Friday, December 12, 2008

First amateur video for social work: feels good!

Together with my favorite group-fitness teacher Jennifer Habeeb I made a video for a Social policy class to capacitate community efforts for improving lives of kids in Northwest Philadelphia region. We made the video two days ago and after struggling to upload it to youtube I want to share it with others here.

This is my first video with music and it feels really good because it is for social work. I hope to make many more movies over time towards topics like Ecopsychology (official subject name was introduced to me by my friend Pauline Romas). I have been passionate about our environment for a while: I am a member of Penn-Environment and contribute some money to the organization regularly, I recycle as much as possible even to the point of holding on to the stuff till I find a recycle bin, I use plastic bags only minimally, turn off lights in restrooms in our building at nights, etc. etc. The next revolution for ensuring our civilization is going to be Energy Technology (ET) similar to what we had couple of decades ago with Information Technology (IT). Ecopsychology is going to be ingredient of that progress similar to the progress made along civil rights (civic psychology) of humans.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

The language of thoughts: intelligence, artificial intelligence and super natural intelligence

I wanted to write this post a while ago and then I wanted to write a philosonomicon for my thesis. Because of the deadline yesterday I finally finished the prologue and am using some of it for this post.

Scott already blogged about this almost over two years ago. The basic standard of modern science is that communication is a key aspect in any analytical ability or intelligent activity since it is the first causal step in achieving repeatability leading the eventual goal of our persistence. For communication we need material. Hence materialism is one of the foundations the modern science. Languages evolve over time and the more precise one can communicate the better will be the ability to learn, behave intelligently, lead the food chain and hence survive through odds. Since the beginning of enlightenment era around late 17th century and early 18th century "reason" began to be the basis of authority. Hence the quest to understand human intelligence can be thought to have begun since then.

A hypothesis that is very plausible is that all actions are seeded in thoughts. Our understanding of human intelligence will be limited by our understanding of the language of thoughts. Hence the pursuit of understanding the language of thoughts is well justified.

Understanding Nature for engineering purposes has to do with what is observable, measurable and repeatable with certain level of predictability. Even though logic and math existed for centuries before the advent of computers, a new era of science was ushered by efforts of Alan Turing and Alonzo Church who came up with the famous Church-Turing thesis. Turing's famous paper "On computability..." essentially can be thought of as a heuristic explanation of the human thought process which has proven to be very successful. Thus Turing proposed a language for the machine human interaction. The book "The Language of Machines...", co-authored by my Masters adviser should provide a nice introduction and perspective to the theory of computability.

Turing's famous test for Artificial Intelligence involves modeling thought process as a computational device and comparing it with behavior of a human. Even though computational model of human thought process is only a heuristic it nevertheless models many many human thought processes. With the advent of complexity theory it became apparent that computation may not efficiently model all thought processes as argued by works like Scott's thesis.

But as Niels Bohr once said, "It is wrong to think that the task of physics is to find out how Nature is. Physics concerns what we say about Nature." efforts in artificial intelligence also concern themselves with what we can say about intelligence not what it is. This lead to the modern approaches in machine learning. To summarize the efforts in one long sentence would be to say that those are essentially based on principle of Occam's razor to explain the unknown distributions of observed data using different efficient algorithms and models of data. Different sub-fields (like vision, bio-informatics, medical imaging, robotics etc.) essentially involve in coming up with those efficient algorithms and data modeling. For e.g. artificial vision deals itself with understanding data obtained using electromagnetic waves starting from X-rays (CT-scans) to visible light (photo cameras) to radio waves (MRI). Goals in artificial vision and intelligence thus don't necessarily restrict themselves to human abilities. Humans just form the lower bound of what we want to do with machines (like for e.g. super-man has X-ray vision).

While applied researchers work on developing artifical intelligence that can mimic natural and super-natural intelligence assuming a computational model, complexity theorists work on building computational models and shedding light on their limitations. As long as P!=NP we have to design the learning algorithms for the machines to learn and behave. Understanding the way human brain really works may help to come up with better ("generative") computational models that actually mimic the underlying process generating the human intelligence. But it's a long way to go. Right now Turing model is the most promising because of the enormous creative abilities of humans in designing clever algorithms. Evidently even quantum computation models of thoughts do not give us much more power.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Congratulations to America

Last night was an amazing night! It was much much more exciting than any event I ever followed. I feel fortunate to be right here in the US and be part of this historic election in someway.

The outcome of this election process clearly presents us many many aspects of true America or the concept of America:

  • For a country to be a true beacon for democracy we need good people who can make the actual definition of democracy (Govt. of the people, by the people and for the people) work.

  • People should be smart, open and stand for their beliefs, looking beyond their prejudices, to actually tap the full potential of democracy.

  • The freedom and power that the US has in this world gives room for lot of possibilities and it has been making better choices than almost all powers in the past, this being their latest accomplishment.

  • The true meaning of the opportunity is best demonstrated with this election.

  • It's resilience is a true demonstration of the saying: "Our greatest glory consists not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall." -- Ralph Waldo Emerson
  • Saturday, November 01, 2008

    Counting days to 4th

    There is space-time continuum in this world but we know that there's no absolute measure of time. Sometimes days feel like seconds and sometimes seconds feel like days. With only two days left for the defining moment in 2008, the days feel like too long! Americans, PLEASE VOTE FOR BARACK OBAMA on November 4th (Tuesday)! Polls sure boost our confidence but please do not let them increase your complacence.

