Were we duped by Donald?

It’s been 100 days with Donald J Trump as the 45th President of the United States (POTUS) — a 100 very long days. And while there’s much debate/discussion on the achievements of the orangish president with huge hands across the world — right from his travel ban on Muslims to his dropping bombs on Muslim countries — the Indian state seems to have been caught in a Catch-22 situation. You see, Donald Trump, the billionaire businessman, had raised many hopes of a recharged Indo-US strategic relationship. He Trump Duped India_5claimed himself to be a fan of Hindus, an admirer of Modi, not to mention his takes in Indian real estate market, all these pointed to a rosy future.

But 100 days on, there seems to have been little movement on the ‘dosti’ front. The US continues to be ambivalent on India, there has not been much change in the relationship, be it on the economic or political front. So, the big question is whether India should celebrate the 100 days of President Trump or just clutch its head in despair, like much else of the world is doing?

India-US Bhai-Bhai?

Much as people would like to believe, India has never had a real good “Howdee Pardner” kind of a relationship US. The last time an Indian premier had a great thing going on with the US leadership was when Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru was in office and Jackie Kennedy was in the house, the Whitehouse. But then, Nehruji took a left turn and went all gooey with the Babushka lady from the North. And so, the subsequent American presidents were either ignorant or unsure of India. Also, the fact that our enemy-number-numero-uno (Pakistan, in case you forgot) just happened to forge a strategic tie-up with the Americans against the Hammer-Sickle alliance in Afghanistan, worked much against us. So, while our ageing Mig 21s, and 22s kept flying into the ground (oft times with the pilots still strapped within), the Pakistanis would somehow manage to procure a whole squadron of F16s that too, paid with American aid. Can anyone beat that?

In fact, the US-Paki bromance had reached such a level, that when India had to intervene to stop the genocide in East Pakistan (Bangladesh now), the mighty Seventh Fleet had set sail for the Indian Ocean to aid the beleaguered Pakis. Luckily for India, a tipsy Yahya Khan was the president of Pakistan and took them to their eventual defeat. But the fact remains, the Americans were on the Paki side on this one.

History is replete with instances of how the Americans have not really loved us. Right from Trump Duped India_6denying a place in the security council, to imposing economic sanctions after the nuclear tests; caught between the love of Islamabad and the scepticism of Beijing, New Delhi seemed to have mattered very less. In fact, between the years of 1978-2000, there was not a single US presidential visit to India, from Jimmy Carter to Bill Clinton.

And if our dalliance with the Soviets were not enough, our wily Chinese neighbours were no less. As the economic and military might of Beijing increased, the American was forced to choose the dragon over the tiger. Back in 1965, when the Chinese had attacked India, the Kennedy administration had even contemplated using the nuclear option against the Chinese. Apparently, in one of the meetings, President Kennedy had stated: “We should defend India, and therefore we will defend India.” By the turn of the century, the Americans had to apologize to Beijing to secure the release of a pilot that had been shot down while flying a spy plane over China. That’s how dramatic, the shift was post the Great Leap Forward under Mao Zedong that turned China into an economic powerhouse. The Chinese with their manufacturing might had turned the tables on India. The Great Wall kind of dictated the way US dealt with us.

There was a little thaw in the Indo-US relationship in the 90s though, with the collapse of the USSR and India’s economic liberalisation. With the global MNCs finding a large market opportunity in India, Uncle Sam suddenly seem to be aware of the country’s existence.  But even so, India was never the most favoured nation, say the way the Chinese or the Pakis were.

The Great Manipulator

So, now that was the case till recently;  the US was besotted by China, dating Pakistan, and our best friend Russia in the doldrums. During the tenure of PM Manmohan Singh, there was sufficient movement on the economic ties and Barrack Obama had landed here in Air Force One, it was not hunky-dory yet. And then, Narendra Modi was elected as a prime minister of India in 2014. The Modi Government deliberately moved away from the Trump Duped India_7Nehruvian policies, spurned the Russians and courted the US, openly. Meanwhile, in the US, the American Indian community was also gaining much economic might, with quite a few them in top administrative and corporate positions. As the might of the Indian diaspora grew, so did the importance. The grand show by PM Modi in Madison Square Garden was an indicator of that, a foreign PM filling up a stadium for his speech. Not surprisingly, all the anti-Indian lobbies or the senators went mute.

