Thursday, September 24, 2009

Walking on....

Battered, bloodied and bruised
Wandering along on the battlefield
Nary a soul far as the eye could see
he walks, blood flowing down his wounds

Defending all those he loved dearly
protecting all that he cared for
Losing all the strength that he had
he walks, blood flowing from his wounds

A blood stained knife through his heart
the darkness taking everything from him
his soul meshing with ethereal mists
he lies, his life ebbing away slowly

Consumed by the flames and heat
Embers blowing with the wind
A phoenix to rise again he ain't
he rests, as ashes in a peaceful slumber

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Loss, despair and redemption

For those who don't know the NBA and Kevin Garnett, read up about his loyalty and the burning desire to win.

Absolute depths of despair : (I absolutely relate to this video. Every emotional bit of it.)

Redemption :

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Life, it seems, is not without a sense of irony. Not the sweetest of ironies and certaintly there are far more things worse than that. Oddly, I stumbled on that when I was thinking about something completely unrelated when the realization of what it was hit me. I don't know if I'll ever be in a position to enjoy this notion and smile about it but maybe some day, I'll be able to tell the world.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

The Ultra Deep Field - Hubble (3D)

There are very few times when humans realize their insignificance in the grand scheme of things. Space always tends to put a spotlight on it. Enjoy the Ultra Deep Field in 3D, thanks to that absolutely marvellous piece of engineering : The Hubble telescope.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Bankruptcy for Readers' Digest

Sad state of affairs as well as sign of the times I guess. The reading material of choice for tons of people young and old, Readers' Digest is filing for bankruptcy. At least the bright spot here is that the filing affects only the US operations and other world wide operations will continue as usual.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Artificial Intelligence : Not coming to any place near you anytime soon

Ah yes, that favorite topic that is so close to my heart and one that I've spent ages explaining as well as debating. Artificial Intelligence or AI. The debate I'm referring to is not about whether AI will take over the world one day and suppress humanity but rather, it is about whether AI is even possible. Before this goes any further, AI here refers to absolute intelligence in that the entity would perform similar to the human mind, capable of making all decisions without human intervention.

While there are plenty of machines around that display pseudo-intelligence (Honda's ASIMO for one), true AI is really decades away unless a huge breakthrough occurs in our understanding of how the human mind works. As with all cases, you cannot replicate what you don't know completely and the human brain is one of the most complex entities in the world. The split in the AI community occurs at this understanding. Random vs non-random. The breakdown is really not an oversimplification at all. Since I always end up having the same debate over and over again (one as recently as two weekends ago) every time I mention my Masters degree falls under the robotics stream, I decided it might be best to have the two different view points on AI here. I guess my intent here is to argue against both schools of thought to show AI isn't going to be possible anytime soon.

The Random theory
: This school of thought believes that as part of nature, humans are random and possess free will. The argument as to why randomness can't be factored into a system is pretty easy. If nature inherently possesses randomness, then how would an entity that has just two states - on or off, 0 or 1- have the ability to be random? The existing random number generators are all pseudo-random. Part of a very large sequence but part of a sequence nevertheless and so, need a fixed seed point. This lack of randomness means that every action taken by any AI would not be "intelligent" because it would be dependent on an extensive set of rules and not every event obeys these rules. In a situation where the "AI" finds itself where there are no rules to define its next step, the system fails. When humans are given a set of rules in various experiments, singularities do not cause a catastrophic failure in the system because it could be argued that the randomness allows us to function on despite a situation that is flawed. While pseudo-randomness flies with current algorithms, it would fail catastrophically in real-life situations purely due to complexity and the inability to break down said complexity. Once again, I'm steadfastly refusing to touch the "free will" argument.

The Non-Random theory
: This school of thought considers humans as non-random creatures where actions are always described by set rules and every action follows a pattern and all random instances are merely pseudo-random i.e part of a larger defined sequence. The biggest obstacle here is simply a lack of understanding of how the human mind and nature itself works. Even at the current level of understanding of the human mind, 90% of brain activity falls under the gray area (my stats are a little old and corrections welcome). Ergo, the statement that one cannot replicate what one doesn't understand holds good.

