Category Archives: Articles

Tech and Society 3: Fake news

Tech and Society 3: Fake news
Recently a BBC commissioned Research published a report that alleged that the largest contributor to fake news emanating from India was churned out from the IT cell that owed allegiance to the party running the Govt. Quite predictably, seemingly credible news report surfaced that countered the BBC Research claim highlighting the shortcomings of the published report including technical points such as sample size and sampling bias. We have seen a similar situation a month or two back with the outbreak of disclosure about the Rafeal deal.

With the advent of Internet, it has become easy to publish reports and their rebuttal with such conviction that it becomes a mind-boggling affair for the average reader to fish out the real truth in the stories.Political parties with an axe to grind are mostly instrumental in carrying out such misdeeds. A recent report about a newly constructed bridge in the National Capital actually carried a picture of a bridge from Singapore. Increasingly, the net is emerging as a platform for political slugfest with a mix of genuine and fake news with the factory involved in producing the latter category getting increasingly better at their jobs. In that sense, Fake news have a huge potential to sway public opinions and if they continue to prosper in this unregulated manner, one wonders whether the fate of a genuine article is similarly destined like the shepherd boy prone to playing pranks on the unsuspecting villagers till one day when they got tired …

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When your child commits a crime?

Recently when wifey returned one day from work, she told me about an incident that left her fuming. She said that during the day she had received a whatsapp message from the class teacher of our son. It showed him in a picture as one of the three students lined up for punishment. The picture was similar to the ones we see in newspapers, where criminals are made to line up and photographs are taken of them where humiliation is writ large on their faces. The crime the three high school standard boys have committed was of not doing their homework, which emboldened the subject teacher to take a snap and forward it to the class teacher, who whatsapped that same picture to my wife. When my wife strongly objected to this way of punishing a child, reasoning that such issues should be resolved at school, the class teacher informed us that they keep sending such pictures of insincere students being punished similarly, and hardly any parents have criticized this method. I don’t know how far this is true about ‘accepting parents’ but IMHO this practice is a blatant misuse of technology, where groups of classes are formed on whatsapp, activities and information and notes sharing happen therein. Imagine if the teacher posts and the child sees his picture flashed in his class group in whatsapp!!! It may damage his morale beyond measure. Thankfully, this didn’t happen in the case of our child.

Not without reasons, France has banned mobile usage for school work recently. I strongly believe that school kids should be kept away from gadgets and no matter how much the world is changing, foundational concepts are built only by reading school text books the way conventional education was imparted in earlier days …

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Constraint Satisfaction problem with example

 

In real life problem solving and applications, we are asked to provide the best solution keeping certain constraints in mind. Let us consider an example. Each year the National Film Awards jury has to pick a certain film as the best film of that year. How would the assessing Jury arrive at a reasonably good judgement? Do they have to watch each and every single film that year? Simple logic says that if the Jury members decide to watch three films per day it will take them the whole year (India makes over a thousand films each year) to view all of them. How does one handle such a solution demanding situation?

As with all complex problems, we need to use good heuristics in this case because evaluation of all possible entity is simply infeasible. Let us say that at the outset the National Jury need to be provided a list of best fifty films that year which can possible make the final grade. Depending on the size of various regional film industries, the selection number from that industry can be fixed and local film critics/Local Jury member can allocate scores/grades and select the best from that industry. A criteria could be set that LFSR (Local Film Score Rating) should be 0.6 and above on a scale of 1.

Similarly the apex film jury can allocate NFSR (National Film Score Rating) and based on summative score of LFSR & NFSR the best film can be chosen. We may further set additional criteria that NFSR >0.7 and LFSR+NFSR>0.8. These criteria becomes essential to filter and set standards so that the winning film is worthy of the prestigious honor.

