On November 17th, 2017 at the Maker Faire in Bangalore, on stage before an audience of a few hundred people, a machine cooked a simple Indian side-dish – a potato fry.
The next day it prepared a pot of rice.
In so doing, it became the world’s first machine to cook an Indian meal autonomously.
The Mechanical Chef is the coming to fruition of an idea that germinated in the year 2012, when a colleague and I were walking down Millers Road, on the way to a cup of coffee at a roadside store, and I asked the colleague if there was any way in which we could really change the world and ‘make a dent in the universe’ as it were, in the present millennium.
The colleague was a woman, and she said that if Indian women didn’t have to do any cooking, it would save a large fraction of half a billion women in India 3 hours a day every day of their lives.
That day in 2012, my colleague, Princiya and I started dissecting Indian cooking.
It was an improvement over the Chinese automated wok in that it could cook multiple dishes at the same time, and it was an improvement over the robotic arms because it was much simpler and therefore more cost-effective.
This is a common mistake that firms developing cooking robots make. Going against gravity is never a good idea when you have to carry kilograms of ingredients in a vessel. The motors end up having to be big and powerful and friction becomes a very big hindrance to smooth movement.
This was the mistake that Moley (and the Chinese automatic wok) had made. Moley’s motors and construction make it so expensive that it costs around $100,000 a piece. We figured we’d need to build something that cost around $300 to be able to sell it to home users.
So, we went back to the drawing board.
Our Second Design
Last year (in 2016), we developed a machine that looked a bit like this one at MIT:
… and this one …
In our second design, the cooking vessels moved on a linear rail and ingredients dropped into them from above much like they do in the machines above.
We did not have a grinder and could not transfer ingredients from one container to another at will in our design.
But as we analysed Indian cooking recipes further, we realized that the vast majority of Indian dishes did not need any transferring of ingredients across vessels, and even if they did, we could stop the cooking at a certain point and ask a human to do the transfer without greatly impacting the automatic cooking experience.
We could also get by without grinding for many dishes if we used specially made powders in our cooking machine.
It was with this design that I went to my old friend Prashanth G. B. N., a mechanical engineer and designer of hardware systems, for his advice.
He took a look at the drawings and felt we would have to make the machine even simpler if it had to be used in Indian homes.
Our Third Design
He took a sheet of paper and sketched on it a design that had only rotary movements.
“Rotary motion is far simpler to build out than linear motion” he explained.
After developing a detailed drawing of the machine, Prashanth and I took out a patent on the same.
From Design to Reality
The Mechanical Chef however only turned into reality when Arpit Sharma, an aerospace engineer from Rajasthan joined me and solved all the mechanical problems that remained.
We had to solve the problem of dispensing powders from a removable and easy-to-wash and easy-to-assemble container.
We had to find ways to completely dissociate the parts that came into contact with the food from the parts that came into contact with the electricals so that the former would be easy to clean.
We had to minimize the number of parts that needed to be cleaned after every cook.
We needed to finesse the electronics and electricals – a job which was often summarily dropped into the lap of a young engineer from Mysore – Avinash Bharadwaj.
To support ourselves as we worked on all these problems and to pay for the hardware, we applied for a grant from the Department of Science and Technology of the Government of India through IIT-Bombay. In October of this year, we received the grant.
The first prototype that Arpit Sharma built looked like this.
And it worked!
The Proof of the Pudding is in the Eating
Here’s a video of the machine at work. And you’re welcome to stop by and be one of the first humans on earth to eat Indian food cooked by a robot.
Here’s how it stirs.
Here’s our mini funding pitch!
Here’s our team at the office with the Mechanical Chef.
The prototype that we demonstrated in November 2017 suffered from a few flaws which made it unreliable and unsuitable for user trials. One of the problems was that the quantities of ingredients it would add to a dish could not be precisely controlled. So you could never be sure that the dishes would taste good when they were done. Another problem was that the steam from the cooking could make the spices congeal and jam the works. It took us till April 25th to solve all the sticky issues and get the machine ready for user taste trials. One April 25th, 26th and 27th, the Mechanical Chef cooked entire dishes completely unassisted and with repeatable (and delicious) results.
Here’s a full end-to-end recording of one of the cooking runs (the one of April 26th).
In response to public demand, the Bangalore Development Authority (BDA) has finally released the Detailed Project Report (DPR) for the proposed steel flyover in Bangalore.
In this article we’ll attempt to address (using points from the DPR), the key question of whether the flyover will be of any use to commuters.
The DPR contains a study of traffic volumes at each of the intersections, and summarizes its findings in the following three diagrams (page 58) which are very easy to understand.
The numbers in the diagrams are peak hour traffic numbers at all junctions affected by the project in terms of PCUs/hr. PCU stands for Passenger Car Unit.
So, the first diagram says for example, that at peak hour traffic, there is the equivalent of 6175 cars entering from Hebbal and 6949 cars exiting at Rajbhavan Road in one hour.
The second diagram shows the impact of the flyover on ground-level traffic. It shows that the number of cars entering at ground level from Hebbal will drop to 3088 while the number of cars exiting at Rajbhavan Road will drop to 4122.
The excess traffic (3087 incoming at Hebbal and 1393 outgoing at Rajbhavan Road) will be carried on the flyover.
The incoming numbers add up (3087 + 3088 = 6175) as expected.
The outgoing numbers don’t add up (1393 + 4122 < 6949)!
The outgoing traffic numbers don't add up because there will no longer be a right turn at Basaveshwara Circle. So, a part of the traffic volume decrease has nothing to do with the flyover!
Anyways, these calculations, if assumed correct, point to a reduction in traffic by 20% to 50% at the ground level.
Travel Time Calculations
Will the reduction in traffic lead to a corresponding decrease in travel time?
The DPR contains no estimate of reductions in travel time.
There are three reasons for doubting there will be huge reductions in overall travel time:
The impact of the constriction of the road leading to and from the flyover because of the ramps of the flyover needs to be taken into account. The bottlenecks at the ramps could lead to traffic piling up at the entrances and the exists of the flyover.
If the total capacity of the roads carrying traffic away from the flyover is too low, it could lead to traffic queueing up on the flyover itself.