One more rather large obstacle that stands in the way of AI is the sheer computing power required for day-to-day mundane activities. Even with the advances made thanks to various technological advances, the sheer effort required to process the amount of data to deal with such scenarios is insurmountable. Add in multiple real-world scenarios and the scale of the problem increases exponentially. My favorite example, although something not really related to AI but more to robotics, is Honda's bi-pedal robot - ASIMO. The next time you view an picture of it, look for the big box it carries around. The fascinating thing about it is that the amount of computation required to keep it on its feet as well as path planning takes up the majority of its available computational abilities. Contrast that with a human child who is able to walk without pausing to think about it or pick a path to get to a target point.

While solving the computational problem is not an impossibility, unless a major breakthrough occurs, the goal of reaching true AI is decades away, even after we take into account the jump in computational power over the past two decades. Nanotechnology might be the way, but advances in computational efficiency alone cannot carry us over the hill. The understanding of either the randomness or non-randomness in nature combined with a complete mapping of brain functions with relation to every scenario possible would definitely be a pre-requisite to any model that will lead us to true AI.

One regret I have on this whole post itself is it might not be the most lucid post I've written, especially since the topic is quite close to my heart and the fact that I'm still rusty. Long absences tend to do that I guess but I've really tried to simplify my usual points for someone new to AI to understand the complexity of it. (An older article I'd written was much much longer and in-depth but that was written when the target of the argument was a fellow lab-mate.) That said, if this doesn't provide an insight into how difficult something like getting a computer to do even menial tasks, much less be capable of intelligence itself is, then I've sort of failed in getting the point across.

The very fact that our mind can do things effortlessly that takes so much effort to replicate in a machine (basic stuff even, like path planning, grasping an object etc) always blows me away. Never let a mind go to waste because there are few things as valuable as the human mind.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Healthcare reform - the dirty tricks have to stop.

Before the old readers(if any are even left) get giddy, this isn't a come back. This is just the only place I can think of to park this particular topic as I'm going through a nightmare at the moment. And before I start, let's not bring doctors and nurses into this. The amount of respect I have for them cannot be summarized in words.

Healthcare reform's one of the most spoken words at the moment and how appropriate is it that I'm going through a torrid time while both sides are busy throwing arguments for and against reform. Past readers know I'm quite apolitical and in my current state, I'm really developing a resentment for the under-handed tactics employed by the Republicans. I've seen the underhanded tactics employed during the Prop 8 vote in Cali, when hordes of ads ran on my TV telling me my child would be taught about gay marriage etc. But even that didn't really get my goat but the recent protests in town hall meetings have. Before we dive into it, let me give you an insight into my own healthcare experience. (Yes, it could have been much worse, but bad is still bad. )

I had a sprained ankle back in Jan/Feb 2008 and had to go to an urgent care center (which thankfully my PPO with United HealthCare supported). X-rays taken, co-pays paid, grade-1, possibly a grade-2 sprain (dodged a bullet because I thought it was either ligament damage at the least or a break). Time rolls by and I had moved from the old place in Southern Cal to the Bay Area at the start of 2009. All is forgotten about this incident until March 2009 when I get a collection notice for $300 from the place I went to. Quite stunned, I called them back as to why I'm being handed a collection notice when I'd paid my co-pay at the time. The answer was quite a bizarre one. The health care center had sent all the docs to United HealthCare but UHC didn't get back to them. Ergo, they decided to bill me instead. Quite miffed, I called UHC (at this point, I was no longer with them) and after two days of 2+ hours on the phone multiple times, I was still no closer to an answer. After involving some high level help, I came to find out that UHC didn't accept the claim because they thought I was in an automobile accident and so, didn't want to pay the health care center. Umm.. What. the. F**k? So, there's sod all proof and so they decide to do nothing and let the claim sit on their desk? I called up the healthcare center, told them I ain't paying them as there's absolutely nothing I've done wrong here and the fault was with UHC. The healthcare center, while agreeing with me, mentioned that they needed someone to pay and if I could pay it and deal with UHC. I'm pretty sure if that option was taken up, that would definitely have been "Good night sweet prince" for my money.

