Blog 4: How do Machines Learn?

  • You are browsing on your Facebook webpage and you see a lovely advertisement of fancy shoes. You stop browsing and gaze at it for few seconds. In few hours, you find similar advertisement on your cell phone or in your email inbox.
  • You are on tour and travelling by your car to scenic location near Mahableshwar. You click some lovely pictures using your cell phone. In some time, your social media account asks you a question “How did you find the ranges near Pratapgadh? Or how was your dining experience with “xyz” hotel near Pratapgadh?” Oops.. your GPS was on..!!
  • You are “in” for a traffic jam and your Google Maps tell you to divert, just before you land into that jam..
  • You are in a grocery shop and buy dozens of cookies and the next thing that happens is that you get dozens of recommendations of different cookies from the same/similar Mall.

Well, who is watching us? Who is keeping an eye over the likes and dislikes of us, our preferences, our budgets and our habits? Welcome to the world of Big Data and Machine learning!

(Photo courtesy: Gery Wibowo on Unsplash)

Huge computers worldwide, which are maintained by giants such as Google / IBM / HP / Amazon, are storing large amount of data. The data which they collect from a extremely complicated network of computers, cell phones, cameras and GPS devices. These are huge storages which generate big data. Someone should be able to use it, and process it for something tangible/lucrative/useful. Well, machines do that job. Machines process the data, keeping an eye on the owner of the device, from whom the data is originating. These machines slowly gather the information about the person, not only in terms of the restaurants they visit, but also the clothes they wear, the places they tour and other likes and dislikes such as brands of shoes, perfumes they wear and so on. They link this data to the brands, restaurants and tourists locations of interest; and in this way, the advertisements start flowing in.

Does this sound like humans? Well, yes. Just as humans learn through experience, the machines also learn through the improvised data. For example, a small kid, initially crawls and falls on a slippery floor. But slowly, it learns how to be careful on the floor. This is because, in its brain (database), “slippery floor” gets added in and the next time, this improved database helps him avoid skidding. In the same way, a machine starts learning using the data it has. For example, it learns that I use “Nike” sports shoes. It will show me similar advertisements. But slowly, looking into my shopping preferences, it finds that I also use “Adidas” brand for my outdoor sports activity. It will learn this and upgrade my preferences and the data that it shows, will include both “Nike” and “Adidas” brands. This is machine learning.. Humans learn by experience and Machines learn by acquiring more data.

Therefore, Machine learning is a data analytics technique that teaches computers to do what comes naturally to humans (and animals). Machine learning algorithms use computational methods to “learn” information directly from data without relying on a predetermined equation as a model. The algorithms adaptively improve their performance, as the number of samples available for learning increases. This is a giant business model, in which the telephone companies, computer industry, network subscribers, consumer industries and cell-phone industries come together to mobilise the global economy.

This is not enough. Big enterprises are making these machines more and more versatile through creation of smarter algorithms and faster decision-taking-algorithms. Slowly, these machines are becoming intelligent by learning “Deep”. Just like a kid, once knows enough to survive, starts learning specialised skills, such as making a career in automobiles, textiles, accounts or finance; so does a machine.  Deep learning is a specialized form of machine learning. This makes the computers become more intelligent and take decisions in split seconds, which is much faster than humans. This is fantastic, in one way, and has a huge flip-side too. We see this a bit later. However, till then, imagine someone showing exactly same “imagination” as yours .. or “creativity” as yours. Would you like it? And even if you don’t, can you control this technology, which is coming? We will see soon..!

Marathon Run and Meditation

January 2019. The event was of Mumbai Marathon. Full of enthusiastic participants, who come from all over India and abroad. A lovely international event, which is one of the best in the world. Early morning of Marathon day. We all gathered at around 5 am, at BKC, Mumbai. In the pool of runners, we often go in a group, but eventually separate apart and get mixed in the crowd. I was one of them. Running this event and had lot of enthusiasm and was looking ahead to the Flag off. Music was in the air.. the sun was yet to rise.. it was dusky and dark. Big lights were making the place look bright and the face of every runner was glowing with eager, energy and curiosity. Everybody was going to run with her/him self and it was going to be fun..!