The US Presidential election in this light was an interesting one.  Over the past many years, there had been an opinion that the Republican Party was good for India (as it was pro-business and so pro-outsourcing) than the Democrats (pro-labour anti-others). The commonest example is how Bill Clinton imposed sanctions and George W Bush signed the Indo-US Nuclear deal. Yet, the Democrats enjoyed much Indian support in the US.  After all, it’s easy to support an illogical candidate, if you don’t have to vote for him and he is not going to rule over you.  Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton enjoyed much support from the community, and hence garnered good funding.

As the Republican candidate, Donald Trump was aware of the power and the influence of the Indian Diaspora and hence courted them openly. Remember the “Ab ki baar, Trump sarkar” campaign, or how Ivanka Trump celebrated Diwali at an Indian temple, the Republican campaign was decidedly pro-India.

But can you guess what excited Indians the most? It was not Trump’s love for India but the animosity to China. He promised that among the first things, he will do as a president was label China as a currency manipulator and impose trade sanctions. Now, wasn’t it Kautilya, who had stated that the enemy’s enemy is a friend. Trump was thus thought to be a great friend of India, so what if the world found him to be a fiend.

Good ol’ Trump was supposedly right-winger, and PM Modi was decidedly right-wing. Two ‘rights’ would always add to one big one. Right?

Apparently NOT.

The U-Turn President 

Any serious assessment of Trump’s first 100 days in office, would invariably throw up a cropper. From the Wall to Obama care, from a list of controversial appointments to an endless barrage of non-sensical statements on Twitter, there’s precious little for Trump to show in his report card. While none of that should be of concern to India, there’s actually one thing that does, or let’s make it two things. One is a U-turn and the other is a No-turn.

Let’s talk about the No-turn first. Among the many things that Trump promised in the run up to the presidency, one dealt with H1B Visas. Thanks to these special category of work Visas, thousands of Indian workers have got employment opportunities in the US. The Trump Duped India_4Indian IT industry especially has benefitted much, deploying scores and scores of low-paid software workers on highly-paid consultant jobs. This has been largely responsible for the boom in the $150 Bn Indian IT Services industry. With the Trump administration tightening the bolts on the H1B regime, the IT industry will be badly wounded. Little wonder then that ever since Trump has taken office, the stocks of Indian IT companies from Infosys, TCS, and even Wipro have been in the reds. Rather strangely, of all the promises made by Trump, the only one he is delivering on, will hurt India much, economically. He recently signed of an executive order on the issue and has promised more on that front. So much for Trump Sarkar!

Contrast it to the way Trump has capitulated in front the Chinese. Forget about all his threats of labelling China as a currency manipulator or imposing trade sanctions, Trump is going all goey-goey with Chinese President Xi Jinping, playing golf and eating chocolate cake at Mar-a-Lago. In return for support on dealing with North Korean Kim Jong Un, Trump has done a complete ‘un’ on China. The dragon is back in the picture and the tiger is in hibernation.

If that was not enough, India also has to deal with a rather grumpy Russia. The Kremlin is not apparently happy in the manner in which India courted the Americans in the past decade, as the Russian influence declined. With a ‘Thou Brutus‘ kind of an approach, the Russians have been doing lambda with the Chinese. Like ex-flame, there’s a streak of revenge not too hard to discern.

Sadly for us, the counterweight to Russia has vanished. The US under Trump is a vacillating state, if not a vassal one.  Thus there’s a sort of ménage-a-trois of America, China, Russia which is kind of working against us. The funny part is, we can’t do a sh*t about it.

In the end, for all the euphoria the high profile “Indian” appointments, like Amul Thapar to top judicial post, Seema Verma as administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Trump Duped India_2Medicaid Services, Nikki Haley as US envoy to the United Nations, President Trump has been copiously silent on the several attacks on Indian nationals and Americans of Indian origin in the US in the recent past with two people killed in suspected hate crimes.

The Trump administration even crossed the laxman-rekha on Kashmir, when it offered to mediate between India and Pakistan, something that India has strongly objected to in the past and has so again.

