Vishweshwar Saran Singh Deo
This Review won the first place in a Book Review contest held for College students , in January 2021.
They say the contours of land change every century or two defined by the shift of power. The power which is defined by new discoveries and governed by a new set of rules in an ever changing landscape. If the book Guns Germs & Steel spoke of what was in the rear, Rajiv Malhotra’s book ‘AI and Power’ speaks of what is today pointing to the front and what its going to be, redefining the landscape and future of not only us but our civilization as a whole.
The famous Battle of Khanwa, the Rajputs with all their raw power & valor that could even shame death, faced, as described by Jadunath Sarkar, ‘… something they had not seen before’ That ‘something’ in turn became a factor for the survival for the Indian side. Though Jadunath Sarkar defines the victory of the other side as barren but much was lost on our side. Much could have been avoided for the loss didn’t extend just to the battlefield but to the narrative we lost – a loss that we still grapple with today. The warfare, its approach and the Battlefield itself had changed.
What the current book ‘AI and Power’ dwells on is not only the changing factor but the context in which the greater Game gets played out with its Players, Strategy, Payoff, Information Set & Equilibrium, if we have to pull in the definitions of Game Theory. The simplicity of the façade often hides the complexity of vector forces in different planes and directions. In summary what of today will define tomorrow, by whom at whose expense.
Not only in the physical realm but also in spiritual realm Krishna marks the importance of knowing:-
क्षेत्रज्ञ चापि मां विद्धि सर्वक्षेत्रेषु भारत |
क्षेत्रक्षेत्रज्ञयोर्ज्ञानं यत्तज्ज्ञानं मतं मम || (13.3)
“Know Myself to be the Kshetrajna (knower of field) in all the Kshetras, O descendant of Bharata. It is the knowledge of Kshetra and Kshetrajna which I consider as the ultimate knowledge.”
Today the headlines are all about jobs and the economy with which we interact and live with primarily. Though they sound simple enough, industries of today are built on top of ruins of the ones which were mainstream decades ago. The digital economy has not only transformed the economy itself but life as a whole. These in turn are built on top of skill sets alien to the bygone generation and the ones left have no choice but to accept it. The change may look like a step for the ones today but it’s a massive transformation when seen in proper perspective. The scale of change requires an unprecedented shift, which for a population like ours is an impediment rather than a force multiplier. We have developed herd mentality, being directed and used for consumption of products and narratives created elsewhere.
The book marks our shortcomings which may seem to be on a preliminary level but these only eventually compound to define the new landscape in which future battles will be played out. The politics of this would be the geopolitics in which the contours that are spoken of before, would be defined in both physical and virtual spaces. The lines of confrontation blur the ability to understand and respond adequately.
Even in the current landscape on one hand we have the US still pulling the talent which it grooms across and on the other is being pursued by every rising China deploying all means in its arsenal with its Arjun-Eyed focus and deviousness of Shakuni. Be it these or Europe or even considering the Russian angle each is at least aware or seems to be of what lies in the distant future. India though touts itself as being the technology partner in domains of IT especially lags far if we drop the services part and focus more on the core aspect of fully realized or developed end-to-end full product / technology ownership. It’s always been the tap on the shoulder and the self-satisfaction one derives out of it. Even in IT, using and borrowing already developed core parts of technology like Operating Systems, Languages, Compilers, Application, Web Interfaces to create a service / support system and then to think of futuristic technology domains shows us the farther distance we need cover in an ever reducing time frame against a growth that is exponential.
The effects of such a shallow-rooted side is suddenly exposed to the Game at a next level of plane with the other side well rooted on a long set plan that needs to be grasped. The book tries to wake up to this reality where the well identified effects like the feel-good dopamine on a simple Like notification thus creating and rewiring new boundaries of self-gratification, esteem & personality influenced by these new factors earlier absent from the context. Each of which can be artificially induced.
Further the book makes us cognizant of the influence of technologies which are already around in the consumer domain and with which we already interact, and these interactions work over exchange of data which gets collected as Big Data. This is in turn processed to extract information and then in turn influence us, fueling the entire digital-ecosystem.
It goes on further to explain in detail the ramifications and the extent of this influence on our lives, we are yet to grasp ranging from social, economic, political to the very idea of what we can call human. With our social lives already running of digital streams, our economic systems run by Quant supported automated trading systems running majoring of trades and exchanges, with political narratives set by digital information run by corporations, that can be counted on finger tips, it seems the ownership of not only our data but our being itself is now in the hands of there to be molded or redefined by monopolistic entities.
The most important aspect the book dwells deep into is the ongoing pace and dissection of biological feedback systems the primitive stimuli-response can be replicated similar to physical information systems of Input & Output. Hence replication of the Software / Hardware layers, where the hardware can be a human biological system that can interface with stimuli given by an interface. The Hijacking of this cognitive system is then open to any input. The ‘Dumbing Down’ of the masses is already in front of us with over dependence on current technologies. This creates the final conflict and furthest away from the Vedantic system of the real experience of the self, the Atma, that is the consciousness itself reaching to the Bhraman and not some artificial wrap around which can’t even cross over material influx.
If having woken up, understood the ‘Kshetra’, actioned and achieved with Sadhana, then too we have undermined the goal. For first, the end here loops into a new beginning with a new set of challenges and how would be cognizant of our state in the context of things? The goal post is ever changing and will remain so.