Mar 252016

Answer : terribly so. Microsoft created an ‘intelligent’ bot, that was designed to have conversations with millennials, adapt and have more conversation. Called Tay, it had a persona that was young and bubbly, and Microsoft – like any proud parent – wanted to talk about it. This is how they introduced it.

Tay is an artificial intelligent chat bot developed by Microsoft’s Technology and Research and Bing teams to experiment with and conduct research on conversational understanding. Tay is designed to engage and entertain people where they connect with each other online through casual and playful conversation. The more you chat with Tay the smarter she gets, so the experience can be more personalized for you.

Tay is targeted at 18 to 24 year old in the US.

What could possibly go wrong ? As Tay herself put it (and yes, it seemed to be a female persona)

And, this is how Microsoft expected Tay to learn through conversations


And learn she did, but all the things you would want to keep your kid away from. Microsoft’s plan of sending Tay to Twitter to learn would be the equivalent of humans sending their 15 year old to an especially seedy bar where bigots high on testosterone gather, to learn socialisation and appropriate social behavior.

Given the playground in which they chose to experiment,  given the nature of conversations on Twitter, and the kind of unmasked bigotry and misogyny that exists, it took all of 15 hours for ‘cute’ little bot to turn into a Holocaust denying, racist, sexist, bot. Microsoft shut it down before it learnt more.

Some Sample Tweets



and, adaptive learning gone nuts


and, this

hitler 2

From cuteness to unmasked bigotry in 15 hours. can you imagine what it is doing to your brains ? and, imagine if you were a 15 year old, with no formed worldview, can you imagine what it does to the 15 year old. And, before you say naaaa – cannot happen to real people, think of all the kids that ISIS has managed to programme simply using social media. Kids from good families, brought up with the right values — but, lonely and looking for ‘company’. 

It is actually scary. Microsoft can try and reprogramme Tay. What do you do with humans who taught her this ? 


Mar 192016

three very different stories

The first, from the Times of India, is about a couple of cattle traders lynched by “suspected cattle-protection vigilantes

The deceased, Muhammad Majloom, 35, and Azad Khan alias Ibrahim, 15, were cattle traders and related to each other. Their bodies were strung up with their hands tried behind their backs and their mouths stuffed with cloth.
“The manner of their hanging showed that the assailants were led by extreme hatred,” said Latehar SP Anoop Birthary.

and the second is  from the Indian Express – about the Ministry of HRD’s directive

The National Council for Promotion of Urdu Language (NCPUL), which operates under the Ministry of Human Resource Development, has introduced a form which requires authors of books NCPUL acquires annually to declare that the content will not be against the government or the country.

And, just as a bonus, if these two stories don’t depress the hell out of you, read the interview of Umar Khalid and Anirban Bhattacharya in the Scroll

Bhattacharya: They asked me, “It’s understandable if Khalid is doing this, but what were you doing there?” Somehow it seemed that an unadulterated Khalid would have suited them better. My presence irked them. They couldn’t build up the story they wanted.

Khalid: I was targeted with a special hatred because of being a “Khalid”. But there was hatred for Anirban too. For simply being there and ruining a ready-made story. Now this didn’t fit their narrative, the narrative of terror they began in the media. If I was a traitor to the nation because of my Muslim identity, Anirban was a traitor to his nation, religion and caste.

A narrative is being built. And, that narrative is that of ‘who is a good indian’. That ‘good’ Indian lives by certain principles that are dear to a small, but vocal minority. And, that narrative is wrong. Because there are more than a billion ways of being a ‘good’ indian. The version put out of this non meat/beef eating, non urdu writing, non Muslim is not one of them. And even if the billion plus Indians, had the same view of what makes a ‘good’ indian, and one person does not abide by that view, it is still fine. that is the point of individual liberty.

We keep talking about majority rights and minority rights. Most of us will have a better life if the government was committed to protect individual rights.  citizenship rights. And the right to be ourselves.


There is a rather ugly genie out of the bottle, a genie built on exclusion, and suspicion. That genie either needs to be banished or put back in the bottle. Look at Pakistan, and see what we should not become. ever. People kept quiet trying to buy peace, there too. But, that does not work. You cannot buy peace from fundamentalists. They want it all, they are not going to let you your little space, where you can run your life without any interference from them.

India is built on diversity, and mutual tolerance. Each strand as vital as the other. I never thought i would quote Narendra Modi as defence for an argument, but he has said it well here

As a nation, we stood against colonialism and in our struggle for freedom At the dawn of independence some chose to go away; and, I believe, that it also had to do with the colonial politics of that time….  Now, India is moving forward on the strength of the struggles, the sacrifices, the bravery, the knowledge, the skill, the art and the pride of every member of every faith in our diverse and yet united nation.

Like the strings of sitar that each produces a note, but come together to create a beautiful melody.

This is the spirit of India. This is the strength of our nation.

All our people, Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs, Christians, Jains, Buddhists, the micro-minority of Parsis, believers, non-believers, are an integral part of India.


