1

Looking Beyond Nine-to-Fives—Universal Basic Income, AI, and the Future of Jobs

The work landscape has been rapidly changing for the past decade and the last couple of years of the pandemic in particular.  A number of jobs that were done manually a decade ago have either been rendered obsolete by advancements in technology or have been replaced by some form of automation. At the same time, a great number of jobs have been created in sectors and markets which did not exist earlier. 

The onset of the pandemic saw the “work-from-home” era, economic stimulus checks being handed out, and the “Great Resignation” where a large number of people quit their jobs. This could be seen as a result of the general dissatisfaction people had with their jobs, as well as having sufficient money from stimulus or savings to pursue something more valuable.

A graphic depicting workers quitting their jobs [Source: Vox]

An academic study conducted on 20,000 employed individuals from 40 different countries found that about 25% of them were unsure about the value of their job in society. With a booming AI industry taking over the private sector by automating common jobs and workers facing unprecedented uncertainties in the job market, the future of jobs and the economy at large seems to be unfolding in an entirely new direction. What, in this scenario, could the next step be for our society? What concepts and ideas are starting to take root in the minds of economists and policymakers all over the world? Degrowth, Universal Basic Income, and the rapid automation of jobs are all revealing themselves to be the pieces of the puzzle that forms the economy.

The Age of Artificial Intelligence

Studies like the one mentioned above go on to show that many working individuals engage in work in fast-paced industries where the contribution of their role to society isn’t clear. On the other hand, when it comes to individuals working in the education, healthcare, and defense sectors, the meaning of and need for their jobs is easily evident to them and to outsiders. Why does this difference exist? The answer is simple: machines cannot recreate human traits. Empathy, creativity, justice: these and many more human values fuel jobs in the public sector. In this case, one can ask: would it be better to hand over the “socially meaningless” jobs in the private sector to robots that can do it much faster and more easily than us? The answer seems to be yes, as many industries are steadily heading towards automating whatever jobs they can.

An infographic depicting the automation potential of various sectors. [Source: Fortune Magazine]

If the private sector is allowed to be fully automated by technological advancements, the future for humans would clearly be in service jobs. These historically underpaid and underappreciated jobs would inevitably gain more value in such a society. Teachers, healthcare workers, sanitation workers, and many others engaging in care work can be paid more than their current wages as the private sector becomes more efficient. This would also lead to the formation of better healthcare and education systems. One significant concept that can act as a tool to achieve these changes is Universal Basic Income. It is described as giving every citizen, whether young or old, rich or poor, a fixed amount of money at regular time intervals (weekly, monthly, or annually) that could be used as desired and without being taxed. It is an idea where each and every working-class individual is given a fixed amount of unconditional cash benefits, irrespective of any social or cultural barriers and qualifications. Proponents of this idea advocate for the same on many grounds, such as an aging population with depleting natural resources and the AI boom which threatens the loss of many jobs. This concept has been introduced for trials under many guises such as “Negative Income Tax” and “Guaranteed Minimum Income”. But is this idea worth pursuing? Just like any idea that challenges societal norms, Universal Basic Income also comes with its own sets of benefits and pitfalls. However, it is a plan that can prove to be immensely powerful in ending poverty if implemented well.

The Curious Case of a Universal Basic Income

Universal Basic Income, a major idea that can completely change the work landscape, has been tested in various countries such as Finland, Canada, Kenya, and the USA. Answers to questions about the amount and source of this income are subjective and vary by country. There are many obvious advantages as well as some doubts that can only be cleared when the plan is implemented on a nationwide scale.

The idea of a Universal Basic Income, at its very core, is about giving citizens financial freedom. For starters, providing people with the power to afford their basic needs gives them more time to pursue a job or career that is right for them. A study conducted in Seattle, where a thousand families received a basic income, found improvements in the subjects’ physical and mental health and saw that children performed better in school. Another study conducted in Canada, where hundreds of families received a basic income for four years, found that in addition to the results mentioned above, crime rates plummeted and hospitalisations decreased by about 8.8%. Researchers noticed that there was always a small reduction in working hours as well, where people spent this time doing other useful activities, such as young adults pursuing further education and individuals waiting to secure a better job.

Because a UBI tends to be a relatively small amount (such as $12,000 annually), people remained motivated to work and earn a larger sum. Clearly, the goal of a universal basic income is to establish a basic, healthy, and dignified living standard for everyone in a society, rather than to encourage people to be dependent on it without doing anything productive.

A graphic of a citizen receiving a basic income. [Source: The Conversation]

The main question regarding UBI that still requires careful consideration is: how would we pay for it? It can also be argued that providing a basic income to every citizen does not make much sense, as many earning massive incomes among the upper class do not actually need this financial support. As such, the universality of the concept is questioned by many, even though it helps to eliminate any stigma that may be associated with the reception of this income. Millions of people would have to inevitably contribute towards a UBI by paying more in taxes, leading to inflation in marginal tax rates, and making the implementation of this idea politically challenging.

Another unfortunate drawback to a nationwide UBI is that it leaves behind lesser monetary assets for government-funded programs, such as a universal health care system, that would still be necessary regardless of the existence of a UBI.  Providing every adult with a basic income that they can use as desired would mean that the working population of a country would reduce to some extent as well. Though the aim of UBI is to provide every citizen with basic funds regardless of gender, religion, caste, and societal status, the presence of immigrants creates special circumstances for governments with respect to eligibility.

A graphic showing the reception of a basic income by Indian citizens. [Source: The Economic Times]

A solution that is proposed to beat all such challenges is Negative Income Tax, which can be considered as a form of basic income guarantee. Under this system, any individual falling below the poverty line would be unconditionally supported through a basic income. This income would be funded through taxes paid by those above the poverty line, and hence the basic income received by them would be lesser compared to the income received by below-poverty individuals. Through this scheme, protection from poverty would become a fundamental right, and not just a privilege.

Since basic income would keep on decreasing incrementally above the poverty line, people would always be encouraged to keep their jobs and continue working, as well as reap all the benefits of having a basic income. A study conducted by three US economists has also revealed that a Negative Income Tax based system that eliminates poverty would cost $336 billion at most–a measly 1% of the GDP of the USA.

Dreaming of Degrowth

The concept of “degrowth” challenges the current socioeconomic belief that a system, such as a country, must keep on growing towards greater economic throughput, often done at the expense of the well-being of its human resources and the rapid depletion of its natural resources. The economic power of a country is largely measured in terms of its GDP–Gross Domestic Product. However, as is evident of late, GDP is hardly an accurate measure of the growth of an economy.

This metric does not consider the welfare of the general population, one of the most important criteria to measure the growth of a country. Metrics like the GPI and ISEW that do measure the welfare of the common man, however, have remained stagnant over the last few decades. This shows that, beyond a certain point, fuelling the economic growth of a country does nothing to improve the well-being of its citizens.

A graphic depicting the rise and eventual slowdown of an economy. [Source: The Economic Times]

Automating routine jobs and using AI to improve efficiency frees the population of a country to capitalise on the traits not possessed by their machine counterparts. Emotional, creative, and care work all require unique human traits not reproducible by technology. A society that focuses on building and supporting jobs that are characterised by these traits is the aim of the Degrowth model.

So how does one go about trying to achieve it? It is here that a UBI is regarded as a useful tool to enable degrowth and restructure an economic system rooted in outdated and inaccurate metrics. With the private sector reaching new levels of efficiency supported by AI and automation, and every adult member of the population having a financial safety net to fall back on, it is possible that modern society could progress towards something that existed many millennia ago: a society based on noble leisure.

Featured image credits: Alex Knight, Unsplash




Woke, But Not Yet Awake—Discrimination Faced by the LGBTQ+ Community in Healthcare

The post-90s was an era of dramatic societal change, building an environment seemingly quick to accept, understand and socialise. Advocacy for marginalised communities reached an all-time high. However, it appears to be a surface phenomenon in many ways. It is simple to hide behind a screen and type out a plea for justice for a community without believing and being faithful to the cause and exercising it in actuality. Equal access to healthcare is a fundamental right. The picture today’s society paints, however, is anything but peaceful. This has marked the onset of the so-called Woke Phenomenon.

As human beings, we resist change. We are opposed to any sort of dissimilarity, unable to accept the differences between people and their personal choices, and feeling the uncontrollable urge to infiltrate personal lives and pass commentary on impersonal issues. In this scenario, one finds it difficult to go through life in the absence of proper help. The average teaching imparted to the youth simply perpetuates the opposite sex attraction over same or no sexual attraction. The community is often treated as an added accessory to society: a society which is divided into two human-made factions—the “normals” and the “aberrations”.

Innumerable mental health issues for the community [Image Credits: istock]

The LGBTQIA+ community faces many barriers in their everyday life regarding acceptance and equality from friends, family and society. One would think trained medical professionals with implicit knowledge of biology and the human mind would not be a part of the problem however, the attitude of the medical sector only makes the wall infinitely higher for them to climb.

The Fear Factor

Medical professionals, in many cases, are not equipped to handle the issues and needs of the community as healthcare training is often done on the basis of heteronormativity and gender stereotypes. Patient-doctor confidentiality rules are violated, and their problems are treated as taboos or salacious gossip. Purposefully misgendering individuals and stereotyping them only furthers the innate fear of visiting medical professionals in times of need. More often than not, members of the community are not recognised as equal receivers of treatment and healthcare. Other times they might be heckled, harassed and humiliated for their gender identity or sexual orientation.

Consequentially, the community becomes averse to approaching the healthcare system and getting their medical needs addressed, in constant fear of ridicule, moral policing or even macro-aggressions such as foul, abusive language and assault.

The Increasingly Horrifying Reality

The experiences recorded in the results of a study on the experiences of discrimination against the LGBTQ+ community show that interpersonal discrimination was highly common, including a majority being subjected to slurs. The atrocities faced by the community only seem to escalate drastically as macroaggressions such as sexual harassment, violence and harassment regarding bathrooms were recorded at a shocking rate. Consequently, the community chooses to hide crucial details about certain conditions, which results in doctors not being able to identify the issue, brushing it under the carpet or leading to wrong treatment, which may be fatal.

Statistics show that the community faces mental health burdens at a higher proportion than others as a consequence of constant harassment and the tussle for acceptance as an equal shareholder of society. For queer women and transpeople, unfortunately, the family is often a site of abuse. Policing and suppression of their identities by their family members is highly prevalent. Transpeople are consistently ridiculed and systemically shunned for their gender expression. This takes a severe toll on one’s mental state of being. Life becomes difficult to traverse in the absence of proper help.

The pandemic added to their problems [Image Credits: The Trevor Project Design by Ruth Basagoitia]

Mental health and treatments related to prior experiences depend on how transparent the communications between the doctor or counsellor and the receiver are. If someone is scared to reveal the bigger chunk of their identity in fear of abuse from the people in power, their vulnerabilities can only amplify drastically with time.

The severe lack of medical knowledge about LGBTQ+ issues in terms of health promotion poses a grave disparity in access to proper healthcare. Given that there is no dearth of funding in biomedical, pharmaceutical and physiological research, the lack of concrete information can only be traced to the perpetual innate homophobia, lack of acceptance of opposite sex attraction or transpeople and viewing the members of the community as “add-ins” or “outliers”. The lack of recognition of the community as individuals with equal rights is simply perpetrated by the medical society and shamefully so, as educated and trained professionals should be bridging the gap instead of widening it.

