July 29, 2013
On Google Glass

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People have almost always had reservations about new technologies and their place in social interactions. Too many people, however, are downplaying Google Glass’ potential on the grounds that it makes social situations awkward. 

I agree that it can be flustering to see the person you’re having a conversation with twitch her eyeballs between you and the corner of her glasses. However, complaining about how Glass ruins the integrity of your interactions makes you of the same class of 19th century citizens who complained about the devilishness of the telephone. Their criticisms were remarkably similar — too little privacy, too inappropriate, too suspicious. 

The critics seemed to have forgotten that Glass is still at the beginning of its evolution as a product. Naturally, there will be social mishaps and misgivings. Some people even might be offended by the mere utterance of “O.K. Glass” in their presence. However, over time, their pretension will fatigue. New norms will be decided and ultimately, if Glass is as utilitarian as its backers expect it to be, we will adapt, tolerate and eventually accept it as a fixture in our lives.

Ahmed

EDIT: Moments after I published this post, Gary Shteyngart’s piece in the New Yorker discussing his East Coast travels with Glass appeared in my feed. Highly recommended.

July 22, 2013
"Data-Rich, but Theory-Poor"

It’s often said neuroscience is “data-rich, but theory-poor.” Francis Crick, famous for his part in discovering DNA, went even further, stating neuroscience lacked a theoretical framework entirely. In the words of Thomas Kuhn, neuroscience remains in its pre-paradigm stage. Despite the tremendous progress in the study of cognition, the question has to be asked: “Why do we not have a good brain theory yet?”

While every neuroscientist will attest to the lack of a theoretical framework in neuroscience, the reasons as to why vary. Some argue we still need more research and more data in order to develop an adequate brain theory. This reasoning suggests there is still not quite enough information about the anatomy and physiology of the brain in order to propose a broad theoretical framework. However, we just noted the vast amount of data about the brain available to man, so it’s unlikely continued research will suddenly result in neuroscience’s first paradigm. It’s improbable to assume another 20 years of data collection will eventually result in a theoretical framework that helps to interpret and integrate a myriad of observational and experimental data into a comprehensive theory when the past 20 years of research have failed to suggest any sort of theory.  

Jeff Hawkins, founder of the Redwood Institute for Theoretical Neuroscience, suggests there is another reason as to why we have yet to develop a theoretical framework to understand existing data. Hawkins claims an “intuitive, strongly-held, but incorrect assumption”  has blinded neuroscientists in their efforts to develop a working theory of the brain. Hawkins states this intuitive yet incorrect assumption is that intelligence is defined by behavior. Instead, Hawkins suggests intelligence is defined by prediction. As Hawkins points out, IQ testing relies heavily on prediction, testing one’s ability to predict the next number in a sequence and recognize and recall relationships. This simple misunderstanding of how intelligence is judged, Hawkins argues, has blinded neuroscientists and researchers in their efforts to propose such a framework.

Now that we have an understanding as to why we don’t have a good brain theory yet, we have yet to answer the question: “Why is having a good brain theory necessary?” First and foremost, developing a strong theoretical framework is necessary to interpret much of the still unexplained data in neuroscience, similar to what Copernicus’ heliocentric theory did for our understanding of the solar system or what Darwin’s theory of natural selection did for our understanding of evolution. It is important to note Copernicus’ and Darwin’s respective theories were not the first paradigms in their respective fields. Both the study of the solar system and evolution experienced numerous paradigm shifts and it was only after a series of successive iterations were we able to discover the truth about each Conversely, neuroscience has yet to have its first paradigm. Interestingly enough, the framework of ideas Copernicus and Darwin proposed were rooted in mathematical models and empirical evidence, methods neuroscience has only recently embraced.

 Perhaps even more important than helping to interpret existing data, science can sometimes tell us something about ourselves. In this case, it can tell us about who we are. It can tell us about how we perceive our surroundings and about how we learn. It can offer an explanation as to why we think and behave the way we do. And every so often science contributes to the advancement of the human race. It helps society move forward and further the range of possibilities for humanity. Artificial intelligence, the primary application of the research in theoretical and computational neuroscience, is capable of such scale and impact. The use of intelligent machines and supercomputers has the potential to not only transform our lives but broaden our intellectual horizons and help create a more intelligent tomorrow.

 Amaan

October 22, 2012
"He said people who were right a lot of the time were people who often changed their minds. He doesn’t think consistency of thought is a particularly positive trait. It’s perfectly healthy — encouraged, even — to have an idea tomorrow that contradicted your idea today."

Some advice from Jeff Bezos by Jason Fried of 37signals

(via bijan)

September 30, 2012
"Give me control of a nation’s money supply, and I care not who makes its laws."

Mayer Amschel Rothschild

Bitcoin: Monetarists Anonymous | The Economist

(via fred-wilson)

September 27, 2012
What I Learned at Dreamforce 2012

Perhaps the biggest misconception about Silicon Valley is that technology companies create value by simply building a product and letting users come to it. It’s known as the “If you build it, they will come” hypothesis. Instead, what was true then is true now: the engine of real growth in any company is the sales team.

