties that participate. When there is no clear enemy that they can identify, people will be totally at a loss on who to blame and silently accept their fate.
- Anticipating the opposition, coalescing it, and then crushing it : A really smart religion actually has a functional wing to catch all the exceptions and skeptics. It might pay a spy to create an anti-religion organization and let all the opposition gravitate towards it. In that way, the religion knows clearly who its opponents are and what they are up to. When the numbers become too many, the religion implements the plan of destruction of opponent. This can be done by physically harming the opponents, or by spreading fear amongst the population that a major conspiracy is being hatched, or by sowing cynicism into the minds of opponents through spies. This strategy works well as long as the opponent group is not too large to be beyond control.
Sunday, March 29, 2009
This is 2009. It has been 320 years since Issac Newton published his Principiae Mathematicae. It has been 233 years since James Watt made his principal modifications to the steam engine. And it has been 104 years that Albert Einstein proposed his theory of relativity
Poverty may have been the natural state of mankind. But this was made obsolete by the advent of automation technology. Nevertheless, right in the 21st century, we still suffer from 16th century problems.
I am interested in sustainable energy sources for the future of humanity. Thus I discovered nuclear power and breeder reactors. In 1994, a very promising research program called the Integral Fast Reactor (IFR) was terminated by the US senate. The official explanation was that this program increased the risk of nuclear proliferation. But nothing can be farther from truth. (I advise you to read the excellent book of Tom Blees to get the whole story). Several US senators across the political stripes have voted to terminate the program. In reality, the IFR project could produce vast quantities of energy from depleted Uranium (U238) that is currently treated as nuclear waste. It is far safer and proliferation resistant than the current light water reactors (LWR). More interestingly, it would have no fuel supply crunches that exist with LWRs. I was forced to think what could be the political opposition to the IFR.
- Every country will be working day and night to export to the US consumer. In fact, even highly industrialized economies such as Germany and Japan are totally dependent on exports to the USA.
- US consumer is encouraged to waste energy (that he can get for free), food (that is subsidized by undervalued animal feed exports from across the globe) and consumer goods (that he gets for lower value, and that he trashes every other Christmas to buy new ones)
- The US government strives to maintain the petrodollar monopoly. That is, it has to work to (a) prevent alternative energy sources from spreading across the world, which eat into the oil-market (b) prevent any oil producing country from pricing their oil in euros, or any other world currency. If needed, the internal politics of that country may be altered by regime change or military invasion.
Wednesday, March 11, 2009
Hello my friend and compatriot,
Thursday, February 19, 2009
- Because the Sarod originated from the Afghan Rubab.
- Because Kabuliwala is one of the best stories penned by Tagore.
- Because Shahrukh Khan, Aamir Khan, Dileep Kumar, Sanjay Khan and Fardeen Khan are all born in Afghan immigrant families.
- Because stalwart musician families such as those of Ustad Amjad Ali Khan have come from Afghanistan.
- Because Afghans have helped Netaji Subash Chandra Bose in his escape from the British, and in raising the Indian National Army.
- Because sculptures in Hindu temples owe to the Gandhara tradition of Afghans.
- Because Sher Shah Suri, the great reformer of India's administration, was an Afghan.
- Because Maulana Abul Kalaam Azad, who ended communal electorates and shaped India's secularism, was born in an Afghan immigrant family.
- Because the Pathan brothers are the pride of India's cricket team.
- Because Bacha Khan was a most loyal friend, and a brother in spirit, of Mahatma Gandhi.
Monday, February 02, 2009
Friday, January 30, 2009
Monday, January 26, 2009
Wednesday, January 21, 2009
I don't know if there is a text on the art of debating. This is a very interesting discipline. Let me list a few strategies that can be used in a debate. Please remember that any weapon can be used for the good or for the bad, depending on the wielder.
I am not talking of the list of logical fallacies, which are a primer for any debater, and should be quickly identified if the opponent resorts to any of them. I am also not talking of the arts of sophistry, rhetoric, evading information and the diversion of attention (also known as politician-speak).
In this post, I will write on some sublime strategies for winning a debate against worthy adversaries.
1) The principle of least information revelation :
This is probably the most important tactic in debating. One should not reveal more information than is necessary for the debate in question. Any unnecessary information can be contested and important time will be lost. One should never give the opponent a chance to stereotype oneself. Revealing more information than necessary will permit the opponent to brand one as an extremist, or to divert the attention on unrelated issues.
2) The battle for the middleground :
The debater should make an attempt to rephrase the opponent's views. This will convince the audience that the opponent is being listened to. The primary battle in any debate is to capture the middleground. Any attack from the middleground will be more vicious than usual.
3) The art of providing examples :
The debater who can provide a right example to elucidate or summarize the scenario gets a huge bonus in the fight. This technique is an art, and gets better with practice.