Those who prepared the DPR should have run a simulation of the traffic on the flyover, below it and on the roads leading into and out of the flyover to determine if any savings in travel time would result or if serious backups on the flyover and around it could cancel any benefits.
A case in point is the flyover from the Electronic City software technology park (STP) to the Silk Board. It might allow traffic to move fast on it, but it might be slowing down traffic inside the STP and on the road below it at its exit.
Flyover Effectiveness Conclusions
We don’t know if the travel time will decrease significantly unless the required simulations are done.
Public Transportation Conclusions
However, it is possible from the DPR to draw conclusions about the effectiveness of public transportation.
We see from the study that only 2% to 3.5% of the vehicles on the roads are city buses (pages 42-46).
So, if we doubled Bangalore’s bus fleet (which you can for the cost of the flyover) it would not increase the traffic on these roads by much but could replace almost all the private vehicle traffic not just on this stretch but all over the city (assuming people make the switch from private to public transport, and each bus carries 100 passengers).
Explanation & Calculations
Here’s how we can calculate that.
The proposed flyover will cost approximately 1800 crore rupees.
So, you can buy about 7000 buses (and hire drivers/conductors for a year and build facilities for them) for 1800 crore rupees (or get 9000 buses without drivers/conductors or facilities). I’m assuming that a quarter of the price of a bus will get you facilities and pay for the driver and conductor.
Now the BMTC runs around 7000 buses today. So, for the price of the flyover, one could double the bus fleet.
We can show that doubling the fleet can drastically decrease the volume of traffic on these roads.
Let’s say that 10,000 vehicles used that stretch of the road. We know that 2% of those vehicles were buses. That’s 200 buses. Let’s assume that all the other vehicles carry on average 2 passengers. So, except for the 200 buses, the remaining 10,000 – 200 vehicles carry 20,000 – 400 passengers. If we double the buses, we have 200 more buses. Now each bus can easily carry about 100 passengers (50 seated and 50 standing). So, that means we can carry 20,000 passengers just by adding 200 buses (doubling the bus count). That is the entire carrying capacity of all the other vehicles on the road!
So with a negligible increase in traffic (from 2% of current traffic to 4%), we can accommodate all the passengers of the remainder of the traffic using that stretch of Bellary Road today.
More Benefits of Public Transport
But it’s not just that!
For the cost of the flyover, we’d have doubled buses all over Bangalore!
So, we’d have added an equivalent carrying capacity to all the private vehicles on all the roads in Bangalore for the cost of this flyover!
That’s what this BDA DPR tells us!
Environment Benefits of Public Transport
But that’s not all!
There are still more benefits! Think of the reduction in pollution. Replacing all those private vehicles with equivalent buses would reduce pollution by 95%.
In the above calculations, I’ve assumed that everyone will give up private transport for public transport.
That won’t happen in real life unless you get the same convenience from public transport.
It could happen if, like with the metro, bus passengers are:
assured of getting a bus from a known key location to a desired key destination every ten minutes or at a known precise time (with bus tracking) and
assured the buses are not overcrowded (the pleasantness of the travel is comparable to the pleasantness of private transport).
If you can get that sort of predictability, and comfort, then for those travelling on those routes to work, it would make more sense to use public transport than to use private transport.
So, it may need a lot more than doubling buses (mere capacity matching) to assure convenience and ensure that people prefer public to private transport. It would also need route planning, bus tracking and highly predictable key routes.
There are many other proposals for reducing congestion along the North South Bellary Road.
This article says that there is an operational railway line between Yalahanka and Channasandra, and this can be extended easily till the airport up North and Baiyappanahalli in the East, taking airport traffic off the Bellary Road.
Estimated cost: Rs. 150 crores. And it’s a public transport proposal, so it takes a lot of cars off the roads.
In this article, I will attempt to argue that the mechanisms used by religions for their own propagation inevitably foster intolerance and extremism.
I will attempt to show that over time, the tendency to extremism in religions can only increase.
First, it will be necessary to understand the mechanism by which religions propagate themselves. In order for a religion to take root and grow, it must A) provide better incentives than another to its promoters and B) establish barriers to keep its promoters from switching to another religion.
A) Methods of Acquisition of Promoters
The mechanisms for the propagation of religious beliefs have evolved over time as can be seen from a study of ancient and modern religions.
Early religions seem to have been explanatory in nature, and their main function appears to have been that of explaining physical phenomena and how the world came into existence.
The earliest religions of almost all ancient civilizations – be they the Greek, the Indian, the Chinese, the Anasazi or the Maya – seem to have developed mythological explanations of the workings of the world.
This rich mythological framework could have provided work for story-tellers and bards, hence spreading through their art.
So their earliest mechanisms for growth probably involved monetary incentives for artists and other individuals for promoting religious fictions that explained the workings of nature.
As humanity developed the means to travel over larger distances, these stories would have spread.
The religions that would have been most likely to survive would have been the ones with the most powerful stories and the best narratives.
With the advent of agriculture, as humans began to live in settlements with a high population density, a new mechanism for propagation would have become more effective and rewarding for a religion’s promoters.
With static populations in highly populated areas like cities and towns, religions would have begin to market themselves through religious organizations that maintained places of worship or organized religious events. These would have helped them reach more people within a town or city, just like a store in a busy street corner or a fair in a fair ground sells more goods than a push cart vendor pushing his wares through the streets of a town.
Individual story-tellers would never have been able to generate a sufficient surplus to build similar edifices or organize large scale events. So religions that could create organizations that could pull in earnings from a large number of adherents, enough to pay for the creation of a professional class of promoters – professional priests – would have become more successful.
Fictions such as “If you contribute V to do W at place X or before deity Y at time T, you will have a better chance of succeeding at Z” would have been used to induce people to pay money for the services of the promoters and to travel to meet the promoters at regular intervals. The earnings from such service offerings would then have been used to maintain the organizations, set up edifices or organized events which would have served to further propagate the religion.
What is important to observe is that once religions evolved the ability to generate sufficient income to sustain a priesthood, they could grow exponentially, because the more priests they had, the more people they could convince of the truth of their religious fictions. And the more people they convinced, the more they would earn from the consumers, and the more priests they could pay for. This cycle would repeat with increasing rates of growth and the largest religion in any location would grow into a monopoly.
