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The rise of the machines

Monitor News Bureau

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Those who grew up watching the cartoon series The Jetsons will remember a world – albeit fictional – of personal flying vehicles, robot housemaids, videophones, robot vacuums, entertainment watches, tanning beds, flat screen TVs and tablets. Something about this world was exciting, tickling the inner child in us – the part of us eager to part ways with the business-as-usual hum of quotidian reality while seeking immersion in alternative, weirder worlds.
But, in truth, we are almost already living in a Jetsons-type world. You’re probably reading this article on your smart device. Imagine going back a few decades and pulling up a news article on a wireless device before a random crowd of people. Think of the looks on their faces, as you magically (over-the-air) retrieve information of choice from an invisible data-hosting ‘cloud’.
And this is only a fraction of what technology allows us to do today. Strap on a HoloLens and allow yourself to interface with augmented reality, where 3D pop-up images impressively overlay base reality itself. Better yet, get inside a VR headset and transport yourself into virtual worlds for full 3D immersion. Add real-time haptic feedback and more advanced graphics and the simulated reality becomes nearly indistinguishable from base reality. Then there is holoportation, which has already been trialled successfully, that will allow your physical avatar to appear anywhere in space as a hologram. Imagine, your hologram wandering a few centuries ago through a random countryside, accosting unsuspecting folks along the way. Those rustic dwellers could be forgiven for falling to the ground, genuflecting before your avatar in full worship upon this eerie confrontation.
And right around the corner, we have autonomous self-driving cars – cars that require no human agency at the wheels. The technology is already there – Tesla and Google having already trialled it. It’s now a matter of state regulations coming together given that this new technology is guaranteed to upset many established industries. More interestingly, engineers and designers now have to think of corner cases in morality to equip these autonomous cars with appropriate decision-making abilities on the road. Let’s assume that the car is about to collide with a crowd of children, will it save them at the risk of the passenger inside? Value judgements of this sort, which are often left to the grey spaces of thought experiments in philosophy classes, will suddenly require consensus and codification.
But worldviews will clash more radically once artificial intelligence (AI) becomes fully emergent. This is one domain that doesn’t survive any attempt at reaching a common consensus. This is not surprising, considering what we have at stake is the civilisation-integrity of our species as we know it. Sounds far-fetched? Not quite. Just think about this: intelligence is the function of information-processing in a physical system. There is nothing in our brain tissue that renders intelligence a unique property of the brain or a property that cannot be instantiated in silicon systems. And we know computers today can perform operations a million times faster than the human brain.
The moment we transcend narrow AI (functional intelligence) to general intelligence, these ‘intelligent’ machines will achieve thousand years of human level intellectual work in a matter of days, if not hours. That’s just simple math. How long before these machines build their own AI, which recursively builds its own AI and so on? At this point, we will confront what Nick Bostrom refers to as an ‘intelligence explosion’. AI-powered technology will likely get away from us real fast. And if we stand in relation to this super-intelligence in the same way bacterial microbes stand in relation to us, then what use could we possibly serve it? Or will our species be merely rendered surplus to requirements? Whatever the case, this doesn’t appear to be the image of a humanoid Eden.
Elon Musk, on the other hand, views the emergence of AI as a synergistic man-machine future. The idea is that neuronal interfaces between brain and machine will turn us into cyborgs and lavish us with machine level capabilities. Technologist Ray Kurzweil takes a step further and envisions a state of immortality, with our consciousness uploaded on the cloud. A smart man no doubt, Kurzweil seems overly ambitious in claiming that the singularity is very near, probably within our lifetimes. Consciousness, after all, remains a hard problem in philosophy.
We don’t quite understand why we have it and how it emerged so instantiating it in the cloud remains an elusive proposition. But the fact that achieving singularity is at all a prospect on the event horizon of our species should give us pause. It also begs an interesting question: once AI achieves general intelligence, could it be said to be conscious? This will depend, in part, on how we define consciousness. Suffice it to say that the emergence of general intelligence might deliver some valuable insights into deeper philosophical questions around consciousness and the existence (if any) of the soul, etc.
But even if this AI were to evolve as some benign genie in our hands, there is still the implication that it will be the ultimate labour-saving device – it will eat away all our jobs. This is already beginning to happen across industries. Intelligent machine-learning algorithms are automating manual tasks. What’s more, predictive analytics and AI will ultimately replace higher cognitive tasks as well. If today AI can beat the smartest chess player in the world, who is to say it won’t beat your smartest CEO at corporate strategy many times over?
And if AI does end up swallowing up human labour as we know it, how do we deal with a planet with hundred-percent unemployment? Some suggest a universal basic income as a global panacea. But let’s think about this: every new-born in this world of universal income will come as an additional tax on society. Unless the AI genie manages to create an infinite abundance out of scarcity, even the slightest population increase will carry strong disincentives. Is this the world we want to live in? But as Elon Musk would say, we’ll have colonised planetary systems by then.
The possibilities are clearly limitless. What we can be assured of is that as technology advances, it will steadily encroach upon our established ways of operating in this world, until it wholly disfigures our known landscape. And this is the danger that we must confront. Imagine a note arriving to us from extra-terrestrial aliens, with the following message: We will arrive in a hundred years. Be ready.
Who is to say runaway super-intelligence will be any different from an alien. Are we, then, ready for it? The world of The Jetsons seemed merry enough. However, reality might be less mirthful.