Bridging The Gap

On the grounds of pre-existing research, there exists a massive health equity potential which is not inclusive of data populated from the studies conducted on cisgender, heterosexual individuals. At the very outset, gender identity might seem irrelevant to predominantly respiratory and viral illnesses, but knowing this information can have a significant bearing on a better understanding of quarantine and isolation behaviours. The ability to perform routine health care maintenance, mental health needs, and support networksare all critical to disease transmission and the severity of the clinical course.

Growing evidence clearly illustrates that LGBTQ+ adults have an increased risk of cardiovascular disease such as angina, coronary artery disease, and myocardial infarction compared to cisgender, heterosexual adults due to higher rates of substance abuse induced due to greater exposure to discrimination and violence among many other psychosocial factors.

Disproportionate Occurrences for Major Diseases

According to the National LGBT Cancer Network, gay and bisexual men have been proven to have had a significantly higher incidence of anal cancer, while lesbian and bisexual women have an elevated risk of breast cancer. Respiratory health disparities are also common among the communities, including higher rates of sinus infection, asthma, bronchitis, and chronic pulmonary obstructive disease (COPD), which also has an influence on COVID-19 prognosis.

Social constructs like a person’s gender individuality and its effect on health have been taboo topics. There has to be a new beginning, and that is the proper acceptance of how relevant the interconnection between sexual minorities and their need for categorised health data analysis actually is.

Effect of the Pandemic on Healthcare for Marginalized Communities

The pandemic made healthcare for marginalized communities hit a new low. Sexual activities are already considered a social stigma. The community faces much higher discrimination in this regard. Studies by The Indian Journal of Medical Research show that the HIV virus is 4% more prevalent in the case of homosexuals than in the general population. Yet the barriers are far more daunting for the community as the cost of testing is high, and the prevalence of social phobias makes it even more inaccessible as a viable resource. Of the transgender population, more than half are unable to access proper healthcare for the treatment of STDs, rendering the entire community at risk.

 HIV-positive transgender health workers at a counselling programme [Image Credits: Thomson Reuters Foundation/Annie Banerji]

The lockdown had restrictions on livelihood and access to health care, especially for the trans community. It impacted the proper communication of medicines like Anti-Retroviral Treatment (ART) for people living with the Human Immuno Virus (HIV)/Acquired Immuno Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS) and those going through Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT) for gender transitioning. India is home to the world’s third largest population living with HIV. Given their damaged immunity, the HIV+ transgender community is even more vulnerable to COVID-19.

Till today transpersons are dependent on conventional and interactive forms of livelihood, which came to a halt due to the lockdown. Transgender people staying with unsupportive family members during the pandemic have had to deal with stress leading to anxiety and depression.

Poor mental health has been linked with behaviour that is detrimental to their overall health, including extended use of substance abuse, smoking, drinking, self-harm, eating disorders and suicidal tendencies.

Health Insurance—Spending the Big Bucks

The Insurance Regulatory and Development Authority of India (IRDAI) has stated rules for insurance companies around the country to be loud and clear about underwritten rules, specifically for transgender applicants. The decision is hugely admired for ensuring transparency and making such social security benefits inclusive and accessible for the community. Under the IRDAI directive, the insurers must not conceal any details of the health insurance offered. They said, “All the insurers are now instructed to publish on their respective websites the aspects of underwriting philosophy and approach about offering health insurance coverage to transgender persons so that they have the complete information on the philosophy adopted by the company.”

Reputed companies like IBM, Godrej Group, Accenture, IT services providers Cognizant and Tech Mahindra and HR services firm ADP offer medical insurance to same-sex partners of their LGBTQ employees. However, many companies still do not extend this benefit to live-in or unmarried partners, even though they can. This is perhaps due to a lack of clear definitions of laws for such couples. A major setback is that gender-reassignment surgery is still considered an essential medical procedure and not covered under insurance by most companies.

Slow and Steady Wins the Race

For a matter as sensitive as this, changes should start off fundamentallyby changing the inherent mentalities of power-rich entities and hence the society in general. One can only define non-abstract shoulds and shouldn’ts by setting rules and regulations such that the marginalized communities aren’t violated. In bigger chain hospital units, funding must be properly used to impart proper knowledge and training to the staff regarding making patients from the community feel comfortable. As for corporates, equality in all literal genders should be carried on. There should be boards to make sure these employees aren’t singled out for their complaints and are given proper healthcare benefits. As citizens, we must encourage all individuals from the communities to seek proper medical help.

Judiciary justice for the LGBTQ community [Image Credits: AFP]

While individuality is attacked and put to the stand very often, what makes the average human population feel threatened, is the existence of unabashed personalities. When we talk about identity from the constitutional spectrum, it must not be a non-customisable binary spectrum.

In the NALSA vs Government of NCT in Delhi case, the petitioners have stated that the rights of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender(LGBT) community, comprising 7-8% of the total Indian population, need to be recognized and protected, for sexual orientation is an integral and innate facet of every individual‘s identity.

It no doubt is clear how abuse and inequity in accessing rights have a domino effect on the holistic progress of the LGBTQ+ community. A person belonging to the said community does not become an alien to the concept of the individual, and their individualism cannot be viewed with a stigma. The impact of sexual orientation on an individual‘s life is not limited to their intimate lives but also impacts their family, professional, social and educational life. Ultimately, the human species over the years have flourished and thrived best with the ‘live and let live’ ideology.

Featured Image Credits: Firstpost




A Beautiful Mind—Schizophrenia’s Influence on Art

The history of mental illness and that of art can be best described as two tendrils that intermittently intersect across time’s canvas, often to produce awe-inspiring masterpieces. The delicate relationship between art and schizophrenia, in particular, is a prominent nodal point of that symbiosis.

the scream artist - Online Discount Shop for Electronics, Apparel, Toys, Books, Games, Computers, Shoes, Jewelry, Watches, Baby Products, Sports & Outdoors, Office Products, Bed & Bath, Furniture, Tools, Hardware, Automotive Parts,

The focal point of Edvard Munch’s renowned artwork “The Scream”

What is Schizophrenia?

Schizophrenia refers to a spectrum of mental health disorders that involve a disconnection from reality and a lack of coordination between emotions, thoughts, and actions. A person suffering from it experiences hallucinations, delusions, psychomotor incapacitation, catatonic depression, emotive inhibition, and speech defects, amongst other symptoms. 

There is no objective diagnostic test for Schizophrenia; diagnosis is based on observed behaviour, a history that includes the person’s reported experiences, and that of others familiar with the person. Usually, with the correct diagnosis and treatment, most schizophrenics can live fulfilling happy lives, but historically, it hasn’t always been easy or accessible. For artists, it has had interesting intersections; some were tempered in its furnace, while some were lost to it. Perhaps, the same could be said about their art.

These artists chose to challenge their disorientations by etching them in their work as reflections of their mental state perhaps to confront them better. Unfortunately, mainstream stigmatisation and demonisation, coupled with struggles with their affliction, gradually distanced most of them from any audience. Today, multitudes of original experiences remain buried beneath languid brushstrokes, left to the interpretation of less colourful minds than those that created them.

The Enigma of Paranoid Dementia

When Francisco de Goya was born in 1746, Schizophrenia was a mystery disease. De Goya was trained as a court painter in Spain and gradually rose to fame in Spain due to the delicate tonalities he employed in his works. Somewhere between 1792 and 1793, Goya suffered from an undiagnosed illness that left him deaf. This was the tipping in his life as subsequently he became increasingly withdrawn, experienced hallucinations, and developed partial paralysis. It was termed paranoid dementia by his doctors, and it would go on to remain untreatable throughout his lifetime. Goya’s seemingly constant suffering was marked by a shift in his palette as well as themes, both of which took on a dark, gory turn. In his later works like ‘Saturn devouring his son,’ a stark dearth of animation in Goya’s life is visibly reflected. The intricate details of his former paintings gave way to a blunt noisy frame, probably as a form of catharsis to the renowned painter.

“Saturn Devouring His Son”—The most famous of Francisco de Goya’s Black Paintings.

Early Stages of Understanding—Secondary Dementia

A century passed by; the term secondary dementia was now the popular choice to describe Schizophrenia. It further aroused multiple discussions when Vincent van Gogh admitted himself to a mental hospital in Saint-Rémy-de-Provence in France. The artist had started painting at the age of twenty-seven, sponsored by his brother Theo, and a contemporary French artist he met, Paul Gaugin. After a brief stint, he had a fallout with Gaugin, following which he cut off his ear and offered it to his beloved. Sources state Vincent took cognizance of his mental state because he couldn’t remember anything about his missing ear the following day and voluntarily admitted himself to the asylum. Intense psychological distress, like auditory hallucinations, intrusive thoughts, and manic episodes dotted the remainder of his short life. Despite that, during his rehabilitation, ‘Starry Night’, ‘Sunflowers’, and most of his renowned works came to fruition. Notwithstanding, his social life took a toll, and most of his works remain unappreciated and unrecognised. Despite the diagnosis and regular sessions with his doctor at Arles, van Gogh ultimately died by suicide. 

File:Vincent van Gogh Starry Night.jpg - Wikimedia Commons

Dutch maestro Vincent van Gogh’s “Starry Night”—oil on canvas, 1889

Premature Mental Deterioration—Dementia Praecox

By the 1880s, Schizophrenia had acquired a new form- dementia praecox, or premature mental deterioration.  Popular illustrator Louis Wain, known widely for his now famous painting ‘Flower Eyes’ that featured in Bojack Horseman, was struck with it in 1887. Initially, he was well-established, and Wain married his sister’s governess Emily Richardson, but soon after, his wife died.  With its early onset, Schizophrenia manifested in a gradual progression for Wain. At first, his erratic behaviour ensured that he descended into poverty, then his hallucinations became more recurrent, and finally, violent outbursts cut him off from society. At this point his mood swings remained untraced to dementia praecox, being grouped under split personality disorder instead. In any case, it was only during his treatment at Napsbury that he found himself surrounded by cats that prowled the asylum grounds. With treatment, Louis stabilised enough and went on to create some of his best artworks involving felines. 

                                                                              A portrait dubbed “Flower Eyes” by prominent Belgian artist, Louis Wain

Tragic Tidings & The Split Mind

The tragedy of Schizophrenia can’t be illustrated better than through the life of Camille Claudel. The muse and lover of Auguste Rodin, Claudel was an extraordinary sculptor whose genetic predisposition towards psycho-social disorders was triggered by her fallout with Rodin. Her brother Paul, jealous of her ingenuity, took advantage of this. As soon as her father died, she was forcibly sent to a mental asylum where doctors concurred that she was suffering from Schizophrenia-now known by its present name. Her absence from mainstream society resulted in most of her works being recreated and copied many times over, by sculptors including Rodin, without her receiving any credit for the same. As a result, Camille’s work was largely unrecognised in her lifetime, as her condition worsened due to inadequate care. Eventually, she died at the age of seventy-three in confinement unworthy of an artist of her stature. This was perhaps the worst impact of Schizophrenia in the recorded history of artists. 

