Thursday, May 31, 2007

Grand Myth of Indian Inequality...Or is it not?

This is really good edit in Times of India today. It is bang on target. Read it -
...It brings up questions of inequality and class envy — notwithstanding that India's score on the Gini coefficient, the measure used by economists for inequality, stands at a moderate 0.33. It's far more egalitarian than comparable economies in BRIC — Russia scores 0.40, China 0.45, and Brazil is off the charts at 0.54.
India does well even by the standards of developed economies, scoring the same as Canada and Belgium and better than the United States (0.41). Looked at in this frame inequality is not India's most pressing problem, poverty indubitably scores higher...
The moment the economy does well, it becomes incumbent on every one of us to develop a bad conscience. Which is why the prime minister who, in his capacity as finance minister in a previous government had launched India's economic reforms, succumbed to the established political wisdom of the day and called for capping CEO salaries to stop the poor from being discontented. The hackneyed ideology of trusteeship evidently dies hard — poverty is a constant, but the rich can help by hiding their riches better...
Inequality could be the hallmark of dynamic societies undergoing rapid economic growth, but that's better than wallowing in the stagnation of universal poverty. We celebrate our IITs, yet see merit as an elitist principle. Rather than obsess about inequality of outcomes India would do better if it focused, instead, on opportunity. Every Indian should have the means to fulfil her aspirations. Rather than pushing for reservations at higher levels, it's much better to provide universal access to infrastructure and education...
...China is more unequal than India, but far more successful in addressing poverty than India...

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Mobile Talktime Currency

At first, the transactions seemed fairly straightforward. “Instead of purchasing a voucher or scratchcard, people would purchase airtime using their phones. They would also, we discovered, trade airtime amongst themselves where, for example, someone with airtime worth 500 Naira sells airtime worth 200 Naira on to the next person in exchange for hard currency. The seller’s balance of airtime would be reduced by 200 Naira.” -

According to Gartner, developing nations are adopting innovation and technology faster than mature markets for three main reasons.

Firstly, emerging markets have fewer legacies enabling them to leapfrog technology and commercialise it faster, making them ideal test beds.

Secondly, in highly-constrained environments, which might include poor infrastructure and low affordability, there is an acute need for products that can serve the local market better, rather than products designed for the developed world.

As an example, Gartner said mobile phones which require less power and have built-in connectivity are more suitable for emerging markets than PCs. They are also cheaper than PCs and more adaptable to the emerging market environment.

Gartner predicts that mobile phones will outnumber PCs by a factor of 15:1 in developing markets by 2010.

"Thirdly, emerging countries such as China and India have the ambition to lead the IT industry in the global market, and innovation is their only way to compete globally", it said. - ET

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Intelligently Artificial - Shape of the Future

Sometimes you come across something intellectually refreshing and fulfilling. Palo Alto based Singularity Institute of Artificial Intelligence [SIAI] which is at the forefront of expanding our limits of ignorance about Intelligence has started its own blog. Look what SIAI has to say about its mission - "In the coming decades, humanity will likely create a powerful AI. SIAI exists to confront this urgent challenge, both the opportunity and the risk. SIAI is fostering research, education, and outreach to increase the likelihood that the vast promise of AI is realized for the benefit of everyone." Read this post on SIAI blog named '5-min Singularity Intro' -

Sometime in the next few decades, we’ll start developing technologies that improve on human intelligence. We’ll hack the brain, or interface the brain to computers, or finally crack the problem of Artificial Intelligence. Now, this is not just a pleasant futuristic speculation like soldiers with super-strong bionic arms. Humanity did not rise to prominence on Earth by lifting heavier weights than other species.

Intelligence is the source of technology. If we can use technology to improve intelligence, that closes the loop and potentially creates a positive feedback cycle. Let’s say we invent brain-computer interfaces that substantially improve human intelligence. What might these augmented humans do with their improved intelligence? Well, among other things, they’ll probably design the next generation of brain-computer interfaces. And then, being even smarter, the next generation can do an even better job of designing the third generation. This hypothetical positive feedback cycle was pointed out in the 1960s by I. J. Good, a famous statistician, who called it the “intelligence explosion”. The purest case of an intelligence explosion would be an Artificial Intelligence rewriting its own source code.
The key idea is that if you can improve intelligence even a little, the process accelerates. It’s a tipping point. Like trying to balance a pen on one end - as soon as it tilts even a little, it quickly falls the rest of the way.

