Sunday, May 28, 2017

Bots, Drones and Driverless Cars

Creation of jobs is a promise that every political party makes to its voters. This is so all over the world and no political philosophy is an exception to this. Creation of jobs apparently refers to creation of additional jobs and thereby increasing the number of jobs already available. The discussion and focus on jobs has gone beyond this in the last few years. There is a heated discussion on preservation of existing jobs. Communities are happy if the existing jobs are protected and pink slips (an euphemism for job loss) are avoided or at least reduced. There are arm twisting rules and regulations in many countries that force employers to ensure intake of local workforce. There are instances of people working in other parts of the world thinking of and actually doing "homecoming"; getting back to their own countries for good. More capable and talented workers are able to job hop or start their own start-ups. The average level workers are struggling between job searches and job losses. Younger generation is indeed facing a crisis situation. Unemployment was a big problem forty years ago. Growth of service sector ensured that there was some job, even if economists called it underemployment, for anyone who wanted to work. It appears the cycle is complete and unemployment is again taking center stage.

The heading in a newspaper screams that Bots have taken over 12,000 jobs in just one company, WIPRO. A recent report in a newspaper mentioned that work done by Robs is on the increase and more and more categories of work are taken over by them. Robs is the short form for "Robots". They are also called "Bots". Whether Robs or Bots, even half the name is sending shivers down the spine of employees in big companies. It is not known whether SMS language has reduced "Robots" to "Robs" or they are called so due to their robbing of human jobs. Job losses estimates due to deployment of robots instead of humans differ from one source to another. It may probably require a sophisticated robot to come up with the exact number of jobs that will be lost due to deployment of robots. One calculation believes that 50 million jobs will be lost globally due to robot deployment in the next five years. Indian IT industry alone fears loss of several million jobs due to various factors, one of them being use of robots for basic jobs. IT minister denies that there will be loss of jobs. He states that the fears are exaggerated. But doyens of IT industry are clearly lamenting about job losses due to higher level of automation. Growth of IT industry brought in informal culture, calling first names and T-shirts into office atmosphere. It led the dissolution of trade union movement in various industries by making them irrelevant. Today, there is talk of formation of unions in IT industry to protect the jobs and emoluments!

Robots are already doing their jobs in many spheres of life. They are said to be leading in 21 different areas of production and servicing units. Surgical robots have performed over two million procedures so far and the number is increasing day by day. They are able to do their jobs with perfect motions and without emotions. Retail sales, security, journalism, receptionist, telephone sales, construction work, accounting, tour guides, librarians and teachers around us could be robots. Make no mistake, we are not talking about sales people, receptionists and tour guides who behave like robots. We are indeed talking about real robs here. Cow milking robots are deployed in animal farms. The milk we used in the morning could have been milked by a robot, processed by a robot and packed by another robot before being sold by yet another robot. 

A study by McKinsey & Company suggests that robots will eliminate some categories of jobs altogether. But more than that it will affect portions of almost all jobs to some extent. Health care and finance are among the sectors to be affected most. Job content and focus is also changing. A finance director who worked more on arithmetical calculations four decades ago is now working on financial strategy and investment. More than 75% of predictable work and nearly 25% of unpredictable physical work will be taken over by robots during the next ten years. Robots are already working around us without our realizing their presence. Many robots do not move and hence the illusion. Coffee vending machines and self-service kiosks are indeed an extension of robots stealing human jobs. Routine customer problems are also solved by robots. A higher level of intervention is still in human domain. Advancement in robotics may lead to a day when robots themselves create further robots! predicts that in future humans will find themselves working side by side with robots, rather than being completely replaced. Due to growth in robotics in cognitive computing and computer tasks, some jobs will disappear but some other new categories of jobs will be created. Soft-skill professionals are now conducting human relations programs and leadership skills program to build human teams. They may have to now branch out and design programs on human-robotic relationship and building men-robots teams. Laws may have to be amended to bring in dealing with robots at work place and regulating human-robot interactions.

Drones (unmanned moving objects including small airplanes) are becoming more and more common in commercial and defense usage. Amazon mentioned about use of Drones for delivery of items to customer doorsteps within 30 minutes of order, four years ago. China is already using it and its drones are delivering boxes to customers at their doors. You need not be surprised if a drone with a parcel flies on your head when you are walking on the road there. A day may come when an item delivered by a drone may be received at your home by your robot assistant, cooked by another robot to be served by a third robot.

