Monday, October 2, 2017

[Book] Hit Refresh: by Satya Nadella

A boy from a middle-class family in Andhra Pradesh, son of a Marxist father and Sanskrit scholar mother, emigrates to United States at the age of 21 for higher education. He then joins a software company, rises through the ranks and after a span of 28 years becomes its CEO. All of this made possible through sheer talent, hard work and equally importantly, a culture that rewards meritocracy.

Such is the inspiring life story of Satya Nadella, the current CEO of Microsoft.
However, when Satya took the helm, the company was facing an existential crisis. Once the dominant and belligerent player in the arena of software industry, it was now trailing behind Apple and Google. Its ambitious products like Windows Vista, Windows 8, Windows Phone, acquisition of Nokia, had failed to make any improvements in market share. 

In his book "Hit Refresh", Satya narrates how all this came to be, and what he plans to do bring Microsoft back to its glory. This is a story of how a company, just like an individual, sets out to retrospect, introspect and seek its soul.
Along the way, Satya has had to make some unpopular decisions (one of it being to sideline the Windows Phone, driving away many of its loyal users like me), but he explains his reasoning and over-arching strategy behind it.

Of course, the journey has just barely begun, and the results are yet to come in. But that's what makes this book unique and exciting; it would have been easy to write a book after he retired, with a perfect 20/20 hindsight. By sticking out his neck now, Satya has shown he means business.

Apart from developments unique to Microsoft, this book also covers Satya's thoughts about a vast range of topics, with emphasis on artificial intelligence and quantum computing. He writes about the much-sensitive issues of privacy and security, as well as the importance of a global framework for creating AI. One of the important takeaways from the book is that next age would be about the shift from know-it-alls to learn-it-alls. 
This book was released just last week, and I was eager to read it after reading a splendid review by Bill Gates on his site, GatesNotes.

Monday, September 25, 2017

[Book] Master Algorithm: by Pedro Domingos

The folks working in the field of Information Technology and related industries would be well aware of 'Machine Learning'. Hardly a day goes by without us reading one or the other news about how the machines are getting better at analyzing, predicting, and in some cases taking over the various fields once dominated by us. 

If like me, you too are a newbie to this Next Big Thing, and wondering about where you can get a bird's eye view, this book is a good place to start.

In 'The Master Algorithm', author Pedro Domingos begins with real-life, familiar examples of how ML pervades our lives even today. Next, we get an overview of various high-level methodologies that comprise ML. The book concludes with an insight into a 'master algorithm', a mind-boggling concept, one that means the rise of learning machines that would create more learning machines.

This book makes for a persuasive and captivating read. Of course, it barely scratches the tip of a giant iceberg, and the author is quick to admit that the current techniques may not only evolve vastly but in many cases, there could be completely unforeseen breakthroughs. 

No matter what your area of work is, one thing seems certain: Machine Learning is going to impact all of us, it is here to stay and evolve into general artificial intelligence. 
As humans, we better be scared... And be better prepared.

Monday, September 18, 2017

[App] Chess app from AI Factory

If you are a casual/amateur chess player, then the Chess app from AI Factory is for you.
This mobile app, available on Android and iOS, allows you to play chess either with the software or another human player. 

The chess engine is pretty strong, and you can adjust its strength at levels 1 to 12 (which correspond roughly to Elo ratings 700 to 2100). There is an excellent 'Tutor' that can suggest and analyse each move. 

The user interface is very intuitive and graphics are top-notch. After a game, you can record it, replay it, save it, or share it online. In short, this app offers all you can expect from a free mobile game, and much more. 

After installing it last week, I have played 15 games so far across various levels, with 9 wins and 6 losses. Interestingly, no draws so far.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

[TV Series] The Big Bang Theory

I was feeling withdrawal symptoms after the Game of Thrones Season 7 ended. So, last weekend, I went back and watched some episodes from another series.... and enjoyed them as much as I did the first time almost 9 years ago!

The Big Bang Theory” was/is a popular series on CBS from 2007 onward, revolving around a group of scientists and their antics. Most of the nerds could identify themselves with the razor-sharp repartees of Sheldon, the good-natured humour of Leonard, the lovable personality of Raj and the sleazy but witty Howard
Interestingly, although Leonard was perhaps the lead character, Jim Parsons as Sheldon did such an amazing job that he practically swept up the show, earning a couple of Grammy awards in the process.

And then, there was Penny… Oh, she deserves a special write-up, but... ahem, perhaps for a select audience  😉

The show was unique in the sense that quite a few of REAL scientists, including Stephen Hawking and NASA astronaut Mike Massimino, appeared on it in cameo roles. 

I thoroughly enjoyed watching first 5 seasons. Seasons 6 and 7 were also quite good; but there was a feeling that the show was having less and less of nerdiness and more leaning towards a generic sitcom like ‘Friends’. I stopped watching it after a few episodes of 8th season, and haven’t watched seasons 9 and 10.

It seems that season 11 will be aired this year (Sept 25, 2017) and season 12 the next year. Perhaps it’s a good time to catch up on these old friends.

Monday, September 11, 2017

[Book] Mossad: Greatest Missions of Israeli Secret Service

Mossad, the secret service of Israel, is widely regarded as the deadliest agency in the world. Be it the daring rescue of Israeli hostages from the Entebbe airport, or the abduction of Nazi war criminal Adolf Eichmann from Argentina, or the 'Operation Wrath of God' that destroyed Black September terrorists... Missions of Mossad have been the stuff of folklore, yet these are just the tip of a vast iceberg. 
For six decades since its inception Mossad has been conducting equally daredevil yet clandestine missions.

And this book covers 20 of best of them. 

This is a world of legendary spymasters like Isser Harrel, Meir Amit, and Meir Dagan, from whom even James Bond could borrow a few notes and tips. We meet the intrepid commandos of Sayeret Matkal, who would make acts of Mission: Impossible seem like kids play. We learn of fantastic gadgets and poisons that seem like the stuff of science fiction. And, we come to admire the gutsy politicians like Golda Meir and Benjamin Netanyahu who put country first and foremost. 

Reading this book was never a dull moment. The only thought after finishing it was: Wish there had been an equally detailed book about missions of India's secret service, RAW.