Look at Web technology. “Full” NLP at Web scale is still an
impossibility. “True AI” is further off. This is why when you post a
blog comment or open a new email account you need to read some mangled
text and type it out, to prove that you are human. Some smart guy hosted
a porn site, and made people solve a few such capchas to enter the site.
He was actually relaying on capchas from spam bots that wanted to open
new email accounts! So like so many duracells in Matrix, porn revelers
are now harnessed to serve spammers! Crude statistics from hundreds of
millions of clicks on search responses are achieving what attempts at
“deep NLP” could not before. This is the power of “social computing”.
The trick is to design games and markets to some specific ends, and see
the trolls working it out…
This is where traditional technology is failing us. Or rather, we are
failing to evolve traditional technology to exploit social engineering.
Promising unlimited comfort and laziness through gadgets, and world
economies that depend on this escalation for “holy growth”, are clearly
So yes, school kids designing gadgets to switch off fans in trains is a
good gesture, but only clever social engineering coupled with technology
will get us there. Observe that the school-kid solution works only
because we can safely assume people won’t be standing with empty seats
available. Otherwise, no fan for them. There is nothing intrinsic to the
technology which tells you this fact. You have to internalize the use cases.
Not paying any attention to use cases is why Indian consumer products
are in the abyss they are. The guy making switches or mirrors never
ponders what exactly happens when they need to be replaced: the holes in
the new unit do not line up with the old holes in the wall, so you need
to stop them up and drill some new holes. Those motion-sensing flushes:
unless they are imported, you can be sure the next time IIT goes out to
buy some replacements, the new ones will not fit in the cavity cut in
the bathroom tiles.
Of course, it is easy to sit in IIT and sneer at everyone. If you are
commuting daily on Mumbai trains, the brain does not get much
nourishment for thought beyond basic necessities.