An article worth a read. This piece on the NY Times chronicles the working culture at Bell Labs.

Today, we use the word “Innovation” to catalogue any improvement e.g a smartphone app. Au contraire, the culture of making things fast and believing in small iterations may not always result in disruptive changes which create long-term value. Examples of innovation at Bell Labs ¬†include the Transistor, Lasers, Unix among so many others which defined the late 20th century.

Innovation and the Bell Labs Miracle –




We live in an age where computers almost run our so many essential things in our life – right from monitoring transactions, to routing aeroplanes to controlling dangerous workplaces.

Errors in Software permeate so much of our daily software. Here are a few instances when tiny computer glitches wreaked havoc.

After all, we may be living a “Bugged Life”

5 Tiny Computer Glitches That Caused Huge Disasters |


Posted: August 15, 2012 in Poetry, Tech
Tags: ,

A poem on Algorithms I read on a blog. And my extension to it. Have fun reading ūüôā

With O of N in mind, I started right,

To see the code, was no ordinary sight!

Write I did, and compiled it too,

Error it said, Oh now I have no clue.

So now I used more time and space,

N squared it became, and I did a stack trace.

Debug and Recompile, now well and done,

Oh this is sure going to be fun.

In GNU/Linux I believed, and execution began

Oh you should have seen how the code ran!

The system sung the song I wrote,

Its beauty and brilliance, I will not gloat.

My addition:

Enter the Computer Science Professor:

Show me your Data Structure;

You need to have more Abstraction,

The Goal is not just Compilation…

N-squared shall not suffice,

For Performance, Memoize!

Show me how the bits dance;

Show me Elegance.

You are the star of my class,

Unlike those fools smoking Grass.

So go there to your workstation.

And code till the next Compilation.

The Enchanted River

With O of N in mind, I started right,
To see the code, was no ordinary sight!
Write I did, and compiled it too,
Error it said, Oh now I have no clue.

So now I used more time and space,
N squared it became, and I did a stack trace.
Debug and Recompile, now well and done,
Oh this is sure going to be fun.

In GNU/Linux I believed, and execution began
Oh you should have seen how the code ran!
The system sung the song I wrote,
Its beauty and brilliance, I will not gloat.


I wrote this in today’s Data Warehousing and Mining theory class.

Was sure a sleepy day. ūüôā

I lead a fun life, don’t I?

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In 1970, a Zambia-based nun named Sister Mary Jucunda wrote to Dr. Ernst Stuhlinger, then-associate director of science at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center, in response to his ongoing research into a piloted mission to Mars. Specifically, she asked how he could suggest spending billions of dollars on such a project at a time when so many children were starving on Earth.

The link is the letter from Dr Stuhlinger to the nun. A wonderful piece…

Letters of Note. (Link:

The Mechanical Man

Posted: August 7, 2012 in Philosophy
Tags: , , ,

The travails of a factory worker‘s life go beyond the drab working hours, spending years working on the same piece of machinery, tightening / adding the same part to the product on the assembly line. ¬†The companies view the workers as nothing but a cog in the machine, a part of a process, much akin to the¬†notable dialogue¬†from the 2011 movie Hugo has which goes:

I’d imagine the whole world was one big machine. Machines never come with any extra parts, you know. They always come with the exact amount they need. So I figured if the entire world was one big machine… I couldn’t be an extra part. I had to be here for some reason.

Only, the reason for your being is to assemble a particular component.

The assembly line is a very weird social network. You seldom get to meet people who work much further “upstream” or “downstream” from you. Your pulse is determined by the pace of the conveyor.

The assembly plant of the Bell Aircraft Corporation at Wheatfield, New York , 1944

The assembly plant of the Bell Aircraft Corporation at Wheatfield, New York , 1944

A typical workday:¬†Your colleague who works right next to you gives you a nod. Yes, time to think of the next tidbit of conversation. Maybe, lets talk about that lout, the Manager. After all, he is nothing but a monkey on our backs! An alarm rings and lights flash. The indicator board. Ah! The new guy has screwed up again. Bless him for giving us a breather! …. Ten minutes for the lunch break… The bell goes. Time to scram!… Same tasteless broth today. Time for a quick game of cards… The supplies guy is coming. Wonder what’s up with him… Here comes the Manager to check if the day’s targets will be met, what a¬†slave-driver… You look at your colleague who rolls his eyes. That reminds you of the movie you watched a few days back. Did you watch that movie, you ask…. The shift is about to end. Time for that stupid safety check… The bell rings. Freedom at last!

Have the modern manufacturing paradigms dehumanized the workplace to such an extent that workers start to behave like the machines they work on? What are the alternatives to giving the same job to a person for weeks? Job rotation, perhaps. What about automation? Automation in India is usually an inferior alternative due to the abundance of labour.

A quote for thought:

For God‚Äôs sake, let us be men not monkeys minding machines or sitting with your tails curled while the machine amuses us, the radio or film or gramophone. Monkeys with a bland grin on our faces. ‚Äď D.H. Lawrence, 1885-1930

Of Turing Tests and Mechanical Turks

Posted: November 4, 2011 in Tech

In an internet chat room, a stranger pings you. You strike a conversation that seems to go on well at first. But after sometime, you realize that something’s amiss. Is the other guy too amiable? Or too omniscient? Are there patterns in his replies? Is there a standard response? Then it strikes you, the “guy” is a bot, pretending to be human…

If the bot is still undetected and you end the conversation thinking that you just spoke to a stranger from another part of the world, the bot just passed the Turing Test. However, if we talk to the bot again, will it remember the details of our previous conversation? What information will it extract about our profile? Can it learn the rules of human behavior through Machine Learning or will we have to hard-code the Rules?