Let us assume that the decision is arrived at through the opinion of ten jury members, five at local level represented by LJ1, LJ2, LJ3, LJ4, LJ5 and five at National levels are represented by NJ1, NJ2, NJ3, NJ4 & NJ5 …

So, now we basically have to compute the following:

Maximize (LFSR+NFSR)   where   LJ1+LJ2+LJ3+LJ4+LJ5= LFSR

&      NJ1+NJ2+NJ3+NJ4+NJ5= NFSR

Subject to       (LFSR/5)> 0.6

(NFSR/5)> 0.7

((LFSR+NFSR)/10)>0.8

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What is an AI technique?

AI problem solving involves complexity. To handle complex problems, the techniques need to have the capability to deliver acceptable solutions. Some of the common AI techniques in use are the following:

  1. Learning – Learning enables to perform correctly and efficiently an already encountered problem in the past that have been solved. In a game of chess between a human and a computer, if the computer encounters a similar board position and a move by the player which led to its defeat, the computer would have learnt from its mistake and try to circumvent the situation by playing a different game so as not to repeat his failure.
  2. Heuristics – Heuristics are intelligent guesses. When an AI chess program is your opponent in a game of chess, the intelligent program must be able to infer correctly (intelligent guess) the move that you would make …
  3. Decision making under uncertainty – Driving requires reasoning/decision making under uncertain situations by the driver. A driverless car should be equipped with similar capabilities to move on the roads. AI techniques such as Fuzzy logic are often used for arriving at decisions under uncertain situations.
  4. Natural Language Processing (NLP) – Text Mining and Analytics techniques, Sentiment Analysis and NLP techniques at word, sentence, paragraph and document level, the interpretation of unstructured text data at syntax and semantic level, effective speech recognition and synthesis methodology are essential for AI systems.
  5. Embed Common Sense– Humans have an innate ability of logical reasoning. If an individual is a Ph. D. it is common sense that the person possesses an under-graduate and post-graduate degree. Embedding machines with common sense reasoning is a non-trivial task.
  6. Knowledge Based (Logic) Reasoning – Deriving knowledge / inference from a given set of facts. Feeding parametric values of a patient into medical Expert Systems may result in proper diagnosis of the ailment and enable right prescription of drugs.
  7. Swarm intelligence – For combinatorial problems i.e., problems having a large number of possible alternatives, collective intelligence in the bird and animal kingdom such as ants (ant colony optimization) and birds (particle swarm optimization) for arriving at optimized values need be incorporated for problem solving by AI systems.
  8. Case Based Reasoning (CBR) – CBR systems make use of knowledge/experience gained in the past for current problem solving.
  9. Predictive ability – Neural Networks, Statistical techniques like Regression and K-Nearest Neighbor, Bayesian Classification enable good prediction and has wide applications …
  10. Soft Computing – The ability to perform computation with imprecise data using Genetic Algorithms, Fuzzy Logic and Neural Networks or a combination of them forming hybrid techniques are widely used in several AI problems …
  11. Fault Tolerance – In many situations, humans are able to interpret intelligently even from wrong answers. As an example, India has many linguistic groups with similar surnames. There have been instances when people kept referring to ‘Mr. Das’ and ‘Mr. Bose’ and I had to infer that they were actually referring to me – Ghosh. The three surnames are mostly seen in the Bengali community and others tend to err while addressing… such capabilities need to be incorporated into AI systems…

The above non-exhaustive listing is a pointer to the widely used AI methods and techniques in recent times…

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Tech and Society – I

When technology is all-pervasive in this age of Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning, Robotics and Automation, how is it impacting us in ways that aren’t on a positive note…

  1. Ability to write – The use of the shortened form of language like ‘u’ for you visible in SMS-es and WhatsApp communication is making their way even into answer scripts of the students. Students and those who adopt the shorter route fails to appreciate the beauty of those words and the language which inevitably impairs their writing ability and appreciation of the language

 

  1. Imagination & Wonderment – Einstein has said: “Imagination is more important than Knowledge.” Looking three to four decades back, there weren’t any TV around and our world was full of stories and imagination and fantasy ruled whenever we thought of them. We would visualize our heroes like THE THREE MUSKETEERS & ROBINHOOD and their act of valor through the power of our imagination. The sense of wonderment that filled the life of a child immortalized by Satyajit Ray in the classic train sighting sequence by Apu and Durga in the film PATHER PANCHALI have disappeared from the lives of children these days.