Driverless cars or autonomous cars are the next in-things. They are already around us in test conditions. We are told that driverless cars will be around us shortly. The only impediment is that humans have to develop confidence in such cars. It is indeed a pleasure for many to go to sleep when someone else is driving. A day may come when one can get all the sleep for the day while traveling in a driverless car! Cars with cruise control are already in use for over a decade now. Driverless cars are coming in different levels. After cruise control, next would be hands-on cars which give warnings but do not have control on the cars. Such cars are already in use. They give a warning noise when the car comes close to another moving vehicle. The next generation cars will be hands-off cars, where the driver need not hold the controls, but can take over when the need arises. Next would be Eyes-off cars that would enable the driver to take off his eyes from the road while the car keeps moving as usual. Mind-off cars would be the ultimate ones. A couple who had a fight at home may get into to the car and continue their fight without bothering about traffic rules and on-coming vehicles. It may not end there. Flying cars may come that drive on the road but fly in case of traffic jams. Only they could cost more!

Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde is a famous novel by Scottish author Robert Louis Stevenson that was published 130 years ago. Dr Jekyll discovers a serum by drinking which he gets converted to a evil character by name Mr Hyde. Initially this transformation is temporary and reversible. But it becomes regular and ultimately irreversible after some time. Dr Jekyll disappears and Mr Hyde's crimes and murders increase. One of the ingredients used for preparing the serum is exhausted. Further purchases of the item used in serum preparation do not work. Finally Dr Jekyll commits suicide to bring an end to Mr Hyde.

Frankenstein is another story written by English author Mary Shelley. She wrote the story when she was only 18 years old. The book was first published exactly 200 years ago. It deals with the story of Victor Frankenstein who creates a monster in an unorthodox scientific experiment. The story deals with the evil acts of the creature, also known as Frankenstein, in the same name as its creator. The evil creature harasses its creator and kills his newly-wed wife. The creator also dies while trying to kill the creature. The end is indeed tragic.  


Creation of these Robots, Drones and Driverless cars may help improve quality of life. They may also bring misery in the form of job losses and sorrow due to their misbehavior in due course. Whether they would be the next generation Mr Hyde or Frankenstein, only future can tell.  Creation of something which the creator cannot control is dealt in many scriptures and literature of different languages. Bhasmasura is a well know character in Indian mythology. He got the boon of burning anything or anybody by merely placing his hand on the head. After getting the boon from Lord Shiva, he wanted to test its effect first on Lord Shiva himself! Mohini had to intervene and prevent the disaster.

The picture given at the top of this post is indeed self-explanatory. Man-created robots may ultimately control its creator. Whether there would be a Mohini to save that day is a secret shrouded in the future.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Tools, Teacher, Process and Practice

As defined by on-line dictionary, a scholar is a learned or erudite person, especially one who has profound knowledge of a particular subject. It also refers to a student or pupil who is still learning and is expected to complete his pursuits. However, the generally accepted meaning of the word scholar refers to someone who has attained a high level of mastery over a particular subject. Of course, there are a few personalities who have mastery over many subjects. They are a class by themselves and deserve highest respect from the communities.

Google translation gives "Pandita" (पण्डित) as the Sanskrit/Hindi equivalent of the english word "Scholar". Who is a Pandita? What are his characteristics? When can a person be called a Pandita? Is there any definition of Pandita in Indian texts? What should be the vital components of learning to make a person a scholar or pandita? What are the important stages of learning? Can we get a clear-cut definition of the word Pandita somewhere? Is there any modren learning method that corresponds to ancient definition of this type? These questions are indeed worth pondering over.

The definition of a Pandita is available in many ancient Indian texts in different places. Saint Jagannatha Dasa (1728-1809) who lived in Maanvi town of Raichur district of Karnataka is an acknowledged scholar in Sanskrit as well as Kannada languages. He is an important member of the "Dasa saahitya" that propagates Vaishnavism. His "Harikathamrutasaara" is a scholarly work that deals with various aspects of life and teachings of the "Dwaita School of Philosophy". It is spread over 32 sandhis (chapters) containing 988 verses in Kannada language. There are many sanskrit works that have commentaries in sanskrit and other languages. This is a rare Kannada work that has many commentaries in Kannada as well as a commentary in Sanskrit. In the sixth verse of the third chapter of this work, titled "Vyaapti Sandhi", he gives a clear definition of "Pandita" (scholar) and the stages that one has to pass to reach that level. He defines four stages that a person has to pass through before becoming eligible to be called a scholar or pandita.