    Summarized view of his campaign is below:

    Monday, October 20, 2008

    Polls and Powell

    I wanted to add this video with some meta analysis of Obama's campaign style. But I wasn't very sure about it. Looking at Terence Tao's post on the same topic I got motivated again.

    See I mentioned before we can learn a lot from Obama's campaign style for better. Obama's self-criticality, empathy, uncertainty actually add to his focusing ability and thus lead to confidence and success at least as measured by polls and lately by Powell's endorsement. Of course there are 15 more days left and nobody can become complacent now.

    Like millions I love (because I feel I can learn from him) the eloquence of Obama for e.g. when asked by someone something like what are you mainly worried about regarding election he said "What keeps me awake at night are not prospects of losing but prospects of winning because there is so much work to be done by the next president."! This again shows his focus! Running an exceptional campaign is only part of the game and he is really targeting to be an exceptional president which America desperately needs one now.

    Saturday, October 11, 2008

    Streaks of thought: Streak 22

    I just wanted to share the thrill of seeing the next president of the United States in person just four blocks away from where I live :)

    This coupled with other incidents made my day today. It's amazing how resonating with someone can give that extra energy to make more out of life. Being able to resonate is important to have real life!!! As always I say this again: America is not just about money. It's a wonderful concept that we humans can look up to and protect it with all we got. I cannot imagine a world with any country (actually concept) except America leading the world.

    Tuesday, September 23, 2008

    Procrastinate on politics

    A few months ago I had post on ways of procrastination. Since it's almost inevitable I urge everyone to involve in politics in some way. Talk to people to register to vote. Display political messages in your online profiles. People spend a lot of time online so create events, groups, threads etc. It's already being done and I am doing my part by posting this.

    Thursday, September 18, 2008

    Streaks of thought: Streak 21

    Civilizations constantly try to evolve a system in which making choices is neither very hard (e.g. not being able to make choice in time) nor very easy (e.g. locally greedy choices) so as to sustain interest in living and letting live.

    Tuesday, September 02, 2008


    A year ago these youngsters and many others wouldn't care to talk about politics....I mean what happened...It's simple....Here's my pick...

    I wanted to write this post right after watching Obama's speech at DNC but because of an extended deadline, a labor day weekend at six-flags and an informal talk at Penn, I am writing it now.

    A few months ago, when some of my friends asked my opinion about presidential candidates and whom I would support, I said I don't follow politics. If I have to answer I would depend on opinions of those who I look up to since at least I know who I choose to look up to. And the answer was Obama as his name was resonating in academia.

    But see Obama's exceptional performance is drawing so many's attention to politics and making many others to actually recheck their stand in politics: excellence by definition attracts interest of many people. I have a strong liking to the foundational concepts of this country and his speeches and especially his speech at DNC 2008 renewed my beliefs in the concept of America. He is really self-critical and is basing his entire campaign on the bedrock principles and ideals of this country. As I mentioned about year and half ago self-criticality is a necessary (but not sufficient) quality that any leader should have. Scott also rightly mentions here that "Any worldview that isn’t wracked by self-doubt and confusion over its own identity is not a worldview for me."

    People who are undecided or think McCain is not bad and Obama cannot be as good as he sounds should keep the following in mind. See it's easy to argue that McCain is not totally bad because generally no republican is completely bad, of course they love this country very much. The resistance to choose Obama has an analogue to that faced by "reason" in struggle between Church and Science. And further more why is it that talking big should prohibit him from doing big things. He is talking big not because he is not aware of "realities" but rather he actually understands the current realities and realizes they have to change to keep the true American concept alive. Of course he is not all powerful and has limitations but that's no reason to risk not choosing him. The question to be asked is not whether he can solve all the problems but whether he can renew the politics so that it is back on track to be able to solve real problems in a responsible, accountable and democratic way. He certainly seems to have a great potential to do such things. The very fact that he became a presidential nominee of a big party proves it. "Inexperience" is only an excuse that is so unamerican because when America was formed wasn't it the wildest experiment to declare a real independent country against the will of the greatest empire with a strong hope in democracy? The founding fathers did not have "experience" in declaring independent countries, right?

    Usually I would like to identify and associate myself with those who have similar values which happen to be being self-critical, open-minded, challenging perceptions from time to time, thinking for greater good etc. etc. Hence even though I am technically not American caring for this country is a high-level goal in my life. Prayer can have "positive entanglement effects" and hence I urge everyone to pray and urge everyone you know to pray for his victory. Of course those who have right to vote must and should vote for Obama. Furthermore who can do even more sophisticated game-theoretic practices please checkout this for Nadertrading etc.

    Saturday, August 23, 2008

    Gain from Obama campaign

    Lately, I have been increasingly gravitating towards following Obama's talks in his presidential campaign. Needless to say his speeches are very enticing. His audacious "walk-through reasoning" approach is quite refreshing and rigorous and can stimulate lot of ordinary people to improve their efficiency in dealing with their day-to-day issues. He clearly stresses on a contest based on relevant observables and merit based on policies instead of fighting on something personal and irrelevant. Sounds like a computational guy to me. Alan Turing (a Computer Science hero) argued something like this on defining artificial intelligence and you can see a nice post on it by Scott here.

