Archive for July, 2012

Question 5: New Fonts (4)

July 25, 2012

Can we invent an Indian font? I don’t mean a font created for Indian scripts, but a font for English, i.e., the Latin script, that is strongly Indian. Like Helvetica for the Swiss. Or American Typewriter for the Americans. It seems that Satyajit Ray did play around with fonts but none of them are really Indian.

Question 4: Outsourcing Evolution (7)

July 24, 2012

This is a question for the biologists. Now that we are learning more about the microbiome and the intimate relation between bacterial species and humans (and presumably other animals as well), I am wondering if the gap between the colonizer and the colonized is even smaller than imagined.

For example, can the host use its microbiome to outsource its own evolution? In other words, can I use my microbiome as a fast and safe sandbox for natural selection, and then import better genetic material once it has been tested? How would one model and test this hypothesis?

Buy me some love

July 18, 2012

Question 3: Dimensional Analysis (7)

July 15, 2012

In physics and also in biology, dimensional analysis can help the scientist achieve qualitative understanding without detailed calculations. One of the chief impediments to studying complex systems like cells and cities is that we have no clue as to what the dimensions are. For example, in order to characterise a city, should:

  • Inflows of people and goods be along the same dimension or separate dimensions?
  • All energy sources be clubbed into one dimension?

Any rational analysis of a complex system has to start with identifying the relevant dimensions. Given a system S, what is the procedure for identifying its relevant dimensions? 


July 15, 2012

Organisms have to eat to survive; they need useful energy to maintain their activity. Starting with Maxwell’s demon, we know that information can be used to turn energy into work. The demon plays the role of a gatekeeper, letting in desirable elements and keeping undesirable elements away.

For a living organism, information isn’t enough: the information must come with a stable, identifiable value. Prey must be labeled as prey and predator must be labeled as predator. To put it another way, the demon must know what is desirable before he can play the bouncer’s role.

Desirability and value are cognitive in nature even when done by bacteria. All living beings are demon’s; they have to know what to ingest and what not do. What they ingest can be food or genetic material. There are several ways to design the perception of value: one can invest in sensors or let random mutation take its course, but however one does it, there is an invariant link between survival and the cognizance of value.

A borganism is any living being that is also a cognitive creature. Our hypothesis is that all living beings are borganisms. If so, our studies of cognition should start with the simplest organisms such as bacteria, where studies can be carried in a dish and hypotheses tested and rejected quickly and then move to more complex creatures and eventually studying humans, which will invert the usual study of the mind, which is focused on the nervous systems of complex creatures.

The Desi Turing Test (7)

July 12, 2012

Can we create an AI program that will top the IIT-JEE?

Question 1: Sensing the City (21)

July 9, 2012

What will take to sense and store all the variables that determine the dynamics of a large city? A list that includes:

  1. Migration, both in and out.
  2. Material inflows and outflows – food, industrial production, construction materials everything
  3. Pollution, solid waste, effluents and other byproducts of human activity.
  4. Health, education, livelihood statistics.

and so on. In other words, what will it take to convert a city into a fully sensible organism?

What is 42?

July 8, 2012

More here.

For a long time, I have been thinking that in the age of large scale human networks with its tremendous potential for aggregating distributed expertise, it is perhaps even more important to ask the right questions than it is to answer questions once posed. I am also aware of my limited knowledge; unlike Douglas Adam’s infamous computer I can’t compress the universe into a single number. He who can’t answer must question instead. My goal is to ask questions on a 42 point (nonlinear!) scale:

  • 1 = Obvious, like trying to remember where you left your coffee.
  • 2 = Takes a little more effort; a crossword puzzle.
  • 3= Term paper.
  • 4 = Getting serious now; a master’s thesis.
  • 7 = PhD thesis.
  • 14 = Life’s work.
  • 21 = The work of an entire community.
  • 42 = All of human knowledge

These signposts are all calibrated to academic achievements, but you get the point.

The first (21 point) question is now posted here. I plan on posting a new question (with its associated q number, 1<= q <= 42) every week if I am lucky and no less than once a month.. The questions will also be cross posted here and on several other networks.

If you have a question that you want to throw into the pool, just submit it on the site or here.

This blog itself is the best place to respond to the questions. Every so often, I will aggregate the responses; if the experiment goes well, it might even be worth building an aggregation platform for that purpose, like stackexchange or mathoverflow, only more interesting 🙂

The purpose of this project is to see if we can aggregate our wisdom in interesting ways. If nothing else, it will be fun to collect a bunch of interesting questions and if it works, who knows?

PS: Why 42?