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Opinion

SRO 202 against the basic rights of employees

Monitor News Bureau

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By Bhat Zaieem

The youth of J&K have consistently raised the voices against the anti-youth job policy in vogue for the last four years. But it seems, no one in the administration is bothered to even listen to their genuine concern. The youth of J&K have always suffered due to the absurd and unjustifiable policies of J&K government. A similar iniquitous policy was framed in June 2015 by then PDP-BJP Government which has adversely affected the dignity, honour and social setup of employees recruited under it. SRO 202 is a gross injustice to employees who are facing the brunt of such policies while government has absolutely no satisfactory reason to issue such orders.

The scene of the policy is that a candidate selected for a government service will get only basic pay for the first five years of his or her service. They will be devoid of their right of getting different allowances during this period. Also, they will not be entitled to New Pension Scheme (NPS) benefits for the timeframe.

 

It is most unfortunate that the youth who have doctorate, post graduate and professional degrees are petted against such policies as a reward to the hard work of their academic career spanning over 20 years. Such employees get selected through JKPSC and JKSSB where the the success rate is just 2-5%.

Making the policy selective for non-gazetted cadre posts and certain gazetted posts shows its unequal behaviour, absurdness and nonsensicalness. Some government institutes like Jammu & Kashmir High Court, Kashmir University are not enforcing any rule of the SRO 202. There is no uniformity at all. But irony is that rich are made richer and poor poorer. They just doubled the salary of MLAs at the same time to ensure maximum turnout for themselves and leaving the issue of working staff brooding over the shelf.

Leaving the efficient youth in trouble for their sake is no less than a turmoil. And I remember when the candidates would frequently pressurise the government to scrap the policy, they would utterly eulogise that it was meant to curb the financial crunch in J&K and where not you already acknowledged with the terms and conditions of your job. Such imprudent and hypocritical character of policy makers was always disheartening besides taking  off their belief on democratic institutions.

The policy has inflicted vigour of corruption and nepotism in the minds of new employees. The mark of disloyalty with their service will touch new heights and they do have a solid reason for it and that is ignorance of the government. When they are not treated with equal pay as their old counterparts, the have started the other mediums of earning on the same table. ‘Right to Equality’ has been shattered deeply. The Supreme Court judgment ‘Equal Pay for Equal Work’ has been rendered meaningless with negligible application here. In short this policy has been a bruise over the policies of the governance. Moreover, according to the rules of this ordinance any recruitment made under it must be completed within a period of three months and appointment order to be issued within 15 days from the date of issuance of selection list. The government posts are supposed to be filled on fast-track basis. But they failed here too as almost all the selections done under this policy took more than one and half years on average to complete and appointment orders also were issued accordingly with same sluggish speed and took two to three months for formal appointment orders for all the advertisements.

Coming to the financial burden, it is very meagre almost negligible with respect to total financial implications of J&K. Till now merely ten thousand appointments have been made under this policy. With implementation of seventh pay commission, the difference in salary between SRO 202 employees and their Non SRO 202 counterparts has been severely reduced and is ranging between four thousand and six thousand. So increasing these few thousand rupees for some ten thousand employees has very less financial implications for the government.

The government must come to the rescue of the career of faithful and hardworking employees and the removal of this policy is the only way out. Both students and impacted employees expect that Lieutenant Governor GC Murmu who is talking much of corruption, transparency and equal opportunities for all will come to their rescue.