The tendency for the larger organization to win (network effects) would have sufficed to provide such religions with a defensive barrier against new religions.
You can take the case of the new religions Jainism and Buddhism in India. Neither could take broad-based and permanent root in India because the Hindu religion with which they were in competition had at all times a larger organization and many more followers. Once they had lost political patronage, the new religions receded in popularity rather precipitously.
Owing to the network effects of size that make it hard to displaced established organized religions, challengers to organized religions invariably required political support from the top namely the direct support of the king. Examples include the support of the Egyptian Pharaoh Akhenaten to the monotheistic cult of the Aten in Egypt, the support of the Mauryan Emperor Ashoka in the case of Buddhism in India and the support of the Roman Emperor Constantine the First in the case of Christianity in Europe.
So a class of religions then came into existence which could displace religions that relied on priestly orders alone by the use of political patronage.
These were religions that in addition to wielding priestly orders of their own, propagated themselves through symbiotic relations with political powers.
Such religions would have had to provide some value to political power. Political power was typically increased through war between political entities (in the past) and through political projects that are attractive enough to mobilize the support of large numbers of people (in the present).
The number of soldiers that can be raised for war would have been dependent on:
the degree to which such soldiers are not dissuaded by fear of injury or death,
the rewards that may be gained by the soldiers from war spoils, and
the motivation to make the effort in the service of a cause.
The number of volunteers that can be raised for a political project would have been dependent on:
the rewards that may be gained by the volunteers from the outcome, and
the motivation to make the effort in the service of a cause.
Religions that rely on this strategy for propagating themselves increase all the above incentives by a) helping people overcome the fear of death and fear of defeat or financial loss, by b) sanctioning benefits to their adherents (including allowing rapacious actions) in war or in a political cause and by c) providing people with an excuse to go to war or engage in a political cause (providing them something to fight for).
To do that, they would have had to take recourse to one or more of the following fictions:
Religious fictions promising after-life insurance in return for their efforts
Religious fictions promising divine help for their projects
Religious fictions permitting greedy behaviour during the project
Religious fictions that lead to the exclusion of other religious/political groups
Religious political projects
Let’s examine each of these in turn:
Feature 1: Religious fiction of a desirable after-life
The Norse religion promised Norsemen that death in war gave a Viking a ticket to Valhalla – the hall of the heroic dead.
In the Christian religion, there is a place where souls are believed to go if they’ve been good in their lifetimes,and it’s called Heaven. Souls of religious martyrs are pictured as ending up there: “Also I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for the testimony of Jesus and for the word of God … They came to life and reigned with Christ for a thousand years.” (Bible, Revelation 20:4). Some people also seem to interpret the verse “Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” (Bible, Matthew 10:39) as a promise of good things in the afterlife for someone who gives up his/her life for religious reasons.
In the religion of Islam, there is a concept of a paradise or Jannah (the garden of paradise). It might be possible to interpret the following “Did ye think that ye would enter Heaven without Allah testing those of you who fought hard (In His Cause) and remained steadfast?” (Qur’an, sura 3 (Al-i-Imran), ayah 142) as a promise that fighting in the cause of Islam shall lead to benefits in the afterlife. The hadiths also apparently consider Jihad to be one of the 8 doors to entering Jannah.
Such beliefs can have a huge effect on the decision making process of a person considering going to war for a religious cause or a political entity claiming to represent a religious cause.
The person would have two alternatives:
Staying away from war and facing social disapproval.
Going to war, risking dying or returning rich from plunder.
The first alternative would entail no risk of death, but there would be the pressure of disapproval from social circles (especially in societies with a strong concept of honor). The second alternative would be very risky because the worst-case outcome would be death.
The second choice would therefore be a logical choice only if the rewards-to-risks ratio were more palatable than the disapproval involved in the first choice. The risks in the second choice (dying in war) would feel more acceptable if there were an enticement attached to the worst-case scenario (the enticement of heaven after death).
As a result, a religion which sanctioned or rewarded dying for a cause would be able to raise larger armies of soldiers for a political leader than a religion that didn’t.
The benefit to the religion would be support for propagation of the religion by the political leaders and their soldiers.
Feature 2: Religious fiction promising divine help in a project
Just as religious fictions promising a felicitous afterlife serve to bring more soldiers to the battlefield, religious fictions promising victory in war help to keep more soldiers on the battlefield (prevent them from abandoning the fight and running away).
This is because the more a soldier believed that their side would win, the lower would be their expectation of desertion by their buddies, and lower the chances that they themselves would desert. Consequently an army of soldiers confident of winning would have a higher chance of really winning (all else being equal) and a lower chance of defeat and death.
Essentially, you can build a game theoretic canonical form representation of an army of 2 soldiers as shown below.
In a war, the benefits to each soldier can be modeled as a bi-matrix (normal-form game) as follows:
soldier 2 fights
soldier 2 flees
soldier 1 fights
soldier 1 flees
Normal form or payoff matrix of a 2-player, 2-strategy game
The first of the two numbers in the matrix represents the payoff to soldier 1.
The second of the two numbers in the matrix represents the payoff to soldier 2.
(The soldiers win something (represented by 5 points) if their army wins; they win nothing if their army loses; and they lose their life (represented by -5 points) if they do not flee and their army loses; we assume the army wins if both soldiers do not flee and loses if one or both flee).
If soldier 1 trusts soldier 2 not to flee the battlefield, the best strategy for soldier 1 is to stay and fight as well (since he will then get more benefits than if he flees).
If soldier 1 does not trust soldier 2 to stay on the battlefield (if he suspects that soldier 2 will run away), then the best strategy for soldier 1 is to run away himself (so that he does not remain on the battlefield and get killed).
So, this model shows that if two equal 2 man armies meet on a battlefield, the one whose soldiers trust each other more will win.
So, religions of a certain kind can supply two of the most important needs of a political leader keen on fighting a war – finding soldiers and keeping soldiers.
To do these, they need to have a good story of the afterlife, and they need to credibly promise victory in war.
An early Jewish holy book (carried forward into the Bible) called the book of the Judges contained stories of wars that were won as promised by god. In the stories, the Jews are shown as losing wars when not true to their religion, and winning them when true.