Camille Claudel in 5 Famous Sculptures

Sculpture “Mature Age”—Camille Claudel, commissioned by the French Government in 1895

A Silver Lining Into the 20th Century

The beginning of the twentieth century saw increased awareness and a better understanding of mental disorders. Stigmas had steadily started receding into the shadows when Agnes Martin (born 1912) was diagnosed with Schizophrenia in her 40s. For almost the entire duration of her life, Agnes managed to keep her schizophrenia diagnosis a secret. Perhaps, in this list, she’s the only artist whose personal life didn’t suffer a significant hit. The advancement in the understanding of psychology and psychiatry was an additional bonus. It was later found that her case file classified it as a psychotic anxiety disorder, which was treatable. Her art, on the other hand, through its strictly ordered abstractions, paints a picture of how she tried to make sense of the chaotic influx of disorganised thoughts. It was her belief, and that of those around her that her iconic and organised minimalism was a signature of her tryst with the illness.

The Islands, Agnes Martin, 1961

Sifting through the lives of the above artists leaves us with a crucial question—on the scales of balance, on which side are the artists better off? And if there was a choice between a world where they were untouched by the effects of schizophrenia or one like ours where it shaped their art, which one would they choose? Perhaps to us, the former is objectively the only rational answer, but for an artist, it may be far from it. Edvard Munch famously chose the latter, going on to remark, “My sufferings are a part of myself and my art. They are indistinguishable from me, and their destruction would destroy my art.”

Image credits: Wikipedia;  

Featured Image Credits: Talkspace

 




Puppet Strings on the Zeitgeist—Attention Economy & Social Media

Attention has recently become a scarce resource in today’s digital world. This transmogrification has given rise to the study of attention economics. Purported by psychologist and economist Herbert A. Simon,  Attention Economics is a theory that treats attention as a limited commodity when designing and planning marketing schemes and conveying information in general. Diversity and abundance in content together make attention the factor that limits the consumption of information.

Social media companies realise this and use this concept to strategise content preferences when choosing the type of content to push forward to the end user. It is also an important aspect of online advertising, also done primarily through social media. Advertisers use data collected through social media to analyse search trends, past purchases, browser history, etc. of individual users in an attempt to specifically show them content they would be interested in and would subsequently devote their attention to.

Algorithms—The Prime Culprits

Social media platforms often promote their goal of helping people connect with the world. However, such aspirations, start falling flat once we dig deeper into their business models and take a closer look at how computer algorithms are designed. In terms of social media, an algorithm is a function designed to ensure that the order of content is based on relevancy to the user, not chronological timelines. Content is sorted based on popularity, recency, and the record of the past engagement of the user. 

There is a problem, however. Social media platforms often stay opaque about their algorithms. As put forth by Kelly Cotter, assistant professor at Pennsylvania State University, this is known as the “black box problem.” For example, in 2015, Facebook, along with a British firm Cambridge Analytica, collected sensitive data of millions of users to be used for political advertisements. NO consent, however, was taken by them. Considering this scandal and other such dystopian realities portrayed in shows like Black Mirror, this is a matter of concern in today’s digital world. 

The Wealth of Misinformation

Since the onset of the pandemic, misinformation has only heightened, especially on social media. Vaccine debates and WhatsApp forwards of alternate cures were everywhere. Users started relying less on credible news sources. Ofcom’s annual report on news consumption in the UK found that TikTok is the most accelerating platform for news sources, particularly among young adults. The spread of misinformation is facilitated by catchy slogans and vivid images that attract the attention of a vulnerable audience. This is known as popularity bias.

Researchers at Indiana University’s Observatory on Social Media developed Fakey, a game which aims to improve a user’s news literacy by awarding points on fact-checking in a simulated social media environment. The game displays a collection of news articles from a variety of news sources, including newspapers, websites, social media pages, and many more It is up to the user to decide whether to trust a news source or not.

In the book The Filter Bubble, Eli Pariser theorised that due to the algorithmic nature of social media, users are pushed into hyper-partisan isolated circles on the internet, as the algorithm pushes more and more curated content that a user would like to consume. In search engines, the true factual answer is often omitted, but instead, an answer tailored to the user’s past history and preferences. Thus, algorithms are not based on facts—they are based on user perceptions. Consequently, this leads to an ‘echo chamber’ wherein the repeated display of the user’s views leads to increased polarity in his or her mind, thereby limiting nuances in important discussions.

Bombardment of Information

Not only is the misinformation fatal, but there’s also something much worse. When the internet was first introduced, the cardinal spectacle was the availability of information at our fingertips. 30 years later, users are bombarded with information from the second they turn on their devices. It is crucial to know what information to hold onto and what to let go of. A post about the Roe v. Wade can be followed by a cute cat video, thereby reducing the gravity of the news.

While it is important to recognise misinformation, processing available information is just as essential, according to famed author Yuvah Harari. Since social media platforms are often flooded with misinformed opinions, they reduce the scope for critically thinking about a subject before forming an original opinion. It is, therefore, easier now than ever for people to adopt a mob mentality. If that isn’t alarming enough, it gets worse when misinformation bleeds into politics.

Social media posts about political issues started gaining traction during the pandemic [Image Credits: Youtube]

Social Media’s Sway Over Political Spheres

Due to the mob mentality and extreme polarity within social media circles, modern politics has swerved off an ill-fated road and is heading towards a deeper dystopia. Political activism has turned largely performative. Popular movements, for better or for worse, are now largely organised and popularised through social media. Performative activism is given more importance than actual, real-world action. People are more likely to hold an opinion for aesthetic reasons, instead of logical reasons.

A period of ethnic violence mixed in with the widespread dominance of a corporation known for its misinformation is a recipe for disaster. The Rohingya genocide in Myanmar has led to the displacement of 700000 refugees amid mass rapes, killings, and military crackdowns. Hate speech against Rohingya Muslims was commonly propagated, especially via Facebook. Facebook’s algorithms failed to identify it in Burmese posts.

Facebook’s CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, assured the US Congress that they’d bring about changes to the existing hate speech on the platform. However, a report published by Reuters in 2018 clearly indicated the lack of change. Project Honey Badger, outsourced to Accenture, was introduced to detect and investigate hate speech. As of 2022, Rohingya refugees have filed a lawsuit, suing Facebook for $150 billion. A report by Global Witness, a human rights group, showed the approval of eight hate speech ads by Facebook. Meta, on the other hand, says they’re improving the situation. 

 

Rohingya women protesting against Myanmar crackdown [Image Credits: BBC]

The Goldfish Effect

An interesting observation about the neuroscience of social media usage can be made through the ‘Goldfish Effect’, which is a marketing term used to refer to how short human attention spans can be, to the extent that they can be compared to that of a goldfish. A study by Microsoft in 2015 found that the average adult attention span is eight seconds, which is a significant decline from the average of 12 seconds in 2000.

Social media apps recognise this trend and are constantly shifting their content and algorithmic preferences to promote both the creation and consumption of quick and effective short-form content. The impact of these changes can be felt throughout the social media landscape, marking a sharp shift in their strategies. Consequently, the market has evolved radically in a temerarious bid to exploit this innate human tendency.

The Tides of Changing Trends

The attention economy seems to have adjusted to shortening attention spans, leading to ever-shortening video clips such as Instagram Reels, YouTube shorts, TikToks, etc. Long-form content has taken a backseat, and quick bursts of information seem to be the preferred medium for most people. A great example of this is a recent study showing that the average American teenager now spends more time per day on TikTok than on YouTube, which was earlier the most popular video platform by far. This shift in people’s preferences for content shows a clear future for platforms such as TikTok, with an emphasis on having the strongest impact on the user in the smallest amount of time possible.

This may also be a result of a faster-paced society, where people only give leverage to ideas presented to them quickly and convincingly. People seem to be slowly losing the ability to watch long-form, slow-burns that require effort and time to process and understand. Distortion of the attention economy has had severe consequences for human health and well-being. It has disrupted attention and cognition, leading to loss of memory and focus. Researchers have also found a link between excessive social media usage and the risk of self-harm, especially among young people.

On a fundamental level, the attention economy understands that evolution in technology, attractive interface designs, and clickbait titles allow the control of human attention. Social media activates attraction through emotional experiences. This leads to guaranteed engagement with the platform and a longer consumption time and controls the moments of individual attention of billions of users. This forms the fundamental basis of the attention economy, solidifying the notion of companies perceiving their users not as human beings, but as data sets, with their preferences and emotions amounting to nothing but profit-making opportunities for a corporation. Such an outlook may seem grim, but it highlights the sad reality of today’s dystopian world. 

Impact on well-being, 2017 [Image Credits: Economist.com]

However, all doesn’t seem to be lost. With time, users may gain the maturity required to resist an out-of-control attention economy. By avoiding clickbait and recommended content including promoted advertisements, we can avoid becoming products of this attention economy. This means making conscious, decisions about our content viewing choices, instead of going down whatever rabbit hole the internet decides to send us down that day.

Aldous Huxley’s dystopian sci-fi novel, Brave New World, presents an evanescent world where everybody is distracted all the time. The legal drug in the book, soma, bears a resemblance to antidepressants and anti-anxiety medications. A prescient book written in 1932 is not so different from where the world is currently heading.

Only the vigilant maintain their freedom, and pleasure is seen as the most effective form of control. Users’ minds are tied to an algorithm that keeps multibillion-dollar corporations running, with an impending climate crisis and political changes challenging human rights. The biggest threat is that it is easier than ever to express a free radical thought, but also more difficult than ever to have one. Indeed, it is outlandish to maintain a free and untainted mind, especially when you’re currently holding the thing that chains you to a dark future. 

Featured Image Credits: Unsplash




To the Start of an Odyssey—A Fresher’s Experience

We are the batch that has experienced it all—online and offline college, turning virtual reality into a tangible lifestyle while adapting to the pandemic. People complained about not getting the complete college experience right from the first semester. For me, however, having the first semester online was a blessing. I still remember the day online college commenced, our dedication towards the first CPI class, and how it only lasted for that day. I soon realised the online side of MIT was unknown to me for longer than I had thought. So, when I came across a link to a WhatsApp group named Freshers’25, my college life took an unexpected turn for the better.

Connecting Across the Internet

Before I knew it, I had found several other groups of people I could bond with—groups of freshers, dance enthusiasts, and K-Pop/K-Drama fans. MIT seemed to have it all, much more than I had imagined. Late-night meets were a pre-established essential in the online community of MIT.

During the pandemic, MITians started their own little life on the servers of Google Meet. Every evening, multiple meeting links would pop up across groups, allowing batchmates to talk, catch up, and share ideas and experiences all night. My online college life grew beyond just meeting new people on screen—getting to know them and trying to find my people was an essential step in developing the excellent rapport I share with my friends and classmates today. 

Mattu beach, with the sea on one side and a river on the other. [Image credit: Karnataka Tourism]

Like most other freshers, I was overwhelmed by the myriad of student projects and technical and non-technical clubs that MIT had to offer. Cambiar played a vital role here. It was an online event introducing all the major cultural and technical clubs to make this process more manageable for the uninitiated. From the fun interviews with seniors to playing games and crying about boring lectures and enjoying movie nights, or dance nights, we did it all online. I met some of the best people at these virtual meet-ups.

Although our online experience was pretty eventful, it did not hold a candle to what offline college had in store for us. Daydreaming about offline college is how every first year spent their days. While we were busy with our end-semester examinations, the Institute finally decided to release the much-awaited notice about arriving on campus. We were one semester into college, yet everything seemed brand new. Soon enough, we were all packed and ready to leave home. Until then, we had only seen the campus from someone else’s perspective—watching vlogs, reading blogs, and listening to our seniors.