What are these four stages for a person to cross before being called a scholar? They are defined as Vidyaa, Buddhi, Siddhi and Prasiddhi (विद्या, बुद्धि, सिद्धि, प्रसिद्धि). Translated to English, they correspond to Tools, Teacher, Process and Practice. What are their characteristics?

  1. Vidyaa or Tools is the first stage for a scholar that comprise of collecting all the necessary tools to start his pursuit. What are the tools for a scholar? They comprise of necessary books and allied study material. There is no use in collecting all the tools unless the pupil makes some effort to get familiar with the tools so collected. He should necessarily do some amount of work with these tools so that he can use them when required in the next part of the studies. It is not proper to search for the tools when he sits before the teacher to learn. Preliminary work done before attending classes helps the student scholar to quickly pick up the thread when a reference is made by the teacher. This is the same as pre-class study or pre-read practiced in the present system of learning and training.
  2. Buddhi or Teacher is the second component of scholarly pursuits. Mere amassing of learning tools and pre-class study would not be sufficient to open up deeper thoughts and inner meaning of learning. In order to have a clear understanding of the tools and their usage, a proper guide who is well-versed in the subject and its multiple dimensions is required. A teacher or trainer does this job. It may be noted that a teacher is even today referred as "ಬುದ್ದ್ಯೋರು" (Buddhyooru) in rural Karnataka. The combination of Vidyaa and Buddhi can now lead to the next two stages.
  3. Siddhi or Process refers to the completion of learning efforts before the teacher. This involves the joint efforts of the student/trainee and the teacher/trainer. There is an element of face-to-face learning here. The word siddhi is commonly used to denote completion and culmination of something. (Some medicines are called "Siddhoushadas" and another common usage is "Mantra siddhi). This Siddhi or Process is the same as In-class study as practiced in the present day teaching/training.
  4. Prasiddhi or Practice is the fourth and final stage in a student transforming into a scholar or a pandita. The word "Prasiddhi" is commonly used to indicate "Fame". In fact this is actually the second meaning of the word Prasiddhi. The first meaning of this word is "Attainment or Accomplishment". This is the ultimate test of a scholar or pandita. At this stage he will be able to quote, explain, answer, perform, demonstrate and show the real learning or training he has received. This is akin to the post-class activity or repetitive exercises used in modren teaching/training.
We have all experienced ourselves as well as we know from the experiences of our youngsters that many students study very hard when the examinations approach and leave no stone unturned in their preparations. Yet, when answering the question for which they have prepared so hard, in the examination hall, they forget the answer and suffer emotionally. They many times remember the answer as soon as papers are handed over to the invigilator and come out of the examination hall. Why does it happen? At the same time we know many who can quote and bring in the learning precisely when the need arises without even preparing for such situations. The secret for both these situations is in Siddhi and Prasiddhi, meaning the learning process and practice thereafter. This underlines the need for giving due importance to learning process followed by repetitive practice of the application of knowledge and skills. In essence, Siddhi and Prasiddhi explains these quite well. 

There is an interesting background to the verse 6 in chapter 3 of Harikathamrutasaara referred above. As the verse covers the vital stages of learning and transforming a student to a scholar or pandita, there is a practice of starting "Aksharaabhyaasa" (starting learning process of a child) on the first day by reciting this verse before actual starting of learning in some families, especially in North Karnataka. It is further believed that the four forms Lord Mahavishnu presides over the four stages; Aniruddha for Vidyaa, Pradyumna for Buddhi, Sankarshana for Siddhi and Vasudeva for Prasiddhi. These forms are worshipped on the first day of learning with the fond hope that the child would evolve into a scholar or pandita in due course.