 

 

  1. Communication – When all of us are connected in various social media groups the line of separation between professional and personal lives are gradually disappearing. While I am ignorant about the situation in developed countries in the West, in developing countries like ours, in the private sector, one is expected to be in WhatsApp group of the company or available 24 X 7 on their mobile devices. Family lives of employees may go for a toss… one can’t question the escalating requirements of one’s duty lest it should appear that the employee is not sufficiently dedicated and enabling the growth of the company. After all, in most cases, the employee has a family of dependents to feed…

 

  1. Greetings and Invitation – Greetings and wishes have increased manifold in our lives. People have started sending e-card invitation for marriages. Do such invitations carry the human touch associated with Invitation Cards of yore that you received through your postal system or when the family members dropped into your houses for the invite?

I read a report in NEW YORK TIMES a couple of months back or so that Companies in Silicon Valley are complaining of Bandwidth problem because Indians are clogging the Internet with abundant ‘Good Morning’ wishes…

Recently my mother had made a request. She wanted me to buy a ‘Get well soon’ card for her sister who underwent an operation in Kolkata. Trying to comply I went into the Gift shop in our colony. It was reasonably big in terms of space and crowd and availability of items. I looked around for the Recovery card, but to my discovery, I couldn’t see a ‘single card’ anywhere in the shop. I asked the owner and he informed me that since last three years he has stopped keeping them since there are no buyers and he incurs a big loss in stocking them…not surprising since with the advent of the Internet, there are dime a dozen sites where one can send greetings for gratis. Only a fool would spend money on them. Very much like the way email has reduced our cost in sending postal mails …I returned and told my mother about what had transpired… Cards were a part of my growing up years and the thrill of receiving one after a ‘year-long wait’ for Birthdays and New Years can’t be calibrated with any yardstick…Likewise, the man who used a Typewriter to make a living and the person who had typed my post-graduate dissertation more than three decades back on the streets of a metro city have all disappeared from our lives in the age of word-processing software in computers.

A passing thought engulfed me. All of us want to live in a better society. A truly evolved society need to emphasize the importance of human relationships. Ironically, Technology that has the capacity to make life better have contributed immeasurably towards its decline …

      5. Cyber War and Cyberterrorism – seems to be in the realm of possibility and a threat facing every country.

  1. Trade and Commerce & Electronic Payments – E-Commerce and newer modes of buying and selling and making payments (web/mobile) are changing our behavior and usage of time. There exists now a mind-boggling array of apps through which one can transact. All such changes are being foisted on a nation with a large adult population averse to new technology. My mother who is a graduate with a remarkable memory and spends at least an hour every day with the newspaper asked me some days back – “Does Paytm and ATM mean one and the same thing?”

 

  1. Teen addiction to gadgets – My teenage son have been advised by the doctor to stop the use of smartphones but weaning him out of his habits is proving to be quite a job for myself and his mother. Millions of teens are caught in similar addictions and coupled with stress in their lives owing to academic pressure are getting afflicted with migraines and such ailments.

 

  1. Education – Many educational institutes are investing in automation and software and envisioning a future where the staff and even the teacher in the classroom can be dispensed with… imagine paying through your nose for the education of your child where he/she is going to a classroom with a robot education dispenser replacing the teacher in flesh and blood…

Virtual University has already gained currency.

