Archive for September, 2014

An Inspiration!

Sometimes ordinary people have extraordinary stories to narrate. Here’s one of those few people I have come across, and she really inspired.

Sometimes ordinary people have extraordinary stories to narrate

Sometimes ordinary people have extraordinary stories to narrate

Bella was wheeling an elderly lady paralyzed by a stroke. As a volunteer at the healthcare organisation, this is part of her weekly job. As she looked at the lady, she thought of her own father, already in his seventies, his health was declining. She was overwhelmed by a sense of regret and shame, as she thought of her own ignorance and lack of understanding of her parent. She was unable to stem the flow of tears.

Bella grew up in a small town in Bihar, the only daughter in her family; she was never pampered. As the oldest daughter, she felt a duty to help pay back all the debts of her family. In sixth grade, she started to help her father by selling groceries in the market; she could not even rest on Diwali days, when she had to earn a little more money to help her family’s finances. Fortunately, her two brothers were top students in the school, which made the family very proud. With financial difficulties, the family of six lived in a small house; they were ‘happy’ together.

Bella recalled that summer day when she was 21… She had lost her mother in a workplace accident; she fell from broken scaffolding and died of hemorrhage. The sudden tragedy almost shattered the family; her grandmother cried for days. Seeing the lonely figure of her father, she vowed to herself: “I shall never get married, so that I can dedicate my life to this family.”

While she held strongly to this idea of celibacy, her grandmother and father were hoping that she would find a good husband. Her grandmother said: “I will not die in peace unless you are married.” This changed her mind. She vowed that she would only marry someone from her vicinity, so that she could stay close to her family, and that her husband must help her look after them.

As fate would have it, Bella met Raghav, a circus performer. They fell in love and got married. They could also afford a big house in a couple of years and had a daughter. But the happiness was not meant to last for long. Her husband left for a show and she was informed after a week that while on the circus show her husband crashed to the ground and died when the trapeze mechanism failed.

The burden of paying a mortgage and school fees for the children was so heavy that she no longer felt the joy of owning a house. Bella sank into a depression, her mind was full of anxieties: “How do we afford the next meal?”

As time passed, her perspective toward her family changed drastically. She thought: “Father is finally able to lead an easy life; one of my brothers is a doctor and another a teacher. Their wives also love and care for them. My father knows my predicament very well, but why doesn’t he ever call to ask after me?”

When she thought of all her dedication to her family, she was deeply disappointed by the coldness she received in return. “I only wanted a call to ask ‘how are you coping?’ someone to show that they cared — but it did not seem that way. My father never cared.” From that time, she started to bear resentment towards him.

This resentment also turned her against her two brothers. “If I had not sacrificed myself to work full time after junior school, how could they have accomplished all they have today?” she said to herself. Her brother who was a doctor wanted to raise money to help her with her mortgage: and her other brother wanted to help share the burden of her daughter’s school fees – but she refused. She was obsessed with how her father never showed that he cared about her. Anger burnt within her heart; she could not see the kindness of her brothers.

It was then that she chanced upon a middle-aged woman who heads a charitable healthcare institution. She started to reflect. It was a casual meeting which changed her life forever. Meghana Madam as she calls her, made her escape from this obsession. She learnt to see things in a different way.

“Hatred and obsession are shackles, one should liberate herself from the binds of the senses,” Meghana madam told her.

In the next three months, Bella found herself actively participating in voluntary work, helping medical officers and nurses and joining the local study groups. She almost never missed a session. She willingly took up a job to make paper packets for New Year gifts for the institutions supporters across the country. Life started becoming better.

As she thought of her father and made a call, her heart was filled with emotions. For nearly a decade, her father had been suffering from poor health; his speech problem due to a tongue infection had prevented him from expressing his love for his dear ones.

Although he could not speak, he made sure that the brothers cared for their sister when she was struggling financially. Just because of her own obsession over the lack of attention from her father, she had resented him for years. She finally decided to let go of this resentment and re-build her relationship with her father.

