There are countless ways in which advanced technologies have helped mankind over the years. The current (and future, for sure) rapid pace of technological development, will, no doubt, continue to render advanced capabilities to people, businesses and governments like what we could not have imagined even yesterday.
Technology is almost on a free roll now – nobody can stop its non-stop progress and achievements, and it is the way it should be. The challenge now is adoption and ongoing utilization of technologies – let us not forget the actual fact on the ground that over 3B (yes, billion) people in this planet do not have access to the internet (most of them do not have access to electricity or clean water or sanitation either). There is a lot of work to do before we get everyone in the world connected.
In the meanwhile, the military applications of technology are proceeding at a faster pace, as the world’s super powers race against each other to get the upper hand, which will never be used as there will be no global war between or amongst the super powers due to the possibility of total annihilation of this world as we know it today.
In this context, I was horrified to view the video of the huge destructive impact of tiny drones launched in a warfare situation, put up on social media by Stuart Russell, a University of California Berkeley Computer Science Professor.
Take a look at Future of Life Institute Autonomous Weapons Ban and
Professor Russell says “Trained as a team, [the drones] can penetrate buildings, cars, trains, all while having the capacity to evade any countermeasure. They cannot be stopped,”.
He noted that “a $25 million order” can now buy a swarm of such tiny “slaughterbots” that could kill half a city.
Professor Russell said that although A.I.’s “potential to benefit humanity is enormous, even in defense,” allowing the widespread use of machines that “choose to kill humans will be devastating to our security and freedom.”
These tiny mini-drones which have destructive military uses are now called “autonomous slaughterbots” and are unleashed in a “drone swarm” from the underbelly of a bomber plane. These are now rightfully characterized as “weapons of mass destruction” as a small band of military men can essentially bring a country to its knees by launching a slaughterbot attack which will raze an entire city to the ground and kill millions of people at one go – more effective than a nuclear weapon which is much more expensive to build, maintain and use. In today’s world, even a kid knows what a drone is, but do we really understand how nations can get completely out of control with this technology which is like a powerful machine gun or multi-barrelled missile launcher, the only difference being that the slaughterbots can come in thousands to obliterate an entire battlefield or a city.
There is no current counter-attack mechanism against an attack by slaughterbots. Even more worrying is the fact that the “attacked” cannot easily figure out who is the “attacker”, or where they are located. How do you attack someone who you do not know, or whose location cannot be determined. So, we are now in faceless military attacks, and all that it takes is one small band of rogue folks who know this technology. Let us not forget that both “good” and “bad” guys now have drones, and also that the “good” guys could be indiscriminate in their plans and attacks sometimes.
So, the world is getting to be a deadlier place than it ever was in its history. Drones can target individulas anywhere in the world, and are being enhanced to penetrate any kind of structure to reach to the designated target. Further, drone swarms “act” like a swarm, in the sense that they will coordinate their attack plan with each other, leading to a scalability that does not exist today. We are essentially looking at the collective brain power of a slaughterbot drone swarm, which could be as deadly as a nuclear weapon without incurring all the risks of a war.
Welcome to the slaughterbot era, friends. It is critical that we protest against such weapons of mass destruction, these are much worse than land mines.
Cheers (and No Cheers!),
26th November 2017
I continue to have a fascination for the Second World War and its stories. I might have seen many war movies over the years, and especially like the ones which show the miseries of war, the sufferings of the people, the utter insanity of war, and the cruelty displayed by the average man in all his barbaric manner when he belongs to the winning side (not always though).
In my recent flight, I chose to see The Zookeeper’s Wife after I read the brief description of the movie – nothing much, but enough to kindle my interest. I browsed through a lot of movie briefs on the screen, but eventually came back to this one because it was set in wartime Poland, which was probably the most bombarded and affected country in the Second World War and also in its aftermath.
I am not going to recount a summary of the movie here in this post. In a nutshell, the movie is about the Director of the Warsaw Zoo and his wife (Jan and Antonina Zabinski), who managed to save 300 Jews from sure death during the German occupation of Poland from 1939 onwards. It tells their story of warmth, kindness, compassion towards the Jews, whose Ghetto was under attack by the German soldiers and eventually burnt down. It also shows the cruelty and barbarism of Nazi German soldiers, who were anyway under orders to murder Jews.