In the case of Islam, something similar can be seen after the defeat of the Muslim army in the Battle of Uhud in 625 A.D. After the loss, the prophet Muhammad is said to have explained the loss as follows: “Allah did indeed fulfil His promise to you when ye with His permission Were about to annihilate your enemy,-until ye flinched and fell to disputing about the order, and disobeyed it after He brought you in sight (of the booty) which ye covet. Among you are some that hanker after this world and some that desire the Hereafter. Then did He divert you from your foes in order to test you but He forgave you: For Allah is full of grace to those who believe.”
Feature 3: Religious fictions promising divine sanction for harmful actions
One other feature of certain religions that could have helped political leaders was religious sanction for crimes that would otherwise not receive social sanction. There are examples of horrific massacres (justified through the premise of permission from the divine).
In the Christian and Jewish traditions is the story of a Jewish prophet by the name of Moses requesting the Jews not to spare anyone from a community of people called the Midianites (that had attempted to involve the Jews in their religious practices) after they had been defeated. Moses says: “Now therefore kill every male among the little ones, and kill every woman that hath known man by lying with him. But all the women children, that have not known a man by lying with him, keep alive for yourselves” (Bible, Numbers 31:17-18).
Muhammad is also reported to have participated in a massacre of a Jewish tribe (the Banu Qurayza) living in Medina after the successful defense of Medina by his army. Ibn Ishaq, a Muslim historian writes: “Then they surrendered, and the Apostle confined them in Medina in the quarter of d. al-Harith, a woman of B. al-Najjar. Then the Apostle went out to the market of Medina (which is still its market today) and dug trenches in it. Then he sent for them and struck off their heads in those trenches as they were brought out to him in batches. Among them was the enemy of Allah Huyayy b. Akhtab and Ka`b b. Asad their chief. There were 600 or 700 in all, though some put the figure as high as 800 or 900.” (After that, the Jewish women and children were divided up among the Muslims that had participated in the siege, and Muhammad himself selected one of the women, Rayhana, for himself).
In the Indian epic, The Mahabharata, the deity Krishna repeatedly sanctions the killing through treachery of his enemies, ensuring the victory of the political leaders he is aligned with, though in the process violating all the rules of war and justice.
In all these cases, a religion enabled a political force to breach ethical norms and overcome natural human tendencies to forgiveness and compassion in its pursuit of political benefits – such as the complete elimination of an enemy, control over their lands and resources, and sex slaves as rewards for soldiers (in the Jewish and Muslim stories), and the winning of a kingdom through dishonest means (in the Hindu story).
These are not just fictions from a distant past. The same fictions permit organizations like ISIS to act in an extremely inhumane manner to the present day.
Feature 4: Exclusion of other religious/political groups
Feature 4 is the most troubling of all. It appears that extreme religious views benefit a politicalsymbiote more than moderate religious views.
That’s because more inclusive views do not create political projects capable of emotionally impelling a large mass of people to support to a political symbiote.
So, for example, more inclusive religious fictions would not generate the conflict required for expansion of a religious system at the cost of other religious systems.
Less inclusive religious fictions could, on the other hand, drive a large number of people to join a political project, leading the group participating in the project to dominance over more inclusive groups.
An example can be seen in the case of the house of Saud. Ibn Saud was the first king and founder of the third Saudi Arab kingdom (modern Saudi Arabia).
He positioned himself as the promoter of the teachings of a cleric – Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab – who rejected the veneration of Muslim saints and their tombs.
Ibn Saud’s opponents in the Rashidi tribe of Arabia, who held a less strict view of Islam, would not have had any quarrel with Ibn Saud’s followers, and so would not have had a cause to use to muster large numbers of warriors to make war on Ibn Saud.
On the other hand, since Ibn Saud’s followers could be and were roused to righteous anger against the Rashidi tribe’s “decadent” religious views, making it possible to muster them in large numbers for the political project of the Saudi royal family.
Subsequent events have shown that more and more extreme religious fictions have been invented by political forces (the Taliban and then ISIS) to successfully displace more tolerant religious fictions in their areas of influence.
In India too, a similar process can be observed in Islam in Kashmir and in Hinduism mainly in North India.
In the case of Hinduism, one extremist religious fiction is the belief in the inadmissibility of cow slaughter (and older and even more damaging fiction that’s dusted and rolled out at every election is the belief that Ram’s birthplace lay right under a mosque).
Any group of Hindus that believes that it is up to individuals to decide if they should or should not consume a meat product such as beef might would have no quarrel with people who consumed beef.
On the other hand, a group who believed that the killing of a cow constituted a religious slight to Hindus would be able to motivate opposition to those who consumed beef. If a political symbiote identified such a conflict-generating fiction and aligned their political project to it, they could then be propelled to power through it.
Let’s take another example, this time to do with Christianity.
Let’s say there is one group of Christians that believes that the most important religious fictions in the Bible happened to be the injunction to love others and to turn the other cheek to an assailant. Such a group would be able to coexist peacefully with people of other religious persuasions.
However if a group believed that the most important religious fictions in the Bible were the Christ-is-necessary-for-the-afterlife-insurance-to-work fiction (“no one comes to the Father but through the Son”), the command to propagate the religion (“go ye to all the world and preach my gospel to every people”) or even the monotheistic fiction (“there is no one like you, Lord, and there is no God but you, as we have heard with our own ears”) would find it easier to generate conflict with people around the world possessed of different viewpoints from theirs. The engendered conflict could be exploited by a political symbiote seeking a political project.
So, this imbalance of political utility in favour of extremism is bound to give rise to a tendency in all religions to slide in the direction of more extreme views.
I suspect such a shift being involved in the rise of ISIS (through its symbiotic relationship with Salafism in the middle east).
I suspect such a shift having helped the rise of the fortunes of the BJP (through its symbiotic relationship with right-wing Hinduism).
I suspect such a shift in the rise of Trump (his symbiotic relationship being with white Christian conservatives).
Feature 5: Religious Political Projects
Many religions provide their own political projects.
Judaism is clearly associated with the political project of occupation of a portion of the land of Israel/Palestine.
Islam has concepts such as that of the Dar ul Islam and Dar al Harb which create a political project of domination of political entities with the goal of spreading the teachings of Islam.
B) Barriers to Exit
So far, I have talked about the ways in which religions acquire promoters. Religions also deploy a number of methods to erect barriers to keep promoters from leaving a religion.
