We are all slaves

We are all slaves.

We are all slaves.

We are all slaves.

Now repeat after me.

We are all slaves.

We are all slaves…

What do I mean by that?

You seek external validation in order to feel good about what you have done. It could be about a piece of work you created, a decision you made, or the words you said. You can get upset because of what someone else did or said that has nothing to do with you. You are a slave to external opinions.

You work hours after hours neglecting your health and your relationships, accumulating massive amount of debt, so that you can buy that house with more bedrooms and bathroom than you can count with your hands and feet combine, buy that car that can go from zero to 60 in under 1.2 seconds, or buy those branded goods to make yourself feel good. You are a slave to material possessions.

You have to do that. You can’t do this. You should do this and that is a bad idea. If you are this kind of person or think this way, you will be imprisoned. You should keep quiet. You are a slave to rules that are generally in place to ensure conformity and structure because anything else is scary.

You go to work everyday despite you hating your job to the core ever since you joined the company. You make yourself miserable and didn’t want to quit because you needed the money. You keep looking at your bank account and keep feeling that you don’t have enough. You are a slave to money.

So when will we stop being a slave?

We stop being a slave when we turn the attention inwards, develop the skill of self-awareness, and self-actualized. The moment we start being ourselves, ignore external opinions, decide what we want in life and take conscious actions to make those dreams and ideas come to life, we are free.

So be a maverick.

Or maybe not. Because you should ignore my views and don’t be a slave to it.

What happens when you abstain from caffeine

If you have been drinking coffee or any caffeinated drinks on a long term basis and in higher than average quantities, you come to depend on it for your daily activities.

The moment you stop taking it, you find yourself unable to function. Your mind goes through some kind of slow motion process. You feel tired. You get upset and maybe even angry as the day goes further.

How I know?

That’s exactly what happen to me every time when I stop drinking caffeinated drinks abruptly. I become depressed, almost non-functional and angry without caffeine.

Although it’s a painful process to stop taking caffeine, it is necessary if you want to live a better life. It has definitely helped me.

I suffer from hyperhidrosis for more than half of my life. Hyperhidrosis, for the uninformed, is excessive sweating even in conditions that don’t warrant it. It is caused by hyperactive nerves.

By not taking caffeine for several days, my nerves are no longer overly stimulated, which translates to lesser sweating. It doesn’t mean I don’t sweat more than normal people. I still get clammy hands and feet but at least, it is not dripping wet. I also don’t sweat that excessively all over when walking even a short distance and have my clothes drenched in sweat. Yikes.

I am also a highly-sensitive person. I get overwhelmed by life and work more easily. I also have higher tendency to suffer from anxiety attacks. Without psychostimulants like caffeine coursing through my body, I am calmer and less agitated. my mind doesn’t go into overdrive mode. It allows me to process my environment more deeply, absorb more, and think more deeply. It definitely help with my learning process, which is important when you are a software engineer.

Last but not least, abstaining from caffeine also helps me to sleep better at night because my circadian rhythm get reset back to normal. With that, my body starts to operate as how it should. I will get sleepy and tired after a heavy lunch or a long day of work. That’s what I call normal. At least it means your body is reacting to the natural biochemical changes as you go about your day. It also reduce my chance of suffering from insomnia.

So start making your life better by reducing, if not outright stop, your consumption of coffee. Instead, find other ways or means to stay awake. Or you can just listen to your body and take that nap when you need to.

**This post was originally published at Medium.

A thought on improving voice user interface while ensuring privacy

Voice user interface is going to be one of the ways we interact with our devices as we go about our daily lives. It is just a very intuitive way for us because we communicate primarily via voice with text and images to complement.

But there still are various problems that need people to work on them to improve the overall experience. One of it is related to how the AI behind voice user interface can interact with us more naturally, like how we interact with fellow human beings.

A premium Medium article written by Cheryl Platz got me thinking about that. It also covered a little on privacy and why it is a contributing factor that make it difficult for current generation of AIs to speak more naturally and understand the context when we speak. Unless, companies don’t give a shit about our privacy and start collecting even more data.

In this article, I am going to share what I thought could help improve the AI and ensure user privacy.

Current Implementations and Limitations

What an AI needs to be better at understanding and responding in ways most useful to us are processing power, a good neural network that allows it to self-learn, and a database to store whatever it has learnt.

The cloud is the best way for an AI to gain access to a processing power and huge enough database. Companies like Amazon and Microsoft offer cloud computing and storage services via their AWS and Azure platform respectively at very low cost. Even Google offers such services via their Compute Engine.

The problem with the cloud is reduced level of confidence when privacy is involved. Anything you store up there is vulnerable, available for retrieval through security flaws or misconfigurations. Companies could choose to encrypt those data via end-to-end encryption to help with protect user’s privacy but the problem is the master keys are owned by said companies. They could decrypt those data whenever they want.