Imagine if Germans had discovered the fact that Jan and Antonina were hiding hundreds of Jews in their zoo. They would have been executed without mercy for an act of human kindness – an act of saving other people from the cruelty of Germans, and also an act of saving them from torture and death (which was impending as the Germans rounded up the Jews in the Ghetto and packed them off to the concentration camps – it was heart-breaking to see the small kids as young as 5 years old pleading to be taken off the train and saved). It is still sometimes difficult to believe that such cruelty existed in this world (unfortunately in continues to exist in several nations as we know for sure now).
While the story revolves around Antonina, the real hero of the story is Dr Jan Zabinski, the Director of the Warsaw Zoo. He displayed a strong sense of humanity and justice (remember this is a true story) towards the Jews. He secretly participated in the Polish underground, and was always working against the occupying German forces. Jan said “My deeds were and are a consequence of a certain psychological composition, a result of a progressive-humanistic upbringing, which I received at home as well as in Kreczmar High School. Many times I wished to analyze the causes for dislike for Jews and I could not find any, besides artificially formed ones.”
As a lover of animals and believing that every living creature was important, Antonina played an indispensable role in saving hundreds of Jewish lives. “I looked at them with despair,” she said. “Their appearance and the way they spoke left no illusions. … I felt an overwhelming sense of shame for my own helplessness and fear.”
[The quotes above from Dr Jan and Antonina Zabinski are from Biography.com – please see Zookeeper’s Wife True Story].
Out of the 300 people the Zabinskis saved, only two died during the war; all the others remarkably found refuge and safe passage elsewhere.
In 1968 the state of Israel honored the Zabinskis with the title “Righteous Among the Nations,” a recognition that was given to all those brave citizens who helped save Jews during the Holocaust.
I liked the movie though it was not a big commercial success. I understand that the Polish people liked the movie. In my opinion, the movie shows that human kindness and civility have a big role to play even in today’s highly commercialized world. During the Second World War, the situation was vastly different from today, especially in the countries occupied by Germans who were on a mission to eliminate Jews. Poland was hugely affected. We cannot forget the fact that Adolf Hitler managed to murder 6M innocent Jews in Europe, and movies such as these show the small, yet critical kindness that was required on a humanitarian basis to save people of any kind. After all, what is the difference between one human and another? The brutality of Germans has been depicted in some savagery in this movie, though much less than in some of the other movies.
Let us not forget that human kindness, compassion and civility form the crux of human life on this planet. And, powerful nations cannot keep silent in the face of ethnic cleansing, brutality and murder of innocent civilians, irrespective of their race, religion, colour or ethnicity. I have written about other such instances (the expulsion of Rohingyas of Myanmar is a strong example, and the Syrian War – both are going on currently).
As highly educated and well-to-do people, we owe it to this world to do the right thing instead of keeping quiet in the face of atrocities unleashed on civilians by brutal dictatorships. We should push our own governments and multilateral agencies to act to save people.
12th November 2017
I was having a chat with one of my close personal and family friends yesterday. It was a casual chat, but as always it turned into a deep discussion on several matters which have always been close to my heart, and I am sure, to his heart as well.
While we meandered around issues and challenges of mutual interest, we finally landed on the most important and critical issue that should dominate every discussion that people over 50 years of age are having, and that is, how to make the best out of the rest of our lives.
Yes, it is something that we should not shy away from. Discussing potential death timeline, and how to deal with it in advance, and understanding how others would deal with your death, is something that is direly needed. We do not discuss such matters. Period. Don’t you agree? It is considered inauspicious to even think of such things.
While discussing death could be seriously challenging, what about discussing about how to make things better for others while we are all on the firm and unchangeable path to our respective deaths? In a nutshell, how to make the best out of the rest of our lives? How can the rest of our lives be useful to not only the people closest to us, but also to people in the society we live in?
While my friend and I discussed this matter briefly, it was clear in our minds that this was something that is going to dominate our thoughts and actions in the coming months and years. Again, let us think about our legacy. Who will remember us, year after year, outside of our very close relatives and family friends? Is there someone out in the open world who would recognize your contributions to the society that you had lived in before you passed away – someone not related to you, someone not your friend? You do not have to be famous or a big philanthropist to have that kind of recall.
