A Human’s Guide to Machine Intelligence – Kartik Hosanagar

Image result for a human's guide to machine intelligenceListen! And understand. That Terminator is out there! It can’t be bargained with, can’t be reasoned with! It doesn’t feel pity or remorse or fear, and it absolutely will not stop. EVER! Until you are dead!” – Michael Biehn a.k.a Sgt Kyle Reese in The Terminator 

The chilling lines set out above have now attained iconic status. Taken from the Hollywood blockbuster, “Terminator” starring an incredibly evil Arnold Schwarzenegger, the movie lays down the setting for a time when mankind is taken over by, made subservient to before being completely dominated by the forces of Artificial Intelligence (“AI”). At time of this writing, while we are not yet the helpless lab rats of and for Skynet, we are close to reaching an inflection point in our employ of and interaction with AI. From the notion of driverless cars to robotic surgeries, the cross winds of AI are buffeting the world of Science and Technology.

The burgeoning rise of AI has invariably spawned a debate that has an unambiguous vertical divide. On side of the deliberation stand eternal optimists of the likes of Ray Kurzweil, who are ready to burn their very barns betting on the potential of AI. Kurzweil in fact is so fervent a believer in the tenets of AI that he vehemently believes in a concept termed ‘Singularity’. In a bestseller having the same title as the concept, Kurzweil proposes that by the year 2045, “Singularity will help us multiply our effective intelligence a billion fold by merging with the intelligence we have created.” Opposing Kurzweil and his band of egregious brothers are the likes of James Barrat. In his own bestseller, “Our Final Invention”, Barrat advocates extreme caution when it comes to the employ of AI. Barrat takes pains to adumbrate the fact that ASI instead of being the embodiment of an agglomeration of sentient notions, will be a scheming, sinister, surgical monster of intelligence having both the potential and inclination to wipe humanity off the face of Planet Earth. The force of self-perpetuation inbuilt in a machine with ASI, will be in a position to “repurpose the world’s molecules using nanotechnology” thereby leading to “ecophagy” – eating the environment. “

So is AI the proverbial bane or the quintessential boom? In his measured work, “A Human’s Guide to Machine Intelligence – How Algorithms Are Shaping Our Lives and How We Can Stay in Control”, Kartik Hosanagar, – the John C. Hower Professor of Technology and Digital Business and a Professor Marketing at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania – attempts to answer this very question. From an entangled mesh of conflicts, confusions and conundrums, Mr. Hosanagar, tries to ascertain whether AI posits an existential crisis or if the concerns regarding machine learning represent an outlandish exaggeration. This Mr. Hosanagar proposes to do by broadly answering the following questions:

  • What causes algorithms to behave in unpredictable, biased, and potentially harmful ways?
  • If algorithms can be irrational and unpredictable, how do we decide when to use them? And
  • How do we as individuals who use algorithms in our personal or professional lives and as a society, shape the narrative of how algorithms impact us?

Beginning with the astonishing example of two contradictory and divergent outcomes originating from two identical endeavours by the same Company, Mr. Hosanagar sets the platform for an informed discussion. In 2014, Microsoft launched XioIce, a chatbot in China. The result was a phenomenal success with users raving endlessly over their fabulous interactions with XioIce. Bolstered by this result, Microsoft launched Tay, an artificial intelligence chatter bot via Twitter on March 23, 2016; it caused subsequent controversy when the bot began to post inflammatory and offensive tweets through its Twitter account, forcing Microsoft to shut down the service only 16 hours after its launch.

As Mr. Hosanagar elucidates, “As machines become more intelligent and dynamic, they also become more unpredictable.”

As Mr. Hosanagar takes the trouble to educate to his readers, Google’s self-driving car is based on algorithms that in turn are based on rules not programmed by humans directly but instead “trained on a database of videos of humans driving” that allow it to arrive at “its own driving policy using machine learning.” A self-driving car that learns like a teenager in a driver’s education class may not inspire confidence, but, as Hosanagar observes, the algorithm has driven millions of miles in training, something almost no human has ever done.

So how can algorithms and their users co-exist with confidence instead of getting entangled in a queasy relationship characterized by mistrust and apprehension? Mr. Hosanagar banks on a solution proposed by the founding fathers of American Democracy and even the creators of Magna Carta. In his own words, “based on what we know about AI and its potential impacts on society, I believe there should be four main pillars of an algorithmic bill of rights, including a set of responsibilities for users of decision-making algorithms:

  • First, those who use algorithms or who are impacted by decisions made by algorithms should have a right to a description of the data used to train them and details as to how that data was collected;


  • Second, those who use algorithms or who are impacted by decisions made by algorithms should have a right to an explanation regarding the procedures used by the algorithms, expressed in terms simple enough for the average person to easily access and interpret. These first two pillars are both related to the general principle of transparency;


  • Third, those who use algorithms or who are impacted by decisions made by algorithms should have some level of control over the way those algorithms work–that is, there should always be a feedback loop between the user and the algorithm; and


  • Fourth, those who use algorithms or who are impacted by decisions made by algorithms should have the responsibility to be aware of the unanticipated consequences of automated decision making.”