At first glance, it seems odd. Isn’t viral growth a sure sign of value? Let’s take a look. The most visible companies that can be sad to have viral growth (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram) also generate the least revenue per user. Linkedin, on the other hand, generates roughly $1.30 per user per hour. It doesn’t seem much, but it dwarfs Facebook’s ¢6.2 per user per hour. Linkedin gives great importance to its sales teams, with some salesmen earning close to $400,000.

The take-away point? If you want to build a solid business, have an aggressive sales strategy. It can help you scale and distribute your product, whether you’re in technology or not.

Abrar

September 18, 2012
"Begin — to begin is half the work, let half still remain; again begin this, and you will have finished."

Marcus Aurelius, Meditations

September 17, 2012
What’s Next for iHusky.org

In late 2011, I designed iHusky.org, an online platform aimed at connecting Sheldon High School students outside of the classroom. Initially, iHusky.org only allowed students to ask questions and share notes with their classmates regarding homework assignments or upcoming quizzes and tests. Since then, iHusky.org has expanded to keep students updated on campus events and club news. Over the course of two months, iHusky.org attracted over 100 new members. In the 2012-2013 school year, I intend to expand the services of iHusky.org to allow students to campaigns, organize study groups, and provide students an opportunity to contribute their thoughts and ideas. In order to do so, our goal is to give iHusky.org a more permanent position in not only academic but after-school life at Sheldon High School. I also intend to make iHusky.org a course offered at Sheldon High School. The iHusky.org course is designed to provide project members experience in core entrepreneurship skills necessary to be successful in the work force. The objective of the course is to engage the potential of project members and enhance the high school experience. Most importantly, the course addresses a critical challenge facing education today: applying students’ academic knowledge in a practical context. The class taps into the creativity and curiosity of students in order to build a socially beneficial product.

Amaan

September 17, 2012
Entreprenuerial Lessons from Academia

For all of its shortcomings, there is one thing aspiring entrepreneurs can learn from academia: how to operate on a daily basis. Although the work itself may be mundane and irrelevant, school forces structure, timeliness and stamina.

Structure

Perhaps the greatest benefit of school is starting your day early. Having class time, study time, gym time and kick-it time scheduled help create a rhythm to life. Routinize your day so you don’t waste your time figuring out what to do while you’re supposed to be doing it.


Timeliness

Whether or not you are ready, the test takes place or the project is due. Just as you scrapped to meet project deadlines, scrap to meet your own deadlines. Being timely in your actions is a sure sign of progress.


Stamina

Academia is a marathon. The final grade you got was usually a couple of months in the making. The GPA you accumulated was cumulative of four years of grades. School is structured on a long-term basis. Similarly, take a long view of whatever you are doing after it. Day after day, focus on the big picture and pace yourself.

Abrar

August 16, 2012
Starbucks Stays Cool.

Schultz & Dorsey.

I’ll be honest. I’ve used Square’s services just once in my life. And I’m not much of a patron to Starbucks. But the recently announced deal between the payments startup and the coffee giant has me quite intrigued about the future of electronic transactions. From what has been reported in the media, the terms of the deal are such: Starbucks will invest $25M in Square, who will start processing transactions via its mobile app at 7,000 Starbucks locations by this fall. To boot, Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz will be joining Square’s board.

Although it’s quite obvious that Square wanted to partner with a company of Starbucks’ brand and stature for greater distribution, scale, and growth, there are questions as to why Starbucks would want to partner in return with Square. It’s a publicly-traded company (NASDAQ:SBUX) that already has thousands of stores with well-established points of sale and seems to be going along fine with its very own mobile payment app. In addition, there are other players in the e-payments market (Google Wallet, for one) that would love to have Starbucks’ business. So, why the need for this particular deal?

Howard Schultz is well-known as one of America’s most prolific CEOs. What many don’t know about Schultz is that he’s the founder of a VC firm with a portfolio that boasts the likes of Groupon and Pinkberry as investments. It’s hard to imagine a businessman like Schultz agreeing to a deal with Square if Starbucks weren’t enjoying a much, much reduced fee rate than the 2.75% Square normally charges per transaction. It doesn’t hurt that adopting Square’s services may help with improving customer ease and experience. It signals that Starbucks is attuned to its customer’s changing preferences regarding details as simple yet crucial as how they pay for their overpriced cups of Iced Peppermint White Chocolate Mocha.

This deal also signals to merchants both large and small that wallet-less transactions are the way of the future. Debarring any fraud-related hiccups, it’s not difficult to imagine national fast-food chains and supermarkets starting to adopt some form of mobile payments en masse within the next two to three years. What’s more? Devices that looked like bricks less than two decades ago are now skinny-jeans friendly and can do more than the computers NASA used to put Neil Armstrong on the moon. And who knows where this could go? Imagine your license, passport and business card…all on your phone and electronically transferable. Imagine cashiers, cops and chefs knowing who you are…before knowing who you are. Sure, it’s scary and paranoia-inducing. But aren’t those the very sentiments that sometimes distinguish the future from what is and what has been? 

Ahmed

(Source: youtube.com)

August 14, 2012
China loves commodities.
Courtesty of Stratfor via Barry Ritholtz.

China loves commodities.

Courtesty of Stratfor via Barry Ritholtz.

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