Tomorrow she will be promoted as assistant to the Chief Voluntary Officer – her hard work and dedication paid off. It’s a proud moment for Bella – her family who would come to the felicitation event to boost her spirit.

Bella’s ‘once upon a time’ story ended on a happy note.

“Loving our parents cannot wait – I’ve realised we should fulfill our obligations and repay parent’s love,” she said with tears of joy.

Blurring The Lines Between Machines And Humans

The day may not be far away when supercomputers and robots take over humankind. Companies such as Google are already working on this vision, though they cite that these initiatives can bring tremendous gain in the business, research and community development. Google is currently working on a super-fast “quantum” computer chip in which machines can have the ability to think like humans. The tech titan is also working on projects including self-driving cars and robots that are increasingly focused on artificial intelligence (AI) in recent years.

The day may not be far away when supercomputers and robots take over humankind.

The day may not be far away when supercomputers and robots take over humankind.

For the new initiative, it has added renowned researcher John Martinis and his team at the University of California, Santa Barbara, to the Quantum Artificial Intelligence team at Google, the director of engineering Hartmut Neven says in the company blog. The team can design and build chips operating on sub-atomic levels in ways making them exponentially faster than processors currently used in computers, he informs.

“With an integrated hardware group the Quantum AI team will now be able to implement and test new designs for quantum optimization and inference processors based on recent theoretical insights as well as our learning from the D-Wave quantum annealing architecture,” he mentions.

The dangers of super-intelligence

An Oxford philosophy professor, Nick Bostrom, however sees a lot of threat in the rise of super-intelligence, which he believes can outperform human intellect in every field, and thinks its most likely form will be “artificial intelligence.”

In an interview with Huffington Post, Bostrom argues that there are two ways AI could go. “It could greatly improve our lives and solve the world’s problems, such as disease, hunger and even pain. Or, it could take over and possibly kill all or many humans. As it stands, the catastrophic scenario is more likely, says Bostrom, who has a background in physics, computational neuroscience and mathematical logic.

Opportunities abound

Despite the impending threats, analysts see abundant opportunities for companies like Google, Apple and Facebook who are taking artificial intelligence, robotics and super-intelligence to the next level.

They believe, Google is moving away from search, ads, and Android and has made a number of acquisitions that are linked to robotics. These initiatives are a part of the company’s Google X division that is responsible for the company’s moon-shot projects such as self-driving cars, Google Glass etc. The new head of Google’s robotics business is Andy Rubin, who led the successful development of Android. Under Rubin’s guidance, the company has reportedly bought several companies and start-ups related to robotics including, Schaft.inc, a Japanese firm specializing in Humanoid robots, Redwood Robotics, a US-based firm dealing with Robotic Arms and then Boston Dynamics, which also works in the field of robotics.

Last year, Google’s artificial intelligence lab partnered with US space agency NASA on quantum computing research. In December last year, Google has reportedly hired a former Microsoft employee to work on machine learning.

Google had also announced its acquisition of DeepMind, a UK-based start-up that focuses on artificial intelligence early this year. Google Chiefs said that the DeepMind acquisition will help them augment their artificial intelligence capacity strengthening its foothold in the field of Robotics.

Very recently, Google bought AI app Emu that learns behaviors to organize your life. Emu was founded by ex-Google and Apple employee Gummi Hafsteinsson and its ‘machine learning’ capabilities could provide Google with added context and faster response times, across different devices, the company said in a statement.

Emerging powerful

Although it’s not clear what Google will do with some of its latest AI-based acquisitions or partnerships, it is likely to make our lives “more connected and intelligent.” As a Guardian report points out: “What makes these robotics acquisitions interesting is, what they reveal about the scale of Google’s ambitions. For this is a company that’s like we have not seen before. Because if even a fraction of the company’s ambitions eventually come to fruition, Google will become one of the most powerful corporations on Earth.”

In the light of these developments, some analysts also believe that Google will be taking its rivalry with Apple and Facebook to a virtual world, in the machine learning and artificial intelligence space where these companies are all making inroads and we shall be ready to see the fierce battle of power and intelligence in the days to come.

(The article has been originally published in http://www.cxotoday.com/)