An Introduction to Campus Life

From the beautiful administrative building of MAHE to the large entry of Gate 1, walking into the campus, I had just two emotions coursing through my veins—excitement and apprehension. Some of the faces I saw were familiar from our online stint, but the places around us could not have been more alien. I laugh every time I reminisce about how confused I was the first day I came to campus. The beautiful Student Plaza, clean and shiny, seemed to welcome me as I made my way to my hostel in Block 7. The most independent feeling is when one creates a home out of an allotted room. I made some of my best hostel memories in Block 7 but soon was lucky enough to get a room in Block 22, where I unlocked more memorable experiences.

The Student Plaza extends a grand greeting to everyone walking to their hostels. [Image credit: MAHE]

The first few days for every fresher on campus are a blur. There is so much happening that it feels overwhelming. The next important place to discover is the mess. Several people I talked to swore that Food Court-2 served the tastiest food, so I opted for it too. Food courts are probably the noisiest areas at MIT. You chatter away as you unwind from the long, hard day and catch up with your friends.

Entertainment and Exams

I reported to campus a week before the commencement of offline classes. So I had enough time to explore MIT and Manipal. In the first week, I visited a few beaches like Malpe and Hoode, explored restaurants like Eye of the Tiger and Hadiqa, and went clubbing. Ultimately, I could categorise everything into a list of likes and dislikes. After two weeks on campus, the buzz surrounding Revels, MIT’s cultural fest, began to take hold of the student community. No words would ever be enough to describe the campus atmosphere during Revels. With decorations and posters adorning every building, games and competitions conducted across the premises, the energy on campus was unlike anything I had ever encountered. At the same time, it was everything I had ever dreamed of—the perfect coming-to-life of the “college experience” we had only dreamed of during the two years of the pandemic.

KK’S performance at the ProShow that moved hundreds. [Image credits: Samanway Chakraborty via Revels]

When exam season rolled around again, I remember spending hours cramming the course material with a few friends in the library. Going through our first offline exams after a few years was an endeavour. After several stressed-out and sleepless nights, everything paid off, and we passed with flying colours.

Looking back at my first year, I would say that college is where you have the chance to explore and understand yourself. Bonds were made, faltered, and even broken, but I come out of this year rich in new experiences and learning a lot more about myself and the world we inhabit. Time passes quicker than you can hold on to it, so I recommend taking one step at a time and experiencing it all. Find out who you can trust, what you like to do, and how you want to have fun. Create your boundaries and limits while staying connected to your roots. Do not forget where you come from, but do not let it be the ball and chain that keeps you from trying new things. Usually, college is the first time you will be entirely accountable for your actions. While a thrilling idea, it is best to stay careful till you have grown accustomed to the novelty of it all.

Featured image credits: Kshitiz Bathwal




The Mothers of The Motherland—Women In The Independence Movement

On the stroke of midnight when the world fell asleep, India woke up as an independent nation. After countless trysts with destiny, the country was finally free from British rule, largely because of the protests, sacrifices, and rebellion of the people. While most forerunners of the independence movement were and continue to be celebrated, there remained an entire class of citizens whose contributions were overlooked, namely women.

While women fought against the external colonisers, they were pulled back by the constrictions imposed on them by the patriarchal society of those times. They battled social evils, generational oppression, and artificial barriers to deny equal opportunities, amongst others. At times even national greats like Mahatma Gandhi were convinced that it was the duty of women to look after home and hearth, be good mothers and good wives. As a result, for a long time, Congress was reluctant to allow women to hold any position of authority within the organization.

The Unsung Women of India's Freedom Struggle - My Pen My Friend

Image of a protest during the Civil Disobedience Movement [Image credits: Wikipedia]

Regardless, the beginning of the 20th century saw increased participation of women in the freedom struggle. When Lord Curzon declared the partition of Bengal, the country adopted the Swadeshi movement as a response, boycotting anything British. People from all genders burned foreign goods while women took up the handlooms and spun khadi to supplicate it.

Soon after, the Non-Cooperation-Khilafat movement was announced in 1920, and the Civil Disobedience movement in 1930, both characterized by multitudes of women protesting and suffering its consequence at par with men. Leaders like Sarojini Naidu, Kasturba Gandhi, Kamala Nehru, and many others participated in Satyagrahas across the country. They also consolidated the No Tax Campaign in all the major states of India.

Around the same time, revolutionaries were countering the British atrocities in the subcontinent with more radical measures. In 1938, in a bleeding Chittagong, Pritilata Waddedar led a band of Indian Republican Army resistance to storm an Anglo-only club whose signpost read “Dogs and Indians not allowed.” It served as a reminder that Indians would no longer take disrespect from them.

Women at the forefront of the Indian Freedom Movement [Image credits: Wikipedia]

Around 1942, when it became increasingly clear that the British had no intention of granting natives the power to govern themselves, Congress launched the Quit India Movement, demanding them to leave the country. Naturally, it was met with widespread and brutal repression by the colonial rulers, with hundreds of leaders being jailed and hundreds of thousands of Indians dying. At a time like this, Aruna Asaf Ali, also referred to as the Grand Old Lady of Indian Independence, hoisted the National flag at Gowalia Tank Maidan, Bombay. She was subsequently jailed after. Usha Mehta, another compatriot, risked her life to run an underground radio station keeping the nation informed of the colonial tyranny.

No account of the history of women in the freedom struggle is ever complete without a mention of Captain Lakshmi Sehgal and her Rani Jhansi regiment, INA. When Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose reached Singapore in 1943 to form an army with the Indian Prisoners of War, Capt. Lakshmi demanded a women’s regiment to be commissioned. The battalion fought on the front line against the British right until they were ordered to retreat in 1945. They were arrested in Burma and were tried in the infamous INA Trials, which ignited public outrage and further hastened the departure of the Crown.

Replug: Remembering Captain Lakshmi Sahgal | NewsClick

Captain Lakshmi Sehgal inspecting the Rani Jhansi regiment with Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose [Image Credits: Wikipedia]

As India completes 75 years of Independence in terms of governance, economy, and spirit. We are now a developing nation that has seen a pleasant palate of progressive developments. Throughout these 75 years, women went on to hold the highest offices in the country, the most recent of which is Smt. Draupadi Murmu’s election as the President of India. However, despite their sacrifices, and the challenges they faced, the active participation of women in delivering India’s freedom remains unrecognized, perhaps by a force of habit.

Featured Image Credits: Pinterest




Flamed And Cancelled—Salem In The 21st Century

It was a cold winter night in colonial Massachusetts. Paper hung on the walls of the houses saying, “Notice to practitioners of Witchcraft: Those who seek out communion with the devil shall be burned”. In the distance, people shouted “Burn the devil!” while holding their pitchforks and torches. Two of them tied a woman to a stake and burned her. Her screams were silenced by the cheers and celebrations of the village.

This sight was not uncommon in 1692 and 1693. People were accused of worshipping Satan, kidnapping and sacrificing children, and performing witchcraft. With the onset of spring, signalling new life, 25 people faced death. This is not only one of Colonial America’s most notorious cases of mass hysteria but also a lesson from history on how accusations and witch hunts can result in unnecessary destruction. Today, we know of Witch Hunts by a more unassuming term—Cancel Culture.

When The Devil Entered Salem

The Devil is said to have first entered Salem, a town heavily populated by the Puritan community, in the chilly winter of 1692. It knocked on Reverend Parris’ door when his 9-year-old daughter and 11-year-old niece started showing ‘unusual’ and ‘non-religious behaviour’. This included throwing fits, shuddering, shaking, and barking like dogs. When they took the girls to a physician, his diagnosis was—the girls were affected by an evil and unholy hand.

An artist’s rendition of one of the girls who was regarded as a victim of witchcraft.

With the so-called disease coming to the town of Salem, people started looking for its source. When the two girls were brought before the magistrate, they accused three women of being the root of this ‘disease’. On February 29th, 1692, three women from marginalised communities—Tituba, Sarah Good, and Sarah Osborne—were accused of being Devil worshippers. 

The Unfortunate Fate of Sarah Good

Sarah Good had lost her father when she was young. The law at the time prevented girls from inheriting their father’s property, forcing Sarah to find refuge in charity. She married a servant named Daniel Poole, whose death left her in debt and forced her to sell a small portion of her father’s land, which was the only property she owned. She later married William Good. Sarah developed a reputation for being a “turbulent spirit, spiteful and maliciously bent“. She challenged the Puritan values, which did not sit right with the people of Salem.

Sarah Goodwhose poverty resulted in her being held guilty of practising witchcraft.

When she was accused of practising witchcraft, she claimed her innocence until the very end. Her husband told the examiners that she was “an enemy to all good” describing her as a “burden to him“. He said that he hated her demeanour and that she had failed to meet his expectations of a wife. Sarah was pregnant at the time of her arrest and gave birth to a child in Ipswich, who later died.

After the trials, Sarah was given a death sentence. Even at the time of the execution, she profoundly claimed her innocence while blaming Osborne and Tituba for witchcraft. 

The Tragic Life of Sarah Osborne

Sarah Osborne was the wife of a prominent man from the Putnam family, Robert Prince. The couple had two sons, after which Prince passed away. Following his death, Sarah married Alexander Osborne, an Irish immigrant. She took over the land and the property that her late husband had left for their sons, resulting in them suing their mother. When she was accused of practising witchcraft, Osborne was dealing with legal issues and had not attended church for three years which made matters worse for her. Unlike Tituba and Good, Osborne pleaded her innocence without accusing anyone else of practising witchcraft. She died in jail on May 29th, 1692.

Sarah Osborne | Paintings from the Collection | Gallery guides and podcasts | State Library of New South Wales | State Library of NSW

Sarah Osbornewhose financial independence resulted in her accusation

Osborne, unlike Tituba and Good, did not belong to a marginalised community, but she broke social norms by taking over her late husband’s land and denying her sons the wealth that they inherited by law. Her economic independence made the Putnam family feel insecure, and her owning and taking over a part of their land resulted in their financial instability. Hence, it is possible that the Putnam family had a hand in her arrest. 

The Black Witch of Salem

On March 1, 1692, while Good and Osborne claimed innocence, Tituba stood apart from the other two by confessing to having practised witchcraft. She also denied these accusations at first, but later confessed with persuasion, clarity, and scary specifics. Tituba’s testimony is one of the longest in Salem’s dark period. 

She told the Court how the Devil had come to her and bid her serve him along with Good and Osborne. She had signed in the Devil’s book using blood. She related detailed images of red cats, black dogs, yellow birds, and a certain black man she described vaguely, who asked her to sign in the Devil’s book. She was called ‘The Black Witch of Salem’.

Tituba (cdogdancer12) - Profile | Pinterest

Titubawhose ethnicity and social status resulted in her accusation

Today, we know very little about her apart from her being a worker and caretaker in the Parris household. Her status as a ‘coloured slave’ is an obstacle to knowing her story and her point of view on the accusations. Although very little is known about her later life, it is said she was jailed, and her status of ‘sole witness’ helped her survive the initial days of mass hysteria. During her trial, Tituba mentioned that there were nine more signatures in the Devil’s book—it planted a seed of paranoia, which led to 144 more accusations in the town. 