Let’s consider a conversation:

  • Bot (Pretending to be human): Hi
  • Me: Hi
  • Bot: Wassup dude!!
  • Me: nm man, you say
  • Bot: time pass! Btw, I’m a UG student, wbu?
  • Me: Am also a student. So what do u study?
  • Bot: Some practical stuff… (Not a clear answer, so that it can change its path depending on my answer).
  • Me: Nice man.. i thought all students just learn theory bullshit!! Take my college for example.. am an engineer.. but all I learn is loads of crap! So what do you exactly study?
  • Bot: Am also an engineer.
  • …. The conversation continues and finishes…

Now, the bot has some information about me. It can create a profile and “paint” a picture about my behavior and typing patterns, expected responses. Thus, if a bot is truly “Intelligent”, we can have an endless conversation and the bot will perhaps get to know more about me than any human friend (that is of course only if it stores and analyses my responses).

So can a following bot pass the Turing test? It has a few characteristic features such as:

  • Creating a profile for each conversation and mining it for information about its user. Let’s assume the bot has access to “sufficient” memory, how ever much it may be.
  • Access to¬†Wikipedia and general web¬†and ability to get relevant responses for questions that may be asked during a conversation.
  • Ability to be consistent with what it says during a conversation. (e.g if it says “I am an engineer” during one conversation with user X, whenever it speaks to user X, it is always an engineer.)
  • Ability to be human (respond to some queries in a way any human may respond: example: “My pet died.. :(“ Bot: “Sorry to hear about that.. ūüė¶ My condolences”). This can only be done by analyzing large volumes of chat logs and mining for specific patterns: e.g {died, condolence || sorry || sad}; {won, congrats|| m/ || victory}).

Let’s further assume that the chatting will take place one-on-one (no group chat).

Now, this bot evolves overtime. It can effectively serve as a Personal Assistant ( Siri anyone? ūüôā ) Also, this leads to another potentially unknown situation – a possible conversation between two bots that each pretends to be human. Will they be able to accurately gauge each other? Over here, even the style of conversation will matter. One bot may have to initiate new leads.

Such a technology will revolutionize Customer Relations, if the bots can be trained. Perhaps, each customer may receive his own customized bot for technical and miscellaneous support which can be double up as a PA like Siri.

Every bot can now be a Siri?

Every bot can potentially double up as a Siri-like PA

With Understanding, can come functionality. Perhaps bots can be commanded to perform certain functions through voice/ chat commands. (Maybe sitting in your office, you can ask your PA in the home to make you tea when you return. Of course, such functionality is available to many internet enabled household devices, but having a single bot manage them all makes it much easier for you to control)

There may be boundless applications for such a bot.. I would conclude by saying that we have reached a crossroads… Two centuries back, there was this awesome pretend machine called the “Mechanical Turk” which was supposed to be an automatic chess playing machine. But the mechanical Turk was just an elaborate sitting room for a good human chess player who controlled the machine from inside.

The Role Reversal - Machine Inside, human outside!

(The new age Mechanical Turk – A Reversal of roles – Machine inside, but pretending to be Human!)

How ironic that the roles have been reversed.. We will now have machines pretending to be human; and they are definitely improving at that!

The Matrix, Reloaded!

Posted: November 1, 2011 in Tech

We use machines in everyday life, and most of the time, we do not realize the evolution machines undergo, in short periods, to improve our “experience” with the product/service we use.

To satisfy demands for a happy lifestyle, machines are being taught, as any sentient intelligent creature would. And now, we have an augmented world, one where machines can do part of our responsibilities and where we are dangerously close of almost fusing to form a cybernetic entity.

Just as machines have developed Computer Vision, humans are also being shown what the world looks from the perspective of a machine. Take for example the ubiquitous Google Search. It tracks what you search and displays results accordingly. Where 5-6 years back, a search for Matrix would have returned both a mixture of the geeky Matrix trilogy and the mathematical Matrices, now, we may get a biased result based on how “filmy” or “nerdy” the Google Algorithm thinks the Searcher is… We rely on Machine Learned recommendations.. Heck, even our spam filters are based on how the machine perceives we react to certain content.

The Matrix! - Seeing the World through the eyes of a machine

(The Matrix! – Seeing the World through the eyes of a machine)

And I would say that no one is complaining because, in the end, the intelligent machines make our life easier. We need not fear a self-aware Monster machine threatening doom on humanity √° l√° Skynet! Yet, the future of the Human Race and perhaps even Human Thought may be increasingly shaped by our interactions with machines and their “perception” about us.

Fusion with Machines - An Augmented Reality

(Towards Skynet? – An Augmented Reality)

The virtual gold – Information

Posted: October 29, 2011 in Tech

Intelligence and Information were important since pre-historic times where intel on enemies meant a difference between victory and defeat; and quite possibly between slavery and kingship.

In today’s world, there is no dearth of data. By data, I mean the “object” created in the memories of machines. But how much of this is of actual relevance to us?

Those who mine data and analyze it would beg to differ. Perhaps each bank of data is literally a bank waiting to be robbed!

Information which helps create value is of value.


The Cosmic Game of Dice…

Posted: October 20, 2011 in Philosophy

I do not believe that God plays dice…

– Einstein

The world is a beautiful place. But have we ever paused and thought about it? How engrossed we are in our little doings that we seldom think about the beauty that surrounds us…

By Beauty, I do not mean just our surroundings. I mean the symmetry in the Universe. The very fact that what are essentially a bunch of atoms can create sentient, intelligent life. The fact that despite a less than lottery winning chance of existing, we exist.

Is there someone who plays dice, on a Cosmic scale? Or in the words of probability theory, is there a Universal Probability Generator? One that is linked with every probabilistic event (in essential, every event in the universe)? Religions call this Probability Generator God. And physicists call it Quantum Mechanics