Mr. Hosanagar also derives inspiration from the words of caution sounded by pioneers of scientific temper who warned the world about the perils of their own invention. Just days before his death, Albert Einstein whose brainchild hastened the consummation of the Manhattan Project, drafted the Russell-Einstein Manifesto–an eloquent call to scientists to act for the good of humanity. Supported by other such notable scientists and intellectuals as Max Born, Frédéric Joliot-Curie, Linus Pauling, and Bertrand Russell, the manifesto states:

There lies before us, if we choose, continual progress in happiness, knowledge, and wisdom. Shall we, instead, choose death, because we cannot forget our quarrels? We appeal as human beings to human beings: Remember your humanity, and forget the rest. If you can do so, the way opens to a new Paradise; if you cannot, there lies before you the risk of universal death.

While Mr. Hosanagar candidly acknowledges that abandoning AI would be akin to driving ourselves back to the Stone Age, there is no dispute that great care and caution ought to be exercised before embracing AI wholesale. And towards this endeavor, “A Human’s Guide to Machine Intelligence” is a thought provoking and hands-on user’s guide to this first seemingly esoteric sphere of dynamic and fluid technology.

(Written as part of the Blogchatter’s A2Z Challenge) – PART 1 ALPHABET A

The Introduction


(Photo Credit: Travis Grossen on Unsplash )

Every single one of these now homogenous family was a child of the greatest leveler. Parvenus to Paupers; Saints to Schizophrenics; One Percenters to Outcasts relegated to the rust belts, all lay in a perfect Geometry of methodical harmonization and precise symmetry. Even though there was a distinct label of seniority in some of the skeletal features, the overall structure put paid to the hopes of a compromise in uniformity.

I was both amazed and aghast at the spectacle that extended as far as the eye could see (no pun intended). While the discipline was unmatched, the silence was unnerving. The only perceivable sounds were those made by minuscule creepy crawlies burrowing, boring, scrummaging and scurrying for food. Their leaving the bones alone was more safeguarding their jaws and teeth rather than paying obeisance to the dead.

My first day here, I could only see ugly stripped down versions of pseudo robots set in stony silence. To add complexity to the conundrum, my features were amenable to trigger a burst of envy. My nails had not yet completely stopped growing and my hair was still jet black.

Bloody Hell! I had barely stopped gasping for breath as clumps of soil came cascading down upon me in a torrential downpour. Even with clogged nostrils, soiled eyes and an earthy mouth I would have been a clear winner if a Mr. Universe competition would have been held six feet under.

Yes. It is just 3 hours since i was buried alive.

(Word Count: 249)

#TellTaleThursday with Anshu & Priya

For more stories for the week, please click HERE



Station Blackout: Inside the Fukushima Nuclear Disaster and Recovery – Charles A. Casto

Image result for station blackout casto

On the 11th of March, 2011, an earthquake of a magnitude hitherto unseen, ravaged the prefecture of Fukushima. The dust had barely settled upon the havoc wreaked by the mega earthquake, before monster tsunami waves as tall as 45 feet whipsawed the region decimating everything that was in its wake. Unfortunately standing in the wake of Mother Nature’s wrath were two powerful Nuclear Power Plants, Fukushima Daiichi and Fukushima Daiini. The Tsunami knocked out Fukushima Daiichi’s electrical power, along with the safety systems of all the reactors. Buildings exploded releasing it their wake unknown levels of radiation across the countryside.

With a view to assist Japan tide over this extraordinary crisis, United States instituted a joint operation titled “Operation Tomodachi (literally “Operation Friend(s)”). The operation took place from 12 March to 4 May 2011; involved 24,000 U.S. service members, 189 aircraft, 24 naval ships; and cost $90 million. Charles Casto, formerly of the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission was part of Operation Tomodachi executing the role of a nuclear expert supporting the Japanese government, following the earthquake and tsunami in Fukushima in 2011. In his revealing book, “Station Blackout”, Mr. Casto holds forth on the magnitude of the disaster and the magnificence of the heroics displayed by both the Japanese and Americans in curtailing what otherwise would have been a catastrophe. Mr. Casto considers the events of 3/11 the “Quintuple Disaster”, because, “in reality five events were unfolding simultaneously: the earthquake and the tsunami, plus, nuclear, social, and policy crisis. The social and policy problems were part of a ‘system failure’ surrounding the accident, similar to the one we experienced during our own Hurricane Katrina – i.e. local, state, and federal policy all failed.”