The View of The Church

The Puritans were members of a religious movement that arose in the Church of England. Its purpose was to cleanse the church of its Roman Catholic values. They were also the people who immigrated to the US and formed the majority of Salem’s population.  Reports of witchcraft, which was considered evil and satanic, threatened the holy barbed wire of their religion. Hence, these cases were dealt with immediately. The magistrate did not interrogate the accuser and the accused separately, and the necessity of physical evidence was ignored. In such conditions, the accused had only two options—confess to practising witchcraft or face a death sentence.

Can an auto-immune illness explain the Salem witch trials? - BBC Future

A scene from court trials determining the fate of the woman who was accused of practising witchcraft [Image Credits: BBC]

When unexplained events began to occur, the people of Salem turned to their God for an explanation. They believed that by punishing those who performed witchcraft, they were performing their duty towards Him. While the religion teaches peace and respect, they thought they were acting in accordance with His teachings by purging the world of Devil-worshippers—the epitome of destruction. They relied more on their instincts and faith than on physical evidence.

A Bad Case of The Ergotism

In 1976, Dr Linnda R. Caporael suggested that all the symptoms of witchcraft that were seen in the victims may have been a case of rotten bread. Ergotism is a form of food poisoning, caused in Salem in 1692 because of a rye bread that was infected by a fungus. It explained some of the symptoms experienced by victims. Other conditions like sleep paralysis accounted for the nocturnal attacks. Interestingly enough, the fungus, Claviceps purpurea is what modern-day LSD is derived from. There are many records that back up Caporael’s theory. The year 1691 was a wet season for Salem, making the conditions perfect for fungal growth. Moreover, the minister was paid in grains, and it was the minister’s daughter and niece who were the first victims of ‘witchcraft’.

There are still some people out there who deny Caporael’s theories because they choose to believe in flying broomsticks, grimoires, shape-shifting, and dark magic.

A Tale of Patriarchy and Discrimination

In the 17th Century, Christians believed that women were inferior, making them easy targets, and more susceptible to Satan’s wiles. Perhaps the Salem Witch Trials were to serve as a reminder of the status of women in the gender hierarchy. They believed that the devil could reach and ‘pollute’ a women’s soul more easily. The roots of this belief lie in the New Testament. Satan in the form of a serpent lured Eve and made her eat the forbidden fruit, which led to the fall of humankind. Around 70-80% of the people accused in the Trials were women, of whom, many were around the age of 40 and above—notably, an age when a woman’s fertility starts fading away. Sarah Good began questioning the values of the Puritan Society. Osborne gained economic independence by claiming her late husband’s land. Both of their actions were considered ‘evil’. 

The Salem Witch Trials were not about killing and punishing witches who went against God. It was about people trying to maintain the ill-balanced social hierarchy of the time. They felt that the hierarchy that benefited them was at risk because of Good and Osborne’s actions. They wanted to maintain the fragile status quo of male supremacy. They wanted to keep on defining a woman’s worth through her fertility. This was done best by linking folklores and myths about the Devil to women and people of colour. The Salem Witch Trials was an attempt at maintaining a position of power and privilege over those less fortunate.

The accusations soon flared out in Salem’s neighbouring towns in 1693. It did not take long before accusations were meted out indiscriminately. When the wife of Francis Dane, Governor of colonial Massachusetts, was accused of performing witchcraft, the trials were ended, sentences were retracted, the arrested were released, and compensation was given. The trials came to an end.

The Trials remain a tale of patriarchy and discrimination. It was an event that marked the beginning of the end of Puritan society. It is a tale of how people valued authority over justice and delusion over truth. It is a story that is being told to this day.

The 21st Century Witch Hunt

The hashtags keep popping up on the screen. People chant with their pitchforks and receipts “Cancel! Cancel! Cancel!”. The stake is replaced by hashtags, the pitchforks with keyboards. The internet warriors come to serve justice. Salem now is not just a small city in Massachusetts with a small population. It is a town that exists on digital media with a population of millions. Years have passed, but time has not changed. Every generation has its own Salem.

The Salem of today is made up of social media apps. However, the beginning of the Witch Hunt in today’s Salem is very different compared to the 17th Century. Cancel culture arose within black culture. It arose during the Civil Rights Movement in the 1950s and 60s. For black people ‘Cancel Culture’ was not a mere hashtag—it was about calling out those who threatened their rights and freedoms.

Cancel culture was initially supposed to represent the helplessness people felt because of unjust systems and the influences of people in power. It was a way to boycott racist businesses in the 50s. It was a way to tell people that one may not have the ability to change the inequality and the laws that support tyranny. However, one does have the power to fight, to ‘cancel’ out the inequality and those who promote it in society.

The Aftermath of A Hashtag

Cancel culture has taken a different turn in modern times. While appearing very different from the Salem Witch Trials, it is the same issue at its heart. In a strange turn of events, it is no longer the persecution of minorities. Now, it targets those in power who often misuse their authority.

Many celebrities like Harvey Weinstein and Bill Cosby were cancelled because of sexual misconduct in their workplaces and had to serve prison sentences for the same. On the other hand, when celebrities like Ellen DeGeneres and JK Rowling were cancelled, it hardly made a difference in their lives. Ellen and her show continue to maintain popularity. Even after her transphobic tweets, JK Rowling continues to profit off Harry Potter and its merchandise. 

So, while Cancel Culture was successful in hunting down figures like Harvey Weinstein, many people, even after being held at the stake of cancellation, continue to maintain their status in society. Cancel culture, just like the Salem Witch Trials, is based on instinct and faith, rather than tangible evidence. It is based on mob mentality. 

Instead of bringing down these authority figures, it has created fear in people’s minds. Innocent individuals are burned at the stake of social humiliation. People with their keyboards hunt down others and hold them accountable for something they said or did several years ago. It is true that because of a corrupt justice system, people often resort to a hashtag to mete out punishments, but it can be harmful when the person being held accountable is innocent.

Cancel Culture frequently hides under the disguise of call-out culture and often turns into cyber-bullying. At the end of the day, such ‘justice’ is not worth it when it comes at the cost of mental health and the lives of the innocent.

What Lies In Store For The World? 

While we continue to live and grow up in a patriarchal society where discrimination still exists, the witch hunt today is very different from what it was 330 years ago. Today, people get cancelled for supporting patriarchy and discriminating against others based on their skin.

In the 21st century, history is not recorded from the point of view of the biased majority, but in the form of digital footprints. Being able to hear opinions of both sides along with those of ‘internet warriors’ serving ‘justice’ via their keyboards instead of by the gavel does not justify the suffering innocent people had to go through. It was not warranted in 1692, it is not justified in the 21st century. With history being recorded through digital media accessible to the majority, the fate of the impetuous millions is yet to be determined.

Featured Image Credits: History.com




The Open Electives (2022-23)—Semester VII

Open Electives offer you the opportunity to take up a subject well-tailored to your interests, but making the right choice is not always an easy decision. To help you know your options and decide what’s best for you, we have compiled a list of all the Open Electives on offer this academic year. Watch this space for details including the syllabus of the subjects.

Allotment of Electives: The allotment of Open Electives will be done based on CGPA till the 6th semester,  and the seats available. There is no CGPA cut-off while applying for the OEs. The preferences once submitted cannot be edited. Students will have to submit a minimum of 20 preferences.

The option to enter OE preferences is now available on the portal. The last date for entering preferences is July 11, 2022. To access the OE application login to your SLCM -> Application -> Apply for Elective.

Note: This page will be updated with more information about the electives. While this list has been compiled using official sources, it might vary slightly with the options on SLCM. The discrepancies will be sorted out soon. 

Aeronautical and Automobile Engineering

  1. AAE 4305:  Introduction to Farm Machines and Earth Moving Equipments

This course aids students to understand the working principle of a variety of earthmoving machinery and determine the productivity and sustainability of machines for earthmoving. By the end of the course, the students will also be able to understand the safety methods for the equipment.

Syllabus

Engine Component overview, Lubrication System, Cooling System, Fuel Injection System, Turbocharger, Supercharger, After Coolers. Basic types of transmissions, auxiliary transmission, compound transmission, twin triple countershaft transmissions and planetary transmission, constructional and working principles, hydro shift automatic transmission and retarders. Final drives, types of reductions final drives and planetary final drives, PTO shaft. Power steering types, linkage type power steering, semi-integral power steering & integral power steering. Steering of tracked vehicles, Skid steering, articulated steering, clutch/brake steering system, controlled differential steering system and planetary steering system. BRAKES: Types of brakes, disc brakes, engine brakes. Different types of earthmoving equipment and their applications. Construction details and attachments of Dozers, Loaders, Shovels, Excavators, Rippers, Trenchers, Dredgers, Drag Line, Clamshell, Scrapers, Motor Graders, Rollers, Compactors. Tractors, Primary and Secondary Tillage Equipment’s, Harvesting Equipment, Types of Sprayers. Tyre and tracked vehicles, advantages and disadvantages, undercarriage components like tracks, roller frames, drive sprockets, track rollers, track chains and track shoes. Suspension system, Rubber spring suspension and Air spring suspension. Types of maintenance schedules purpose and advantages, organisation setups, documentation. Safety methods for earth moving equipment.

Biotechnology 

  1. BIO 4305: Body, Mind and Medicine

This course teaches the students how different cultures understand the human body and its evolution. It discusses the subconscious and conscious mind’s effect on human beings on an individual scale and how different practices of medicines interpret the ailments of our body.

Syllabus

Explanation of the human body and its evaluation of the present form. How different cultures interpreted the human body: energy centres, energy chakras. Explanation of mind and different aspects of it. Subconscious, conscious mind and their effect during the different stages of human growth. How it has reached the present form. Interaction of mind and body and its effect on human development and growth. The different interpretations of the human body by allopathy medicine, Ayurveda medicine and Chinese medicine.

Biomedical Engineering

  1. BME 4306: Nano-medicine

Syllabus

Fundamental concepts in nanotechnology, fundamental concepts in cell, molecular and tissue biology, nano-particles and their synthesis, nanotechnology platforms, characterisation of nano-materials, nano-pharmaceuticals, nano-biosensors and diagnostics, role of nanotechnology in biological therapies, nano-devices for medicine and surgery, application in orthopaedics, cardiology, microbiology, ophthalmology, imaging, role of nanotechnology in regenerative medicine and tissue engineering, nano-toxicity,  case studies in nano-medicine.

Chemical Engineering

  1. CHE 4304: Introduction to Petroleum Engineering

This course aims to give non-chemical engineering students an insight into the oil and gas industry. For the foreseeable future, oil and gas will continue to be a key source of energy for the global energy infrastructure. Through this course, students will understand the economic and geopolitical importance of the petroleum industry. 

Syllabus

Overview and history of the petroleum industry; Petroleum reserves, production, and consumption statistics of the world; Crude oil origin, exploration, drilling; Crude composition, characterization, and classification; Reservoir properties and drive mechanisms; Enhanced Oil Recovery; Fundamentals of refinery major operations and processes; Refineryproducts and test methods.

Civil Engineering

  1. CIE 4301: Air and Noise Pollution

This course introduces the students to various effects of air and noise pollution. It discusses the negative health effects caused by it, aiming to bring awareness to the importance of practising an environmental-friendly lifestyle.

Syllabus

Definition, sources, classification, Behaviour of air pollutants, Meteorological variables, stability conditions, plume rise and stack height, Effects of air pollution, Sampling, analysis and control, Global effects of air pollution, Noise pollution, Air and noise legislations.