    Now this is very refreshing to see a politician with such perspectives. A lot must be learnt from him by politicians in India and probably all around the world. To contest based on reason with rigor avoiding "easy" and "nasty" tricks is no simple task. In his interview at Google last year one of the audience asked him what he had learnt from past democrat candidates who lost the elections, he said the main mistakes were that they were not clear of what they stood for and hence became defensive when they were attacked and actually sounded like their opponents. Being clear and honest and courageous and rational all go together. It's takes a holistic approach to be rigorous and effective in getting things done.

    He admits he may not be perfect and may make mistakes but will make his government very transparent that can actually unleash the true power of democracy. His repeated indications that a democratic government's success is measured by the standard of living (including freedom) of majority of the population show his strong understanding of the fundamentals. There will always be ordinary and extraordinary people in the world at any given point of time. It's the self-justified goal of humanity that the quality of life of all humans should increase. Simply speaking it should be ordinary that ordinary people should be able to dream, strive and hope to be extraordinary while pushing the bar being of extraordinary to next level. He is a great example to show subtle differences between idealism and extremism, between fundamentalism and being strong in fundamentals, between having true high-level knowledge and hand-waving.

    For me Scott:Computer Science :: Barack::Politics. Scott's core love for science, his results and his talent in presenting the results and Barack's core love for democracy and his talent in pooling people together are truly truly awesome. I truly wish (unfortunately I cannot vote this time, not being a citizen) that he wins but we surely can gain a lot just from his campaign.

    Monday, August 18, 2008

    Democrats and republicans

    I have not been following the US presidential campaigns closely but lately I have been listening to some speeches by Barack Obama (thanks to my brother, Ganesh's enthusiasm in his speeches).

    Just yesterday I listened to his (only part1) and John McCain's interviews with Rick Warren on CNN videos. Both speeches were good and clearly represented their parties' ideals. McCain's answers were short and clear while Obama's were long and complex. This was apparent starting with response to simplest questions like "State three wise men you would seek advice from" to complex issues like "Abortion". McCain's answers reflected gradient descent type approaches while those of Obama did MCMC type. No doubt both parties are dedicated to USA's growth and its benefit to the world. Both greedy deterministic approaches and probabilistic approaches have advantages and disadvantages depending on problem space: distribution of the problem instances. The main challenge in deciding whom to vote is what is to clearly understand the current problem instance and intelligently choose the better strategy. As is evident from the history republican strategy works most of the times. This is true in many optimization problems: gradient descent, though a local optimizer works in many many practical cases. But in hard cases when we need real "landscape shifts" in searching for the solutions we stand a better chance with probabilistic and "holistic/global" approaches. Such approaches tend to be computationally hard and require cleverer design of algorithms for feasibility.

    Citizens of USA have been smart enough to choose Democrats a few times but I hope they realize this is one of those times again.

    Monday, July 21, 2008

    Streaks of thought: Streak 20

    There is a simple difference between having multiple personalities and having multiple personality disorder. All superheroes like Batman (The Dark Knight is awesome: super entertainment package that appeals most), Spiderman, Superman etc. have multiple personalities that they maintain in an orderly fashion. It's when they cannot handle them in order that they run into trouble.

    Many of us also have several moods. Having moods is not a bad thing (in fact if we don't have moods life becomes trivial) but having them out of order is not desirable with limited resources around. Mood distribution and personality of a person are correlated. Having strong moods gives you some sort of extra strength but "strong moods come with strong responsibilities".

    Sunday, July 20, 2008

    Faith in machines

    In many of my previous posts I stressed, efficiency and local perspectives. Such emphasis can be traced back to faith in machines which reflects the faith of theoretical computer science community that polynomial amount of resources is efficient while exponential is not.

    I love studying machines as the results can so much help understand ourselves (modulo communicable understanding). Computer Science provides a nice unified way for studying machine characteristics. This reminds me I have to finish one of my posts on language of thoughts :) It has a rough precursor which I posted about 2 years ago.

    Practical and efficient statistics relies on Bayesian and Markovian principles which allow principled way of working by understanding limits of machines. It's amazing to know that lot of lower bound results in complexity theory and almost entire applied statistics can be traced back to the contributions of Markov brothers! All the extensions are non-trivial but behind the non-trivial efforts of later generations was the motivation based on faith in practicality or in more crisp words, machines.

    Monday, July 14, 2008

    Streaks of thought: Streak 19

    For a country to be a dream of many, it has to build and evolve a system that can foster hope so that a common person becomes courageous enough to work towards her/his dreams without requiring her/him to handle exponential amount of resources on tangential problems. Basically it should be able to breed dreams efficiently. America has been doing a really great job in this regard.

    Friday, July 11, 2008

    Importance of being normal

    In my previous post I discussed how variance in abilities and needs in a local neighborhood is necessarily a result of efficient resource management by Nature for sustenance of life. Then how change is essential to keep the variance (multiple hypotheses) over time to avoid getting stuck in local optima. I also mentioned that being around normal value is important.

    In statistics filtering is a problem of estimating posterior of a random variable given observations correlated with the variable over time. Life can almost be treated as a random variable with some moments. In a more global perspective it's hard to characterize these moments and hence the posterior is usually represented using just random samples. I had a related post about six months ago. But our lives are mostly dominated by local perspectives. Actually if we had true global perspectives all the time we would be super natural!

