Tuesday, February 22, 2011

The Distinct Narratives of Revolutions

Anne Applebaum's analysis in The Washington Post on revolutions spreading in the Middle-East correctly shows the patterns in history that repeat. In 1848, revolutions in European nations, have similarities what had and are transpiring in Tunisia, Egypt, Bahrain, Libya, Yemen, Jordan, Morocco, and possibly more nations (China?) in the coming days and months.

Revolutions are indeed messy and by its very nature, political changes demanded by general restive populace under the repressive governments / regimes meet heavy handed oppressions by the power in the pulpits who are desperately trying to cling to their slipping illusory controls over the mass that no longer have the fear.

Each of these nations that are going through upheavals that were unthinkable only a few months ago, have commonality in their shared culture and history, but also have stark dissimilarities arising from varied geographical boundaries and political history. Conglomerating protests in all these nations as a single unified Arab revolution may be a misnomer that Anne Applebaum has realized in her well thought out article where she provides the following comment on the diversity of this revolution:
"In the Arab world today we are also watching different peoples with different goals take charge of street demonstrations, each of which must be assessed "in its own context." In Egypt, decisions made by the military may well have mattered as much as the actions of the crowd. In Bahrain, the conflict between Sunnis and Shiites is clearly central. The role of "Islam" is not the same in countries as different as Tunisia and Yemen. In Libya, the regime has already shown itself willing to use mass violence, which others have avoided. Tempting though it will be to lump all of these events together and treat them as a single "Arab revolution," the differences between countries may turn out to be more important than their similarities".
History shows that though the initial revolutions may fail for various political (local and international) reasons, like the 1848 revolutions in Germany, France, Austria and other nations, but history also showed that "in the longer run, the ideas discussed in 1848 did seep into the culture, and some of the revolutionary plans were eventually realized". 

One definite difference between the world of 1848 and the world of 21st century that Anne Applebaum did not discuss is the speed that information travels, even when the dictatorial regimes haplessly try to block all forms of freedom of expressions, including banning the foreign journalists entering a nation, cutting off Internet, phones, or television showing patriotic songs or manufactured calmness on the streets, while in reality streets are overflowed by determined protesters who are being ruthlessly beaten, maimed or murdered, and this speed and the adaptive ways the technology can be used to let the wider world know what's the grim reality is, may possess the key accelerating the revolutionary processes in favor of democracy in the end.

Anne Applebaum comments: "Television creates the illusion of a linear narrative, giving events the semblance of a beginning, middle and end. Real life is never like that; 1848 wasn't like that. It's useful to ponder the messiness of history from time to time, because it reminds us that the present is really no different."- true that the messiness of history have the tendency of repeating over and over again, but perhaps present world will prove to be different, with the help of technology, rooting out entrenched weeds and convenient dictators, one by one.

Freedom and democracy are the cherished goals of humanity that eventually defy and overcome the apparent permanence of suppression. The main struggle lies in the afterwords of revolutions.

The above commentary was inspired by the following articles:
  1.  In the Arab World, It's 1848 - not 1989 - By Anne Applebaum. Link: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2011/02/21/AR2011022103310.html 
  2.  Gaddafi's Crime - The Washington Post Editorial - Link: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2011/02/21/AR2011022103233.html
  3.  Gaddafi Loyalists Launch Attacks Against Civilians as Conflict in Libya Escalates - By Sudarshan Raghavan - Link: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2011/02/21/AR2011022104733.htmlhttp://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2011/02/21/AR2011022104733.html
  4.  Egypt Seeks to Seize Mubarak's Assets - By Ernesto Londono - Link: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2011/02/21/AR2011022102576.html

Monday, February 14, 2011

Expanding Horizons

The following comment in the book review of Brian Greene's The Hidden Reality seems a bit weird but perhaps reality is indeed more than these pair of mundane eyes can see:
"If information is indeed the key to understanding nature, the question arises of whether the universe “is” a computer....computers will eventually become powerful enough to run simulations involving intelligent entities like human beings so realistically that the beings inside the sims think they’re living real lives....we may already be living inside such a simulation. He notes that simulations would be highly popular among the inhabitants of any civilization capable of running them. Terrestrial historians might, for instance, run thousands of sims to determine the results of altering Napoleon’s tactics at Waterloo, or social scientists run sims to predict how various pieces of social legislation will pan out. The implication of running sims in minutes that replicate events taking years is that the number of sims greatly exceeds the number of real people running them — in which case, the odds are that we’re living in a sim, “perhaps one created by future historians with a fascination for what life was like back on 21st-century earth".
Link to the article: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/02/06/books/review/Ferris-t.html

Computers vs. Humans

How would the computer evolve in future? How would the human mind expand with the help of easily accessible information tools that will become more ubiquitous? Will computer ever be able to replace human beings in every facets of intellectual realm?

The increasingly faster rate that the progress in computing science is evolving, is simply breathtaking. It seems the days of Intel 80386 and 80486 and even the very first Pentium processors and Microsoft Windows 95 operating system are so antiquated. Modern world it seems cannot not have enough of more technologies, embedded in every way possible, in cell phone, tablet, mounted in wall, in gaming systems, and some even can be put into clothing. In an instant I can pull up three thousand years old Egyptian history while the protesters were chanting to depose their dictator in 21st century. Going to grocery store is not the same anymore. One can scan the bar code of a food through cell phone, and here comes all the tidbits of the delicious looking ice cream, its nutritional values or lack of it becomes apparent in a second. Then when the time to check out, one does not need to go through any register counter manned by human beings. Now the self check out counters are replacing the old ways of checking out.

I am eager to see what will be the outcome in the Jeopardy game between computer that can process human language and past Jeopardy champions. Would it be similar like Garry Kasparov's chess match against the Deep Blue in 1996 and 1997 when in their second set of matches, the world champion lost the game to that era's super computer?

Today's computer, software and hardware are much more complex and improved than the time of Deep Blue. And the consequences from the ever evolving computer's artificial intelligence have far reaching impact. John Markoff's article in The New York Times comments that "The repercussions of such technology are unknown, but it is possible, for example, to envision systems that replace not only human experts, but hundreds of thousands of well-paying jobs throughout the economy and around the globe."

When one door closes, in most cases, another opens. Perhaps, the advancement in computing technologies will surely eliminate certain classification of today's jobs, but that may also bring human beings to next level of knowledge maturity, tackling and solving much more complex problems than we can even imagine today. I like the concluding quotation of John Markoff's article that says, “The essence of being human involves asking questions, not answering them." All the answering parts can be done by the super duper computers, and augmented human mind can expand and soar more toward understanding the very core essence of our collective and personal existence in this finite and mortal world while at the same time resolving the pains and sufferings of people, some in democracy, and some in dictatorship or plutarchy (oligarchy + plutocracy) with the help of friendly computers.

Link to John Markoff's article in The New York Times from which the above comment was inspired is: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/02/15/science/15essay.html