The heroes of Fukushima represented a myriad assemblage. Taylor Anderson and Monty Dickson, both Americans and both in their early twenties, were English teachers in Japanese elementary schools. Donning the mantle of early responders these two brave souls sacrificed themselves in an attempt to save school children when they were swallowed up by the giant waves. Mr. Casto describes the leadership qualities displayed by the people at ground zero, to be one “in extremis.” This kind of leadership also known as extreme-crisis leadership, is defined as “a discrete episode or occurrence that may result in a great and intolerable magnitude of physical, psychological, or material consequences to or in close physical or psycho-social proximity to organization members.”

Mr. Casto, in particular dwells at length about the leadership abilities of three important leaders. Ikuo Izawa at Daiichi was a control room shift supervisor for Units 1 and 2. Employed by Tokyo Electric Power Company (“TEPCO”), Izawa showed tremendous calm and ingenuity in the aftermath of the disaster. Takeyuki Inagaki, a maintenance manager was responsible for the recovery strategies from the Emergency Response Centre (“ERC”). Masuo Yoshida, site superintendent at Daiichi was the third important personality who punched beyond his weight. Mr. Casto also highlights the perils of a lack of leadership during unpredictable chaos. For example, upon hearing the magnitude of the disaster the Prime Minister of Japan at the time reached out to the ERC, only to, “commence shouting, blaming, and criticizing everyone involved.” Mr. Casto adds, “they (ERC) later told me that this was not the kind of leadership they needed at this point; it was not real leadership at all.” On the other hand, the workers at the site itself showed exemplary courage and extraordinary resilience. “At the time of the earthquake, there were around 2,000 workers at the plant, including about 400 technical workers. Some 250 of these were official members of the emergency response team, and they gathered at the ERC. The remaining 150 evacuated to a baseball field nearby. Virtually no one left the site within the first hundred hours…. The first technique that Masuda used to try to comfort the workers was to be transparent about the conditions. He actually used a whiteboard to log each aftershock and the height of the tsunami that followed, so that he could show the workers that the aftershocks were somewhat subsiding and the conditions were not getting worse.

 So that was one of the techniques he used in the transparency area. So what you learn from that, and what we talk about in the article, is that information is an antidote to fear. So the more information you can give workers, the more comfortable they’ll feel and be ready to face whatever challenge that comes.

As Mr. Casto elaborates, confusion reigned on both the American and Japanese sides. “It appeared that pandemonium was rampant in Washington. I noticed that the less data there was, the more confusion, and came to call this the Casto Pandemonium Curve.” With a view to minimizing such confusion & maximizing clarity, Mr. Casto introduced the mechanism of “listen, learn, help and lead.” This meant, “listen from their perspective, learn the issues as they see them, help them solve the issues as they see them, and then perhaps with the trust that this process builds, lead the way to a good solution.”

The need for quicksilver thinking and employ of ingenuity may at times necessitate a direct disobedience of orders. The move by (TEPCO), to use seawater doped with neutron-absorbing boron in the reactors’ pressure vessels because the normal and auxiliary cooling systems, which circulate purified water to keep the fuel rods from melting down, failed, was in direct contravention to an order issued by the Prime Minister himself.

Mr. Casto’s book, while not dealing with the nuts and bolts of the disaster itself chooses to focus on the consequences of extreme-crisis leadership and focused co-operation. While thousands of unsuspecting people lost their lives following the earthquake and tsunami, not a single death resulted from radiation exposure itself during the accident. The cancer rates are also expected to be kept in check and not rise appreciably. Japan’s Nuclear Safety Institute (“JANSI”) has evolved into an organization equal in competence to NNSA in the United States.

“Station Blackout” is a stirring testimony to the courage, capability and composure of humanity in the face of unimaginable adversity.