Here are some of the barriers used:
1. Network Effect Barriers
As I have described above, once organized religions reach a certain size, their resources and the number of promoters invested in them allow them to maintain a higher rate of acquisition compared to a smaller religious organization. This forms a kind of barrier to promoters leaving, in that either social opprobrium (from the majority of the people around being promoters of the larger religion) or the fact that they are more likely to encounter promoters from the larger religion leaves them more likely to remain with the larger religion.
2. Consistency Bias Barriers
Humans are prone to consistency bias. They do not like to be seen as fickle. So once someone asserts a belief (to themselves or to someone else) they are bound to find it very difficult to change their mind about it.
Religions from the middle-east generally use this to their advantage, by prescribing periodic meetings of promoters where the promoters affirm their adherence to the fictions of a religion.
Christianity has its ‘creed’. Islam has the ‘shahada’. Judaism has the ‘shmah’. In Christianity and Judaism, the frequency of affirmation of the creed is weekly. In Islam, the frequency is (for the extremely religious) five times a day.
When a person recites an absolute assertion such as the creed, shmah or the shahada before a large number of witnesses, it becomes difficult for the person to allow themselves to be seen to be changing their minds about it.
I doubt Hinduism has an equivalent, and the closest I could see right-wing Hinduism come to it is with cries such as “Jai Shri Ram” and weekly meetings in “shakas” which might help erect barriers to exit using consistency bias.
3. Legal / Penal Barriers
Islamic law in many jurisdictions prescribes the penalty of death for the “crime” of leaving the religion.
Can we measure the degree of extremism of a dominant group’s religious fictions? It appears that while a direct measure might not be easy to come up with, we might be able to find proxy measures for the same.
A proxy for the extremism of religious fictions might be the number (as a fraction of the population) of members of minority religions who succeed in living in any area.
As the favoured religious fictions of a dominant religion become more extreme, they should lead (by the mechanisms described above) to the elimination of more people of other religions from those areas.
So, in Gujarat, the reduction of the number of people professing Islam and other religions in Hindu-dominated localities of Ahmedabad might serve as a measure of the increase in extremism of those areas.
Similarly, in parts of Kashmir where the majority religion is Islam, and in Muslim majority areas of countries such as Pakistan or Bangladesh, the populations of non-Muslim minorities remaining might provide a proxy for the degree of extremism in the flavour of Islam in general use.
A proxy for the strength of the barriers to exit might be the rate of people giving up that religion in mixed-religion marriages in which both spouses decide to become promoters of one and the same religion.
I have argued above that in order to displace established organized religions, it becomes necessary for religions to propagate themselves through symbiotic relationships with amenable political players. A pressure to move in the direction of more extreme (less inclusive) views results from the need to provide political symbiotes with political projects that can result in large-scale mobilisation.
In other words, by the principles of natural selection, religions are forced to morph into more virulent / harmful / intolerant forms.
About the author
Cohan Sujay Carlos is a researcher at Aiaioo Labs with a keen interest in history, economics and artificial intelligence.
I was really keen to hear what the teachers had to say because I had been extremely apprehensive about whether anyone would be able to type software in Kannada (the standard keyboards available in India are ASCII keyboards labelled with Roman letters).
So, at the beginning of the class, I asked the teachers whether they could type Kannada using ASCII keyboards.
They said that they could. They said that they were used to typing using Nudi or Baraha software (that allows one to type Kannada using a Roman alphabet keyboard).
Since I didn’t have Nudi or Baraha installed, I showed them how Google’s Input Tools worked, and they liked them very much (those with laptops insisted that I install Google Input Tools for them after the lecture).
Apparently, all the teachers could type using a Roman keyboard. They could also all speak some English.
But their level of comfort with English was low when it came to reading and comprehension.
This group of teachers said they found it much easier to read Kannada than English though they typed Kannada on a Latin keyboard.
And they said that for that reason (ease of reading and comprehension), programming tools in the Kannada language would be useful to them.
Acknowledgements: The workshop yesterday was organized by Workbench Projects. There had been a similar workshop at ArtScienceBLR on March 29th. So, anyone wishing to learn to program Arduino boards in Kannada can contact either of these organizations.
The website allows one to comment on and discuss the keywords picked as replacements for English words.
There’s still a lot of work to be done on the choices.
Very specifically, we’re looking for ways to simplify the words so that school children will find them easier to remember and type.
Any ideas for facilitating the learning process for children would be very welcome.
For example, we used to translate analogWrite as “ಅನಂಕೀಯವಾಗಿ_ಬರೆ” in Kannada, (“अनंकीय_लिखो” in Hindi and “அனலாக்_எழுது” in Tamil) using the coined word ‘anankiiya’ (negation of ‘ankiiya’ meaning digital) or the transliteration of ‘analog’.
However, during a discussion, a physicist who helped with the Kannada (thank you, Padmalekha) suggested that we use the phrase “write without spaces” for analogWrite.
And then it hit us that we could just use the phrase “write value” for analogWrite and “write number” for digitalWrite.
The following translations for analogWrite: “ಮೌಲ್ಯವನ್ನು_ಬರೆ“, “मूल्य_लिखो” and “மதிப்பை_எழுது” are much more intuitive.
The new translations for digitalWrite are also just as easy to comprehend: “ಅಂಕೆಯನ್ನು_ಬರೆ“, “अंक_लिखो” and “எண்ணை_எழுது”
The process of simplification is an ongoing one, and we hope in a few months’ time to have a generally agreed-upon set of translations, after taking everyone’s inputs into consideration.
The Arduino IDE with extensions now supports syntax highlighting in Indian languages. This makes it easier to program in the local language.
We had designed a cooking robot not very long ago. The design was prepared as a creative exercise and there are some kinks in it that need to be ironed out. We will list the kinks at the end.
The robot essentially uses a sensor network to perform transfer and heat operations. It can also dip and activate various tools – mixing tools, stirring tools, grinding tools, etc.
Another cool feature of the design is that all tools and operations are driven by a single immovable motor drive.
The cooking robot, if it is realized, should be able to prepare many types of Indian side dishes and cook rice.
One of the things that this robot can’t do is prepare rotis (but there is now an automatic roti maker available in the market that can do that).
