Teaching machines to learn

“Machine Learning” is no more new. Literally every new kid with even a wee bit of curiosity with technology knows about it. But while programming machines to act intelligent was the earlier approach, teaching machines to learn for themselves is where the world is headed.

With Google and Facebook making substantial investments into the tools needed to make machine learning happen, the trend has only been speeded up. The next fight for these biggies in technology is on whose artificial intelligence tools are going to be used more widely to enable machine learning. At least in the case of Google and Facebook the tools seem open source and available to the world at large.

On its part, Google is providing a free online course through Udacity. The course is going to be led by Vincent Vanhoucke, a principal scientist at Google. I am sure by sharing their knowledge on this toolkit, they will open up the minds of many more engineers beyond Google to experiment and take machine learning forward.

For more information look up these links:

TensorFlow (Google’s latest machine learning system) – http://googleresearch.blogspot.in/2015/11/tensorflow-googles-latest-machine_9.html


Putting Deep Learning to Work – http://blog.udacity.com/2016/01/putting-deep-learning-to-work.html

Course Link – https://www.udacity.com/course/deep-learning–ud730

I am posting this so that many of my young engineering minds (especially the entrepreneurial ones looking for new opportunities) may pick up such emerging skills. There is so much engineering talent across India, which if can be educated on skills like the above, will startup scalable unicorns.

Startup India by learning how to teach machines how to learn!

Dr Mohanty on Educational Leadership

Earlier today I attended a special guest lecture by Dr Ajit Mohanty (http://ajitmohanty.org) at The Entrepreneurship Development Institute of India (EDII), Gandhinagar, Gujarat (www.ediindia.org). On the dais was Dr Mohanty sandwiched between his teacher (Dr Misra) and his student (Dr Shukla). It is rare to see three generations of teachers (or students) sitting together and sharing their mutual warmth. I feel privileged to have had the good fortune of seeing and listening to them. Now to the subject of the lecture itself.

A well known, seasoned and celebrated academician in India, Dr Mohanty, was true to his topic. He had his agenda clearly laid out. The presentation was easy, smooth and candid. His astute observations brought to light some of the key leadership issues and challenges that the Indian Higher Education System faces. As a researcher, I enjoyed the approach taken by Dr Mohanty and the innumerable opportunities it provides for further scholarly investigation.

Most well made speeches start with a bang and today’s was no exception. He stated a well known truth – ‘our education systems are a large scale failure’ (wow! I could not think of a better way to put it). He did not stop by stating the obvious, but took a deep dive into the possible reasons for the problem. Some of them are: macro level policy hurdles, leadership, chaotic nature of academic environments, debatable business role of today’s faculty members, narrowing gap between for-profit enterprises and socially inclined enterprises such as educational institutions, amongst others. As a true academic he did not promise to provide a panacea to the challenge – but restricted his remaining talk to one aspect of the challenge: leadership.

He beautifully captured through the ‘ringing bells’ example how our educational systems strive to remain status quo. He also spoke how most selected leaders are better academics than administrators. He used the popular ‘Peter Principle’ to highlight the leader identification and appointment problem. It seems that most leaders in educational institutions focus more on ‘chaos avoidance’ rather than ‘innovation and entrepreneurship’. He clearly established the fact that academic skills are not sufficient to lead educational institutions.

With examples from India and around the world, he gave a number of examples and cases of both success and failures of educational leadership. He also justified his stance that probably the Indian educational system is not ready for transformational leaders, but can greatly benefit in the interim with change-producing leaders. His examples provided leading thoughts on a possible solution – ‘distributed leadership’. Distributed Leadership is not delegation, but leaders at every level. Higher education truly requires leaders at all levels, who can bring change (in a small way, though routinely), which in turn will result in habits and eventually a change in culture.

I liked his approach towards the end of his presentation where he offered solutions, which he said we could choose to reject (not accept). It speaks a lot about the person.

This was one of the occasions where I did not want the talk to end. May be because it was on a topic close to my heart or was it my love for teaching or was it that I was listening to a true academic after long? A short amount of time, borrowed from lunch was used for answering Q&A.

I left the talk inspired about academics and with number of ideas for future research. I am excited at the timing of the lecture since I am currently working on some ideas of applying entrepreneurship to higher education.

Thanks to EDII for arranging this insightful lecture.

Are we losing jobs through Growth?

If you are not retiring in the next 1-2 years, your job may be automated. You may be redundant in your role. What are you going to do? No, it is not a pessimistic complaint over automation, but a serious look into a fast growing trend. Automation has been slowing eating away number of jobs, but with robotics really taking off, we seem to be entering a period of jobless growth. Surprised?

How repetitive is your job? If it has close to 50% you have to really read this and think about it.

Robotics is changing the way we visualized work. While it was believed till some time ago that robots may not be able to do many of the things that humans are good at, technology improvements is questioning these beliefs. In fact robots are not only cheaper to procure, they are much easier to maintain over the long term. The biggest benefits to organizations: no rest, no vacations, no bonus, no benefits, no attrition. Is this not close to utopian, especially for manufacturing organizations? This would also make the companies more competitive in the marketplace.

So, if you thought all of this is affecting only the production and manufacturing jobs, hold on. Slowly machines are being taught to think too. Once they learn this to a certain degree of flawlessness, the day is not far when we would have entire call centers being replaced by robots. Will the world not look different when we see robots doing most of the daily activities? Won’t tax filing and audits slowing become automated?

What will you do? Now, that question remains unanswered. There are still number of skills that robots may take time to learn. What are they? Are we teaching / learning these skills enough? Are our schools being revamped to deal with this new economic and social order?