Come undone; Come unhinged

Treating agony and ecstasy in a manner that would have made Kipling proud

Viewing both misery and munificence as siblings of a passing cloud;

With a demeanour so incredible and an attitude indefatigable

 He never viewed any situation as one that was insurmountable or insoluble


But love finally ensured that the poor man came unhinged

One who was hitherto courageous and determined sadly brooded and cringed;

The remorseless and unsparing hand of Cupid which once seemed so pure and pious

Shattered a man who once proudly deemed himself from all emotions, to be impervious

Love vile and devious


(Word Count: 99)

Courtesy of Sammi Cox Weekend Writing Prompt#98

BlogchatterA2Z 2019: Theme Reveal


(A Random image of My Workstation)

Personally, writing for me has been an exercise in excelsis. While the art of writing itself infuses me with a joy that is unadulterated, imbibes in me a passion that is pure and inculcates a habit that is lasting, I realised that this very act of putting pen to paper was incomplete without one very vital tenet – feedback. Any feedback loop takes the concerned system output into consideration, thereby enabling the system to adjust its performance to meet a desired output response. Blogging is no different from any other system that is amenable for constructive criticism and feedback. Blogging establishes an unbiased and impartial ‘connect’ with fellow bloggers of various hues and cry thereby enabling a blogger to assimilate a stunning smorgasboard of ideas, suggestions and ingenuity.

This thirst for continuous improvement has spurred me into taking up the Blogchatter’s A2Z Challenge for the first time. With a paradoxical feeling of both confidence and caution, I signed up for this daunting challenge.


This is an ingenious blogging challenge, nay, pilgrimage, where bloggers are required to blog a post every day in the month of April (except Sundays). Every such post corresponds to a letter of the alphabet- thereby making it one post for every alphabet. The blogger is provided the luxury, or the intimidation (whichever way one deems to look at it) of identifying a theme of hi or her choice. So without further ado, let me proceed to reveal my chosen theme. Please click on this link to explore other bloggers, and follow them as well, in the event, their preferred themes appeal to you.


Books. Being an inveterate, impossible and incorrigible reader, I have decided to embark on a theme that would have at its edifice a review of 26 favourite books of mine. Each book review would be a sequential categorization wherein the title of the first book with begin with the first letter of the alphabet and so on until the exhaustion of all 26 alphabets. Thus: “Read and Review 26”

Looking forward to your support, succor and most importantly, invaluable feedback! Till such time we meet again on the 1st of April!


Life’s Cauldron

(Photo Credit: Dale Rogerson)

A Ferris Wheel. What could a slowly, irritatingly, lugubriously rotating hub with sitting capsules – containing within their confines a horde of screaming, shrieking, howling bunch of humanity – at the end of its multiple spokes mean other than chaos and confusion? Venky wanted to fling himself out the cauldron of hysterical laughter, harrowing colours and hounding lights. He could not even wrap his head around why he had brought a ticket for himself in the first place. The last time he was in one of these it was during Utopian times. It was when Ash was still with him.

This story was written as part of the FRIDAY FICTIONEERS challenge, more about which may be found HERE

 For the complete list of entries, please click HERE

.22 Caliber Bore Diameter

high noon

(Photo Credit: Crispina Kemp)

“High Noon Lane” – a glorified name for an inglorious location. An unassuming resting place for an unknown segment of humanity. They all lay here surrounded by an untenanted and untended grassy mound. The reluctantly sprouting flowers hid many secrets. Secrets brimming with euphoria and bursting with angst.

My neighbor had a hard time procuring his final resting place. Racked by poverty he required the intervention of the local gravedigger to get six feet under in peace and quiet. A combination of insult and intransigence prevented him from indulging in any conversation, meaningful or mediocre.

But the inveterate chatterbox that I am, my comrade’s reticence did not hold me back from sharing my sordid story with him. I even detected in him a shiver, when I narrated how the .22 caliber tore into my breast when upon going to meet her, I was greeted by a fusillade of betrayal and bullets.

(Word Count: 150)

Written as part of the Crimson’s Creative Challenge #19 More details regarding this challenge may be found HERE.


Attempting to search for George Orwell or Aldous Huxley on the Cabinet supplied sleek electronic self-powered and booster enabled “V-Book-Ups” was rewarded by three weeks of isolated detention behind one of the hermetically sealed Ministry of Justice dungeons. Repeated offenses triggered even graver consequences ranging from forced labour in Gulag styled labour camps to execution by Minimal Invasive Liberation Outlet (MILO) methods.

‘Unlawful’ assemblies of more than 5 were located and dispersed with – initially warnings – and, for the more obstinate, by mild shocks, courtesy, Jarrings Of Limited Traumas (JOLTs) administered by humanoid UBTech Walkers. These robots patrolled the streets 24 hours a day in 6 shifts. Each one of these forbidding machines used 36 actuators and featured proprietary Simultaneous Localization and Mapping (SLAM) abilities for planning out paths and avoiding obstacles. The policing of the streets however, did not pose much of a headache for the Universal Law Enforcement Department since the only sporadic disturbances were in the nature of mutinies for additional packets of Frozen And Tested Edibles (FATE). Moreover, social unrest after all had to be preceded by the existence of a society. In a world populated by a mere four countries, society was but a bedraggled assimilation of income and wealth inequalities.