    In statistics a very popular technique of estimating a complex non-linear probability distribution of a random variable is non-parametric kernel density estimation. Intuitively it says that any complex distribution can be approximated using sum of Gaussians (or normal distributions). Let's say if we can track these individual Gaussians then we automatically track the overlaying complex distribution. Kalman filters are useful when the Gaussians undergo linear changes that is the mean and variance of the Gaussian only undergo linear transformations. For reasonable non-linear changes there are linear approximations resulting in extended Kalman filters. But for highly non-linear transformations the approximations made in extended Kalman filters are not good enough. Hence people developed unscented Kalman filter which is a combination of sampling based and closed form trackers. The key elements in unscented Kalman filters are the a set of sample around the mean of the distribution. These "sigma points" are the ones that undergo non-linear transformations which can then lead to recovering the necessary moments! See it's quite important to be around the normal distribution especially in the era of highly non-linear changes to actually "participate/contribute" in successful propogation of moments.

    Sunday, July 06, 2008

    Need for change

    Most of us agree that change is important yet hard. All of us can understand the benefits of change but the reason it seems hard is partly not having an "causal understanding" of why it is important. In this post I try to analyze why change is necessary for our survival. For that first I generalize the perspective of change to be more than just variance in temporal dimension of life. This means change characterizes any variance in the needs in any of our effective neighborhood. For e.g. it could be variance in the tastes of your roommates or variance in the goals of your friends etc. Having this generalized perspective, as I will try to argue, helps to see that variance in temporal dimension is not much harder than issues like tolerances etc. and that variance is essential.

    Let's see why we need variance in the first place. There is high correlation between the composition of various chemicals in the body to the personalities and behaviors we manifest. Nature which has limited resources. For life to be persistent it is important that life can sustain on variety of resources so that Nature can efficiently "refill the resources". Based on the refilling abilities of Nature our bodies evolved to incorporate variance in the needs. We are not that variant in terms of needs for oxygen for e.g. since Nature seems to be very efficient in that resource regeneration. Hence the variance in our needs can be roughly traced to the variance in the availability of resources in our Natural neighborhood. Since Nature cannot handle all (varied) needs of all the life in a global way efficiently it decentralizes need fulfilling activities into the life forms itself. In other words the body chemical compositions are evolved in such a way as to locally have a cycle of supply and demand: starting from the most obvious examples, some are male, some are female, some have strong feelings about environment, some have strong feelings about high energy colliders creating black holes (see here), some are interested in making money, some are interested in education, some are spiritual, some are materialistic, some are good in theory, some are good in practice etc. etc. So to summarize we can think of local variances in needs is an efficient design of Nature for long-term sustenance of life. Something like: For a rope to be strong the individual fibers and yards and then strands have to be intertwined with friction among them. One other important thing with variance is that variance has to be "normal" locally so as to have the benefit of decentralization otherwise it would demand redundant effort. For e.g. if the friction between the fibers or yarns or strands is too high the rope might self-destruct under it's own friction without additional effort.

    Now since the cycles of supply and demand usually are formed locally we might get stuck at local optima (which would be evident by diminishing returns in the cluster etc.). Change in temporal dimension would shuffle around the neighborhoods and gives us a chance to get out those local optima and form new cycles. Eventually we hope to find global optimum configuration. But as it is well known such optimization problems though can be "solved" require exponential amount of time in principle. So enjoy the journey and don't be scared to enter new cycles. It also helps to keep in mind an important property of stochastic optimization methods that not every move is better than the previous move which precisely is its strength. Of course blind (ignorant) change is not great since there are lot of probabilities (based on evidences, priors and likelihoods) you could compute to figure out the types of changes (moves) to reduce the mixing time.

    I would ask the readers to pay attention to the words "efficient" and "local" as they carry the central message. Of course what all I discussed above (or in general in this blog) is not always new but is based on original thought. Lot of economists study such behaviors professionally and it would greatly help design your lives better by reading papers in such fields (I don't though): that's why the mathematicians who study and contribute to understanding such patterns are eligible Nobel prizes.

    Saturday, June 28, 2008

    Being yourself

    It is widely accepted that being someone we are not, is very uncomfortable. But it is important to first understand who we actually are. Richard Feynmann once said "What I cannot make I do not understand." To actually understand who we are, we need a process (life) that we actually can analyze. We need to be someone who can sustain the process and focus on aspects that are most dear to us simultaneously. Both of these sub-processes give us some understanding of ourselves and can help us in being ourselves. So there could be cases when you are not being yourself. For e.g. when the sustaining process is not interacting with the focusing process properly or when one of the processes is not functioning.

    Based on the situations you are in you get leverage and help in running the two sub-processes. You are usually in the situations you choose to be. If you choose to be emotional you get leverage on the second sub-process. If you choose to be less emotional you get leverage on the first sub-process. But as I said before the leverage on one process could be nullified if the other process is not taken care of. The leverage you get is usually in the form of experience (learned concepts from the data we are exposed to). So for e.g. having a leverage emotionally means that you are very experienced in various kinds of emotions and actually (un-emotionally) use those experiences in focusing properly. But gaining experiences is not easy either. It is well know in the learning theory that even though we need on polynomial number of sample data for learning concepts (hypotheses) it's actually hard to find the concepts. Experiencing is a hard task and so is being yourself.

    Monday, June 23, 2008

    Streaks of thought: Streak 18

    Sometimes even though we know we have almost all reasons to change, we find it hard to change because of just one missing (wrong) reason: A reason to convince others around us that we need change.

    The reason is wrong because others will not understand until you actually change and show them the benefits. So don't get stuck in the dead-lock.

