We should not judge people by their peak of excellence; but by the distance they have traveled from the point where they started.

Friday, January 30, 2015

Career growth .... Politics vs Computer Science

With the infusion of Delhi assembly elections there is tremendous energy in the Indian political scene. Formation of Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) has revitalized the Indian politics to the extent people have lost the cynicism that was present for a long time, and look forward towards new changes. 

A lot of party hopping is seen happening amongst the three party candidates, namely Congress, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and AAP. With such party hopping comes the question of whether these party hoppers are opportunists who change parties for reasons such as they being not given ticket to contest from a certain constituency? There is a lot of question in media about the morale of such people, where they suddenly change parties which they earlier were in opposition with. 

Leaving aside all the aspects of morality and related things, a good question to ask is, what is it to be a politician, and what does it hold for a person in politics as a career. Lets compare politics as a career with say, private sector careers such as an IT professional. Switching jobs and moving to a different company is a very common practice in IT profession. It is considered essential for a person's career growth to have a diverse experience form different companies. It is a different question some times some people make some of these jobs look like a permanent job for the life time, where once they start in a company, they finally retire from the same company. No, we do not want to look at such professionals in here. 

So if IT professionals change their jobs so many times, why would it be considered immoral when a politician changes it? Well, now lets look back to what options usually a budding politician has? There are very few options in terms of established major parties, where a politicians would change to. Such parties usually have old established politicians, so breaking the ceiling here could be a challenging task. The other option is start your own party, which is very much like start your own startup and grow it up. But as we know most startups fail, and a very few succeed to out grow. So it is considered wise to join an established party and grow there as long as it gives sufficient opportunities. But how many such opportunities exist? Because usually elections occur once in around 4 years, when there occurs major disruption. So the growth is very slow here compared to growth lets say in other professions. So politicians are actually at a disadvantage in terms of growth of careers. 

Why do IT professionals change jobs? Many times its because of better salaries, better working environment, skill improvement, etc. Reasons are plenty. The aspect of loyalty to an employer is not a big issue here, because the skills needed for the job has nothing to do with loyalty most of the times. Forget for time being the concepts of competitor products intellectual property rights etc, where you can not join a competitor company due to infringement of intellectual property rights. On the contrast most political parties have some core philosophies of their own, they have their own ideology to which people in the party should stick to. This is precisely the reason when politicians switch parties questions are raised about how suddenly a person can change his own ideologies because that indicates the person in the first place did not believe in them truly, because ideologies can not be changed so easily.

Well, this is the reason hardly few politicians change their parties and stick to the one they started with. But with the dynamism we are seeing in Indian politics after introduction of AAP, we need to be able to also consider how this kind of thinking could be challenged which would make politics more of a skill based field, where people could compete based on certain things the way, IT professionals compete. I think that will bring the best out of politics, and it would also make it more competitive and more appealing to make drastic changes in the way societies are made to observe the impact a party should create, for the welfare of its people. 

Its a good thought. Some kind of disruption in the way politics occur at present, to how it should happen in future. Lets hope it happens for the best. 

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Crowd intelligence vs Expert intelligence

Out of my recent travels with my brother in a rented car arrived lot of scenic photographs. At least for last 4-5 years, I have not done so much extensive outdoor travel that I did in last 1 month. A friend suggested to put these photos on www.500px.com than flickr, so I tried it. 

(The link for photographs is here) www.flickr.com/mrunalg

500px is a market place for photographers where fellow photographers decide on the quality of photographs by rating it, and the algorithms decide whether a photograph is worthy enough to be moved up in the ranks so that after a while it could be put on the stock photography market place to sell. This model is more like the Reality TV show setup, where audience decides whether a particular singer is good and vote for him. More votes decides the champion along with a few other factors. 
So 500px essentially brings this aspect of reality TV kind of voting in the online photography world to decide the best photographs. 

I decided to test their algorithms and how good the overall setup is, so I experimented by putting in different kinds of photographs hoping to see how they get rated etc. I was quite disappointed with the overall results at how even the best of the photographs might not appeal to crowd. And how the entire logic works on how well you connected are, how many people in your network view the photographs etc. So the crux to mention is, the popularity has nothing to do with the quality of the photo. I have had similar problems with the occasional viewing of the reality show setups where many times the singers I feel are great, never win. So that made me think would the setup be good if only experts were judging the photographs?

