Is the world becoming better?

This essay is inspired by the book Factfulness where the key idea explored is that the world has witnessed significant progress over the last few decades, but most people are unaware of that fact because they hold distorted views.

For example, most people overestimate the percentage of the human population living in extreme poverty (which is defined as having an income of less than $2/mo). It's 10% (as of 2017) but even the most educated people get it wrong.

Twyman’s law

Twyman’s law states that any data or figure that looks interesting or different is usually wrong.

Sounds unbelievable, isn’t it? 

But, it’s true. I saw this in action recently and wanted to share that story with you.

In June, we ran a test on our homepage and while I was looking at conversion rate by segments, I noticed that users from Windows had a 400% higher signup rate for VWO free trial as compared to users using Mac OS X.  

Now, that’s baffling and our team spent a good deal of time trying to understand why was that happening. Someone in marketing hypothesized that perhaps Mac OS X users have a better design aesthetic and our homepage wasn’t appealing to them. Was it true? ...  Read the entire post →

The three levels of Hindu philosophy

1/ The first level related to the metaphysical and spiritual domain.

It says that Brahman is all that exists and our material world (Maya) comes from ignorance.

The Brahman is not a God. It is beyond any quality – it isn’t intelligent, good or bad. It just is.

2/ It also suggests that if we strip away all ignorance, we will discover that the self – the atman – is one and the same thing as the Brahman.

At its core, this level denies the duality of subject and object and says they both are the same. ...  Read the entire post →

Money, entropy and climate change

If you follow me on Twitter, you’d know that I’ve been working on a trilogy of short films on climate change. Funded by Wingify, these films are a collaboration between me (writer) and Robert Grieves (animator). We’re calling this initiative Wingify.earth.

The first short film is out now and it’s about relationship between money, climate change and entropy (a concept which I elaborated on in a previous essay on this blog). Watch the 3 minute film below and leave your comments on its Youtube page. ...  Read the entire post →

Making peace with the ambiguity of progress

Is there an arrow of progress in our universe? Or do things change without any particular direction as a goal, like a dust particle engaged in a Brownian motion, bumping and tumbling along randomly?

I don’t think there’s an answer to those two questions. Our thinking is designed to box phenomena into neatly packed categories that capture only a slice of reality. In fact, that’s where the problem with philosophy starts. Even if we both use the same word – say “love”, “free will” or “democracy” – we usually mean slightly different things and these slight differences provide all the fodder for the philosophical debate...  Read the entire post →

Why are we rich but hopeless

The world is more materially abundant than ever, we've eliminated several diseases and lifted millions out of poverty.

Yet, people aren't reporting higher levels of meaning or happiness.

Why is this happening? Rising income or material abundance does not automatically lead to higher satisfaction. And not just at a global level, but also at a personal level. Why?

Life is fractal, but markets are square

I recently read Venkat’s synopsis of the book Seeing like a state, which I followed up by an excellent blog post titled The Meridian of Her Greatness. Venkat challenged people to summarize the most important ideas from that post in a tweetstorm. He said if it gets more than 100 likes, on Twitter he’ll give away $1. I thought it was a fair deal, so here’s my attempt to distill some of the ideas into a visual essay.

1/ When humans wield their power in the world, they are limited by the linear nature of their thinking. The best example of this linearization is the top-down planning of modern suburbs. Contrast this with how nations and states emerged in a bottom-up fashion. ...  Read the entire post →

What is truth?

A tweet-thread like micro-blog on a topic that I’ve been obsessing over lately.

1/ Whenever someone says “this is true”, or “I’m a truth-seeker”, ask them to first define truth. (Or if you’re asking this question, answer what evidence will constitute truth for you).

2/ Getting a hold of the definition being used for truth is especially important when talking about complex systems like business, politics, economics, ecology or essentially any field where you usually can’t just read error-free data from a well-isolated system.

3/ This privilege of substituting data with the truth is mostly available only to physicists. But even there, interpretations of truth can be widely debated – is 5-sigma a good enough threshold for declaring the Higgs boson to be true? Well, it’s anybody’s guess.

4/ The word ‘truth’ is bothersome because it’s ill-defined. If something is ‘true’, it won’t be debated. If something is debated but is ‘true’, how would you differentiate ‘truth’ from ‘falsity’? You’d use your subjective judgment to assess the evidence and then make that distinction. If you’d do that, so will everybody else and they can arrive at an opposite conclusion. (Much to your chagrin, they usually do). How can your truth be different from someone else’s truth?

5/ As you can see,

this ‘truth’ business is a slippery slope. I’d much rather prefer to use the word ‘satisfaction’ ...  Read the entire post →

The Reverse Turing Test and proof-of-human currency

Are you a bot? No, seriously how can you prove that you are not. How can you prove that you are not some sort of algorithm crawling YouTube videos trying to make sense of this world? And how can you prove that I am not a bot, that I am not one of those Google’s AI?

This question may seem funny, but I find it one of the most important one facing our generation. Actually, the question is less about whether you are a bot or not, it’s more about how can you prove that you are human.

If you prefer watching a video instead of reading, I’ve narrated the entire essay in the following 8 minute video.

This question’s importance is due to the fact that with increased automation, humanity faces the grave danger of going jobless. This has already started to happen in many industries: right from replacing drivers that make up a significant majority of any working population to doctors, lawyers, and artists. Automation is increasingly taking over all the jobs that traditionally humans used to do and the economic implications of this automation is that more and more wealth is getting concentrated in fewer and fewer hands. The rise of Google, Apple, FB can be directly attributed to tech’s recent dominance, which is now accelerating at a very fast pace, concentrating wealth in the hands of a few shareholders.

One solution for the jobless world is the universal basic income (UBI) ...  Read the entire post →

Why deep neural networks work so well?

Earlier, I had written about machine learning algorithms and how they struggle to do things that a 5-year-old can master: walking, speaking, and drawing.

This time, I go into much more detail and explore a particular type of machine learning algorithm: deep neural networks (DNNs). These brain-inspired algorithms are effective even on “natural world” tasks: translate between languages, drive cars and recognize cats and dogs.

Why do deep neural networks work so well? Where does their magic come from? I explore these questions + more in my new 16-minute video.

Hope you like the video. If you are active on Youtube, consider subscribing to my channel.