    Wednesday, May 28, 2008

    A reason to be fan of computer science

    Having computational perspectives in life can help design your lives so nicely! Here's a solid example which many singles can use, thanks to Scott for including the dating protocol in his lecture 18 :)

    This can not only help in dating but also classifying people into jerks and reasonable ones. If the dating protocol does not work then the conclusion is at least one of them is a jerk, hypocrite, liar or whatever in which case you at least have a solid reason not to worry. Of course it is not necessary that you won't worry though!

    Monday, May 26, 2008

    Depth of knowledge

    The amount of knowledge one has is measured in the number of truths he can handle efficiently in some beneficial way. Truths are deduced essentially using logic even though the deduction process is not always deterministic. The depth of knowledge one has can be measured by quantifying the resources needed for the deduction process: the most important resource being time.

    A person is said to have deeper knowledge than another if the other person needs more time for deduction than the former. Having deeper knowledge hence can buy you time! To increase the depth of your knowledge you need to improve your deducing abilities and for that you need to constantly practice it so that you become fast. One useful improvement technique is memoization where you do not recompute the same sub-problem every time: if you solved it once just remember and use it. Don't resolve the same puzzle over and over again. The goal is to constantly build a global lookup table for your life. This will help not only you but also those with whom you can share the table.

    This is basically why experience can help increase your depth of knowledge.

    Monday, May 19, 2008

    Ways of procrastination

    Procrastination is the trough in the cyclic process of being productive. It's almost inevitable for everyone in all tiers of society. To scroll to higher tiers you have to adapt their working styles which include their procrastination styles as well!

    A simple and good indicator for a better way to procrastinate is to see if you get something everytime. By that I mean stuff that can actually be of value when you use it. Some such examples are reading papers from other fields, reading blogs of good guys, blogging about good stuff :), refreshing relationships with people you care about (which should actually mean who care about you). Some bad ways of procrastinations include watching repeats, talking or chatting with too many (I say this because it's more likely than not that you won't be cared by more than a handful which usually is composed of family (long term) and professional friends (medium term)), basically any activity that you cannot share with atleast 3 different people without getting embarrassed or feeling stupid.

    Wednesday, May 14, 2008

    Entanglements and emotions

    Entanglements are very commonly observed at microscopic level. These phenomenon were discovered when classical physics enabled us observing the microscopic phenomenon. The entanglements don't commonly manifest in the same way at macroscopic level but I think they do in some fashion. Think about it. Emotions like feelings of togetherness, compassion, right or wrong and on the whole the subjectivity of human beings is kind of entangling behavior. The subjectivity is like an evolving function until it is actually observed when it collapses to objectivity. The cultures which focus on the latter part of trying to observe and collapsing things to objectivity are currently leading because they are capable of supporting more biological life. The older cultures which focus on the former part cannot support life as efficiently but they have their own definition of life. They rather prefer life to be non-mechanical and mechanical life just isn't life for them! But see this is just a matter of choice. And see the choices one makes defines his or her characteristics and personality. Usually heroes stand for the objective strategies which favor purely rational arguments. As Scott put it they are bullet swallowers instead of bullet dodgers.

    Friday, May 09, 2008

    Heart & Mind

    Heart & brain are the two main contending organs for definition of life & death. They are also the two contending organs in decision making. In decision making heart is usually associated with emotions. It's mainly for historical reasons even though there might be some physiological reasons. Brain is associated with logic. More specifically with verifiability in a mechanical way. Since the notion of computation unifies the concept of machine it means verifying in a computational way.

    We know a lot of details of working of heart: at least to the extent of having mechanical hearts that can simulate the pumping blood which is the primary functionality of heart for life. While mysteries of brain are still abysmal, self-referentiality of thinking lead to computational model of brain which lead to the dream of artificial intelligence. Efficient computations are usually based on local information which limits its powers in this physical world. In fact the limits of logic as pointed out by Godel are based on the fact that logic is based on local information. In general the locality principle limits us from having God like powers. The more experience we gain the better is our global perspective. Hence experience helps!

    Emotions are usually mysterious and quite "non-mechanical" to deal with. This hints us that we might be processing something more than local. We feel emotions instantly about someone miles away something like the famous "spooky action at a distance" phenomenon of quantum mechanics. The typical explanation of the "entanglement" behavior in modern physics is that the particles all belong to "same system" and that's why they are somehow "connected". Though they usually say this so that classical principles (like constancy of speed of light) of physics are consistent with modern principles. Thus there is something global happening with entanglements and hence hard to be verified mechanically. Hence for e.g. even though "heart-breaks" is a common term usually the mysteries of emotions are rooted in the brain NOT in the heart. This realization will atleast let you focus on using appropriate resources for specific problems. Specifically, when you are baffled with emotions you should rely more on brain to help yourself.

    N.B.: Updated May 10, 2008. 1:36 AM.

    Monday, May 05, 2008

    Uncertainty - a life force?

    Randomness in computation is very useful to understand some hierarchies in complexities of problems (probabilistic complexity classes, zero knowledge proofs, probabilistically checkable proofs). Randomness (or pseudo randomness) is the key in preventing adversarial attacks. It is the key in simulating physical processes of Nature. It is the key in many practical applications.