Computer Science Engineering

  1. CSE 4301: Essentials of Industrial Computing

Syllabus

Introduction, Programming techniques, Introduction to object-oriented concepts, Advanced concepts in object-oriented technology, Object-oriented design methodology, Introduction to Analysis of algorithms, Code tuning techniques, Analysis of algorithms, Analysis of some well-known algorithms, Intractable problems, Evolution of software, Software development models, Requirement analysis and design, Software construction, Software testing and software quality, Introduction to Web Technologies, Internetworking concepts, Architecture and protocol, The World Wide Web, web applications, Security in applications and issues in web-based applications.

2. CSE 4305: Principles of Soft Computing

Syllabus

Artificial Neural Networks: Definition, Benefits of Artificial Neural Networks, Human Brain, Terminology, Neuron Models, Activation Functions, Network Architectures, Learning Process, Types of Learning: Error-correction, Memory Based, Hebbian, Competitive, and Boltzmann Learning. Types of Neural Networks: Feed Forward Neural Network: Single Layer Perceptron, Limitations, Multi-Layer Perceptron, Back Propagation Algorithm, Practical Considerations, Radial Basis Function Network. Recurrent Networks: Hopfield Network, Recurrent Multi-Layer Perceptron, Second Order Networks, Learning Algorithms. Self-Organizing Map, Neural Network Applications. Fuzzy Logic: Fuzzy Logic Applications. Pattern Recognition, Control Engineering, Image Processing. Genetic Algorithms.

Electronics and Communication Engineering

1. ECE 4307: Intelligent Instrumentation System

This course deals with everything from automation, sensors, and other intelligent sub-components required to build an intelligent instrumentation system. Students will get hands-on experience in these topics via assignments as well, hence completing the intelligent instrumentation course.

Syllabus

Transducer review; Automation system; sensors and actuators; PLC; Virtual instrumentation; Lab VIEW; Introduction to intelligent controllers. Design and development of real-time ON/OFF controller – P-I-D controller design – Building an autonomous embedded system in integration with Embedded target – Development of AI-based Vision system using Lab VIEW – assignments

2. ECE 4308: Computational Intelligence and Environmental Sustainability

Syllabus

Introduction to Computational Intelligence: Computational Intelligence Implementations, Modeling and Optimization, Applying Computational Intelligence to Data Mining, Performance Metrics and Analysis. Introduction to Environmental Sustainability: Need and concept of sustainability, Global warming, Ozone layer depletion, Conservation and Management of Resources for Development, Environmental issues and sustainable development. Computational Intelligence and GIS: Remote sensing and Geographic Information Systems (GIS), Application of GIS in Earth sciences, Geographic coordinates, QGIS Spatial and Temporal analysis. Artificial Intelligence methods in GIS applications,  application of Computational Intelligence in Environmental Prediction: Computational Intelligence in time series forecasting, Climate change and terrestrial ecosystem modelling, Rainfall prediction and prediction of meteorological parameters, Water quality prediction, weather and water resource forecasting.   

3. ECE 4309: Applications of Signal Processing

Syllabus

Basics of multi-modal signals, types of signals in real-time applications, image perception, image representation, image and video processing, basics of sound speech and processing, time and frequency domain analysis of speech, an overview of pen computing and processing, applications of gesture recognition, case studies with different domain such as aviation, automation like driverless vehicles, gesture-controlled robots, handwritten data analysis, recommendation systems for digital marketing, speech controlled devices for home automation, concepts of real-time applications such as surveillance video processing, face recognition, face tracking.

Electrical and Electronics Engineering

  1. ELE 4306: Renewable Energy

Energy sources and their availability – Solar Energy – solar radiation and measurements, solar energy storage, Solar Photo-Voltaic systems design – Wind Energy – estimation, Maximum power and power coefficient, wind energy conversion systems – design considerations and applications – Energy from Bio-Mass – Sources of bio-mass, Biomass conversion technologies – Thermo-chemical conversion and Biochemical conversions, Anaerobic digestion and Fermentation, Bio-gas generation Pyrolysis and Liquefaction, Classification of Gasifiers, Energy plantation -Energy from the Oceans – Ocean Thermal Energy Conversion, Open and Closed Cycle plants, Site selection considerations, Origin of tides, Tidal energy conversion systems, Wave energy conversion systems – Hybrid Energy Systems.

2. ELE 4307: Utilization of Electrical Energy

Traction – Traction Drives – DC and AC Traction Drives, Power semiconductor controlled drives, DC and AC traction employing polyphase AC motors, diesel-electric traction. Electroplating: Preparation of work for electroplating, Electro-extraction, electrolysis of water. Electric Welding: Resistance welding, spot, seam, butt, projection and flash welding, Power supply, Arc welding, Carbon arc and metallic arc welding, Control of current in welding transformers. Electric Heating: types, modes of heat transfer, resistance heating, resistance ovens, Design of heating element, Temperature control, Induction heating, Core type furnace, Coreless Induction furnace, indirect induction oven, High-frequency eddy current heating, Dielectric heating, Arc furnaces.

Information and Communication Technology

  1. ICT 4301: Computer Graphics and Animation

This course offers students a basic understanding of the concepts of Computer Graphics and encourages them to develop new algorithms for various transformations. Students will be able to review the current status of research in this field and apply the concepts to game design as well as information visualisation.

Overview of Graphics Systems – 4 Hours

Graphics Output Primitives – 9 Hours

Geometrical Transformations – 7 Hours

Two-Dimensional and Three-Dimensional Viewing – 5 Hours

Animation – 6 Hours

Graphics Programming using OpenGL – 5 Hours

Syllabus

Introduction to Computer Graphics, Video Display Devices, Raster Scan Systems, Graphics Output Primitives, Line Drawing Algorithms, Circles and Ellipses Generating Algorithms, Geometrical Transformation, Two Dimensional and Three Dimensional Transformations, Inverse Transformations, Three Dimensional Translation, Rotation and Scaling, Transformation, Two Dimensional and Three Dimensional Viewing,  Animation, Raster Methods for Computer Animation, Design of Animation sequences, Articulated Figure Animation, Periodic Motion, Graphics Programming using OpenGL.

Instrumentation and Control Engineering

  1. ICE 4307: Farm Automation

Syllabus

Farm mechanization, sources of farm power, renewable energy sources, IC engines, tillage, sowing, plant protection, intercultural operations, harvesting, threshing, biomass management techniques, watershed concept and theory, soil erosion, measures, hydrological cycle, irrigation methods, devices, Water conveyance systems, Water harvesting, aquifer and its types, interaction of water resources with the changing environment, engineering properties of biological materials, heat and mass transfer, devices for cleaning, grading, milling and storage of farm produce. Drying and dehydration, function and features of greenhouse. Resource conservation management, precision farming, automated irrigation scheduling, variable rate seed and chemical applicators, robotics, Rainfall-runoff prediction models, watershed modelling, climate change impact analysis on bio-resources, drying characteristics, storage or process kinetics, simulation and modelling in tillage implements. 

2. ICE 4306: Virtual Instrumentation

Syllabus

Architecture of a virtual instrument, Virtual instruments V/s Traditional instruments, Advantages of VI, Graphical programming, Creating Virtual Instruments using LabVIEW-Loops, Arrays, Clusters, String and file I/O, Graphs, Data Acquisition, Common Instrument Interfaces, Current loop, System buses, Interface buses, VISA, Image acquisition and processing, Design of ON/OFF controller for a mathematically described processes using VI software.

Mechanical and Manufacturing Engineering

  1. MME 4304: Introduction to Alternative Fuels and Applications

This subject deals with the study of various types of alternative renewable fuel sources. The study focuses on the effect of various fuel properties on the combustion, performance and emission characteristics of spark ignition and compression ignition engines. A detailed discussion on the merits and limitations of the liquid and gaseous alternative fuels are included in the study. The subject also highlights modern electric vehicles and their importance in the transportation sector.

During the course, students can do mini-projects and publish papers in reputed journals. Students can also join the automotive industries in the R&D division. This open elective provides higher study opportunities in the areas of Renewable Energy Technology, biomass energy conversion and electric vehicle design and development etc. 

Introduction – 7 Hours

Liquid fuels in SI engines – 6 Hours

Liquid fuels in CI engines – 8 Hours

Gaseous fuels in SI engines – 4 Hours

Gaseous fuels in CI engines – 4 Hours

Electrical Vehicles – 7 Hours

Introduction to alternative fuels Need for alternative fuels, Availability of different alternative fuels for SI and CI engines. Properties of potential alternative fuels—Ethanol, Methanol,  DEE,  DME,  Hydrogen,  LPG,  Natural gas,  Producer gas,  biogas and biodiesel properties, merits and demerits. Requirements of fuels for SI engines-Different Techniques of utilising alternative liquid fuels–Blends,  Neat form, Reformed fuels -Manufacturing, Storage and Safety-Performance and emission characteristics of alternative liquid fuels. Requirements of fuels for CI engines-Different techniques for their utilisation-blends, Fuel modifications to suit CI engines, Neat fuels, Reformed fuels, Emulsions, Dual fuelling, Ignition accelerators and other additives–Performance and emission characteristics, Various vegetable oils and their important properties. Different methods of using vegetable oils in engines–Blending,  preheating  Trans-esterification and emulsification of Vegetable oils,  Performance in engines,  Emission and Combustion Characteristics in diesel engines. Use of Hydrogen, CNG, LPG, Natural gas, Producer gas and biogas in SI engines, Safety precautions, Engine performance and emissions. Use of Hydrogen, Producer gas, biogas, LPG, Natural gas, CNG in CI engines. Dual fuelling, Performance and emission characteristics. Layout of electric vehicle and hybrid vehicles –Advantages and drawbacks of electric and hybrid vehicles. System components,  Electronic control system –Different configurations of hybrid vehicles. High energy and power density batteries –Basics of fuel cell vehicles.

2. MME 4308: Thermal Treatment of Metals and Alloys

Phases in solids and phase diagrams – 7 Hours

Iron-Carbon systems – 5 Hours

Heat treatment – 4 Hours

Heat treatment processes – 5 Hours

Case and surface hardening treatments – 5 Hours

Steel specification, classification and heat treatment of steels and cast iron – 7 Hours

Heat treatment and application of non-ferrous metals and alloys – 3 Hours

Syllabus

Introduction,  Phases-Single phase and Multiphase, Gibb’s phase rule, Solid solutions and types, Intermediate phases, Types of equilibrium diagrams (only binary),   Equilibrium and Non-Equilibrium cooling,   Analysis of phase diagram to determine Composition and Amount of phases involved, Invariantreactions (Euctectic, Peritectic and Eutectoid) and Congruent melting alloy phase. Allotropy and Polymorphism, Cooling curve for pure iron, Fe-Carbon equilibrium diagram,  Study of iron-carbon system with emphasis on the invariant reactions. Lever rule application on Iron-carbon equilibrium diagram, Effect of alloying elements on the diagram. Principle and Objectives of heat treatments, Isothermal transformation diagram-Construction and Explanation, Factors affecting shape and Position of isothermal transformation diagram, Continuous cooling curves on isothermal transformation diagram. Annealing and its Types, Normalizing, Hardening and its Different methods, Tempering, Hardenability, Determination of hardenability by Jominy end quench test, Factors affecting hardenability,  Age hardening and Thermo-mechanical treatments. Case hardening-Carburizing and its types,  Post-carburizing treatments,  Cyaniding and Carbonitriding,  Nitriding,  Thermal treatments:  Flame hardening, Induction hardening, Electron beam hardening, Laser hardening. IS and AISI Classification of steel, Heat treatment and Application of plain carbon steels, Commercial steels, High-speed steels,  Stainless steels,  Maraging steels,  Spring,  Valve,  Bearing and HSLA steels. Cast iron and Heat treatment -Grey, White, Malleable cast irons, Malleabilization of white cast iron, Spheroidal graphite (SG) iron.  Aluminium alloys, Titanium alloys, Copper alloys, Defects, Causes and Remedies in heat treatment.