The author is a teacher in Department of Education and can be reached at [email protected]

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Opinion

Let education be never hampered

Monitor News Bureau

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By Abid Hussain Rather

As it is said education leads us from darkness to light and nowadays right to elementary education is fundamental right of every human being. Educational standard of a nation depicts its developmental level. When we have a look at the history we see that only those civilizations were able to progress where knowledge was given first priority and those civilizations where other things dominated to knowledge vanished within the corridors of time. It is the education which moulds the behavior of man, the social animal and makes him superior to the other creatures in the universe. It is said that educational institutes are more sacred to religious places because these educational institutes lead us to the religious places and teach us how to pray. If a nation wants to develop and progress it should always try to create and maintain an atmosphere which is most conducive for education and education system should always be given the first priority. Educational processes and educational institutes should be spared and always kept away from the dirty games of politics and other likely things.

Our valley, though famously known as paradise on earth, has always seen political and climatic instability which have turned this paradise into hell and made the lives of people miserable here. Keeping the climatic instability aside which is natural in cause and on which we human beings have no control, the political instability in Kashmir is now a big name world over. Whatever the reasons for this instability may be, undoubtedly it has hit each and every corner of our life and spared no one. Whether it may be socio-cultural, economic, or any other sector, this political trauma has caused big losses in every sector of the valley. Among all it is the educational sector which has been most affected by the political instability of the valley.  We can somehow repair the economic losses caused due to the unstable conditions of the valley. We can put our extra efforts and can work in off times to repair the loss.  But we can’t regain the losses to the education system, because a student can’t regain his academic year. Career building of our youth is a pre planned process in which each and everyday counts. Closing of educational institutions for one day means too much which can be understood only by  developed nations. But here in our valley due to bandhs and curfews, our schools and colleges remain closed for months, and we and our government seem to be least concerned about this matter. Looking at the past many years, we can aptly say that these uprisings occur concurrently at the peak academic session of the year and our educational institutes remain closed for months, which adversely affect the studies. It is not wrong to say that now our educational institutes have just become examination conducting centres without any teaching-learning process and students are just promoted to next classes with zero quality. Sometimes the political atmosphere of the valley becomes so unfavourable that conducting of classwork becomes a day dream for months and even conducting of the annual examinations becomes hard and impossible. In such situations most of the academic courses in the valley become time consuming and causes mental stress on our young generation.

 

Last year after the abrogation of Article 35A on August 5, the whole valley was put under siege, curfew was imposed in the valley for a long period and along with other government offices all the educational institutes remained close for many months. Though the whole valley became standstill and the normal life became paralysed, I think it was the education system which suffered the most. Though it was ‘Kashmir bandh’ for months, shopkeepers used to keep their shops open in the early morning hours and in the late evening hours.  No doubt their business was affected, but they somehow compensated it. Some of the shopkeepers misused the abnormal situation of the valley and sold their goods at higher rates as in some regions of the valley rice was sold at the rate of Rs. 3500 per quintal by private dealers which was earlier sold below Rs 2500. Government employees got their salaries without attending their duties as their offices remains closed. Even though some employees used to attend offices, it was only for the purpose of marking their attendance. It wouldn’t be wrong to say that even some people enjoyed this unstable situation of the valley. Though all the sectors suffered partially, it was the student community which suffered the most. They couldn’t attend even a single class for months and their loss was the biggest. They became wanderers of the valley. Funniest thing to see was that at the end of the session the students in lower classes were provided with question papers and were asked to solve them at home and then bring them back to school in order to get promoted to next classes. It was beyond the understanding of common masses what was the fun of all that process.

Currently we are unable to understand the loss which our education system suffers from the political unrest in our valley. Its jolts will be felt in the near future when our nation will have only quantitative literates but without quality. Then there will be no way to repair the damage. It is high time for all of us to understand this grave issue. We should try our best to create a favourable atmosphere for education in our valley and as far as possible we should try to spare our educational institutes from this political instability. Our young generation has enough potential to be our future scholars, doctors, engineers and scientists. This potential shouldn’t be marred by political unrest of the valley rather it should be sculpted in best possible way by our educational institutes for the betterment of our nation.

(The author teaches Geography at GDC, Kulgam. He can be reached at [email protected])

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Opinion

Understanding Drug Addiction

Monitor News Bureau

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By Faizaan Bashir

The need of the hour is to understand what drives youth to drugs. Understanding and avoiding the reasons is far crucial than treating the actual addiction.