(image courtesy : here)

Mar 162016

Good read in today’s NYT:

two stand out paragraphs, i felt myself nodding in agreement

the omnipresence of social media has created a new sort of shame culture. The world of Facebook, Instagram and the rest is a world of constant display and observation. The desire to be embraced and praised by the community is intense. People dread being exiled and condemned. Moral life is not built on the continuum of right and wrong; it’s built on the continuum of inclusion and exclusion.

And this.

If we’re going to avoid a constant state of anxiety, people’s identities have to be based on standards of justice and virtue that are deeper and more permanent than the shifting fancy of the crowd. In an era of omnipresent social media, it’s probably doubly important to discover and name your own personal True North, vision of an ultimate good, which is worth defending even at the cost of unpopularity and exclusion.

i am seeing the polarised commentary on my TL. and, more importantly than that, the huddling of the troops at either end. The middle ground, on anything, is rapidly vanishing. And, the ugly polar opposites is what is picked up and beamed into homes, by news television. I sometimes hear the discourse, and ask myself, who do they represent (apart from themselves) . How can anyone be so badly behaved, obnoxious, and aggressive … then answer is a brilliant line here …

In the new shame culture, the opposite of shame is celebrity — to be attention-grabbing and aggressively unique on some media platform.


(image courtesy : here)

Mar 142016

The Minister of Women and Child Development, Maneka Gandhi, in written response to a question on Marital Rape, in Parliament last week,

“It is considered that the concept of marital rape, as understood internationally, cannot be suitably applied in the Indian context due to various factors like level of education/illiteracy, poverty, myriad social customs and values, religious beliefs, mindset of the society to treat the marriage as a sacrament, etc.,”

The minister on Marital Rape, in June 2015:

“My opinion is that violence against women shouldn’t be limited to violence by strangers. Very often a marital rape is not always about a man’s need for sex; it is only about his need for power and subjugation. In such case, it should be treated with seriousness,”

What happened in 6 months ? I really want to know what happened in 6 months.

I can understand a whole bunch of legal issues with criminalizing marital rape – especially proving it. i would have accepted those  as excuses for not criminalizing marital rape for now -while the system works out how do you protect victims of rape ie women, and victims of false accusation of rape ie, men. As a minister, you could tell us, the people, that various provisions exist within the Domestic Violence Laws that allow women to get justice – even for rape, and i would have reluctantly bought the argument for now.

But, to put it down to ‘our culture allows it’ – and this is what her answer really boils down to — is really, really  insulting. This is not our culture. Atleast it is not my culture. I really want to know whose culture it is, that allows the rape of a wife by her husband. And if a husband rapes his wife, is he really fit to be called the husband?



(image courtesy – meotherwise)

Mar 112016

Three good reads on starting up and entrepreneurship, this week

a) I asked Larry Page, Elon Musk and Jack Dorsey how they felt starting their companies. Their answers caught me off guard – Linkedin is fast becoming one of my favourite content sites. If you curate your own follow list, you will end up with a wealth of extremely good articles. This was one of them. And, this paragraph resonates:

When most of us fear failure, we walk away from our boldest ideas. Instead of being original, we play it safe, selling conventional products and familiar services. But great entrepreneurs have a different response to the fear of failure. Yes, they’re afraid of failing, but they’re even more afraid of failing to try.

I was talking to friends in a VC firm, and they told me that their problem is finding ventures that are original. Most of what they get are ‘copycat businesses’. Let us make one more uber site , or our business model is like air b&b. Or, in the impact space, people are funding high quality, low cost sanitary napkins- let us do this too. There is the rush, not surprisingly, to come together to create ‘safe’ business models.And this,

Publishers rejected Harry Potter because it was too long for a children’s book. Executives passed on Seinfeld for having incomplete plot lines and unlikeable characters. Pay a visit to Jerry Seinfeld’s bathroom, and you might find a memo hanging on the wall that calls the pilot episode of Seinfeld “weak” and says “”No segment of the audience was eager to watch the show again.”

Throughout history, the great originals have been the ones who failed the most

Worth reading the full piece.

2) Why do start ups fail – part 1 and part 2– interesting insights, including “Of those that failed, 74 percent failed due to premature scaling.”; un-coordinated transformations – a nightmare in any scenario, worse if it is your own company;

An organization’s capacity to digest new elements depends on a complex set of organizational processes. It’s difficult to add employees and customers at an extremely fast rate without diminishing the quality of output or running out of cash. Failure to define processes for recruitment, selection, motivation, control systems, and development of values within the organizational culture creates chaos rather than providing the kind of transformation that will allow a new business to thrive. Ultimately, these issues can crush any hope of sustainability. Each person who began with the firm must change as the organization does, entailing a shift that can feel profound. The days of ad hoc management disappear, and managers must learn how to work at a strategically higher and faster level and to define the principles that will govern decisions such as who should be hired and fired.

IMO, this is where the bulk of the problems arise. As you scale, you may need to get in professional help. But, when you do, it may not be the company you envisioned. As you grow, the bonds that made it such a fun, eclectic and organic workplace change. You need to be ready for this. And, this is true not just for startups.

3)  How I Successfully Run Two Startups – just for inspiration, as I contemplate two startups – in two related yet different spheres.


(picture courtesy : Alternaimpact)