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. Udai Pareek Memorial Day 2016

Last Saturday, 23rd January 2016, I attended a panel discussion held at The Academy of Human Resources Development (AHRD), Ahmedabad. (http://www.academyofhrd.org/index.php) The celebration of the evening was in memory of the late Dr Udai Pareek who is widely known as the ‘Father of HRD in India’. Prof Pestonjee (co-founder of AHRD) and Major General Sanjiv Shukla were amongst the many esteemed guests present in the audience. Prof Pestonjee’s shared his memories of having worked with Dr Udai Pareek. Though Dr Pareek was not new to most of the audience, many aspects of his life and work was seen in fresh light. This is the true reflection of an intellectual’s life. True to his wish ‘Don’t mourn my death, celebrate it’, every speaker spoke of how one can live this philosophy. It was touching to hear the humility with which such a luminary Dr Pareek actually lived his life.

The panelists included a good mix of academia (Prof Khokle and Prof Singh) and industry (Shri Goswami, Shri Sharma, Shri Nair). Dr Rajeshwari Narendran (Director, AHRD) moderated the session in her trademark style which ensured the audience were treated to some of the best emerging ideas on human resource development. She involved the audience actively to bring out variety and depth to the conversation. At times I felt that I was part of a very large group discussion with an amazing moderator. The program ended with lighter chat over a tasty dinner. I (along with my friends) enjoyed the evening and had much to talk on our way back.

The discussions revolved around the challenges faced by HR today and the potential future that it is creating for itself. It was interesting to watch how candid conversations were had over tough questions. The discussions touched almost every aspect of HR and brought out how HR had to change in today’s knowledge driven society. Some of the key questions which I carried away that may be of interest to either a forward looking HR practitioner or an inquisitive HR researcher:

  • Is HR a department or a service?
  • Should HR get a seat on the board and be involved in business decisions?
  • How can we make India the HR Hub of the world?
  • Establishing why HR is needed in an organisation?
  • HR should go beyond employees – how?
  • Should companies do away with the Bell Curve?
  • How should performance management systems of the future look?
  • How should HR engage with employees?
  • How should analytics be used in HR and by HR professionals?
  • How should employees be inspired beyond rewards and recognition?
  • Is there a functional arrogance amongst HR professionals? How is it affecting practice?
  • How should the concept of co-creation be implemented in HR practice?
  • How should HR be structured and made available amongst Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises?
  • Should HR be transferred back to the line manager?
  • How should HR handle exceptions?

I am sure everyone in audience left with a unique set of questions. These (stated above) are few of mine.

During the deliberations various academic publications were referred to and number of organisational examples cited. Major General Shukla ended the formal discussions by raising some interesting questions and providing potential projects for HR enthusiasts.

In a technology driven society wherein knowledge workers are on the rise, the HR function has both a plethora of challenges and opportunities. With the growing thrust on startups in India, the role of HR in its truest sense and spirit has only got to get more essential and important. As an entrepreneurship researcher, educator and advisor, I came away feeling high from the intellectually stimulating evening.

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.

He did it, but that’s not the point

He did it (https://rajshankar.wordpress.com/2015/12/20/crowd-funding-my-way-to-jagriti-yatra-2015/) but that’s not the point.

This boy fought his internal inhibitors and took action. He is now on his dream tour across India. I am sure he will come back transformed and inspired. But that’s really not the point.

The point is:

  • he realised that our biggest enemy is inside us
  • he realised that taking action only moves us forward
  • he realised that there are a lot of good people in the world
  • he realised that there is nothing wrong is experimenting
  • he realised that it takes a lot of courage to take action

I have seen a number of my students turn entrepreneurs (some very successful and some very popular). But this incident with Saurabh taught me that so many of us have to break out of our self-made assumptions about how the world works, our self-made assumptions about what we must and must not do and our self-made limitations on ourselves. It is this victory that is important to achieve. Over time he will realise that it is not going on the Yatra that was important (not less important anyways), but the confidence and courage to experiment that he has gained which is more critical.

He has done it, will you?

366 Days of 2016 – Make them Count

Seasons Greetings and Happy New Year 2016 (once again).

It is not unusual to see another ‘leap year’. The beauty is that there is one extra day (29 Feb).