Mechatronics Engineering

1. MTE 4304: Industrial IoT

Introduction to Industrial IoT, Components of IIoT. Sensors, Acceleration: Accelerometers (Piezoelectric, Capacitive); Proximity & Range: Proximity Switches, Ultrasonic Sensor, Hall Effect Sensor, Eddy Current Sensor, Temperature: Bimetallic, RTD, Thermocouple, Thermistor, Optical Pyrometer; Pressure: Electric Transducers, Pressure Transmitters, Pressure Gauges – McLeod, Knudsen, Pirani, Vacuum; Flow: Ultrasonic, V Cone, Laser Doppler, Mass flowmeters. Introduction to PLC: Advantage of PLC, and Chronological Evolution of a PLC, Type of PLC, Parts of PLC and Block diagram PLC, I/O modules and interfacing, networking of PLC, Input-Output System Sinking and Sourcing, power supply module, Programming Equipment. Programming formats using contacts and coils, latching etc. Converting simple relay logic diagram to PLC ladder diagram, Digital logic implementation in ladder programming, Timer and counter functions, Arithmetic functions, R-trig / F- trig pulses, shift registers, sequence functions, PID principles and functional block, position indicator with PID control. Industrial Process Automation, Networks and Protocols: AS-i, CAN, DeviceNet, Interbus, LON, Foundation Fieldbus, HART, PROFIBUS-PA, BACnet, ControlNet, IndustrialEthernet, Ethernet/IP, MODBUS, PROFIBUS-DP. Database-System Applications, Purpose of Database Systems, View of Data, Database Languages, Relational Databases. Introduction to security, Characteristics of Information, Components of an Information system, Security System Development Lifecycle, The Need for Security- Business Needs first, Threats, Attacks, Intruders, Intrusion detection

Media Technology

  1. MED 4303: Packaging Design and Development

Packaging in modern society, packaging and marketing, designer’s role, designer’s qualifications, design as an aspect of marketing, packaging specifications and quality assurance, paper, paper board and structural design – types of paper and paper board, working with paper and boards, folding cartons, corrugated containers – designing and manufacturing, testing corrugated containers, stacking strength, plastics and flexible packaging: natural plastics, development of synthetic plastics, chemistry of plastics, classification of polymers, techniques used to mold and shape plastics, uses of plastics, designing with plastics, rigid packaging – glass making, producing glass containers, types of glass containers, decorating glass containers, designing a fragrance bottle, phases of designing a bottle, cans, tubes and aerosols, designing cans, metal tubes, plastic 32 tubes, and the aerosol can, environmental implications of packaging – solid waste disposal, packaging regulations – weight and measures, food regulations, cosmetic regulations, tamper evident packaging, other laws and regulations, recycling of packaging, latest trends in packaging – advancements in package designing tools, smart packaging technologies, aseptic packaging, advancements in packaging machineries

Inter-Institute Open Electives

  1. IIE 4305: International Business Management

Syllabus

Historical perspective of international business, International business environment, Modes of entering international business, Cross-Culture and dynamic market understanding, Differences in Culture, Theories of international business, World Bank, World trade organisation, Multinational Corporations and their involvement in International Business, Tariffs and quotas, Balance of Payment Account.

2. IIE 4308: Health Economics

Syllabus

Economics: Understanding Economics, Efficiency, Rational decision making, Opportunity costs, Supply and demand, Price discovery, Health economics: Defining health, Human capital, what does supply and demand mean in the context of health? Arrow on the uncertainty and welfare economics, The Moral hazard, DALY and QALY, Efficiency: The Production possibility frontiers. The production function for health care. Health policy, Defining equity, Standards of healthcare provision Epidemiology, The Healthcare sector, The demand for health, Disease prevalence, The pharmaceuticals market, Cross country case studies.

3. IIE 4311: Lifestyle Modifications And Complimentary and Alternative Therapies

Syllabus

Principles and concepts of lifestyle modification and various complementary and alternative therapies, Demonstrate skill in performing different yoga aasanas, guided imagery/Progressive muscle relaxation, meditation & Pranayama, reflexology, massage therapy, aerobics, laughter therapy.




The Unbounded Growth of AI and Its Threat to Humanity

We stand on the brink of a new age.

Technological advancements have been happening since the dawn of humanity, but this growth has always been compounding. It took 1.8 million years for us to get from fire to wheels and about 5500 years to get from the wheel to the steam engine (Watt, 1775). Fifty years later, we had the electric engine (Faraday, 1821), and 16 years from then, Charles Babbage created the first Turing-complete computer, albeit not electronic. Over a century later, we had digital computers and MOSFET. In 1969 we sent humans to the moon and had VCR. A decade later, broadcast color television was already a thing and MTV was the pinnacle of culture.

Since the 80s, we have seen major epochs of technological advancement. The time that it took to go from color TV to dial-up internet and YouTube is also the time that it took for touchscreen mobile to become commonplace and neural networked AI to be the next big step in development.

But what does this mean for the future of humanity?

Human Obsolescence

We, as a technological race, are approaching the limit of hardware-based innovation. Moore’s law suggests that the number of transistors in a VLSI (a dense IC) doubles every two years. With correct programming and interfacing software, this can mean massive improvements in processing power. But there are other hard limits. A transistor can only be so much smaller before quantum tunneling takes hold and the entire system of billions of logical nodes collapses. Hence the only viable way to improve is to create better code and program leaner, faster software that is artificially intelligent.

Humans are sluggish and prone to mistakes. Humans are slow to evolve, become viable workers, reproduce, mature, and learn. In the past millennia, the human body and brain haven’t developed at the rate of technological growth. It can be argued that these technological innovations are proof of growth, but that is because this rise in complexity is the result of humanity’s collective efforts, not of one person. We too, as hardware, are reaching our limits.

Most modern innovations and inventions largely rely on the technological crutches of computers and the internet. While this future of diminishing returns is likely, that doesn’t mean humanity is to reach its end. The way forward has been clear for a while now— Artificial Intelligence.

But is AI truly the future we want?

Why AI?

As of now, companies in all markets are investing heavily in AI software with little to no returns. There is promise: greater optimization, hyper-targeted advertisements, and large-scale user analytics.

For Google, now primarily an advertising company, AI helps in analyzing stored user data and using it to provide selected, targeted advertisements that have a high throughput rate. For Apple, it is all about providing the most tailored experience, Natural Language Processing through Siri, Computer Vision, and Deep Learning for AI solutions to camera technology and the iOS. For Intel, it is to further push the limits of those limited processors through AI scheduling and resource management, better vision, logical and graphical processing, and building processors that run complex AI.

AI can be used in anything. As of now, it serves as a means to do menial, laborious tasks, but the next evolution is already in development [Credit in photo]

For Tesla, its self-driving cars; Morgan Stanley—AI-powered financial services. RISC processor manufacturer ARM creates Machine Learning enabled inhalers, and AI software can detect cancer before it even happens. Amplifier maker PositiveGrid uses AI to learn your instrument playstyle and create a backing track with its SmartJamAccording to PwC, AI would contribute $15.7tr to the global economy by 2030, with a 26% GDP boost for local economies.

AI, ML, and adjacent technologies are everywhere. Optimization and personalized service are the future, and the speed and accuracy of robust AI algorithms allow that to be achieved quickly without human work.

What is the caveat?

There is a huge potential problem with this rapid development of newer technologies in multiple aspects. There is the Terminator-style robot war, which is unlikely, and then there is the far more pressing matter of human decline. Humans are indeed the ones creating this technology, but it isn’t a widespread collective effort. Even though AI is an industry buzzword, very few people understand what it does and how it does it. Even fewer people hold power over it.

The most rapid progress in AI research in recent years has involved an increasingly data-driven, black box approach. In the currently popular neural network approach, this training procedure determines the settings of millions of internal parameters which interact in complex ways and are very difficult to reverse engineer and explain.

—David Stern, quantitative research manager at G-Research, a tech firm using machine learning to predict prices in financial markets

There are types of AI, and multiple ways to categorize them, but three broad distinctions can be made:

  • Artificial Narrow Intelligence is what all existing AI is. It is limited in capability, has limited memory, and cannot think for itself. An example is Spotify’s Recommended algorithm. It has to be taught to function through exposure to multiple labeled or unlabeled examples, which is a slow process of refinement.
  • Artificial General Intelligence is AI that can learn, perceive, understand, and function completely as a human being. It can massively reduce the training time for an AI but is still in theoretical stages.
  • Artificial Superintelligence, AI that is above and beyond the realms of human imagination. The shift from AGI to ASI would take a matter of hours.

AI-augmented humans, a la Deus Ex, are all but a myth. AI will replace routine jobs, specialized jobs, healthcare, and auxiliary services as it gets smarter and analyses and understands the human condition more thoroughly. News anchors, influencers, musicians, and artists are all replaceable. Samsung has created life-like AI humans under its NEON AI project, and AI company Brud created Miquela Sousa, an entirely digital influencer with a following of 3.9m on Instagram. She has modeled for Prada, talked to YouTubers, created music, and was one of Time’s Most Influential People on the Internet.

This is a great achievement for all people involved, but therein lies the problem. Since all this very alien, advanced AI works on a piece of self-learning, self-improving code. It is, hence, inherently hard to control or even understand its functionality.

The Multiple Threats
The Improbable Ending

OpenAI, a company that researches and deploys AI solutions in the real world, made a hide-and-seek game with multiple AI agents:

The Hiders were programmed to stay away from the Seekers, and were given a world with real physics and objects such as walls, boxes, and ramps in play. Over the course of millions of runs, the Hiders and the Seekers learnt how to utilize their surroundings to achieve their goals. The Hiders had the end goal of surviving the Seekers, which they achieved by locking ramps in place and using boxes and walls to build impenetrable shelters. That, theoretically, was the end of the simulation: the Hiders successfully outlast the seekers by building shelter. Then the Seeker AI adapted. It learnt that it could jump on a box, ‘surf’ it around and drop into the Hiders’ shelter. There was no human interference that allowed it to learn this, in fact, the only human instruction had been for the Hiders to avoid the Seekers, and the Seekers to chase the hiders.

This is a very real threat. While the scenario was of very low complexity, what this showed us was that AI is not limited by the humans who designed it—humans cannot predict the millions of outcomes that AI can compute in a matter of hours.

Satya Nadella, Elon Musk, and the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council all have promulgated various sets of ethics and rules that all AI developers should follow, avoiding the possibility of having self-preserving AI that could harm humans.

The Seekers (red) learn to utilise unconventional means to find the Hiders(blue). The AI evolved on its own, discovering a cheat that the programmers hadn’t planned for. [Credit: OpenAI/YouTube]

Research into AI has been ongoing since 1956, though relatively erratic in the early days. Throughout this time, researchers, and some of the smartest people in the world, have maintained that the uncontrolled proliferation of AI capabilities could be the end of the human era.

