APB Blog : Fake news on the rise: Here’s what you can do

Fake News

I write for the ABP on fake news

Right now, if you were a political news junkie, you would be right in believing that there are only two people in the world who are the lightning rod for either all things dreadful, or all things good.  Donald Trump, in the United States, and Yogi Adityanath are dominating pretty much all the headlines in the digital and traditional media space.  It is very difficult to find news or opinion, that presents the facts, as they exist, and allow us the readers to make up our minds. Most of what we are consuming is driven by views, and those views are blatantly partisan – either veering towards blind worship, or blind hatred.  And, most of us gravitate towards the news that we instinctively find the most in synch with our own world view. A lot has been written about echo chambers , but associated with the problem of echo chamber is also the concept of fake news. Fake news works because those of us who live in echo chambers, believe it is plausibly true.

In the last year, there has been a growing awareness of the phenomenon of ‘fake news’. While the fake news means different things to different people, and has become a convenient brush to tar views one disagrees with, at its core fake news is based on lies. For example, one of the most famous lies in the recently concluded US elections was that Democratic Candidate, Hillary Clinton, was running a child abuse ring from a pizza outlet. Popularly termed #Pizzagate, the accusation went viral, and was believed, by enough number of people. Evidence or proof did not matter, what mattered was their belief that this is the truth. The same is the case here. On Sunday, a Pakistani handle posted a picture of a structure on fire, and claimed it was that of a mosque burning in Allahabad. It turned out to be a picture from Mayanmar. While there were several people who pointed out this simply didn’t happen, there were possibly enough people who believed him. Because this is the kind of behaviour they expect from the new government, and the news confirmed their existing biases and fears.

News is now, less about facts, and more about beliefs that something may be true.   The Oxford University Dictionary, declared post truth to be the phrase
of the year and said, it is “an adjective defined as ‘relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief’.

We believe things, not because we have read the facts and come to the conclusion that it is the truth, but because we listen to emotional appeals on why it might be true.  It is the classic Bollywood mother trope, where the mother tells the judge that her son is innocent, because the mother’s heart says it is innocent; and the judge, in true Bollywood style, leaves aside the evidence to pronounce the man innocent. And, here this columnist is less sure about whether this scene was actually scripted an enacted in a Hindi film, but her heart tells her that this, very likely could have been a scene in a film.

So, the big question for all of us is how do we get to know the truth, in a world where everyone with a smart phone is a potential broadcaster, albeit to audiences of different sizes? Is it upon us, the reader to sit and verify everything that we read and see? What can we do to prevent ourselves from being fooled?

The first thing, is to wait before sharing all pieces of shocking news. The more shocking/wonderful the news is, the more likely it is to be false.  The whatsapp forward making the rounds over the weekend spoke about the government move to make a 30% year on year salary increase compulsory. Wishful thinking, but most likely untrue. Just as the news of the mosque burning was a fake. Secondly, when you find a piece of news to be fake, do tell people in your social groups it is fake. It may make them be more careful while sharing content. And finally, consume news from various sources, even on social media. Try and see if they can be sources with different biases from your own. The truth is somewhere between the source you read, and the other sources. And, it really doesn’t matter if you read left, right, or centre sources – if you stick to one source, you are likely to get only one side of the narrative, and that, can be at best, a partial truth.

DNA Column : The other side of the Demographic Dividend


We keep talking abou the Demographic Dividend, and how lucky we are that 70% of India is under 35. 30 years from now, 70% of India will be under 65 – are we prepared for it? One of the things that preys on my mind, especially as i get older, and see my relatives get even older is – wow, how is it going to be 30 years from now. It is likely that i will die closer to 100, than to 60, the women in my family, generally live long. And, things that i ask my self is, 30 years from now, where will I be (if alive), what kind of a lifestyle will i lead;  what will be healthcare like, is it going to be an assisted community, and where does all this exist in India. One of the things i would like to see is an open conversation on 30 years from now, when India’s demographic dividend begins greying. I write on this, in today’s dna

In 1901, the British Raj published the census for the jewel in its crown, India. It was one of the most comprehensive enumeration of India, down to individual professions. For example, a glance at the census report of 1901 will tell you that there were 5.73 lakh water carriers in India, and 1.31 lakh ‘grooms, coachmen, and dog-boys’. The census document that lists professions, and the number of people engaged in each trade, or practising each skill, is especially fascinating. If the British Empire was good at one thing, it was the ability to create systems and processes that would tabulate anything on earth. Visit the British Museum, home to 8 million plus artefacts, or the Kew Gardens, to get a sense of how they capture, store, present and use information, and knowledge. The Census was no different. It was done to account for every single person in the British India. In 1901, India was predominantly a rural economy. Less than 11% of India was urban. In the first census of the new millennium, the 2001 census, the urban population stood at 27.8%, and provisional data from the 2011 census indicates that this has gone up to 37.7%. It is expected that by 2021, when the next census figures would be published, that number would go up even more – fuelled at a certain level by the Government’s Smart Cities programme, and the promise to build more cities.