In the blog post below, we describe the design of the robot and hereby put it in the public domain.
At the core of the design is the vessel. This is the only part of the design (apart from various tools) which comes into contact with the food.
The vessel has a handle that allows it to be easily ‘picked up’ by the robot, moved around, turned and released.
Various tools, for example, mixing tools, stirring tools, and beating tools can be fitted with similar handles (but with a drive shaft running within to provide a mechanical driving force to the tool tip).
The robot connects with the vessel through a vessel carrier. The vessel carrier is just a square piece. The diagram below shows the vessel carrier in three positions – open, locked and rotated through 45%.
The purple shading denotes the handle of the vessel. There are two concentric rings with slits (shown in grey) in the rectangular carrier.
When the carrier is open, the slits in the slit rings line up and the vessel handle can slide into the carrier.
When the carrier locks, the inner slit ring rotates around the handle shaft, so it cannot slide out of place.
The slits are now at 90 degrees to each other. Whenever they are at 90 degrees with respect to each other, the handle cannot slide out.
If both rings rotate, the vessel rotates with them, as shown in the last of the three figures in the above diagram.
Any number of such vessel carriers can be allowed to run along a set of vertical and horizontal tracks as shown in the following figure.
The tracks are called ‘vessel guides’ because the vessel holders can only run along these guides.
The track and the surface they are cut into form the front face of the cooking robot.
So, in this design, the robot operates entirely in 2 dimensions, in a vertical plane parallel to a kitchen wall. This plane of operation was deliberately chosen to conserve kitchen room, and to allow for pouring operations.
To pour a fluid or mixture from one vessel to another, all that one has to do is position one vessel in a vertical track (N-S) above another vessel running in a horizontal track (E-W) and turn the higher vessel (the pouring vessel). The pouring vessel rises to keep its lower edge at a steady height. The receiving vessel adjusts its position horizontally to keep the lower edge of the pouring edge in line with its own center.
At the base of the front face are burners. They can turn on to provide heating energy and a vessel can position itself at any height above these burners to heat or warm food.
For mixing operations, a vessel holder equipped with a mixing tool would position itself over the vessel whose contents need to be mixed, and the rotating shaft in the handle would be engaged to provide power to the mixing tool’s tip.
The basic ingredients (already washed, cut and ground) were meant to be stored in containers just above the front face so that the ingredients could be transferred to the vessels positioned below them in controlled quantities by suitable methods under the force of gravity.
We also designed a power train for the system so that the entire robot would operate using just one base-mounted motor.
At the heart of the power train is a set of vertical and horizontal lifts that run along rails and are propelled by screws (drive bars).
The figure below shows the arrangement of vertical rails (black lines) and drive bars (red lines).
Below is an illustration of the horizontal lifts (rails and drive shafts).
These rails and screws drive lift boxes as shown below.
The lift boxes would run along only one set of rails and the lift boxes running along vertical rails would not interfere with lift boxes running along horizontal rails, as shown below.
In this diagram, the lift boxes (drawn as dotted rectangles) are shown latching on to the vessel carriers using holding bolts.
The holding bolts can be withdrawn and relocked at will, allowing the vessel carriers to be transferred from one lift to another at points of intersection, and to allow horizontal lifts’ holding bolts to avoid colliding with vertical drive shafts.
Below is a rough schematic of the lift boxes.
The holding bolts are shown in blue.
The grippers (shown in solid black) hold on to the guide rails to stop the lift or onto the drive shaft(s) to propel the lift up or down.
We originally meant the system to have two counter-rotating drive shafts to allow the lift box to change direction very rapidly or stop against the drive rail.
The yellow square represents the gear wheels that power the tools (for mixing, stirring, etc).
The blue square are the holding bolts and they latch onto the vessel carriers through matching slots as shown below.
We had designed a gearing mechanism to lock and unlock vessel handles using cams that transferred power from the drive shafts and gears to power the tools, but those detailed diagrams have been lost.
An industrial robotics startup in Bangalore who evaluated this design for feasibility pointed out some problems in the design:
The vertical plane of operation of the robot. They pointed out that lifting heavy vessels was going to require a lot of power, and would run into other problems like friction, and that it is always much easier to operate in the horizontal plane. They asked us to study food processor designs and come up with ways to transfer Indian food ingredients between vessels in the horizontal plane.
Friction in many of the components could prove difficult to overcome, for instance in the vessel holder. The weight of the vessel and its ingredients might end up locking the split ring system and preventing it from turning, or it might end up jamming the holding shafts connecting the vessel holder and the lift.
So, it appears that a number of mechanical problems need to be solved before such a product could become a reality.
A few of us were wondering the other day if it might be possible to carry road vehicles on metro rails.
A car is a machine with wheels that operates on certain flat surfaces, namely roads.
A metro train is also a machine on wheels, but it operates on railway tracks.
Roads tend to be very crowded, but not so the rails. Long stretches of railway tracks go unoccupied most of the time.
So, initially, we felt that if we could put cars on rails using a suitable adaptor, we could move some 4-wheeler traffic off the roads.
Such an adaptor, it turns out, is easy to build.
A cage with a roof with eyelets that allow the cage to be lifted, and wheel chocks that immobilize the car will do the trick.
Such a cage makes the car easily transportable and allows it to be lifted onto railway carriages or inaccessible parking spaces (say on the roofs of buildings).
We calculated that a typical metro coach could hold up to 8 cars (a coach is 22 metres in length while cars are usually less than 5 metres in length, and you can stack two car cages one on top of the other).
So, 20 coaches could hold 160 cars.
Assuming a metro train frequency of one every 5 minutes and 20 car coaches, you would have an hourly capacity of 1920 cars.
Typical peak road capacities are around 1700 cars per hour per lane.
Since many central Bangalore roads are single lane roads, this could effectively double the traffic capacity at the city center.
However, the plan would be hard to justify for the following reasons.
Each metro coach can carry a maximum of 300 passengers (if they are packed 6 to a square metre). So the ticket for a car would be that of 40 passengers during peak hours. I doubt anyone would pay so much to travel by car on a metro train.
Finally, a metro transport system is designed to serve a high density of passengers. Those 20 coaches would have been of far greater service to commuters if employed to carry 6000 people instead of 160 cars.