Or you could do it like what Apple did with Siri, storing data locally, and use Differential Privacy to help ensure anonymity but it reduces the AI capabilities because it doesn’t have access to sufficient amount of personal data. Two, Siri runs on devices like Apple Watch, iPhones and iPads, which could be a problem when it comes to processing and compute capabilities, and having enough information to understand the user.

Although those devices have more processing power than room-sized mainframes from decades ago, it’s still not enough, energy-efficiency and capability wise, to handle highly complex neural networks for better experience with voice user interfaces.

Apple did try to change that with its A11 Bionic SoC that has a neural engine. Companies like Qualcomm, Imagination Technologies, and even NVIDIA are also contributing to increase local processing power with energy efficiency for AI through their respective CPU and GPU products.

Possible Solution

The work on the hardware by companies should continue so that there will be even more powerful and energy efficient processors for AI to use.

In addition to that, what we need is a standard, wireless-based protocol (maybe bluetooth) for the AI on our devices, irrespective of companies, to talk to each other when they are near to each other and in our home network. This way, the AI on each of those devices can share information and perform distributed computing, thereby improving its accuracy, overall understanding of the user, and respond accordingly.

A common software kernel is also necessary to provide different implementation of neural network a standardized way of doing distributed computing efficiently and effectively.

So now, imagine Siri talking to Alexa, Google Assistant or even Cortana via this protocol and vice versa.

Taking privacy into account, information exchanged via this protocol should be encrypted by default with keys owned only by the user. Any data created or stored should only reside on device also encrypted and nowhere else. Taking a page out of Apple’s playbook, the generated keys should come from some kind of hardware-based “Secure Enclave”.

To further improve the neural network, Differential Privacy should be applied on any query or information sent by the AI to the cloud for processing.

Conclusion

The above is really just a thought of how current the AIs powering voice user interfaces can be improved.

At the end, it’s really up to the companies to decide if they want to come together and improve all our lives taking into account our privacy and security.

Thought Snapshot #2

Snippet #1

Being un-busy doesn’t mean not doing any shit. It simply means doing the things that matter, the things that are essentials. Everything else is just noise. Don’t clogged up your calendar.

Snippet #2

Alcohol is a useful substance that help me minimise or neutralise my neuroticism. It remove my automatic, excessive self-control and allow me to be freer, happier, more extroverted.

Snippet #3

People put money on-top of everything else. I put environment conservation on-top. Thus I recycle.

Thoughts Snapshot #1

Introduction

Every day, from time to time, I would have these thoughts or comments about the world that I will publish straight to my Facebook account. But since my Facebook is mostly private, I decided to consolidate and share these thoughts or comments with the world as a snapshot entry. Previously, I have always published them as collections of random thought snippets under the Journal category. Now, I felt that they should be in their own category on my blog. In some cases, you may find that they are more suitable as a journal entry but I prefer to keep them as pure as they come. And if I don’t write them down somewhere, they are lost forever until one day, if I’m lucky, I will remember them.

Snippet #1

Most software companies aren’t design driven. They always apply engineering thinking to everything. They are all about the tangible output, fast cash, and I think that is why these companies are not amongst the most valuable companies in the world. It is especially so of system integrators. They will remain that way until they shut down, go out of business or bought over. They don’t bring to the table solutions that cover the emotive aspect of how one might use a piece of software. It shows. Humans intuitively know whether tender loving care (TLC) was applied to a product they buy. Of course, there is nothing inherently wrong with being pragmatic, being all about the objectives but your end product could become way more valuable to the “normal” people you are selling your product to. It is the subjective experience that will bring the most money in.

Snippets #2

An ex-colleague saw me today and commented how much happier I look. I’m happier than ever before because I remain steadfast to my values, doing things and acting in accordance to my own value system. To the people around me, you will also get something tangible. E.g. if I’m happy at work, my output is consistent and stable. If I’m happy with life, you get more smiley face or more jovial actions from me. But if you step on any of my values, everything flips. So, to external parties, the equation is simple and very easy to balance.

Snippets #3

If you want to get a LV bag, do you complain about the price? If you want to get a Rolex, do you complain about the price? Apple products are the Rolexes or LVs of the technology world. You want it, then shut up and pay for it or don’t buy it.

Snippets #4

Want to do product design or design a great user experience? Make sure you have an enthographer or someone with background in anthropology giving advice.

Snippets #5

It’s perfectly alright if you want to spend up to 14 hours every day, Monday to Sunday working. But don’t complain after when everything else in your life starts falling apart and you feel extremely miserable. Like someone smarter, more hardworking, and tried stuff, compared to me, once said, “You pick up the boulder, you can put it down any time you want.”