As we plough through our conscience, our entire life till now, our close family members and friends, it becomes very clear that there are very few people outside our circle who have been impacted by your presence in this world (let us say over 50 years, could go on to a 100 years!).
Did we ask the right questions to figure out who needs our help? Did we consciously feel that we could have been of service to those in need? Did we do public service? Did we mentor people who are not related to us or not friends of us? Did we donate to charity every year? Did we give out time to people who would have benefited? Did we even ask our own close personal and family friends if they need any assistance?
Very few people do these things. Just touch your heart and respond. We want to have a drink and relax, or we want to attend parties and network, or we go for movies. We worry about our financial position all the time. We worry about the condition of our car, yes, we “feel” for our car, or our apartment. We worry about tons of mundane things. But we do not worry about how to make the best use of our time to help others in need.
Money and material things dominate our conversations, even those within our own family network. There is no spirituality in almost everything we do. We should not confuse religious affiliation or temple visits or prayers or rituals with spirituality. This is a common mistake we all make. You attain spiritual well-being when the Super Power (not the U.S.) determines that you are (a) devoid of material desires; and (b) you have rendered help to several poor folks who would vouch for your generosity, kindness, time and assistance. It is not going to be based on how many times a month you visited temples or prayed for your own material success.
I think if you are reading this blog post, you are going to probably ring me. You would want to discuss more. Yes, I think there is a lot more to this topic than what I have written thus far. Let us discuss. I strongly believe our times are limited, and we have to contribute urgently. No one can predict how long we are going to live. Why bother about the lifespan if you can focus on things which help others? Not that it would assure a place in heaven, but that is the best thing that you can do.
Think about it, and let us talk soon!
5th November 2017
We see lot of wealth around when we live in developed countries.
For instance, in Singapore, we see lots of very expensive cars on the roads. For the uninitiated readers, Singapore is the most expensive place to buy a car. Period. But then, we see lots of BMWs, Mercedez, Maseratis, Porsches, some Ferraris, Lamborghinis, and big SUVs on any major road, speeding past. Such cars cost a lot of money, and some of these cars could cost as much as an apartment.
Of course, one sees a lot of cars in the U.S. and other major developed nations such as Germany. However, relative to median per capita income, Singapore still continues to have the most expensive cars on the road, despite strong discouragement from the government in terms of taxes on cars (foreigners always get shocked when they find out that a piece of paper called the certificate of entitlement to drive a car costs as much as a car). Further, housing prices are rising in Singapore again, putting condominiums out of the reach of the average buyer (a typical freehold or even leasehold apartment of 1,300 Sq Ft area could cost as much as SGD 1.8M and upwards). Forget houses, which could cost upwards of SGD 3M.
Well, the point of mentioning all this stuff is that developed countries are moving fast forward in per capita incomes and cost of living. The poorer folks get marginalized in almost all developed countries. As we now know for sure, Capitalism holds sway in all developed nations, there are very few countries which are socialistic and still well developed (like the Nordic countries).
Governments make attempts to be inclusive. For example, the Singapore government raised the income tax rate a few years ago to provide more funding for social programs. Other governments also try to do similar things. At the end of the day, people who are left behind by capitalism are exactly the people who need help from the government. Unfortunately, the richer people do not encounter poverty in most countries, and do not feel the compulsion to help their compatriots benefit from the spoils of capitalism. In the U.S., we hear the usual refrain that the poor folks do not work hard enough to uplift themselves out of their poverty. It is all their fault, and what could others do that possibly they cannot do themselves?
It is ridiculous to expect all people to be at the forefront of an economic surge. The U.S. is a USD 19T economy with 320M people. However, 46% of U.S. households live from paycheck to paycheck. There are millions of Americans who are technically “poor”.
So, now I come to the key issue of this blog post. Life is all about sharing and donating to the less fortunate folks around us (or even in other countries). I only talked about developed countries, can you imagine the status of the less developed or developing countries – vastly worse, as we can ourselves see. What can the most fortunate people do to this world? Make even more money (as many or most of them are doing anyway), or share their wealth in a coordinated manner with the less fortunate?
The argument here is clear. If rich people are making more money, it is because there are people who make the goods or deliver the services which make the rich people richer by the day. If the government (like in the U.S. currently) cuts the taxes via a major tax reform, what does that mean? It reduces the tax on corporations and richer individuals in a bigger proportion, and increases the value of their equities on the stock market, making them richer. Does it do the same to middle class households or the poorer sections of society? The jury is out, and let us see what happens.