So, it would make sense to add car-carrying trailers only after all commuter demand has been met, and only if the cost of car-carrying trailers turns out to be far less than that of passenger coaches.
Using such cages for parking also seemed like an interesting idea, but I feel that the cost of such a system might again be prohibitive (it’s cheaper in India to use a valet).
Anyways, it was an interesting thought experiment.
If the area of the torso coming in contact with another person in a crush is 2 square feet, about 1 ton of force (about 1000 Kg) would be needed to exert a force of 6.4 psi.
A tightly packed column of 100 people could generate that kind of cumulative lateral crushing force.
So, if a tightly packed column of people say a 100 men/women deep were to suddenly be obstructed, say by a barrier or by another group of people crossing their path, the forces experienced by those in front (or at the intersection) could be as high as 1 ton.
This seems to have been what happened in Mecca a few days ago.
How people were injured
According to eye witness accounts of the stampede during the Hajj, the deaths occurred on a flat road, and there had been pushing and jostling at the start of the stampede:
“As our group started to head back, taking Road 204, another group, coming from Road 206, crossed our way,” said another worshipper, Ahmed Mohammed Amer.
“Heavy pushing ensued. I’m at a loss of words to describe what happened. This massive pushing is what caused the high number of casualties among the pilgrims.”
On January 12, as we were returning to Mina for the last ritual of Haj, we saw the big stampede from a distance as waves of people collided.
Mathematical / Physical Models
I will now attempt to show that in a constrained space, even higher forces can be generated by a wedging effect.
The Wedge Effect
A wedge is a mechanical device that can amplify forces.
If a wedge that is four times as long as it is tall is used, and a force of 10 Kg applied along its longer edge, it can generate a force of 40 Kg in the direction of the shorter edge, as shown in the following diagram.
Restraints of any kind (railings, barriers, fences, chains) can act as wedges and increase the pressure within a crowd perpendicular to the direction of movement of the crowd.
So, a column of 20 people can generate a force of one ton if they were wedged in between fences of an aspect ratio of 1:5 (the fence closed in by 1 meter for every 5 meters of road), as shown in the following diagram (for space, we have demonstrated that a column of 5 people can generate a lateral force of 250 Kg on account of the wedging).
Wedging could also occur if the path had no constrictions, if people in the crowd moved in opposite directions, as shown in the following figure.
I’ve always wondered if there was a way to teach people to cobble together quick and dirty solutions to problems involving natural language, from duct tape, as it were.
Having worked in the field now for a donkey’s years as of 2015, and having taught a number of text analytics courses along the way, I’ve seen students of text analysis stumble mostly on one of two hurdles:
1. Inability to Reduce Text Analytics Problems to Machine Learning Problems
I’ve seen students, after hours of training, still revert to rule-based thinking when asked to solve new problems involving text.
You can spend hours teaching people about classification and feature sets, but when you ask them to apply their learning to a new task, say segmenting a resume, you’ll hear them very quickly falling back to thinking in terms of programming steps.
Umm, you could write a script to look for a horizontal line, followed by capitalized text in bold, big font, with the words “Education” or “Experience” in it !!!
2. Inability to Solve the Machine Learning (ML) Problems
Another task that I have seen teams getting hung up on has been solving ML problems and comparing different solutions.
My manager wants me to identify the ‘introduction’ sections. So, I labelled 5 sentences as introductions. Then, I trained a maximum entropy classifier with them. Why isn’t it working?
One Machine Learning Algorithm to Rule Them All
One day, when I was about to give a lecture at Barcamp Bangalore, I had an idea.
Wouldn’t it be fun to try to use just one machine learning algorithm, show people how to code up that algorithm themselves, and then show them how a really large number of text analytics problem (almost every single problem related to the semantic web) could be solved using it.
So, I quickly wrote up a set of problems in order of increasing complexity, and went about trying to reduce them all to one ML problem, and surprised myself! It could be done!
Just about every text analytics problem related to the semantic web (which is, by far, the most important commercial category) could be reduced to a classification problem.
Moreover, you could tackle just about any problem using just two steps:
a) Modeling the problem as a machine learning problem
Spot the appropriate machine learning problem underlying the text analytics problem, and if it is a classification problem, the relevant categories, and you’ve reduced the text analytics problem to a machine learning problem.
b) Solving the problem using feature engineering
To solve the machine learning problem, you need to coming up with a set of features that allows the machine learning algorithm to separate the desired categories.
Check it out for yourself!
Here’s a set of slides.
It’s called “Fun with Text – Hacking Text Analytics”.
In this article, we discuss an Achilles’ heel present in many democratic institutions. We claim that many democratic institutions can be made to fail in ‘log n’ time (exponentially fast) if patronage (nepotistic) networks are allowed to grow unfettered.
We then support the claim using real-world examples of the failure of democratic institutions (political and otherwise) and discuss why such failure has not been observed in polity in India.
We also look at how text analytics can be used to detect (and consequently enable steps to be taken to prevent) such failures.
In democratic institutions, voting mechanisms are used to confer upon one individual (from a field of eligible candidates), powers and responsibilities as specified in the charter of the institution.
In some cases, the powers that accrue to the elected individual are so great that they enable him to use them to ensure his or her re-election. There are two methods available to such an individual.
The first is to pay off the electoral college and secure re-election. This method is an O(n) algorithm. The quantum of resources required to secure re-election is proportional to the number of people who need to be suborned. So, this method only works in cases where electoral colleges are small (for example, in the case of committees deciding job appointments).
A faster method of suborning large numbers of people exists. The establishment of a hierarchy of patronage can leverage the dynamics of social networks to speedily (in log n time) corrupt very large numbers of people.
It works like this: The person who is elected to head the country appoints as immediate subordinates only people who are on account of tribal or ethnic affiliations expected to be loyal to him/her. This appointment is often accompanied by a monetary exchange in the form of a bribe paid by the appointee to secure the post. Such a monetary exchange helps cement the loyalty since the person making the payment becomes dependent on their superior’s continuation in power to recoup the money spent. In other words, the immediate subordinates are forced to invest in their superiors’ careers.