Sunday, May 7, 2017

I Suck Your Blood

Some four decades ago, a group of friends decided to go to Mercara (Madakari) for a weekend outing. The days spent in the Westren Ghats of India are indeed memorable. The morning part of the picnic was a wonderful time with visit to Abbey falls and playing in the river waters below the waterfalls. At lunch time one of the group members made a reference to a very old tree standing in the nearby forest. The group suddenly decided to go over there after lunch. Nobody knew the exact location of the tree but youthful enthusiasm does not care about it. We walked around for nearly two hours and finally saw a very big tree in the forest. The tree was standing tall on the banks of a small rivulet. The land around the tree was wet and slippery. Those who had come with sandals were able to remove them and hold in the hands and manage. Those with leather shoe and socks were finding it difficult to maneuver in the slippery surroundings. There was not much to see except the big tree and the other smaller trees around it. It was getting dark and time to get back before we lost our way in the forest. 

One of the group members suddenly observed that there was a black spot on the leg of another in the group. Someone in the group shouted "Jigane". Jigane is the word for "Leech" in local language, Kannada. Naturally others also checked their feet. All those who had removed footwear had leeches clinging to their feet and legs. Those wearing shoe and socks were fortunately spared. We ran from that place to the nearest dry area and helped each other to get rid of the leeches. When we checked later with the guest house manager, he said that there was nothing to worry and leeches are not poisonous. He also said that it is always advisable to go in the forest with the feet covered. 

To be immortal and live forever is probably a dream for all living beings, especially humans. The two cousin groups, Devas and Asuras also wanted this and desired to find a solution. They were advised that by churning of the milky ocean (Ksheerasamudra), they can obtain nectar by drinking which they can become immune to death and live forever. Churning the milky ocean is a long story. Many items and valuables came out of the churning. In the end, Lord Mahavishnu himself took the form of "Dhanwantari" and emerged from the milky ocean with the nectar. Mahavishnu took another form now, one of Mohini, the most beautiful female of all times, mesmerized all and ensured that only Devas got the nectar. 

Lord Dhanwantari did not bring nectar alone with him from the milky ocean. He carried his Shanka (Conch) and Chakra (weapon in the form of a Disc) in two hands. Nectar (Amruta) was held in the third hand. What did he carry in his fourth hand? (Please observe the picture of Lord Dhanwantari given above closely) He carried a Leech in his fourth hand! Leech is called "Jalauka" in Sanskrit, the name coming from the word Jala or water as they live close to watery lowlands. Thus Leech came from the milky ocean along with nectar. Hence Leeches are used in therapy for treatment of certain diseases and bodily ailments. They are used to suck bad blood from the blood vessels and help flow of good blood in affected parts of the body! 

Dhanwantari is credited with beginning the practice of Indian form of medicine, known as Ayurveda. Dhanwantari is worshipped by practitioners of Ayurveda as well as those believing in the Indian form of worship and medicine. There are pictures of Dhanwantari showing him holding books instead of Leech, but the one with Leech in the hand is said to be the original one. "Dhanwantari Jayanti" is celebrated every year on "Dhanteras" day or "Dhana Trayodashi", a before "Naraka Chaturdashi" during Diwali or Deepavali festivities. There are many temples dedicated to Lord Dhanwantari, especially in Kerala and Tamilnadu, where Ayurveda is practiced in large measure. The temple in Thottuva in Ernakulam District (picture given above) is believed to be more than 1000 years old. Fresh unboiled milk and butter are offered to Lord Dhanwantari here. There is a Dhanwantari temple inside the famous Srirangam temple where a herbal decoction is given as prasadam to visitors. Another Dhanwantari temple can be seen inside the Kanchi Varadaraja Perumal temple also.  

Many patients develop accumulation of blood and blood clots in lower limbs. Leeches are used to suck the infected blood from the blood vessels of patients with such disorders. This method provides an excellent way of removing blood clots and improving blood circulations. Ayurveda practitioners say that this is very useful for diabetic patients where surgery may result in complications due to delay in healing of surgical wounds. Leech saliva is also used nowadays in cancer treatment. It is said that it has now found way into beauty treatment as well!  

Leeches can suck blood up to ten times their weight. One full eating for the leeches sustain them for several months. It is also said that they drop off on their own once they had their full meal of blood. The leech bites heal quickly and aid in therapy due to this quality.

Many scriptures and Puranas explain how big and diamond-hard Jalauka (Leeches) suck the blood of sinners in the hell, as punishment to the way in which they harass the poor and weak in this world. There is a more humane way in which the Jalauka also suck blood from humans as a part of treatment and therapy, in this world!