In a nutshell, if you do not share a single dollar or rupee with poor folks, there is something seriously wrong in the way you look at your own life. No one is going to forcibly take that dollar or rupee from you, but you will have to answer your own conscience when folks are suffering and sometimes dying on the streets. Share your wealth, like what Mark Zuckerburg or Bill Gates is trying to do. You will depart this world with a better “feeling” and a sanguine conscience.
It will help this world.
4th November 2017
What kind of topic is that?
I have been thinking of what to write this weekend in my Blog, and I was deluged with a number of potential topics. In fact, there were so many topics, I just could not decide during the course of today on the specific topic which would be of interest to me. Yes, to me. After all, my Blog exists for the pure purpose of satisfying my writing and literary skills, and nothing else/nobody else. If others read my Blog, that is fine, but that is not a pre-requisite for the existence of my Blog. I love writing and writing on a wide variety of topics which interest me. I am constantly on the prowl for issues which are of importance to me, and by extension, to other people! I am sure my readers see the relevance. It is not my intention or desire to conform to prevailing norms or practices. It is my desire to think and think deep and well, for my own benefit.
When I started my life, I was very religious and prayed everyday. My mom taught me that it is important to pray to God everyday, and especially to the Elephant God (Ganesha as we call Him in Hinduism) as He is the greatest remover of obstacles in one’s life.
So, I was religious for almost three decades. It was good, as I had some “hold” on the Hindu faith and God(s) in general, though I was not a big temple visitor, or follower of religious rituals. I believed in the power of one God and its influence for the good of mankind. I never asked God to grant me anything. In that sense, I was a man without “material” wishes. I knew that what I need for life has to come through my own hard work, and not because God decided to give me something by granting my wishes.
Since I was on my own from the age of 17 (my father died at that age of mine), I built my life on my own. People around me used to say that God always helped me, and at that time I believed in a power bigger than mine guiding my actions. I used to go to the temple near my house every week (and sometimes twice a week), and thought that it was the most appropriate thing to do. Since I had many critical responsibilities at a young age, it kind of helped me to think about God sometimes. I did very well in my studies, and in fulfilling my family responsibilities, by my sheer hard work and personal commitment and drive. I declined to marry a rich girl as I thought such a marriage would be incompatible with my socialist views and adherence to a frugal philosophy in my life (several close friends of mine know about my life and behaviour during those formative years). I went against my mom’s wishes, and told her that I was not ready for a huge marriage commitment, based purely on economic betterment.
So, life went on, and slowly but surely I discovered myself.
It is very important for each one of us to “discover” ourselves.
I began to visualize my own contributions to my own life and to the lives of my siblings and immediate family circle. I understood that nothing would have happened had it not been for my vision and hard work. Yes, it was very very hard work at a very very young age. I sacrificed many things, which I would not have done if my father had been alive.
Slowly, I stepped away from blind faith.
Slowly, I stepped away from following others.
Slowly, I stepped away from the thought that God provided guidance and help.
Slowly, I became an agnostic.
I began to question everything in life.
I kept my views private. Only my wife knew about my thought processes. However, she remained and continues to remain a devout religious person, despite the influence of my own wandering ideological thoughts and philosophy.
She always respects me for who I am. She never challenged me. She only pointed out what I was leaving on the table. Yes, of course, I was leaving several things on the table. My significant connections to a private circle of relatives. My strong connections to a religious community. My double standards when it came to very close relations, from who I have to partially hide my views (like my own mom, uncles, etc.,). However, I knew how to keep my private views away from table top discussions, it was never my intention to offend anyone for their own beliefs or faiths.
So, it has gone on for the past 15 years or so…………….I am still strongly beholden to my own religious views. I think that religions have divided rather than unified mankind. I believe (I think it is true) that religious wars have killed millions of people around the world. I think religions provoke unnecessary tensions, wars and passions. I think we can do well without all this stuff, and direct our collective energies towards the betterment of humankind.
Some folks I know think that I am idealistic. I am not pragmatic. I am not a model human. I am not a person that falls in line. I could be a trouble monger. I am not a human being that understands how other humans work. And, so on and so forth.