Category 10 cyclones (yes, you read it right), sea level rises exceeding 150 cm, acidic oceans, unfathomable increases in global marine heatwaves and a near complete erosion of the tropical forest had all contrived to wipe the greater good of humanity off the face of the only Planet which hitherto was habitable. Two categories of people survived this macabre dance of wanton destruction. The categories themselves were privileged choice and pure chance.

The wielders of the privileged choice comprised of the so-called “1 percenters”, who in a paean to their vulgar displays of wealth, watched the unfettered and brazen destruction of Earth from the serene confines of space. Defying both gravity, and the wrath of Mother Earth, these noveau riche ensconced approximately 250 miles above the land mass. Here they, along with their families, shamelessly and smugly bore witness to a massacre whose origins had these watchers themselves at its core. Relentlessly and repetitively orbiting the shrunken, shriveled and scorched Earth at a speed of 17,500 miles per hour, the parvenu lived in space capsules, each of which had the volume of a eight-bedroom house or five Boeing 787 Dreamliners. Capable of supporting a family of 10, plus ‘floating guests’ these capsules all put together covered the area of 1654 football fields including the end zones. Stacked with the finest of foods and stocked with the most sophisticated of spirits, the floating emperors shrugged off the doom below them like ducks shrugging water off their backs.

The ’victims’ of pure chance meanwhile, were those unfortunates who had either intentionally or accidentally wedged, nudged, crammed, coiled, and got stuck in nooks and crannies, crevices and caves, attics and air vents. Physically seared by injuries and psychologically scarred by destiny, these children of a lesser God survived by scrounging, the dark streets for scraps, left overs and tolerable detritus. The sight of a child prowling an almost translucent street at night, (or was it day) passing by ghost buildings set against the backdrop of a foreboding eclipse, became a common sight. Because of the depletion and damage to the ozone layer and some orbital peculiarities caused by the global warming, the moon more frequently blocked the Sun.

(Photo Credit: pixabay image by Natan Vance)

After 25 years of chaos and calamity, an eerie calm prevailed over Earth. The spacemen, with a great deal of reluctance and a bit of rancor floated back to Earth. Immediately upon arrival, the self-proclaimed leaders of the world, divided the spatial region (or whatever was left of it) into four sovereign nations. This division was based on an equal representation of flora and fauna, fertility, finite natural resources cultivable land area and maintainable infrastructure.

The children of pure chance were shepherded into the four countries and plied with the responsibility of working both the land as well as the wishes of their Masters. Forbidden to use their own names, they were all given uniform, standard and ‘harmonised’ names. The naming conventions seemed as if they had their genesis in The Harmonized Commodity Description and Coding System, also known as the Harmonized System (HS) of tariff nomenclature – an internationally standardized system of names and numbers to classify traded products. A factory worker manning a lathe machine was named 10-10.6-1006.10 where 10 represented the factory, 10.6, the engineering section and 1006.10 a lathe machine. Man thus, became indistinguishable from machine. Food was severely rationed and distributed at designated intervals in packets called FATE. Leisure was strictly codified and the publication of books was a managed industry.

Specially manufactured robots patrolled the streets in self driven amphi-bots. In an example of exquisitely dripping irony, the controlled toiled long and hard in sophisticated laboratories and design centres creating their own controllers. The controlling monarchs watched derisively as the controlled dutifully set about birthing their controllers.

Till one day, when either an extremely intrepid or an extraordinarily foolish lad of 23, clandestinely mass produced copies of a revolutionary work. The author was an egregious and eccentric philosopher named Karl Popper and his book was titled, “Open Society and Its Enemies.”

This is a piece of fiction piece written for D. Wallace Peach’s monthly Speculative Fiction Writing Prompt. 


(Photo Credit: Anshu Bhojnagarwala)

What was once a paean to melody was now a monument to melancholy. A perfunctory examination of rotting wood, the asymmetric smattering of mud on top and a reluctant profusion of motley crew of flowers made the top of what was earlier a piano now seem a spontaneous grave.

The keys long gone to the vagaries of nature and the vicissitudes of neglect eerily resembled elongated skeletal fingers. Yet this very lifeless piano struck terror in the hearts of the residents at the midnight hour every Wednesday by beating out an immaculate version of Chopin’s “Nocturne” in E Flat Major.

This story was written as part of the FRIDAY FICTIONEERS challenge, more about which may be found HERE

 For the complete list of entries, please click HERE