Don’t spend it just counting an extra day. Make it count. It is a blessing to be alive and receive another year (especially one with an extra day), don’t waste it living someone’s else life. Live your dreams, your passion, every day of the year. Make sure you do something worthwhile with all that nature has showered on you. Remember there are many who are not this blessed.

So, my message for the year is “Do not count your days, make them count.”

Best wishes for an entrepreneurial life

Happy Children’s Day 2015

Factual Details: 14th November every year is celebrated as Children’s Day in India. It is because 14th November is the birthday of India’s First Prime Minister – Jawaharlal Nehru. He loved children and insisted that they be given love and affection, because they were the future of his beloved motherland.

But what we miss is that there is a child inside every one of us. And it is the grown-up in us who stops the child inside us from manifestation. While all of this may seem abstract and philosophical, ask anyone who is towards the end of their life and he or she is bound to speak about the innumerable things they wanted to do, but never did. Why? Because they let the grown-up voice in them get the better of themselves.

The only way to truly live life is to live like a child, with that childlike attitude. It is a life of curiosity, joy, experimentation, and fun. A life without inhibitions, without prejudice, without fear of failure and without a need to comply to others beliefs. I strive hard as a teacher to embed this lesson into every class I teach and at every level. Let us allow the child in us to live all through life.

Happy Children’s Day!

India’s Demographic ____________ (what)?

Indians have a fascination for records. We seem to do anything to become record holders! Let me not say more. But last week there was news that we have created a record which is very difficult to beat – Only 1 in every 6250 can get to be a peon!

23 Lakh young (mostly) Indians applied for 368 ‘peon’ positions in a state government. Representative News Link: http://www.business-standard.com/article/current-affairs/255-phd-holders-among-23-lakh-lining-for-peon-s-job-in-up-115091600880_1.html (So many newspapers and periodicals have news items on this). Please read.

RECORD: 6250 applicants for every peon position. This includes graduates, post graduates and PhD holders! Embarrassing?

Why is this happening in India? Why is everyone blaming everyone else? Whose job is it to create jobs? I’m surprised we still think the Government can create all the jobs! If we don’t allow our industries to grow, there are never going to be enough jobs ever. I will be surprised if the common man does not understand this.

We keep hearing “Demographic Dividend” – I hope this above record provides a clarion call to everyone in this Nation that if we do not do something about the youth, there is going to be chaos and social instability. We will become a sick society and this so called “Demographic Dividend” will turn into “Demographic Liability”. So if we have to do something about this, at least two things come to my mind:

A) Make it easier for entrepreneurship

We have been doing pretty badly in most world ranking with regards to doing business. Be it the ‘Doing Business’ reports or the ‘World Innovation’ rankings or any ranking. While Indians do very well as entrepreneurs and intrapreneurs outside the country, why are they not able to perform within the boundaries of our nation? Lets do something about it.

We need more entrepreneurs. We need more of our youth turning into job creators. Even if they provide employment for 10 people each I think they need to be celebrated, because there will be trickling down of wealth. Lets make it easier to be entrepreneurs in this country.

B) Make education more responsible

While many people are not even getting educated, the ones who do, are not learning much as they pass through the education system. Our Universities and Institutions are slowly becoming ‘degree-holder’ manufacturers. Our universities themselves need entrepreneurship. They need innovation. They need entrepreneurial academics. Lets become them if we can, else move aside and let the ones who can do it, do it.

The time has come to make education responsible. People need to be told that if they cannot display certain basic skills they will not get their degrees. They must be encouraged to experiment. They must be encouraged to become entrepreneurs. Teachers must inspire innovative ideas and initiatives and not kill them as they arise. This is not just the responsibility of the student alone, but the teacher, the administrators, the policy makers, the politicians and the entire ecosystem.

There is need for entrepreneurship in every sphere of Indian society. Be it the Government, the University, the Professions, etc. Lets breed entrepreneurship. As a teacher I encourage every student I meet to try their hands at entrepreneurship. I am happy some of my students have turned entrepreneurs and created jobs.

Think how you can encourage entrepreneurship in your role (parent, teacher, boss, policy maker, administrator, etc). Do whatever it takes!

Only ideas have changed the world. What is your idea? Make it see the light of day. Change the world.

A small wee bit!