    Now coming to life part. Imagine if the viruses all know how our entire body works then they can attack us without leaving us any choice of survival. But fortunately future is non-deterministic that is there are uncertainties in future, our genes mutate, the entropy of the universe keeps increasing at least until the pathways of the universe start interfering which is not supposed to happen for a long long long time. Even better: at microscopic scale even past is non-deterministic! All this can lead us to wonder if God wants to keep His power of designing Nature and life and let us just experience/measure and play around with randomness with regularities (bounds) but without complete derandomization. I think there is a good reason in doing this. First it let's us value life (because we don't know the causal reasons to replicate it) and two it keeps the "feeling of quest" alive which is the basic feeling of being alive anyways! The goal of AI as defined by Turing test is to create a machine whose responses can not be distinguished from those of a human being (of certain background). Without uncertainty such AI becomes impossible as well! Remember this is only about artificial intelligence not artificial life because it only talks about "conversations". Simulating the functions involving our intelligence itself seems very elusive. To simulate artificial life we need to simulate even more complex distributions.

    About year and a half ago I posted about karma as a possible anthropic analog of evolution and hinted how hope can be argued from karma. Well analyses using theory of karma take "deterministic hidden variables route" for explaining things but even without that hidden variable (karma) we can still argue for hope just from inherent uncertainties that can be exploited to protect ourselves from being hopelessly attacked by adversaries.

    Friday, May 02, 2008

    Health: Genes

    In one of my previous health posts I talked about continually focussing on new challenges in the journey of better health. After being driven by external indicators on our body (like dresses), then we are driven by indicators a layer below those (naked body), then we are driven by those a layer further below (organs like heart, kidneys, pancreas, brain etc.). Now it's time to dig deeper!

    The whole point of seeking knowledge is trying to increase the odds of survival in odd times. The more variables we uncover the more we discover that we have lot more to uncover! But we can atleast try to make sure we can rationally handle the ones we uncover. Health science progressed a lot. The role of genes in health is quite an integral part of our intellectual heritage now. There's a lot to discovered about genes but one thing is sure about them: they are programmable, that is they are Turing tapes of a non-deterministic Turing machine. Their states can sometimes be non-deterministically changed (mutations) but they are pretty much "rule oriented". The rest of the body is like the console system (input/output device set) for the basic computations happening on those tapes. The important point is that we can write input onto those tapes. In fact without this ability the concept of evolution is infeasible! Let's try to see what we can do try to write good stuff (stuff that helps us survive) onto those.

    First we should not write bad stuff! It is known that carcinogens can seriously screw up the tapes that screws up cell dynamics which can lead to cancer. So obviously don't smoke and in a bigger picture be friendly to the environment both in terms of recycling and using Nature friendly energy sources like hybrid cars, electric trains or in the worst case if you have to rely on gas use mass transportation or pool up. Don't stick to your cell phones all the time! Use them reasonably. Use hands-free devices and keep them a bit far when you work. Do not consume "diet stuff" in excess. It's good to take safe sides on such issues.

    Now about writing good stuff. It is well known that writing bug free programs is very hard. So it's not a good idea drying to actually manipulate the genes using some kind of external agents (excluding the cases where it's treatmental for immediate survival). The best programmer of genes so far is Nature itself. What we can do is "ask" Nature to do the job for us. Let's say if we want to write a certain piece of code with which we can be naturally smart, we just constantly try to do smart things consciously and then it will be embedded into your genes by Nature over a period of time. If we want to be naturally peaceful practicing medidation would have the same effect. Beware that period of time might be a really long! But good thing is we at least don't make them worse in such a way. To see the effects of such really long-term plans we have to try to make sure humanity survives!

    Tuesday, April 01, 2008

    Streaks of thought: Streak 17

    Some results are superficial, some are deep. Some interests are superficial, some are deep. Some wounds are superficial, some are deep. Superficial versus deep in all cases has to with the average case complexity of the resources consumed in respective cases. The key phrase is "average case complexity". So gather enough data to check if you have proper perception of superficiality and depth in a particular case.

    Monday, March 31, 2008

    Streaks of thought: Streak 16

    It's important to experience extremes to truly have stakes and hence understand the importance of balance.

    Scott's research advice as a grad student was: "to understand something we need to have stakes in it". Also independently I came up with a thesis about learning being triggered from "losing something". Of course doesn't having stakes mean having something to lose!

    Sunday, March 23, 2008

    Faith in truth

    Science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind... Underlying the effort of science is the religious belief in truth and understanding. These were kind of responses from Einstein when he was repeatedly asked about his religious beliefs.

    Having a religious belief is like having faith. There's no objective reason for chosing a faith in something except for interest in survival in a group. Life seems to be liking regularities, patterns which constitute provable truths. The apparent reason for this liking is efficiency because of finiteness. Imagine, if were no regularities then the "program of evolution" has no chance of exploiting structures in the problems of life. This would mean the evolution would be very slow, unimaginably slow! Even the central question in computer science is about limits of efficient computation in the physical world! Scott's thesis and other major theoretical works in CS show lot of evidence that it is very hard to compute efficiently without exploiting structures of problems. Hence provable truths which are about regularites and repeatability atleast in statistical sense is a proper thing to have faith in, in the interest of efficient survival.

    Thursday, March 20, 2008

    Learning and changing

    About two years ago, I had a post on learning from losing. There I mentioned about one situation that triggers learning. It's almost always true that learning is triggered from losing something or to avoid losing something. That something can be anything like say starting from survival to satisfaction gained by understanding Nature.