As the population of India becomes more urban, and more non agriculture based jobs are created, India is said to be reaping a demographic dividend. More young people, of working age, who will earn and pay taxes that pays for further expansion of the economy. . As per the provisional figures of the 2011 Census, 62.5% of India is in the working population age of 15-59. This is also the much touted demographic dividend that is supposed to accrue to India. The larger the proportion of the population in the working population range, the more the tax revenues. Much of the west, and even China are facing the reverse problem, an older population, and a declining percentage of working population, leading to questions of who will pay for basic state services, such as health, education and social security.

While there is much that is written about India’s demographic dividend, and the rapid scaling up of skills and industries to utilise these in the near future, there is one other issue that also bears consideration. And, that is, that populations don’t stand still in demographic groupings. Populations grow older. Today’s 15-59 population cohort, will be the 45-89 year old cohort, 30 years from now. And, while India may be preparing for the challenges for skilling, training and employing the young, are we also preparing for a greyer India?

As per the 2011 census, 8% of India is over the age of 60. That figure is going to increase in the years to come.   There will be many areas in which India has to transform, to meet the needs of a growing grey population. The first is to look at how does this experienced population help in building the economy. How do you keep involving them in mentoring, and guiding the next generation. The second is, as the traditional family system breaks down, there needs to be a sustained system of care. This could be in the form of retirement homes, senior citizen colonies and the like. It would also mean a whole area of work, and specialisation that goes towards caring for seniors. Healthcare, Nursing, physiotherapy, counselling, carers, food items and more. It could also be people who design products and services specially for this audience. It would mean buildings and transportation that are senior friendly.

The world is changing drastically. While we are aware of major technological changes that may impact our job security, we also need to be geared for demographic changes. From an education and employment perspective, the next 20 years are going to be crucial. The skills you pick up today, will, most likely, not be relevant in the next five years. The question is how do you remain in demand, in a rapidly changing economy. The answer is quite simple, by observing macroeconomic and societal trends, and learning new skills that keep you in demand in a new reality.

grand mother grand child bw copy

ABP Blog : Aspiration, Ambition, and the hunger to win Elections

The results of the UP state elections are finally out – and verdict is  Adityanath, the 5 time member of parliament,  is the chief minister. The BJP choose the most person it considers most appropriate, and most in line with it’s vision,  to run India’s largest state. Adityanath has a reputation of being a ruthless leader, who does not even make a pretence of liking or respecting minorities, women, or anyone else who is remotely liberal. He has take on not just these groups, at times with violence, but also his party – going as far as putting up rebel candidates to ensure that the BJP loses.

But, this column is neither about Adityanath or about the BJP. It is about ambition, aspiration and power, and why organisations are geared , at different points of time, to attract people who meet organisational goals. Parties win (or lose) elections, not just because of the top leadership (and that is very important) but also because the organisation is filled with ambitious people who believe in the same goals, and want to achieve them. The opposition parties are failing there. The question is very simple, if you were ambitious, and not aligned with Hindutva as a political philosophy, would you be interested in working for a Mulayam Singh Yadav, or take orders from a Digvijay Singh, or follow a Stalin, or be guided by a Deepika or jytotsna or whoever (Jayalalitha’s niece and husband ), or work with Ajit Pawar. Why did Suresh Prabhu have to quit the Shiv Sena ? Can you imagine someone as intelligent and sincere as him, reporting to Aditya Thackeray. On what basis ? The problem is less Rahul or Akhilesh or Stalin. The problem is a vapid party base that accepts these as lord and master, without any qualms, and  obeisance to all orders. Unless the parties themselves choose to survive and thrive, you are looking at someone like Adityanath becoming PM in the future, simply because the opposition has folded into various family groups playing out their own version of Mahabharat. (remember at the end of the Mahabharat there were less than 10 survivors. ) . When things are served up to you on a platter, there is little hunger to succeed. And, i believe that the parties have forgotten that.