“There was a time when ‘divine signs’ were seen in children, but now, it’s like a complete obverse of it,” whimpered a very old, frizzled and pale man in a tone of despair. Watching through the window, the man enjoined upon me for having a disheartening view of two of his younger children puffing weed. So much so, their style of talking and bodily movements would quiver with each passing second. Wherefore, I was able to squueze out the memories of my teen when I too had grown the victim of these life-abrading habits. The clutches of this trap, as far as I could remember, had gripped me to the hilt. None could prevent me from doing so – almost none. It was as if the permanent seal of drugs had been tacked to my heart and mind. For the most part, a person is tend to ‘considerably’ think about crucial and critical aspects of life, but the whole self of mine was in a state of utter freeze just by its disgrace & medically proven-pernicious effects.

 

Anyway, it’s sure, many questions must be doing rounds inside your mind, and it should be so: What is it that drives a normal being into these destructive physical activities? Why is it that these life-hollowing drugs the more a man becomes addictive to, wouldn’t probably do away from us? Even after, having felt its repurcusions, why is not he able to take control over himself, or left himself uttering “I were to have stopped it that time and this time while dying in self-pity!?” Or is there some kind of mystery that lies with the drug-ridden? The answer to all these hardly-contemplated-over-questions is that: of all the drug-addicts, more than 70 percent of its populace have already been suffering from depression, stress, anxiety and many other psychological disorders that seem too difficult to put up with. So, in order to give to the mind a ceaseless rush of dopamine, a chemical in our brain responsible for mood boosting- or giving a temporary feeling of relief, consuming drugs becomes the fitting choice.

There are different drugs available to be sold and each of them has its own features. The way cannabis can give momentary a sigh of relief, couldn’t probably cigarettes do and the continuous cycle of consuming one over other becomes the nasty priority! Drugs are the cruelest killers disguising as relief and mood boosters. A sign of stress is indicative of mind demanding something to get the relaxation from; and here the depressed folk becomes an easy prey to drugs – finding it as swifter working alternative than anything else could be doing! When a man has a huge stress over something, to put in this way, he is bound to consuming the substance having mammoth influential features. So that, the temporary relief from the mess could be achieved; but, that is where a man starts to grow addictive.

Drugs, cruelest killers, have a plethora of dreadful effects on our lives. It’s been found that taking drugs reduces oxygen level in our viens, therby affecting our heart. Others (experts in morphology) would say that it alters the inner structure of mind, thus giving rise to to the life-snatching pshychological disorders – and then one grows paranoid. Many fears take up his mind and tend to neglect the society. She becomes socially bereft! Some would even – for the inability in dealing with people – consume drugs thereof in secret. Substatial number of them are seeing no way to reclaim their lives, thus adding only to the woes and life becoming sheer predicament.

Having refrained from taking these silent killers, I can say that those that are used to devouring or snuffing or whatever ways they take them in should at least check the status of thier lives. They should ask themselves what is it that prompts them to become the easy victim of drugs. Anaylysing the root causes would do plenty in helping one recover from the predicament. If there is any kind of stress or depression or strain, as the major causes remain so at most of the times, despite the fact we don’t comprehend it at the moment, self-control, meditation etc should be considered, wholeheartedly, instead; or even if one is most glued with these drugs, reduce the quantity of it each time. Wait for the due course. Rise to the occasion and stay away from these killing stuff.

It is noteworthy to mention that those who, fortunately, have not become the victim of these killers, must pay no heed to it ever, for once it has been consumed, one fails to understand what to do and what not. The need of the hour is to aware the unawares regarding the downsides – trap – of taking drugs. We must impart in our education sysyem the whole conept of drugs as to how it affects the health and pshychology; and, most importantly, how to waive off our uneasiness at times by mental excersises to keep us calm, secured from the lure of drugs.

There is an urgent need to start a campaign, protest against those dealers and smugglars who dispose of different kinds of drugs whether in manifest or secret to the mentally disturbed victims. The adminstration ought to put more effors in busting such elements. At the same time, instead of penalizing the drug takers, they should be given counselling sessions to squeeze out the things that prompt them to take these drugs. Furthermore, parents must keep a vigil eye on thier children: from where they are coming, who are they friends with, why are they coming late, what has been done to the pocket-money are the questions which every parent must pose on their children. Talking freely with your children is an another thing which is needed to reduce any strain taking up their minds.

We will have to do these things for the sake of our people in general. Our children, who are our future generations, in particular. 

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