Saturday, December 28, 2013

Lesser Mortal...

Couple of months back I was coming out of a Darshini  (clean - self service- stand and eat- vegetarian restaurants  common in Bangalore) in Jayanagar, when I came across a blind  beggar, walking on the road.   I dropped the 'change' I had received from the  restaurant in his plate and continued to walk, feeling happy about having helped a poor soul, close to noon.
By the corner of my eyes I watched  him pass the restaurant and trying with difficulty to cross the road. For a moment, I thought I would go back and help him. By the time I made up my mind to do so,  a lady - in her late twenties - walked up to him and held his hands, carefully helping him to cross the road, braving the traffic.  She looked like an employee from one of the shops, on her way to run some errand during the lunch hour. By the time, they reached the other end of the road, I had also crossed the road on my way to the nearest bookstall.  After dropping the blind beggar on the other side, the lady started retracing her steps.
Half way through, she stopped at the middle of the road, thought for a moment and went back to the beggar.  'Did you have your lunch?', she asked him in Kannada. I was quite surprised, because one does not get to witness such acts of compassion, often in one's life.  
The beggar replied in the negative.
 'Shall I buy you a meals?, she asked. The beggar said 'no' with a smile on his face.  The very question itself must have addressed his hunger.
She did not push him. But she rummaged her bag,  produced a few coins and gave them to him and continued her journey.
I saluted the lady in my mind. How couldn't I?
Then... I realized to my sadness, I could never make myself to ask that question to someone like him, how much ever I appreciate the deed.
In that sense I am a much lesser mortal!!!
How about you?

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Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Psychohistory, Big Data and me...

Way back in 1942, Isaac Asimov had conceived a new field of predictive science called 'Psychohistory' which he used later, as the backbone of his 'Foundation' series. Asimov's 'Psychohistory' combined historysociology, and mathematical statistics to make general predictions about the future behaviour of very large groups of people. It depended on the idea that, while one cannot foresee the actions of a particular individual, the laws of statistics as applied to large groups of people could predict the general flow of future events. Asimov used the analogy of a gas: an observer has great difficulty in predicting the motion of a single molecule in a gas, but can predict the mass action of the gas to a high level of accuracy.
You can read all that from Wikipedia. So why am I wasting everyone's time about what Asimov explained and expanded well in  his books?
There is a reason. I believe I am  on to something!

One of the limits the 'Psychohistory' approach had so far, was the inability to capture the behaviour for sufficiently large groups of Individuals to enable meaningful  predictions and analyse the past to predict the future. It was both a technical and logistics issue.
Now there seems to be a solution for this. Social media data ('exhaust' in the lingo of data scientists) along with the emerging BIG DATA technologies could provide us a great solution for the problem.

That means....?
It is only a question of time,  before  someone funds Psychohistory research using Big data.

I believe, in less than a decade we could hear fairly dependable predictions on the rise and fall of countries and empires. we might get a chance to get back to the Newtonian clockwork universe again...
Note - One caution here...'Psycho History' in modern science  is something totally different.

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