My column for ABP


In the aftermath of the results of the state elections, one thing is very apparent. The BJP doesn’t just have the leadership, but also the party machinery to win elections. Mr Modi and Mr Shah provide the air cover, leaders at the local level, mop up the rest. The organisation is ambitious, and sees its goals being realised by victory at the polls. The problem with the fragmented opposition, is while they talk about winning, the will to win seems lacking. The lustreless party machinery seems so happy walking on a treadmill that goes nowhere, that the parties are going nowhere.

Today, most parties – INC, DMK, AIADMK, SP, BSP, Shiv Sena, MNS, SAD are facing the same problem, a mass exodus of talent, because organisations, that were once mass based, have concentrated all the power and decision making in the hands of a few stakeholders, their families and close associates. Merit has little place, and decision making is dependent on the whims of those at the top. As such, there is no reason, why someone who is ambitious would want to join any of the parties that have gotten rejected at the polls.  From the outside, it seems like they have not just lost their way, and are meandering without either a purpose or a goal; and they don’t have the will to find either. Regional parties, and the Congress, are facing a crisis, not just because of those who lead them, but because the organisation itself doesn’t have enough people, hungry enough to succeed.  The Modi wave washed away other parties, because the parties have ceased to have a solid foundation of ambitious leaders at the constituency level.

One of the characteristics that separates humankind from the rest of our cousins in the animal kingdom, is aspiration and ambition. Aspiration is when we hope for a better tomorrow, and use all our talents and resources to achieve it. Most, if not all, of humanities technological advances – since the invention of the wheel – have been about making life better. On the other hand, ambition is when we not just hope to be better than ourselves, but better than others. The desire to wield power, to do better – to bring about change is what has brought about monumental political change across the millennia.  It is a combination of aspiration and ambition that makes the world progress.

When we join an organisation or start one, both personal aspiration and ambition drive us. What we look for, in an organisation, in addition to income, is a sense of shared values, belonging, and whether it lets us meet our aspirations and ambitions. There are many for whom the meeting of personal aspirations is enough.  But, that there are those for who professional ambition is important. And, they are usually who lead organisations in troubled time to victories over competitors, or reduce the extent of loss by their very energy and drive. For every organisation it is important to have a mix of the two. Too many people who look for only personal aspirations to be satisfied, and you will have an organisation that stagnates, and dies. Too many with professional ambition, and the organisation will be torn apart under the strain of the competing ambitions. But, the need for a few good ambitious leaders is necessary. And, organisations will only get a good flock of those with professional ambition, and drive, joining them, when the individuals see scope of rising within the organisation. And, for that the organisation must be a meritocracy.

This is where all political parties in India face a challenge. Families, and their loyal retainers, have taken over parties, permeating every aspect of the political machinery. Where talent and merit are secondary, then there will be an exodus of both out of the organisation. Where promotion is based on a court culture, you will have decay, and unless the party organisations take serious action, they are going to implode into insignificance. To have a chance at winning, Parties must allow ambitious youngsters to join them, and nurture them in their career to the top. This is what any organisation worth its’ salt does. Because they know that organisations can only grow and thrive, when there is fresh blood to inject it with new ideas, and new energy. And, this is exactly what the losing parties need to do. Allow talent to rise. Allow merit to be rewarded. In 2017, it cannot be about the whims of ruling families. It must be about the organisation.

Elections and the hunger to win

picture source : here

Kangana Ranaut v/s Karan Johar

My twitter TL bubbles over with Kangana Ranaut and Karan Johar ping pong. She said, he said, she said, columnists said, anchors said. Lots of people with lots of views.

Honestly, i couldn’t be bothered, except to say one thing. If you keep lashing out, someone one day will lash back. It just happened to be Karan Johar.

And, in this sort of a completely juvenile fight, gender doesn’t matter – power relationships do. Is a producer or a head of a studio more powerful than an actor – absolutely. But, that would be the case whether it was Ekta Kapoor or Karan Johar.

Does an actor have no power – they do, till they top the box office. But, and this is being brutally honest, Female actors come with a faster expiry date than male actors – and it is as much a function of the box office (ie, moviegoers – you and I) as it is of the industry.

Is there nepotism in the Industry! Man, it is all about the family network. All the big producers are related – by blood. But, it is also a business – if you had no talent, and your films tank, even daddy (or mommy ) will not continue putting good money after bad. Is it easy for outsiders to break in – No. It takes a few years to get to know people. No one is going to invest the upwards of a few crores on a complete stranger. But, enough outsiders have broken in. Do star kids have it easy ? Yes, they can go to uncle and aunty (people they have known since they were toddlers) to cast them. But, this is the nature of the business. Personal networks are important, as is industry goodwill.