I submitted some of the photos to high quality stock photography sites such as www.shutterclock.com. These photos were out right rejected saying they lack correct exposure, lack of focus, noise, lens artifacts etc. 

I then thought of another process to review the submitted material the way it occurs in the academic publishing world where peer reviewing is the norm to get research published. Depending on the quality of the conference / journal you are trying to publish in the reviews could get so nasty and critical that many times one feels like giving up. Writing is a very interpretation oriented skill. People look at it from their own biases, expectations etc. So chances of getting an article in, in a top publication through reviewers is even more tough. 

So now we have seen the two extreme sides of getting your work to the forefront. Crowd intelligence vs Expert intelligence. And both have its drawbacks and advantages. 

The most interesting question in this aspect then becomes how to combine the two in a kind of hybrid way so that the best of both the world could be obtained. And this is a tough question. The beauty of Internet is it has democratized the way information gets accessed. So now crowds can have their say in choosing the outstanding work unlike the earlier times, when only a few elite experts were allowed to do that. But there should also be a way to let the two modes integrate, so that we see the best possible outcome, because some times crowds might not be able to judge perfectly, and some times, the experts might be too harsh. 

Balance is the crux of everything and it needs to be present in the world of Technology too. 

Monday, January 5, 2015

Safe cars and safe roads ....

The era of self driving cars is here. Google is testing its completely autonomous cars on Californian roads. Tesla just launched Model-D which has auto-pilot type features, which allow almost semi-autonomous driving of the car. 

While riding on my trip to Lake Tahoe on free-way I was thinking about the issues such as road safety, traffic sense etc in the context of American Free-way traffic. And how does the rule change when the other parts of the world such as Indian Express-ways are concerned. 

Safety is a matter of following the discipline and rules so that people driving cars follow a common protocol. Riding on an American free-way could be tiresome in the beginning as one has to keep a tab on many things such as the lane in which one is driving, traffic speed-limits, exits, the road directions, the roads, GPS guidance, etc. Since lane changes happen at a speed-of upto 60 miles per hour, if proper precaution is not taken crashes are imminent. Yet, with experience people get better at driving safely and overall the driving safety is at its highest. 

Self driving cars thus have an interesting existing framework of rules and protocols, in terms of the existing infrastructure on which their sole navigation depends heavily. Making them work correctly (at least on free-ways) depends on what happens when these protocols are broken and how to take those decisions. 

Even before self driving cars could be on road I think these kind of features should already enhance the safety on roads. For e.g. most accident happen due to human errors. Such as a person mistakenly takes a sudden turn, brakes, changes lane, or mis-judges other cars reaction etc. If all cars on roads follow a common protocol and talk through sensors, then the element of human error is removed, which makes driving much safer. I think many of the expensive cars at present do have most of these technologies where the car takes control of the situation if human error is sensed. For e.g. it would be wise to have a feature which disables a sudden lane change in the sense a crash with another vehicle is imminent. Here car is acting like a guardian when the human driving it has committed a mistake. 

Now, moving to the context of driving in other countries like India. As Indians get more prosperous they will drive more and spend more time on road. Safety becomes a prominent concern here. However, the situation in the Indian context is very difficult to handle due to the lack of common standards that everybody should follow as many times the drivers riding drive completely recklessly, risking everybody's life. This happens as the driving license obtaining rules etc are not strictly enforced. With the rise of newly build expressways the fatal crashes where people die are also on rise. This makes the situation extremely complicated, because no matter how safe your own car might be, chances are you might be at the mercy of another person bad driving habit. There was an episode in the TV series Satymev Jayate about fatality of Indian roads, which prominently mentions related issues. 

Making driving a safe experience is thus a herculean task depending on the context. Self driving cars even though they might arrive in developed countries, will be completely useless in emerging nations such as India, due to the mix of driving conditions and the lack of a coherent standard. So what is the best way to ensure increased safety on the Indian roads? Follow the rules and make obtaining the driving license a rigorous exercise, and not based on the ability to bribe a certain official, because the implications for the society as a whole are huge. Corruption thus plays a huge role in the advancement of the societies, and will play its role in ensuring safety on the Indian roads too.