The potential impact on our world is enormous. Intelligence is the source of all our technology from agriculture to nuclear weapons. All of that was produced as a side effect of the last great jump in intelligence, the one that took place tens of thousands of years ago with the rise of humanity.

By the way, I also love the term Singularity. Singularities are of various types. I think SIAI takes it as a Technological Singularity, which denotes a point of 'next leap' of a scientific civilization.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Palmistry Anyone?

Here is an interesting piece of research which throws some light on relative lengths of Index and Ring fingers and its implications.
Finger Length Predicts Aggression in Men
The research, done at the University of Alberta and announced Wednesday, found a connection between the length of the male index finger relative to the ring finger and the tendency to be aggressive. No such connection was found in women. Scientists have known for more than a century that the finger-length ratio differs between men and women. Recently, scientists found a connection between finger lengths and the amount of testosterone that a fetus was exposed to in the womb: the shorter the index finger relative to the ring finger, the higher the amount of prenatal testosterone.The new study found such a fetus is more likely to be a physically aggressive adult, according to Peter Hurd and his graduate student Allison Bailey.

Interestingly, I found that the traditional sciences of palmistry have exactly opposite to say. Read a piece here, which says it is a long index finger which makes you dictating and authoritative.

More about scientific explanations about relative lengths of Index and Ring fingers, here.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Update: Villages or Cities

After I wrote the post 'Villages or Cities', I mailed the abstract to Atanu Dey for his reaction. He was kind enough to post a prompt reply to me. He wrote - "...For all I care, India can continue to live in villages and be -- as reality dictates -- be dirt poor. It's a choice we make -- to be poor and underdeveloped. In fact, it can be argued that village life for some is so unbearable that they prefer to live in urban slums -- these are hellholes but still people vote with their feet and live in slums over the life in villages." He has elaborated his views on Urbanisation on his blog 'Atanu Dey On India's Development'. No one can debate his commitment towards India's development and he has his reasons, when he asks, 'Can India Afford Its Villages?'
The main issue here is Development of India, her people. When we say 'development' in context of India, we can't just bypass her villages where almost 72% of people live [Census 2001]. There can be a lot of ways as to how we can achieve status of a developed country. Atanu suggests one of them.
His formula is something like this - The cure for under-development is Urbanisation. Thus, what we should do is, urbanise the village population (not village 'areas', he says). This is not PURA [Provision of Urban Amenities in Rural Areas], when he says 'urbanise', he means 'cities' (areas not people). He wants 600 NEW city centres which will accommodate 1 million people each. Thus there won't be any villages in India. There will be vibrant cities which will provide progress opportunities to the city inhabitants, on the logic of economics of scale.

When I say the strategy proposed by Atanu is flawed, the reasons are -
  • His solution is simplistic and rationalistic. Remember Muhammad Bin Tughalaq, who thought that Deogiri in Southern India will better serve as the capital of his kingdom. He forcibly moved whole population of Delhi to Deogiri, but had to return to Delhi within 2 years. But on course a large population perished.
  • When all people live in cities, who will farm? Will India import ALL the food she would require? Even if we suppose that some people living in cities will also do farming, this will not work. In my village people prefer to stay on farms in season. The farms are typically at a distance of 5-6 km only. There is logic behind this. You get more time to do the work, thefts are prevented etc. When all people live in villages, the distances they will have to travel to their farms will increase manifold. Why the people who want to do farming would want to go to cities in first place?
  • People want to do farming. That is the reason why farmers are rejecting the offers of money and jobs against their lands. It is not only politics. As I said in the original post, autonomy and ownership matter more than the monetary value of the lands. It is like saying 'Be the king of hell, rather than serving in heaven'. If you do not accept this then you are guilty of a biased view and of looking down to rural people as objects who can be moved at will.
  • When you say that cities are better places to live, you measure happiness from your own city standards. The living conditions in slums in cities are worse than those in villages, though the slum dwellers 'vote with their feet' [I don't know what does this mean]. People who prefer slums to villages are a minute fraction of whole village population. If this were not so, there would already have been 600 slum cities in India, with nobody in villages.
Then what can be the answer?
The only answer is Decentralisation and autonomous villages. Gandhiji's ideal of Self-sufficient villages is better and workable than Utopia of theorists. To make decentralisation and autonomy work, Education is must. What happened to 86th amendment act which made Elementary Education as a fundamental right in Art. 21 (A) of the Indian Constitution?
A decentralisation along with Art 21 (A), and complimented by technology is the answer to many of India's ailments.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Politics For Youth