After much high-level pressure from me and those helping me, UHC finally decided to pay out the money to the center. This essentially IS the problem with healthcare in this country. Organizations that are in it purely for profit. This isn't about campground stories of how insurance companies not willing to pay money because they can't care less about people but this is about my own experience. Why would I even remotely care whether such cut-throat entities would cease to exist or be forced to make changes to the way they operate? Why would I NOT want them forced to cut down their profits and act in a morally and ethically right way when they are faced against someone who doesn't care about profit (i.e the Government)? The mindless comparisons to the NHS is simply wrong and ignorant. The NHS while not being a smooth system is still a very good catch-net. Those unable to afford healthcare in this country would throw roses at such a system were it to be implemented and yet, those same folk who would benefit from it mindlessly protest it and/or talk it down. (Looking right at you Mr. Kenneth Gladney)

The main entities opposed to healthcare reforms don't have the best interests of the people in mind. It's all well and good to go and shout "socialists" or "commies" when someone speaks about the current healthcare reform but how many of these protestors even know about the current healthcare and its issues? There have been instances of Senior citizens and even one or two Veterans protesting and asking the government to stay out of their healthcare. Bizarre, considering the government IS their healthcare provider. (Go read up Medicare and VA). This mentality has definitely got to stop. The insurance companies are a joke and I definitely don't see why everyday people are blindly jumping to the defense of these organizations who care only about making a buck.

And on the other side, those pushing the healthcare reform are equally as bad. This isn't an issue that should be done overnight or in a week. Yes, the amount of money involved is huge but not properly explaining what the reform is meant to do is suicide. Worse still is a half-baked reform that doesn't do any good to the people. And I still don't get why no politician ever bothers with things like this. Maybe this is why I'm so disillusioned by politics. So, on to the much-maligned NHS.. yes, it takes time for someone to get a complex procedure done, but unlike here in the US, they don't have to pawn their lives away for a critical health condition. They don't go untreated and yes, those bleating the old "death panel" lines (O hi, Mrs Palin) are lying their heads off. I've got friends in the UK who have nothing but praise for the NHS because more often than not, everyday medical issues get solved without fuss. There is no insurance company sitting in the middle trying to deny a claim for the flimsiest of reasons. (I still wish I could have taken UHC to task) And yet, the opponents to healthcare reform will have you believe that this system is so flawed and wrong and is essentially a death sentence for your loved ones. Remember that those at the heart of the storm are happily enjoying government sponsored healthcare. I really wish these opponents of healthcare reform go through the pain and the tears of dealing with the issues the rest of us have to contend with.

I'm not here to suggest what is right or what is wrong. I'm merely speaking of my experience. Before you protest something or reject something, take the time to know what it is that you are going against. Consider the large scale impact of what would be were such a reform to fail. Consider how your own life would be affected were this to fail. Listen to facts and not some politician who is far removed from reality and the daily struggles of the everyday human. The petty comments of "death panels" or the even more ugly "they won't pay for my surgery but they will pay for abortions" type ads should be rightly ignored, but sadly, they won't be.

I wish things change, but we don't always get what we want in life. I also wish this article is coherent because (no, not an excuse) I'm writing this in quite a lot of pain thanks to back spasms. Thanks current healthcare for giving me the confidence to wait as long as possible before going to get it checked. And one last parting salvo. Just because the NHS is free, it doesn't mean the level of care is poor. The people working for the NHS are absolutely stellar. There are a couple of folks from the UK I really know who will vouch for these excellent folk.

And before I leave, a pretty neat website I stumbled upon :

Read the comments to. Quite eye opening.