 

  1. Fake death news – Recently I read on the Net that the famous actor Sylvester Stallone had passed away. Later I found that it was hoax news. Similarly, sometime back, the news was in circulation that the eminent director Mrinal Sen had passed away. That too was a hoax… in the pre-Internet days, one rarely came across such untruth spreading at an exponential rate …
  2. Selfies In, Autographs out – Currently Selfies seems to be a rage and people would rather click selfies with celebs rather than take their autographs as memento…

 

 

 

 

 

 

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How technology is changing our lives? – I

Yesterday Ma (Mother) made a request. She wanted me to buy a ‘Get well soon’ card for her sister who underwent an operation in Kolkata. Trying to comply I went into the Gift shop in our colony. It was reasonably big in terms of space and crowd and availability of items. I looked around for the Recovery card, but to my discovery I couldn’t see a ‘single card’ anywhere in the shop. I asked the owner and he informed me that since last three years he has stopped keeping them since there are no buyers and he incurs a big loss in stocking them…not surprising since with the advent of the Internet, there are dime a dozen sites where one can send greetings for gratis. Only a fool would spend money on them. Very much like the way email has reduced our cost in sending postal mails …

I returned and told Ma about what had transpired… Cards were a part of my growing up years and the thrill of receiving one after a ‘year long wait’ for Birthdays and New Years can’t be calibrated with any yardstick…

A passing thought engulfed me. All of us want to live in a better society. A truly evolved society need to emphasize upon the importance of human relationships. Ironically, Technology that has the capacity to make lives better (and has delivered benefits beyond comprehension) has also contributed immeasurably towards its decline …even though AI is trying to map every human emotion with their machine counterpart, I am not someone who believes that all of it can be captured effectively …

 

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DATA SCIENCE – 1

 

Can you cite an example in real-life where we might have to make use of the median value, instead of the mean?

In most real-life situation, we make use of the mean and average value to predict an unknown variable e.g., in a roll of six dices the likelihood of any number in the dice appearing is 1/6. However, making use of the mean may not be advisable in certain situations.

Let us consider a scenario of campus recruitment for an outgoing batch in an engineering college/university. Students may have to avail of a limited number of choices (often fixed by the institute) / chance to appear for the selection process of a potential employer. Let us say that number is 3 companies. Also, the institute normally bars an ‘already selected candidate’ from appearing in the other lined-up companies.  Suppose a student longs to work in healthcare informatics and analytics. It is quite possible that the best companies to work for in this area are coming to campus towards the end of the recruitment season. Since there is no guarantee of job assurance, how would the candidate devise his strategy, which companies to sit for and which ones to avoid? It is observed that there is a great variance in the pay packet on offer. The best choice for the candidate would be to avoid the highest and the lowest paying companies and appear for companies that offer a mid-range salary. In such situations, median acts as a better measure than mean.

 

Does strong association always unravel interesting causal relationships?

In the process of Market Basket Analysis, we perform Association rule mining to find items that sell together. Associations that crosses the threshold value of ‘support’ and ‘confidence’ usually uncovers interesting relationships among items that are purchased together by a customer. Sale of computers leading to a sale of security software in significant proportions can be a causal relationship.

At times even though we may discover strong associations, the casual factor can’t be claimed strongly. Data from a particular city may indicate that ‘sale of umbrella’ & ‘number of deaths’ has witnessed an upward trend in recent months. But can we see a causal relationship in this case? It may be noted that ‘sale of umbrella’ has risen owing to rainy season and the surge in the figure of deaths can be as a consequence of floods or any such contributory factors.

 

Should the sample size be necessarily equal when we are making a comparative study about the potential of two regions for starting a business (for picking the one with better prospects)?

Let us consider a Multinational keen on setting up a tissue business and weighing the prospects of setting it up in an Indian metro city vis-à-vis a European city. Use of the product i.e. , tissue paper is mostly a social one in case of a European city while it may be restricted to the upper segment of society in an Indian metro. Therefore, owing to uniformity, the general sample size for a European city can be less, but owing to this great diversity in the case of an Indian metro, the sample size should be much higher to estimate the true possibilities for the business across the diverse customer segment.   

 

 

 

 

 

Acknowledgement: 

The questions were a part of/ inspired from a lecture of Mr. Gautam Bannerjee of Computer Brio and his talk on ANALYTICS WITH R delivered at Galgotias University, 9th-13th Dec, 2017

 

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