    Life can be viewed as a function of several parameters. There are two aspects in optimizing the function. First identifying the parameters then adjusting the values of the parameters. The more parameters one identifies or in other words the higher ones' awareness is, the better he can adjust or try to adjust the parameters to optimize the value of the function. Everyone is typically endowed with certain level of awareness by default as part of intellectual heritage. Then there are some noble ones who add to our intellectual heritage.

    Adjusting the parameters is also called learning. Now based on general observations in the population different people find it hard to learn different parameters. Why is that? Let's try to see. Typically to learn a parameter, we need to compute gradients in the parameter space. The gradients are the places of change. The harder it is to compute gradient along a certain parameter (detect changes) the harder it is to adjust that parameter in the direction of convergence. See we know that not everyone can perceive all relevant parameters let alone gradients along those. Again even if one does perceive gradients the function might not be convex along that parameter and it might require more sophistication of zig-zagging (most people adapt this approach) or trying to convexify (some spiritually inclined adapt this approach) to avoid local minima. This is why change could be hard sometimes.

    Hardness of learning a parameter depends on the VC dimension of the training examples for that parameter. The complexity of the learning algorithm required is inversely proportional to the VC dimension. The higher the VC-dimension the easier the algorithm can be. Being aware of this helps us in admitting that some parameters can be easier to learn while some may not. VC-dimension can also be viewed as the number of training examples that the algorithm can shatter that is give zero training error. So what can we psychologically do to keep our learning in life simple or optimal? We have to try to adjust the labels for our training data (experiences) so that we don't unnecessarily increase the requirements on learning algorithms. We rather are better off spending our resources on some parameters which genuinely need hard algorithms. Here genuinely meaning for independent samples in successful and noble population.

    Monday, March 17, 2008

    Health: Portions

    Almost as if I am compensating for having such a long gap in my health posts: here's a quick sequel to my last one.

    Disproportionate amounts of food intake in terms of quality and quantity can be detected with the following litmus test. The ideal reaction from eating should be turning active not turning sleepy. Sleepiness is a sign of drop in metabolism. Eating ideally should increase metabolism not decrease. Both, over eating and under eating (like being anorexic) trigger this and such repeated training of drop in metabolism will have serious short term and long term consequences. In the short term ones productivity goes down because of various reasons like lacking attention span etc. Serious health issues can show up in the long run, like organs getting damaged because of constant "under performance".

    Not giving into the "call for sleep" by consciously doing something active is not a solution as that will result in negative consequences again both in the short and long run. Fighting sleep is not encouraged. What needs to be consciously adjusted is the portions of intake: both in quality and quantity. Quantity is easier to control but what is important is taking care of the portions of quality nutrition intakes. Eating labeled food is a very good practice in this regard.

    Wednesday, March 12, 2008

    Health: Food and feelings

    After a real long gap in the series of my posts on health since my last one, I intend to discuss some connections I experienced between food and feelings.

    The connections between eating patterns and emotional states are well studied in society. Usually the results that are most popularly known are the ones that say how having emotional instability instigates eating disorders. To mitigate eating disorders psychological advice is usually used to reduce the perception of insecurities and induce the perception of one's purpose. Leaving aside serious medical conditions the most common eating disorders are usually because of bad habits.

    Alright now comes my main thesis on the connection between food and feelings. Actually this kind of correlation is preached by many spiritual communities, but I wanted to write this because I thought I experienced this especially because of long enough exposure to good American food after eating in India for 20 years. See, I see a chicken-egg relationship between the two. Feelings are produced because of various chemical reactions inside our bodies. Food is one of the biggest modes of injecting new chemicals and triggering chemical reactions inside our bodies. So if ones feelings are bad it might actually be because of the food intakes he is having. The short term effects are pretty clear, for e.g. taking sugar shots drives you a bit crazy, consuming alcohol makes you drowzy. What goes undercover are the long term effects (besides clogging your physical infrastructure like plumbing).

    Food is supposed not just to provide nutrition but to provide it in an efficient way. The more efficient way the food fuels us the better our emotional and physical state will be. Signs of inefficient fueling is too much stubborness in adapting tastes to less spicier and "less tasty" foods. Taste is too abstract and subjective that it has to be controlled by us, not control us. So for better health, both physical and emotional, we need good and efficient food and of course with better health the good food habits get reinforced in turn.

    A general note: Cultures that control abstract and subjective issues typically produce leaders. Cultures that are controlled by abstract and subjective issues typically end up as followers as they can be "controlled by leaders". Think about it, isn't it obvious from history and differences between western and eastern cultures.

    Sunday, March 09, 2008

    Conferences and corporations

    In academia productivity is measured in terms of quality and quantity of publications one generates. In industry productivity is measured in terms of money one generates. I intend to analyse in this post the chief characteristic difference between academic and industrial efforts and how this characterisation demands for balance between the two type of efforts. Similar demands for balance in different walks of life arise from different characterizations as well. Almost always it's the variety of perspectives that automatically demands for balance if we are to survive "long enough".

    The main characterization is that the motivation underlying the effort in academia is "first assimilate and then deploy" while that in industry is "first deploy and then assimilate". Now which strategy is optimal? Human progress is gradual and continuous and for us to actually survive and measure the progress we need to switch between both strategies: one cannot wait until we answer all the questions about an idea to be deployed. Think about it, science would not exist otherwise! Similarly one cannot just jump into conclusions without understanding the soundness and limitations of an idea. Think about it, science would not be science as we see today otherwise. So we naturally need a balance between both kinds of motivations similar to that in my means and ends post.