The issue, of course, has always been the same – people have been endowed with enormous brain power. Why are they not using it for improving the livelihood of poor people? Why are they spending so much money on religions, temples, and faiths? Why are they allowing religions to be misunderstood and crucified by gurus who are no messengers of God? Why are they allowing rape, killings and house burnings of non-conforming folks (like in the latest example of Rohingya Muslims who are being driven out of Myanmar by practicing Buddhists, Buddhism being the most pacific religion of all)? Why are injustice and inequity not being called out by religious followers? Why is there a deafening silence from “good” folks?
Well, my conclusion has been the same for the past 15 years. That is, God is a Socialist and never a Capitalist or a Communist. He wants us to help the poor. He wants us to share our wealth and savings. If He exists, He would insist that we cause no harm to others. He would emphasize the importance of Love and Peace.
I am not going to follow any religion because I was born into one, or because I was directed into another, or I was forced into one. Man and Woman have the power to think, conceptualize, contribute and improve the society. That effort is not going to happen because God asked us to do that. It happens because WE want to do that. We look out for one another. We realize the importance of LIFE. We conclude that all lives are equal and same.
So, my life is no longer religious. My life is going to be human. Just going to temples is not going to absolve us of our irresponsibility and collective darkness. The LIGHT is within us. It is up to us to discover and light it.
21st October 2017
The anti-refugee “movements” in some European countries have been sowing fear in refugee communities for the past couple of years. Several far-right fascist parties have gained public credibility in their nations, though they have not won the mandate to govern. The extremist views of these parties and social movements are a danger not only to refugees who are seeking asylum, but also to non-local residents of these countries who could easily be misconstrued as belonging to the refugee community. Even worse, locals who try to help the refugees arriving in their town are (or were) targeted by these anti-social movements.
I happened (by chance) to see the BBC’s show on Germany’s New Nazis: it was simply frightening to see the violent tactics of the Freital Group, who unleashed terror on the refugee shelter homes and almost escaped without getting caught over many months. Such insidious activities of a rebel group with the tacit approval of the “silent” majority, could have led Germany towards an abyss, from which it escaped just 70 years ago. Of all countries, it is rather surprising that Germans would accept such a radicalism in their society, which would engender violence, killings, and eventually, a move away from democracy towards a populist leader who would isolate Germany, stop all immigration, and segregate foreigners into “ghettos”. Rather sickening, frightening, and appears easy to achieve, right?
It was funny to note that the German local police feigned ignorance of any of the violent actions taken by the Freital Group for a long time, reminding me of the Indian Police and its ineffectiveness in the past. Only after the German Federal Prosecutor’s Office took over the investigation, things started moving, and eventually, the Freital Group was declared a terrorist organization. It is critical to understand that there will always be an apparent undercurrent of support for fascist and extremist groups amongst the population who have lost their jobs and feel that their lives are being threatened by refugees who do not follow the German way of life. Further, states such as Saxony have administrative and police machinery who had known about extremist tendencies and violent actions, but never took any action thereby undermining their credibility. Humans are fragile, and their idea of infallibility and superiority will reign supreme in their minds long after their predecessors are dead. You know who I mean here……….
Let me now explain my own views. I am not a supporter of uncontrolled immigration. Yes, I supported Angela Merkel when she decided to admit Syrian immigrants in 2015 into Germany, notwithstanding the fact that it could imperil her chance of becoming the German Chancellor for a record fourth time. However, more work should have been done on planning (a) the education of Germans about the rationale for taking in the immigrants (could have been done, I simply do not know); and, (b) the social integration of the immigrants into mainstream German society (also, this might have happened, but does not appear so looking from the outside).
Immigration is always a tough issue when economic conditions are not good. Even if things are fine, thought has to be given about sending immigrants into states where there is serious unemployment.
I am not against folks who oppose immigration. I am against those folks who incite violence and throw petrol bombs into refugee shelters, knowing full well that refugees have suffered an ignominious life in their native country under a cruel dictator who bombed them. What kind of people are these local Germans who do not have human emotions and sympathy and generosity?