Once thing is certain, jobs are going to get automated, more quickly than what we have imagined. So, think how you can develop skills which machines may take longer to pick up. That is probably the only way to keep your role intact.

This makes the role of government and policy makers difficult and challenging. Only the truly long term thinkers can help solve this forming puzzle.

Happy thinking!

Is lack of ‘collaboration’ killing us?

I recently heard a business school professor ask the question that most of us ask ourselves quite often: why Indians perform so well as individuals but as a nation we are far behind? Why is it that Indians shine outside of India, but fail to do so much when they stay back? He seems to attribute the problem to one word: collaboration.

Here are some points worth pondering on:

To shine in India, we need a better ecosystem. Why is it that Indians in America do so well, it is because the ecosystem allows them, encourages them, celebrates them and enables them to continue it. The same level of people in India, somehow lie low, not known, and many times under performing in relation to their potential. So, if we want our potential to be utilised, our country to see its citizens thrive from within its borders, we need to create a mode conducive environment.

To shine in India, we also need a better mindset. A mindset that has to be inculcated right from younger ages that if we collaborate, we can achieve more. Our mindset teaches us (reiterated by parents, teachers and society at large) that to do well, we have to beat others. This gets ingrained in children by the time they reach high school. Hence sharing drops, and this leads to lone performers. But this does not help in the long run, where big projects require people to work along with others, to make their work successful.

If both these are not done in large quantities:

  • A conducive environment for allowing, encouraging, recognising, and celebrating entrepreneurial thinking and action
  • A collaborative mindset amongst the people (especially the younger ones)

It could result in a total mismanagement of our demographic dividend. An asset that requires some serious chiselling to derive value out of, else it could turn disastrous.

Think about it!


Character is what one does when he or she is not being watched. When people are watching, most of us live based on what we want others to think about us. But the real character of a person is when he or she is doing the same when they are not being watched over or supervised. So one need not ask anyone else about whether their character is strong or weak, because one knows it for oneself. See what you do when you are alone by yourself – that is your real personality, your real character.

There are people who don’t eat unhealthy food when they are in the midst of people. The moment they get to the room, they hog on all the high calorie, high cholesterol, and extremely unhealthy food. It happens even in the case of people when it comes to non-vegetarian food. They act like they are vegetarians when they are with people and make up for it when they are alone. But who you are as a person is fully displayed when no one is watching! What do you eat when you are staying alone in a hotel room? That is your real personality, your real character.

The more you live away from your character the more you will be agitated. It is better to live the life based on what you inherently believe in. This will bring you to the ecosystem where others acknowledge you for who you are and those who don’t approve will leave you alone. Above all you will be at peace with yourself, with no one to prove to about your beliefs except yourself.

Try to be who you are – it helps in gaining peace and eventually happiness! First find who you are inside and then be sincere to yourself.

Christmas 2013 and a giving routine..

The season around 25th of December every year brings to the mind colorful people. brightly lit streets, decorated churches, stars givingof all sizes, Santa Claus, gifts, wishes, happiness and celebration. Also inevitably one word that every person acknowledges thinking about is “giving”. However giving is reduced to what is shared with the downtrodden outside churches, outside homes, on our routes that we take. Take a moment and ask yourself ” Are they the only people who need?”

Why don’t we take a different walk this day? Why don’t we see the Lord in the first stranger who asks for help? Why don’t we stop judging if the person really requires our help or not? Why don’t we do this daily? Why don’t we start a small giving routine daily?

This can be to stop  holding back or delaying of payments for products/services that we have used/bought. This can be to stop negotiating with providers for little savings which are insignificant to you;  but giving it to the other man (knowing you are giving more) to whom it could be more significant.

So let’s start this Christmas a nice little attitude shift towards giving, towards sharing with all who we can.  But it is easy to start with people who are already asking us. The most important thing in practice of giving; is to do it without judging.

Seasons Greetings and Merry Christmas!

Gandhi Jayanti 2013

2nd October every year is a national holiday in India. The reason we have declared this as a holiday is (I assume) for every one of us to remember the contribution of this man for what we have today – independence. While we were young we used to watch the famous movie ‘Gandhi’ almost every year. It is touching, provides fresh messages every year since we get older every year. The life of Mahatma Gandhi is a case study on life and living. Here was a man who took up a single cause in his life and gave up his life for that cause. This single pointed effort with extreme conviction in the action is what gave him the strength to stand up against all odds till the goal was reached.

I still watch Gandhi every year as the movie continues to get screened on some channel or the other. And to my utter amazement every year a fresh message triggers in my head. But among many things that I admire of this great man who walked the same land as we do, is his audacity to court truth and actually live it. ‘My Experiments with Truth’ is a brilliant view of how true he was to truth itself. Every page in the book has lessons that can be culled out. A simple example is his reading of ‘Gita’ every time he had confusions in life. Do you have a scripture that you have identified for yourself to seek clarity during difficult situations in life? Nobody said ‘Gita’ is the only book we must use, but we need something to be grounded. Gandhi found the ‘Gita’ – how about you? Find one for yourself.

I hope we spend a little time this Gandhi Jayanti and reflect on what ‘independence’ really means. The forefathers of this nation have sacrificed a lot for giving us this wonderful gift. If we understand and value it, we will understand the responsibility that comes with it. Gandhi’s life and his autobiography is just a reminder to us about this inherent truth. Watch the movie, read a few pages of his book and experience the power of ‘ahimsa’ and ‘truth’!

I cannot forget the widely quoted words about Gandhi attributed to Albert Einstein – “Generations to come, it may well be, will scarce believe that such a man as this one ever in flesh and blood walked upon this Earth.”