The Human Condition

A far more likely scenario is the slow decline of humanity.

In 1997, IBM’s Deep Blue supercomputer beat World Chess Champion Garry Kasparov. AI can play games like Mario and Doom that rely on reflexes and skill far better than humans can. As of today, AI is part of nearly every mobile application that we use. Virtual assistants, music suggestions, recommended watching on streaming apps, Google’s search optimization, a car’s performance, and mileage, and the CPU opponent in video games are all crucial elements of the new AI-driven world.

This isn’t a matter of information being easily available, rather the fact that we have no incentive to explore and discover new experiences and exercise our brain-power making sense of these. AI has created a microcosm of the larger internet that acts as an echo chamber to our own beliefs and ideas. Constructive and engaging debates and argumentation are what have led humanity to this point of unprecedented technological advancement, but a steady stream of mass-produced, low-quality entertainment, suggested to us by AI that very closely monitors our behavior has already made us lose contact with larger communities in general. Physical activity is increasingly looked down on, and wars on cultures and opinions rage and rift all strata of society.

This isn’t inherently AI manipulation, but it is an instrument that yields compounding results, thus echoing back what we want to hear. As AI outsmarts humans, who gladly consume art, music, and news generated by said AI, the people who control it are very close to unethical universal power.

Total Control

China introduced its Social Credit Scoring system in 2014. This system would collect all forms of data on citizens, then use an AI algorithm to assign credit ratings. People with bad scores could be denied travel and jobs and could have their internet throttled. While this algorithm is human-designed and only uses ANI for determining scores, faulty programming in the ML coding could lead to disastrous outcomes for millions of citizens. EU has moved against this, but complete control of all citizens in the most populous state is still a very dangerous precedent.

The Social Credit system in China uses motion tracking and face detection AI to track credit scores. Citizens can have scores deducted for littering, jaywalking, and speeding. [Credit: Antarctica Journal]

What can we do?

Deus Ex, released in the year 2000, predicted something very close to what we have today. It brought ‘The Illuminati’ to the masses, which for us means the monopoly that the Big Four of Tech hold. The game also concludes that technological advancement cannot be unbounded, lest we fly too close to the sun.

Organizations like IEEE, and OECD have been pushing for some level of international regulation, as have politicians and thinkers. While some have paid heed to this, it is far from the level of global control needed.

China and the UK have introduced some level of regulation and included catastrophe prevention in these, but the US has no actual regulation (just drafts), and hacker-zones like Russia, the Balkans, and Central Asia have no regulation whatsoever. Over the generations, sci-fi writers, researchers, and public figures have introduced ‘Laws’ or base ethical guidelines for all robotic and AI development, and while it would be wise to follow these, industries and economic forces that have their investments and futures riding on this new wave are lobbying against them.

AI is far too interwoven into our lives to be removed, and arguably far too crucial to human existence. There are questions we have that AI can answer and problems we face that AI can solve. Industries like medicine, transport, science, and entertainment greatly benefit from advancements in AI, and consequently, so do humans. The best, and most feasible, way out is not to cut AI down, but to throttle and control its growth, with stringent regulation, constant audits, and democratic development.

The problem may sound futuristic, but we are knocking on the door of a new era.

[Featured Image Credit: Parth Saravade, The MIT Post]




A Constitutional Calamity—The Overturn of Roe v Wade

On 24th June 2022, the Supreme Court of the USA made a monumental ruling on the Dobbs v Jackson Women’s Health Organization case, which ended the constitutional right to abortion, after 50 years of abortion being a federal legal right, by overturning the decision made on the 1973 Roe v Wade case.

The ruling is playing out as a political earthquake across the States, as it acts on one of the country’s most polarising and fiercely fought social debates, at the heart of which lies the intrinsic question of whether a woman has the right to choose an abortion.

The move, which gives individual states the power to define abortion rights, is expected to completely criminalise or severely restrict legal access to abortion in at least half of the States of America. With some states already having fired trigger laws to outlaw abortion and many more mobilising immediate actions against abortion, the public is in divisive chaos with furious protests from abortion advocates.

Doors are being shut on women in abortion clinics across the States amidst celebrations from anti-abortion advocates who see this as their victory.

Abortion Over The Years

In light of the recent events that have prompted a tidal wave of anger and concern among advocates across the country, it is imperative that we take a closer look at the history of abortion rights in the past. Abortion was widely destigmatised for American women before 1840, according to historians. The American Medical Association, formed in 1847, argued that doctors had a better understanding of the female anatomy and therefore, should have the authority over abortion. This excellent grasp of knowledge, however, did not exist and was used to discredit female healers and midwives. It also served as an impetus to pass anti-abortion laws. Consequently, by the early 1900s, abortion was made illegal in every state.

Over the years, abortion remained criminalised at every stage of the pregnancy. Americans brought about change in the 1960s as many organisations, including AMA, advocated against anti-abortion laws. Colorado became the first state to change its law in 1967, followed by California and New York. In 1973, the Supreme Court legalised abortion in all fifty states with the Roe v. Wade decision.

The Origin of Roe v Wade

Since all but a few states in the US denied abortion as unconstitutional until the Roe v Wade case, when 21-year-old Norma McCorvey from Texas wanted to terminate her pregnancy in 1969, she faced restrictions from the state of Texas where abortion was forbidden unless childbirth would pose a threat to the woman’s life. McCorvey, pregnant for the third time, with the first two children given up for adoption, was from a distressed and disadvantaged background and thus, like many other women in similar situations, failed to undergo an illegal abortion. She had also claimed that she had been raped, but the case was rejected.

In 1970, McCorvey, going by the pseudonym Jane Roe, along with two Texas attorneys, filed a lawsuit against Dallas district attorney Henry Wade, who defended the anti-abortion laws. The Texas district court declared that a ban on abortion violated the constitutional right to privacy, but Wade insisted on continuing the prosecution of people partaking in abortion.

Discussions over the Roe v Wade decision at the Capitol in Wisconsin in 1973. [Source: Associated Press]

Roe’s appeal made it to the Supreme Court in 1973 and was in the national spotlight popularly called ‘Roe v Wade’, in the backdrop of the 1960s Women’s Liberation Movement and the political debate over abortion on moral and religious grounds. On 22nd January, a landmark 7-2 verdict was made, which declared that a woman had the constitutional right to undergo an abortion under the purview of the right to privacy. The decision struck down the states’ laws that infringed on this right and legalised abortion by means of the trimester system, allowing full freedom to a woman to undergo abortion in the first trimester and only some regulation in the second trimester.

Although Roe had already gone through her pregnancy forcefully by the time the court made its decision, her case is seen as a historic win providing women with the legal right to abortion, much to the chagrin of the anti-abortionists.

The Overturn Verdict

This verdict which caused a formidable impact on the citizens of America and the world has shaken everyone to the core. The historic decision of Roe v Wade was overruled by the Supreme Court on Friday in a 5-4 decision. The court’s contentious but anticipated decision grants breaking Roe, which had legalised abortions during the first two trimesters of pregnancy.

Tens of millions of individuals will be impacted by the laws nationwide, and some may need to travel across state lines to access reproductive healthcare. The Supreme Court’s ruling is projected to result in over half of the states banning or severely restricting abortion.

The majority opinion that overturned Roe and the 1992 ruling in Planned Parenthood v. Casey, which upheld the right to an abortion, was inexorably written by Justice Samuel Alito and backed by Clarence Thomas, Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh, and Amy Coney Barrett. The Supreme Court building on Capitol Hill rapidly became the scene of protests as the three liberal justices of the court—Breyer, Sotomayor, and Kagan filed a dissenting opinion to the decision.

The Dire Consequences

As the nation stands divided, abortion bans were triggered within hours in multiple states including Utah, Ohio, Missouri and Alabama, with no exception for cases of rape in most of the states. In due course of time, as many as 26 states are expected to impose severe restrictions according to research.

A graphic using information from the Guttmacher Institute showing the legality of abortion across different states. [Source: The Guardian]

Some states such as Washington and California have assured continued protection of rights and are expected to release new constitutional amendments protecting reproductive rights. President Joe Biden publicly denounced the ruling and communicated that women wanting to undergo abortion should travel to the states where it was not banned.

Abortion seekers entered a frenzy of confusion as the news came out, with many abortion clinics and providers abruptly halting services out of fear of being prosecuted amidst the uncertainty of laws and many women travelling across state borders in urgency to states which still permitted it. The clinics still operating are preparing to face an influx of thousands of patients from neighbouring states.

There is also a spike in the demand for abortion pills and medications, using which half the legal abortions have been taking place in the country. Texas and Louisiana have already banned the movement of pills across other states with more states likely to follow suit. The obstacles for women created by the ruling are therefore far-reaching and insoluble without legal aid.

Marginalised women, however, will bear the brunt of the decision as a lack of abortion rights has historically fuelled financial instability among women. Access to abortion will also be exclusively reduced for Black and Hispanic women, as many women will be unable to afford to travel to other states for undergoing procedures, while disparities have already resulted in worse reproductive healthcare for Black women in the US compared to white women.

Several corporate tech and banking goliaths have come forward to assist employees seeking abortion in the form of reimbursements and employee benefits for healthcare and travel. Tech firms also face the challenge of securing user data in the wake of possible prosecution owing to involvement with abortions.

Perhaps the most jarring prospect of this tectonic verdict is that it is largely being seen as a threat to the legacy of the court, putting erstwhile constitutional rights in jeopardy. As people wait to see its long-run ramifications, the country is left in a state of ambivalence.

The Public Outcry

The verdict has birthed a plethora of problems for the government. The political fallout coupled with miscommunication amongst the masses has cast the government in a negative light. People across the country now have varying levels of access to healthcare.

Heated protests outside the Supreme Court over the court’s ruling [Source: The New York Times]

The atmosphere was filled with voices of anger and dissent, as the young and old joined together to chant slogans of protest and defiance. Throughout the afternoon, protesters, most of whom were female and young, trickled in and out of a barricaded area across the street from the Supreme Court. The crowd listened to a rotating list of speakers who sobbed as they shared their abortion stories.

“This has been a fight 30 years in the making to overturn women and people’s fundamental rights to make decisions about their body. There is no coming back from this. There is no response other than outrage and action,” said Sara Kugler of Washington DC, who was standing outside the court building. The majority of Americans (61%) believed that Roe should remain the law of the land, and only 36% supported overturning it, according to the Public Religion Research Institute think tank.

Anti-abortion advocates celebrating. [Source: The New York Times]

As a chorus of anti-abortion advocates lined up outside the Supreme Court post the verdict, the future of abortion rights seemed bleak. Many of them expressed their joy and satisfaction and claimed that the overturning of the Roe Vs Wade case was just the beginning. The Archbishop of Boston, Sean O’Malley, called the decision “deeply significant and encouraging.” The Massachusetts Family Institute said it looked forward to a “re-energised fight to restore a culture of life to the commonwealth.”

Until and unless a change is made, this constitutional setback will continue to have an impact on millions of lives. As tens of thousands of women struggle to access sufficient healthcare in their hometowns, they will reluctantly turn to illicit surgeries that could be fatal to their lives. Developing progressive global health programmes centred on women’s sexual and reproductive rights will become more challenging for governments and organisations as they run the danger of losing financing in the future. The verdict is simply the beginning of what may eventually become a widespread movement against abortion, leaving the fate of women in a desolate and precarious state.

Featured Image credits: Associated Press