The subordinates so appointed in turn appoint people loyal to themselves to positions below them, in order to recover their investment in the person above them and so on. Very soon, the entire government machinery becomes beholden directly or indirectly to the person at the top for their jobs and has a vested interest in keeping the person at the top in power.
In some countries, this effectively transforms the democratically elected ‘president’ into a dictator for life.
The first example of such failure is possibly (and I am just illustrating a point – no disrespect intended) the government of Cameroon. The President of Cameroon has been in power since the 1980s. The President is impossible to replace in spite of rampant corruption and economic mismanagement because all the tribal chiefs and officials in Cameroon are beholden to the President.
All these officials and chiefs try and recoup their investment by rent-seeking behavior (you will need their good offices if you wish to do any business in Cameroon).
The resulting economic climate doesn’t necessarily encourage the growth of entrepreneurship or investment in Cameroon.
Iraq for many years was ruled by a dictator who had managed to suborn an entire political system. Iraq once had a participatory democratic system. But the use of patronage by Saddam led to Iraq coming under totalitarian rule.
Similar failures can be seen in post WW2 Libya and Syria, and in Stalin’s Russia.
One common feature of many of the countries where such failure has occurred is that they have hierarchical social structures in which respect and obedience can be commanded by people higher in the hierarchy from people lower in the hierarchy.
Cameroon has a culture of veneration of elders and tribal leaders. So do the countries of the Arab world.
India also has somewhat similar cultural traits. So, it is very interesting to see that a similar process of deterioration of democracy has not been observed in India.
One explanation is that India was saved by its own heterogeneity. India is made up of distinct linguistic regions and ethnic groups. It would be impossible for tribal and ethnic hierarchies to span India’s many linguistic and ethnic boundaries.
So, even if one province has failed, that would not trigger failure in neighboring provinces, and the regional despot would not be strong enough to change the Indian constitution.
Examples of such failure can arguably be observed to have happened already in Karnataka and in Tamil Nadu. In Karnataka, a couple of mining barons managed to become ministers in the government and managed to exercise a lot of control over it for a number of years. Had Karnataka been an independent political entity, they might at some point have attempted to change the constitution to give themselves more power and possibly unlimited tenure.
In the state of Tamil Nadu, the ruling politicians are suspected of building patronage networks around themselves in order to facilitate rent-seeking behaviour. If Tamil Nadu had been an independent political entity, I suspect that it might have lost its democratic character, since the number of people below the Chief Minister with a vested interest in keeping him/her in power would have become too big to permit free and fair elections to take place.
But what is interesting is that in India, though democracy could have failed at the level of the states (controlled by politicians who had suborned a large part of the mechanism of government) the possible failure did not take place or proved reversible. That is probably because no kinship networks extend to all parts of India.
The fragmentation must have protected the constitution and the electoral system. That in turn allowed constitutional and legal frameworks and electoral politics to correct the failures.
In Karnataka, the corrupt mining barons and the Chief Minister who supported them ended up behind bars. In Tamil Nadu, some family members of the corrupt Chief Minister ended up behind bars. In both states, the parties that had engaged in corruption were voted out of power.
So, failure through networks of patronage might be difficult to engineer in India because of the extremely heterogeneous nature of its society (a result of size and diversity).
Why would someone intending to build a patronage network only elevate kith and kin to positions of power?
As in, why did the dictators in Iraq and Syria choose to pack the governing organizations with people from their own community or tribe?
One possible answer emanates from the work of George Price (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-24457645), who showed that altruism exhibited towards close relatives can have concrete benefits for a selfish individual.
I quote from the article:
Price’s equation explained how altruism could thrive, even amongst groups of selfish people.
It built on the work of a number of other scientists, arguably beginning with JBS Haldane, a British biologist who developed a theory in the early 1950s. When asked if he would sacrifice his own life to save that of another, he said that he would, but only under certain conditions. “I would lay down my life for two brothers, or eight cousins.”
So, it is possible that the elevation of kith and kin minimizes the possibility that the people so elevated might one day turn against their patron (they might be more likely to exhibit non-selfish behavior towards their patron).
Detection using Text Analytics
One is tempted to ask whether it is possible to detect at an early stage the process of failure through patronage of a democratic system.
The answer is yes. It appears to be possible to build a protective mechanism that can uncover and highlight the formation and growth of nepotistic patronage networks.
“There is a scarcity of last-names that’s inexplicable,” says fellow academic, Stefano Allesina. “The odds of getting such population densities across so many departments is a million to one.”
Take the University of Bari, where five families have for years dominated the dozens of senior positions in Business and Economics there. Or consider the University of Palermo, where more than half the entire academic population has at least one relative working within the institution.
I happened to find one of Allesina’s papers titled “Measuring Nepotism through Shared Last Names: The Case of Italian Academia” on the internet.
Both types of analysis (Monte Carlo and logistic regression) showed the same results: the paucity of names and the abundance of name-sharing connections in Italian academia are highly unlikely to be observed at random. Many disciplines, accounting for the majority of Italian academics, are very likely to be affected by nepotism. There is a strong latitudinal effect, with nepotistic practices increasing in the south. Although detecting some nepotism in Italian academia is hardly surprising, the level of diffusion evidenced by this analysis is well beyond what is expected.
Concentrating resources in the “healthy” part of the system is especially important at a time when funding is very limited and new positions are scarce: two conditions that are currently met by the Italian academic system. Moreover, promoting merit against nepotistic practices could help stem the severe brain-drain observed in Italy.
In December 2010, the Italian Parliament approved a new law for the University. Among other things, the new law forbids the hiring of relatives within the same department and introduces a probation period before tenure. The analysis conducted here should be repeated in the future, as the results could provide an assessment of the efficacy of the new law.
This analysis can be applied to different countries and types of organizations. Policy-makers can use similar methods to target resources and cuts in order to promote fair practices.
The analysis that Allesina performed (a diversity analysis of last names) is a fairly easy text analytics task and provides a clue to the solution to the problem.
Such an analysis can unearth nepotism and allow steps to be taken to prevent it.
Extensions of the method can also be used to determine if, as in the case of Iraq and Syria, a certain community or ethnicity or family has taken over or is beginning to take over the governing mechanisms of a country.
And if the problem is identified early enough, it might give the constitutional, legal and electoral institutions of a democracy a fighting chance at protecting themselves and lead to a correction of the failure.