Luckily for Germany, it is still the largest European economy, it is a wealthy country, and it holds the conscience of Europe as a whole (not the U.K.). Given its leadership position, Germany cannot afford to be isolated. I heaved a sigh of relief when Dr Merkel won her fourth elections recently, though her margins got reduced. Never mind, she has another four years to work on the German mindset. My suggestion to her – halt further immigration and work on integrating the million refugees that she has already got in. This is not hard heart or mind, it is simply focusing on enhancing the well being of the admitted refugees.
The other European nations have failed in their immigration intake, and are messing up their immigration policy. It is only a question of time before Europe loses its conscious democratic ideology, if no actions are taken immediately to educate the angry electorates.
7th October 2017
According to Merriam-Webster dictionary, ethnic cleansing is “the expulsion, imprisonment, or killing of an ethnic minority by a dominant majority in order to achieve ethnic homogeneity”.
According to a U.N. Commission of Experts formed in connection with the atrocities committed during the Yugoslavian wars in the Nineties, “…… the coercive practices used to remove the civilian population can include: murder, torture, arbitrary arrest and detention, extrajudicial executions, rape and sexual assaults, severe physical injury to civilians, confinement of civilian population in ghetto areas, forcible removal, displacement and deportation of civilian population, deliberate military attacks or threats of attacks on civilians and civilian areas, use of civilians as human shields, destruction of property, robbery of personal property, attacks on hospitals, medical personnel, and locations with the Red Cross/Red Crescent emblem, among others”.
Now, unbelievably, there is ethnic cleansing happening in one of the ASEAN countries, and all members of the ASEAN grouping are keeping mum, in keeping with their stated policy of non-interference in each others’ internal affairs. I am referring to the systematic ethnic cleansing being carried out by Myanmar (erstwhile Burma) against its Rohingya Muslim community in the Rakhine State adjoining Bangladesh, which has created a humanitarian crisis with over 300,000 people fleeing from murder and rape being committed by perpetrators.
I had a strongly positive view of Buddhism and Buddhist monks who give up all their material possessions in search of enlightenment. I have mentioned to many of my friends that I am inclined towards seeking truth in Buddhism (as against Hinduism to which I belong by birth). I have always wanted a simpler faith which can show the path to enlightenment in a straightforward manner without the undue complexities involved in Hinduism, though fundamentally Buddhism emerged as an offshoot of Hinduism.
Now, I have to question my faith. When I see that Buddhist monks and Buddhist practitioners from Burmese society join hands and attack the Rohingya Muslims belonging to their own country, then the pacifist nature of Buddhism as a peaceful religion with peace-loving followers evaporates………in a white plume of smoke. And, all the expulsion, burning of homes, mosques, murder, rape, et al, happened with the absolute connivance of the Myanmar Government and the state security forces……..all of them being of Buddhist orientation.
There is heavy coverage of the plight of the Rohingya Muslims in the news media this past week, and so I am not going to repeat the key findings.
In the midst of all these happenings, the silence of Myanmar’s Nobel Prize Winner, Aung San Suu Kyi has been simply appalling. She is a powerful figure in Myanmar, and is globally known for her peaceful fight against the very powerful Myanmar Military rulers. She finally won that fight, but is was only a partial win. The Military still controls 25% of the Myanmar Parliament, and the silence exhibited shamefully by Aung San Suu Kyi is a witness to the domination of the Military when it comes to internal affairs. If she had risen up against the Military and said things to protect the Rohingya Muslims, things would have been vastly different now.
However, notwithstanding the ghastly attacks on Rohingya Muslims, and their forced evictions from their townships and homes, matters continue as though all is normal in Myanmar. ASEAN has not said anything of significance against Myanmar, and the U.N. is struggling with multiple crises around the world. In the meanwhile, Myanmar Government and security forces get away and continue their behaviour as though nothing has happened.
It is a complete pity that the world community is unable to stop the ethnic cleansing so systematically being carried out by the Myanmar Government. When there is no one to question, is it any wonder that things continue as usual under the pretext of “communal violence” or “national security”? Not at all.
I can only hope that the displaced Rohingya Muslims would eventually find their way back to their townships in Rakhine State with the approval and support of the Myanmar Government, which needs to understand that it is not yet recognized as an equal member in the comity of democratic nations of the world. It needs to prove its intent to become one by solving this problem, and changing its Citizenship Law to grant citizenships to Rohingya Muslims, and providing security to them.
Let us all hope this would happen soon.
10th September 2017