Sunday, January 28, 2007

Images from Techfest 2007

The lure of John Nash, Arun Netravali and the Royal scoiety exhibitions, as well as the thought of attending atleast one edition of Asia's largest campus technical festival made me change plans last minute and stay back in Mumbai for two more days. Can't help feeling a little shortselled after what transpired next, and thats why this post.

A quick look at most of the events, and I was reminded again of why I have had no enthusiasm for these festivals in the past. Most of the competitions involve robotics, and I hate robots. Now there are some issues about robots that are very fascinating, including the fundamental question of the possibility of machine consciousness, but that is more AI and philosophy. Beyond some utility purposes, in terms of shopfloor automation etc., I see no point of robots as they are today. Robots that can swim, jump, play football, fight against each other...bleh - they are simply mechanical devices (I refuse to call the ones we commonly see as machines), and very pointless ones at that. For the life of me I cannot understand how some people, mostly Japanese, are actually interested in robot dolls or robot pets. The Japanese must be the saddest people on earth - they have zero population growth rate, get no real sex, wear boring suits, have humourless TV shows, get portrayed as sad in sad Bill Murray movies, produce really weird porn, really weird cartoons, inspire shitty Quentin tarantino movies, and are in love with robots. But I digress. The point is, there are some things that are considered cutting edge in terms of technology - robots and computer game animation - that the Japanese are considered masters of, and I have zero regard for them. A significant amount of talent at the very top of computer science goes into these fields, and I have a very strong feeling that it could be utilised much better elsewhere. In societal terms, there is simply not enough return on investment in these fields, though they perhaps make good localized business sense. Besides, robots are ugly.

The two guest lectures were also disappointing. The Video conference with Dr Netravali was reduced to an audio conference due to the repeated failure of the video connection, and because the talk was as general as 'the future of digital communications', most of it was uninspiring. There were a few interesting things however, including some of his predictions for the future and his exhortation to current students to implement certain tech advances that he termed 'gifts'. The converse happened with Dr John Nash's lecture. The communication links worked perfectly, however the talk was extremely specialized - 'Agencies In cooperative games', and a large part of the audience had gathered only to get a glimpse of the man made famous by 'A Beautiful Mind'. (not their fault entirely, the IITians had themselves hyped up the event in similiar terms and I was surprised that 'A Beautiful Mind' featured more in their promotions than 'Game Theory'). The talk was very specialized, and worse was not even a talk really, for Dr Nash actually only read out and tried to explain large portions of small-font typewritten text that no one in the audience could understand. It would have worked much better as a face to face lecture rather than a videoconferenced talk. I must also share part of the blame, for not having read game theory fundamentals before I went in to attend a talk with a rather specialized focus.

The Royal scoiety exhibitions were also OK, with the Mind Reader catching my interest. I'm convinced that cognitive science is the field in which we will have our next scientific revolution, and the nature of the field means that there is finally an area of study that can do true justice to the interdisciplinary tag.

All these things notwithstanding, I think I'm still better off having attended the two days. Also, got a Shell t-shirt as a freebie for some quiz question at one of these events!


Anonymous said...

hey it was really nice to c d lecture details posted as i missed few lectures but attended s last one with ur friends kevin n others..was there with kunal,neeraj n arjun...

Unknown said...
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Unknown said...

zen babu,

I quite liked your blog specially this article where you just take the Japs apart. But I do not agree with your views on robots (mainly because I have studied about them as well programmed them. I say 'I do not agree' and not 'what you say is wrong' for the simple reason that what you write is what you personally feel (thats what a blog's for).

Dont get me wrong but I am only concerned about your statements on Robots (or Robotics in general). Once you actually get involved with either studying/programming/making them, you realise what they are capable of. At the same time, I agree with your comments about them being used everywhere (as you mentioned the Japs were doing) which is not something that is really necessary and the reason for their not having any 'mojo'. Guess they can take a break while the Chinese and the Indians get it on. But again, you have to admire/applaud their efforts in going deeper into this technology.

Good going with your blog. Continue with your good work. All the best with your MBA. Guess you know who this by now..