In spite of all the acrimony in past (denying him Visa), there was a palpable bonhomie between Barrack Obama and Narendra Modi. Something that seems to be completely missing between Modi and Trump. They might exchange pleasantries on Twitter or platitudes on telephone, but the warmth in the relationship is just not there.

At the culmination of these 100 days, Indians should wake up and smell some kadak-chai. We need to bolster ourselves like the American citizens for some 1300 more days of Trump.  Probably, Modi should now hold more stadium shows in the US, possibly even think about lending Amit Shah to the Republican Party to help them win the elections, they are so bound to lose. We need to do something, and it better be out of the box.  Else, going by the way these past hundred have, one thing is sure, they will be anything but “huge, tremendous and dangerous”. Let’s start praying to our gods people, if not anything else!

More than just intelligence. Here’s why we should embrace AI.

Have you seen a short-film called Sunspring? It’s a rather insipid tale about the future, with three characters mulling about love, revenge, and having to “go to the skull”. The 9-minute odd film has been directed by Oscar Sharp, and was made as part of the Sci-Fi-London film festival’s 48hr Challenge. All in all, if you haven’t seen it till now, you haven’t missed much in life.

So, if the story is nothing to rave about, the acting was no great jigs and the direction was so so, why are we discussing Sunspring?  Well, it is due to Benjamin, who wrote the AI_01screenplay of the movie. And no Benjamin is not some celeb writer or some Pulitzer-prize winner. You see, Benjamin happens to be a rather nondescript piece of technology, which goes by the real name as a recurrent neural network called long short-term memory, or LSTM for short.

Simply speaking, Benjamin is your friendly neighbourhood Artificial Intelligence or AI. It is a bit of technology that is able to learn and create, for instance, in this case, it crawled through 100s of scripts from the 80s and 90s to come up with this one.

It is for the first time ever that a screenplay has been written completely by AI. It is a giant leap in this regards, when AI becomes so intuitive that it can now move into the artistic space, and create content automatically. It is quite unlike say winning a game of chess or even hoping contestants in Jeopardy.

Elementary my dear Watson

Artificial intelligence has been around for quite some time. According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary the term artificial intelligence is defined as “the capability of a machine to imitate intelligent human behaviour”. When John McCarthy had coined the term in the AI_31950s, he had meant it a bit different, dubbing it, “It is the science and engineering of making intelligent machines, especially intelligent computer programs. It is related to the similar task of using computers to understand human intelligence, but AI does not have to confine itself to methods that are biologically observable.”

Thus, from the 50s AI has moved from understanding human intelligence to mimicking it. It is no more about software or hardware, but rather more encompassing in that sense. Effectively, AI could now be an intelligent piece of software, a super-computer, a cloud-based system, or even a smart robot.

Yet, even as the definition evolves, there are certain core characteristics of the system that do not really change. We can broadly characterise AI as a system that is able to remember and learn without much external inputs. It is a self-learning system that learns from its successes and failures. Like say, how IBM’s Deep Blue defeated grandmaster Gary AI_02Kasparov in a rematch in 1997, after having decidedly lost to the master in 1996. It seemed to have evolved, learnt from its flaws, analysed its opponent’s strength.

But then, don’t mistake AI to be a costly proposition, the kind that exists in Deep Blue or IBM Watson. It can be much nimble and ubiquitous. So, your input keypad on the mobile device that remembers the colloquial and vernacular terms used and does not auto-correct them is a form of AI. The mobile assistants Siri, Google Now, Cortana, are also AI. Meantime, the self-driving car that uses concurrent data from sensors all over the car and manages to navigate is an example of a rather complex and a bit more advanced form of AI.

Yet, AI is not about remembering words, or navigating roads, it has a much broader approach and depth to it, ranging from deciphering the string-theory of the universe to say splitting the atom. There is no limitation to where AI can be applied or used, from the puny mobile phone to the massive Hubble telescope.  These days, Google Deepmind is defeating AlphaGo champions, IBM Watson is all the time keen to take up challenges for games or discussions, Intel is using deep learning to make machines smarter, GE is using Predix to create brilliant factories or digital twins. Continue reading