Why the political parties don't have anything special to offer to the young people? What is true for commerce, is also true for politics. Youth have high adaptability, they have high action power, they are receptive. Should not the politics be a bit younger in offerings as well as in composition?

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Villages or Cities?

I just chanced upon two articles through Rajesh jain's weblog on Emerging Technologies. One of them is in Economist and other one in Mint, an economic daily in India. The article - 'World Goes to Towns' in Economist is a part of their survey on cities, which covers many facets of increasing rate of urbanization. The main argument made in this article is that urbane metroes will be the future and will be the engine of progress for whole modern civilisation. By 2020, 9 cities across the world will touch the figure of almost 20 million inhabitants. In Mint, Atany Dey and Reuben Abraham argue in their article, with similar tones that urbanization is the natural path of human advance and the earlier we get there, better will it be. The name of their article aptly describes this line of thought - 'Can India Afford Its Villages?'
Well. To me this article in Mint looks flawed. The writers say, for example -
Villages are not the proper object of analysis when it comes to economic growth, and hence economic development. By insisting on the development of villages, scarce resources, which could have been more efficiently used elsewhere, are wasted. The same resources can be used in the development of cities. It seems to us that the answer to the development of rural people paradoxically lies in urban development.

The flaw to me here is a visibly rationalistic attitude which treats village as a mere unit in the economy, to which some resources must be allocated and all problems in current societies are merely those of allocation of resources. Look at the Nandigram and Maan /Vagholi SEZ issues that enraged in W. Bengal and Maharashtra. Valuation of a village or land can't be done in monetary terms - a mistake which the economists are doing again and again.
There can't be any debate about the fact that the living conditions of villagers must be improved, but it is not at all convincing that lower living conditions means villages. What about the slums in Mumbai or Delhi then? Those are urbanization minus urbane conditions.
The main question here is not of living conditions off course. The question, as raised by the writers, is of productivity. Productivity and Urbanization are two different things. If we turn all the resources to cities on pretext of low productivity of villages then we will merely force the rural populations to migrate into cities. Even if new city-centers come up to accommodate these immigrants, what about the productivity in farm sector? We would have found no answers to this problem of low agricultural productivity. The results would be completely disastrous for whole economy.
Another curious phenomenon which negates this city-centric resources planning is, that most of the Special Economic Zones come up not on infertile land in some relatively remote places far off from cities. They are, in fact, proposed in close proximity to existing cities only. The logic behind benefit of proximity is clear. There is little infrastructural development in countryside. If we want to develop this infrastructure, again we must shift resources to villages, not cities.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Now, Social Movies!

Why One Minute Movies will matter?
  • Democratic flavor: Everybody can't be Martin Scorcesse or Peter Jackson. But everybody can make a 1-Minute statement. And cameras are dozen a dime now in cellphones, which everybody has.
  • It's simple: Just click and shoot.
  • It's quick: Just click, shoot and save.
  • It's economic: Camera, as an add-on in a cellphone, is free. Unless you sign up Brad Pit for your movie, it will cost nothing.
I wonder how greatly this matters for media and mobile industries...

Read this post on resurrection of One Minute Movies on ajit balakrishnan’s Blog -
"In a move that may have marked the start of a new era, the legendary former Disney CEO Michael Eisner unveiled plans to produce 80 episodes of a serial called “Prom Queen.” This by itself may not have caused a stir except that each episode will be just 90 seconds. “Prom Queen” is a serialized mystery and will begin on April 2nd and roll out over 80 days. It has been billed as 'a blend of love, gossip and betrayal”. The series will run on the studio’s own site, on a show site, on Youtube the popular video sharing site, on Veoh a file sharing site and arrangements are being made to distribute it on wireless and handheld video devices. Ads will run before and after episodes. Eisner also announced this week the formation of a studio, Vuguru, that will acquire and develop short videos for the web.