Finally – no one in the industry makes it without help from the system. Someone casts you, someone grooms you, someone trains you, some one recommends you. It is a small industry with a lot of word of mouth goodwill. People are more likely to recommend you if you are good to work with and good at what you do, than one or the other. It is not as bad as she makes it out to be, it is not as easy as he makes it out to be.


Kangana Ranaut v/s Karan Johar

DNA Column : Education and skills in the times of Artificial Intelligence

I write for the dna on education, skills, and how the advances in Artificial Intelligence and Robotics are going to wipe out entire job areas; and what skills do we need to combat this.


source: Here

One of the things that separates humanity from the rest of the animal kingdom, is the ability to make nuanced decisions, through a process of finding and selecting alternatives, and picking the ‘best’ one based on individual values and preferences. This is a process that has been refined through the entire span of our existence on this planet. Problem solving, decision making, reasoning and learning, are some of the crucial aspects of human intelligence. The more adept we are at these, the more we are considered as being intelligent.

Throughout our existence as a species, humanity has tried to make it’s life easier through inventions and innovations -from harnessing fire to exploring space. And, one question that has been at the core of all the innovations that we take for granted today is “How do we do this in an easier, less time-consuming manner. In other words, how do we increase productivity”.  While productivity deals with increased output per individual, it also means fewer human workers to produce the same output.  From the start of the industrial age, there have been questions asked about the use of machinery in improving productivity. The key question was, what happens to jobs? And, the simple answer to that is, jobs as we know them will go. But, there will be new jobs in new areas.  The trillion-dollar question is, will we have the education and skills to adequately deliver in these new jobs.

Currently, we see increasing calls for restrictions on immigration in industrial countries, to stem local job losses. The fact remains that even zero immigration may not increase the total number of jobs. Most of these jobs have gone to robots with the ability to learn rapidly, adapt to change, and work in extremely hostile conditions.  Rapid Machine Learning, sometimes also known as Artificial Intelligence, is the order of the day.    And there is the other aspect of it, robots do not need salaries, or benefits; pensions or health care; they don’t form unions or go on strikes; they do not work at cross purposes, as humans often do. There are factories in China that have replaced 90% of their human workers with robots, and seen productivity jump 250%; there are factory lines in India that are completely automated; there are entire IT departments, in large organisations,  that have been replaced with extremely sophisticated decision making algorithms; computers are able to glean through data to produce journalistic reports; robots have taken over mining; and medical robots are becoming more pervasive.

The increasing use of AI in its various avatars, has had, and will continue to have a massive impact on jobs, across sectors. For India, this poses a special challenge. 38% of India is under the age of 19, getting into the job market. Do they have the skills to cope with a world where AI is going to take over most of the jobs that exist? Do we know what those skills are?

Across the world, the job threats posed by AI, and robotics have been taken seriously. Leading economists from both the left and the right have begun talking about the prospect of a universal basic income, the amount paid to each adult as income. Bill Gates has spoken about the need for robot tax, that will not only slow down the rate of jobs disappearing, but also pay for jobs and training in new areas – caring for children, caring for senior citizens, are two examples that he states. While these may somewhat slowdown the march of AI and robotics, it is not going to stand in the way of repetitive functions being automated. While Amazon has rolled out self-service stores, there is a Silicon Valley robot that has learned to make burgers.   Even predictive jobs, those that look at past data and predict future outcomes, will be taken over by the machines, sooner rather than later. Therefore, the question is, what kind of jobs will exist in the future. Governments across the world have begun setting up cross disciplinary committees to understand the impact on their economies, to be able to prepare for this future. In India, this is the need of the hour, the focus on skills, training and retraining, that will create a flexible workforce that is mostly in demand.

While AI, today can perform increasingly complex tasks, one aspect of humanity eludes it. Boundless curiosity. The evolution of human civilisation has been about questioning commonly held beliefs of that era. It is asking how can things be better. And this arises out of observing the world, and how things work. unless you know how things work, and how people interact with them, you are not going to be able to make things better. So two sets of abilities and skills that educators have to focus on will be getting students to ask “Why is this so”, and “How can this be made better”. Every aspect of education has to get geared so that students learn to not only question, but find a systematic solution to the question.  For the Indian education system, that has for long learned by rote, it has to be a paradigm shift in terms of not only the methodology of teaching, but also the way outcomes are evaluated. Perfect reproduction of the text book in an answer paper, will no longer be sufficient; being able to think out of the box, will be the key. Teaching students to think without boundaries, needs to be the way forward – because the moment they think within the box, a robot will replace them.