    Now for maintaining such a balance the conferences and corporations which are main arenas for both the efforts need to be designed carefully to fuel both types of motivations. Conferences should primarily be motivated to support the academic effort which means they have to provide for ideas which need time to be studied, analysed, assessed, assimilated and then deployed. Similarly corporations, to take on deploying the ideas so that they can be disseminated and become "accepted as a norm". Lately conferences (in many areas of CS) seem to be driven overly by motivations underlying industrial effort. This is partly because of increased short-sightedness of public funding agencies and increased reliance on corporations. This makes papers on "industrially hot topics" get more accepted in the conferences. This year's CVPR results kind of ascertain that as well. This kind of change is also becoming an increasing concern even in theory community.

    Usually such crisis points occur in cycles and these are the points to check for the balance. I once presented a paper by Christos Papadimitriou addressing such crisis in databases theory. Since conferences are usually run as peer-reviewed and mostly non-profit, issues like conflicts of interests etc. play more important role than in corporations. Checks on corruption in academic community are more important because it is typically "assumed" not to exist the machinery for such checks is not given so much weight. It is important to remember that investigations in academia are mainly curiosity driven excercise not frustration driven. This should be supported but not exploited to make it go otherway around.

    Wednesday, March 05, 2008

    Streaks of thought: Streak 15

    Neils Bohr once said: "It is wrong to think that the task of physics is to find out how nature is. Physics concerns what we can say about nature."
    The founding father of Computer Science, Alan Turing also came up with a test for artificial intelligence based on observations alone. Scott's post about Turing's philosophy about machines and morals is worth a read. Also (after reminded by Scott's post) according to Aumman's theorem we have to behave based on observable priors to be considered "rational".

    Einstein effectively was unproductive after generalizing his theory of relativity "for invariance results among accelerating frames" because of his trouble accepting the uncertainities underlying Nature's laws. I intend to add a full post about uncertainties but for this post I would like to say that all these statements suggest us to use concrete evidence in all walks of life instead getting drained by intangible correlations woven by emotions.

    Friday, February 15, 2008

    Streaks of thought: Streak 14

    With increasing internationalization it's better to eagerly adapt the feeling of "outsider" that can fuel ones objectivity and hence productivity and hence satisfaction and hence happiness. If an immigrant in USA complains, then it's most likely because of the lack of the above mentioned adaptation.

    Friday, January 25, 2008

    Causes of importance

    Couple of weeks ago as part of our regular discussions Suzan and I were discussing about ones importance in society and service to humanity. She was saying that all kinds of work are equally important and that it's unfair to down weigh a particular type of work as easy and boring. Just recently Scott posted trying to show how it's meaningless to argue about one field of science being more fundamental (and hence superior). Whether something is important is not, makes only sense in the context of time and majority as per our current understanding of Nature. For eg. we need large number of particles acting at a micro-scale for the second law of thermodynamics to hold on the macro-scale and usually a theorem has to be checked over and over again independently for its correctness.

    Monte Carlo methods are usually used for simulations of complex probability distributions without closed forms. Using such methods random samples are drawn from probability distributions to represent the distributions. Drawing random samples implies that all samples are equally likely according to the distribution. But the main problem is that it is seldom possible to draw samples from the complex distributions (partly because they don't have closed forms). Hence the samples are drawn from a heuristic approximation and then given importance weights according to a likelihood function. Metropolis-Hastings is a very famous algorithm for such simulations. If the distribution is dynamic then the simulation is called filtering and particle filtering is a very common tool. Essentially all such techniques depend on the Bayes rule. But that's not my point. For successful simulation of a distribution the crucial design aspects are the proposal and the likelihood functions. These functions can be chosen arbitrarily and usually domain specific knowledge is heavily needed. If they are designed properly then over a period of time the samples start behaving random with equal importance weights, meaning representing the true distribution.

    If humans are supposed to represent uniformly drawn particles of the distribution of life energy then all humans will have equal chance of survival. But because of complex correlations and interdependences such uniform sampling is not possible and hence we have to design proper proposal and likelihood functions to give appropriate importance weights so that over time the chances of survival become uniform. We can already start seeing some of such changes based on today's ages of expectancy through out the world. Hence it is important to have such importances to different types of work like giving more importance to let's say medical work compared to the work that can be automated effectively. Thus it is not only not unfair to undermine some kind of work but in fact recommended for greater good. Once the humans reach certain peaks in the distribution then they would have similar weights as is the case for physicists vs. mathematicians vs. computer scientists vs. biologists and so on.

    Streaks of thought: Streak 12+1

    Working on what already matters in a creative way is much easier compared to using creativity to convince what you do matters. To survive doing the latter takes causal heroes. That's why I get fascinated by scientists who work on the edge or roof-tops.

    Tuesday, January 01, 2008

    2008 wishes

    New year 2008

    Hopefully will open up opportunities-infinite
    Which we can actually exploit
    By focusing on issues that are finite
    Using tools of superior intellect
    Whose imagination can better abstract

    Hopefully will open up opportunities-infinite
    To use capitalism with creative delight
    For we have resources that are finite
    And thwart the threat to our environment
    To protect the civilization from going extinct

    Hopefully will open up opportunities-infinite
    For better harmony among humans colored or white
    By realizing that materialism in its true spirit
    Can provide better basis for distinguishing wrong from right
    And reduce the plight to better tolerate