User created One Minute videos have been around ever since the dramatic drop in price of video cameras. But what makes the Eisner move different is that he plans to have his 1-minute videos “professionally produced”, using top Hollywood talent.

What this will do to the movie industry that has marching towards ever larger production budgets and ever lengthier durations and ever plusher multiplexes is too complicated"

Watch some great 1-Minute Movies here and here.

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Technology Wins With Marketing - Seth Godin

Here is great talk by talk master Seth Godin at Google, where he tells why Marketing is important. Also a great viewing for those who want to know what is a really great presentation?

Saturday, May 5, 2007

Microsoft Marrying Yahoo?

Google has taken two entities head on. On one hand Google challenged Yahoo; firstly on Search front and then on a lot of other fronts. On the other front, there is Microsoft who is threatened by Google's web based office applications. Among these three, only Google seems to be completely belonging in the Web 2.0 eco-system, while Yahoo is the runner-up(mainly due to Flickr) and Microsoft seems to be totally out of sync in the new regime of user-control, mash-ups, communities etc. Further, the lucrative market of mobile search is also a field where Microsoft and Yahoo would have to toil a lot to take on Google.

However, this particular news of tomorrow is only a rumour today. Most of the newspapers have put a question mark in the end of the news. WallStreet Journal has put up a news as
'Microsoft, Yahoo Discussed Deal'
"Microsoft and Yahoo discussed a possible merger or other matchup that would pair their respective strengths, say people familiar with the situation. The merger discussions are no longer active, these people say, but that doesn't preclude the two companies from some other form of cooperation."
Here is a video commentary of one of WSJ analysts on WSJ Online. Watch it here

Thursday, May 3, 2007

How Second Life Is a Disruptive Idea?

What can be a truly disruptive idea? What can be said to take the business one step ahead of the competition? What can be the answers of these questions when they are asked in connection with media business? These are the questions which I ask myself again and again.

I think that in media the business ideas which succeed beyond expectations are those which truly exploit the potential of that particular medium. For example, what is the strength of Internet? Is it the fact that there are lesser or no size limits when compared with print medium, where you have to stuff all the news you have into 16 to 20 pages (in India)? Is it the fact that you can stream videos? According to me, until now Internet had 2 strengths – One, the hyperlinks [which make the Internet infinite, by always giving you some entry points and some exit points]. The other strength which Internet has is its ability of offering interactivity, or a window to react and be creative, for the users. For example, I can easily connect with a friend over content on a website using the same medium. Single medium is used as a content offering tool and at the same time also a tool to interact and communicate, unlike in any other medium except perhaps a mobile.

This takes us to a relationship between type of business idea and the characteristics of the medium. The relationship is –

[Extent of disruption caused by an idea] α [Extent of use of unique strengths of the medium for maximum benefit]

This point gets validated by the disruptive ideas on Internet in recent times. Google [connects you to resources on Web], Wikipedia, Youtube and Flickr [all 3 - window to create something], MySpace [connect with each others] and Amazon / eBay [imitate real life on Internet using interactivity and communication ability].

What will be the biggest disruption on Internet from its inception? I am sure it is going to be Second Life [as an idea. Current Second Life is not at all sophisticated in technology. Perhaps it will be Google’s similar offering that will change the game altogether]. If you look at Second Life, you will find that it has everything that I listed above – communication tool, transaction tool, creativity tool and a lot more than that like it is a real-time MMORPG which will keep you engaged, provide you an earning and also entertain you.

Keep your fingers crossed, because the Virtual World is going to change not only Internet – that will be a minute part. It is going to stir the Human Society to its roots by challenging the existing logic, notions, transactions, inter-relationships and Interactions in ordinary human life in most confounding way.

Wednesday, May 2, 2007

Another World Cup Ends

With obvious result of Australia winning the world cup, 2 disappointments of India and Pakistan who went down in group rounds and a murder of Bob Woolmer, the world cup 2007 is over now.

How you will remember it?
- As a world cup which was extremely boring
- As a world cup where India didn't reach even to second round
- As a world cup where Woolmer was murdered
- As a world cup when one generation of great cricketers like Lara, McGrath, Ponting, Sachin, Inzamam etc. played their last world cup