4) Accession to a wrong strongpoint :
To weaken the opponent's argument, the debater should concede to a faulty strongpoint in it. This would project a false win for the opponent, and divert the attention from the more vicious strongpoint.
The debater would essentially set the language in which the debate is conducted.
5) Invitation of attack on a wrong weakpoint :
It is important to waste the opponent's energy in the battle. And more time spent on a wrong weakpoint of a debater, means less time spent on a real weakpoint. So the opponent should be lured into attacking a wrong weakpoint.
6) Identification of the unpreventable :
If there is an issue that the opponent opposes, but which happens as an inevitable consequence of a host of other issues unrelated to the debate, it has to be identified at the earliest. Such an issue will make the opponent lose credibility. Even though the debate is not actually won, such a pseudo-win will make the debater look good.
7) Juicy trail for the opponent's escape :
The debater should actively lay down a trail for the opponent to escape from the debate. No opponent will succumb to a painful death in a debate. Most debates are won when the opponent escapes, as in "I will have to read on this and get back to you", "This looks very interesting, I am not aware of this" or "I know you are wrong, but cannot tell you why". Such escapes should be accepted graciously, and the opponent should be thanked for escaping ('Thank you. We can discuss more on that later'). In fact, the debater should lay down juicy morcels all along the escape route, so as to lure the opponent.
8) Identification of inconsistency :
When the opponent makes mutually inconsistent claims, this should be identified immediately. Such an exposé would be deadly to the opponent, more so than a revelation that an opponent's claim is false.
9) Projection of the image of cool :
One need not always keep one's cool in a debate, but one should definitely project one's cool to the audience. Voice should be raised only most sparingly, only to stress certain phrases amidst a monologue.
The personality of the opponent should be held distinct from his viewpoint, and the former should always be shown the utmost respect. Never should the audience be given the impression that the opponent is shouted down.
Thursday, January 08, 2009
I wish to draw people's attention to the plight of innocent villagers in Swat. This beautiful place has been facing an unending nightmare for several months. After Mumbai, I hope everybody realizes that terror holds no borders : the horror of one innocent human being is the horror of entire humanity.
Letter from Swat
The main town of Swat, Mingora, has now virtually fallen to the militants. The police are escorted by army officials and come out from their ‘hide-outs’ only for a couple of hours. One of the busiest squares, Grain chowk, was renamed by the shopkeepers as ‘Khooni chowk’ because when they come to their shops in the morning on each day they find four or five dead bodies hung over the poles or the trees. They see dead bodies scattered along the foot path in the morning. The bodies are usually headless. The practice goes thus with an average of four deaths daily in the square. Similarly on each morning there are found bodies with their throats slit in Qambar, Kabal, Matta, Khawza Khela and Charbagh. This practice has been going on for weeks; and unfortunately does not seem to stop.
Jan 15 is the deadline set by the militants to close all schools, especially those of girls. As the deadline approaches people are getting more and more terrified. The government’s writ is all but absent. Nazims have been killed, women are not allowed to visit bazaars (which are deserted), NGOs have stopped working and children play a ‘Fauji Taliban’ game. The people live a miserable life in the cold. Most bridges have been damaged and beyond the main town phones have been dead for months. Most people live in darkness at night because the fighting has badly affected the power infrastructure as well.
Curfew is imposed constraining the people inside for days on end. And security forces personnel sometimes fire indiscriminately. The residents can do nothing – they cannot protest against the high-handedness of the military or stand up to the militants. The Taliban gain from strength to strength, partly aided by the use of FM radio. Various checkposts set up by the security forces seem to be no little use. Scores of militants entered Kalam last week in spite of six checkposts set up from from Bagh Dahri to Bahrain. It is quite clear that for now the victors in the war are the Taliban – and the losers the people of Swat.
But who cares about that in the rest of the country. The government seems too busy dealing with the aftermath of the Mumbai carnage. That said, the predicament of the people of Swat is worse than even of the people of Gaza. In Gaza the enemy is well known but in Swat the people know not who the enemy is and whom to hold responsible.
The civil society of any country is regarded as a great force to mobilize the general public against the violation of civil rights and liberty. It is considered as a bulwark against the violation of human rights. It is deemed as the upholder of people’s rights where the state fails to deliver. Its mettle was tested in the lawyers’ movement but we in Swat wonder why it is silent now? We hear no voice raise against the atrocities committed in Swat. No civil society organization has its voice against the plight of the women and children in Swat. We have not seen a single demonstration in the big cities against the monster of militancy in Swat, or in FATA for that matter. The media also seems apathetic about the plight. The print media does well to some extent but their scope is limited.
The people of Swat ask you to come out on their behalf and mobilize the general public against the war tearing the valley. We implore you to come out of your drawing rooms and stage protests so that the government does something about our plight.
The author is Zubair Torwali, from KhyberWatch.