I was also well prepared for this event and while getting ready with my head band, tightening of shoes and checking the headphones, I saw a young lady next to me. She said Hi, and I reciprocated. We started talking and she told me that she has just completed Delhi Marathon and was here in Mumbai yesterday for this run. She looked very well prepared and was kind-of cool. I shared my experiences of earlier runs of mine and said that mostly, I get breathless in first 4-5 kms and later, I do it well, after that phase gets over. She said, exactly the same. But her next sentence was interesting. She said “I feel spiritual after 5 kms. I run as if I am doing meditation, and then I can run any distance even without realizing”!! I was stunned. How can one compare meditation with a Marathon Run?

The flag off took place and in chirpy music, enthusiastic and cheerful atmosphere, we all started our run journey.. It goes through Flora Fountain, Marine Drive, Chowpatty, Haji Ali, Mahim Church, and the Bandra–Worli Sea Link. Wonderful route, awesome Mumbai crowd and music-drums all over. I started my journey.. 21 Kms I had to cover and we all were together .. yet alone… an interesting combination.. just like life.. The sentence of this lady again came in my mind. How can meditation be compared with run?

What is meditation? Wikipedia says “Meditation is a practice where an individual uses a technique – such as mindfulness, or focusing their mind on a particular object, thought or activity – to train attention and awareness, and achieve a mentally clear and emotionally calm and stable state”. Well, in a run, as the event starts, your mind is full of thoughts of making a good run. The thoughts are wandering. As the body gears up for the long run, it initially resists and the lungs demand more oxygen. As few kms are done, the thoughts come and go.. the music and drums around seem to fade and legs start to slightly slow down and breathlessness is felt. This is exactly the time when a technique of focusing of mind comes in. Now, mindfulness starts working and the random thoughts, which come-and-go, disappear. The mid gets trained for the job we have come for… to run.. and enjoy the run. Mentally, as this gets clear, the pain in the legs cease (or legs become numb), lungs start working with optimum capacity and operate in a rhythm and you seem to be in a quiet environment..amidst the commotion of the photographers, spectators and fellow runners. This is of course Meditation state…!! You come to a stable state, in which, you can run for ever..!! Vow..!! What a thought..

While I was thinking of all this, cool breeze passed over me.. on the lovely Sea Link… and the sunrise lit up the entire ambiance, and it also illuminated my thought process… Marathon Runs are similar to Meditation…!!!

This would be true for any activity we do, I am sure, which is done with passion and ambition.. Where mind and soul are together… no need to learn meditation… differently..

Bridging Industry Demands and Academic Research

Should academics take the responsibility of going further with their research results and ensure that they are available to the public in a form that is accessible and intelligible? Well, yes…! Do manufacturers also have the responsibility to use in-house technology for product development? The answer, again, is yes…!

Keep reading the details in the Cover Article of The Tilak Chronicle, Dated September 03, 2019..

Sangeeta Kale writes about Bridging Industry Demands and Academic Research in this article for #TheTilakChronicle –

getting started..

Getting started.. this is my first blog. Let me share as to why I thought of creating a blog and what do I intend to write here. Luckily, in everyday life, I meet variety of people. They range from my scientific community colleagues, to my running buddies, my gym friends and people in my social circle. Well, I have often observed that during different conversations, we generate good ideas, wider understandings and deeper meanings. Depending on the people with whom we converse, the ideas interlink in an extremely interesting fashion and generate a new concept. I have often observed that with an intricate scientific concept, someone can link a profound philosophical thought.. which surprises me..!! Curiosities of different professions, scientific progresses, technological advances, and lives of various people metaphor into something which opens up new dimensions of understanding. Curiosity is at the center of human race and this urges us to explore new things and understand a single scenario in various dimensions. If these ideas and understandings are not penned down, they evaporate. And if they are shared, the think-tank expands, and like-minded people from wide areas of professional domains come together. Gathering such people is the idea of this blog. Exchanging ideas and generating new ones is the main agenda..! Let me see how I do…