Sunday, 28 July 2013

My Entry 4 - Indiblogger, Franklin Templeton Investments present 'The Idea Caravan' - Invest For Tomorrow

Angad Nadkarni's Presentation / Speech on Hacking & 'App'ing Examination Question Papers

This is my fourth entry to the Indiblogger-Franklin Templeton Investments' The Idea Caravan Initiative.

Powerful ideas today are indeed 'the' true investments for a better tomorrow. Egged on by this, eagerly browsed through the videos to join the conversation. The Franklin Templeton Idea Caravan Site has all the information and of course, speaker videos from the TEDxGateway Mumbai 2012. Franklin Templeton Investments partnered the TEDxGateway Mumbai in December 2012.

Click here to watch Angad Nadkarni's Presentation / Speech Video
Or, Watch it here:

For any of us innately technology driven (I confess I am; tend to conceptualize most solutions as series of algorithms - be it virtual or real), 'hacking' as a concept fascinates us.  

I absolutely love Nadkarni's first four sentences - in fact, having been a student of computer science and having been fascinated by ethical hacking (well, don't ask me how can hacking be ethical? Its the equivalent of cyber policing or the stuff Batman & Spiderman would do if they were in cyber space) I fully agree with the following four sentences Angad opens his presentation with:

1.  Hacking is all about circumventing limitations.  

2.  Hacking essentially can be broken down in to three distinct steps:
(a) cut through the noise, 
(b) recognize patterns, and 
(c) question the patterns.

Let's stop here and inhale these thoughts.  Yes, I fully agree that hacking is all about circumventing limitations.  I would even go further to say it is challenging limitations & triumphing over them.  This is what draws many a bright techie to hacking.  Puritanically, by itself, its a high - just as surmounting any barrier in life is!  Now, wait a minute.  The operative word thus far is 'puritanically'.  We are, at this point, merely analyzing hacking as a science so we could derive the positives from it for life as such.  

Now, moving forward, hacking isn't merely circumventing limitations with a series of algorithms. At this point, the 'limitations' assume more weight than the 'circumventing'.  This is where I have seen many fall short.  Here is the time and point to pause, to 'understand the limitations - the what, the why and the wherefore'.  It would be indiscriminate to go after any limitation for the thrill of circumventing it and triumphing over it. It is here that our bringing up, our social belonging, our sense of right and wrong, our allegiance to professional ethics step in.  What exactly are the underlying limitations (say, imposed by a website's or Organization's security)? Why are those limitations in place (what social goals give these limitations their legitimacy)? Are we within our rights - legally, morally and most important of all - conscientiously, to even seek to circumvent it?  

Only, I repeat, ONLY when this step is passed through - the limitations are understood in all dimensions and we stand legally, morally and conscientiously empowered to circumvent - does hacking assume ethical proportions.  For example, you could be circumventing it, under mandate, to fortify a website or an Organizational system.  Unless you hack it, how are you gonna be able to protect it? ;-) 

If this step is not passed through - in my view, hacking plunges us into chaos.  

So, let's park that for the moment and move on with this presentation and articulating about it.  
Its brilliant to view hacking in those three steps - cutting through the noise, recognizing / identifying patterns and then, the most important of them all: question the patterns.  In fact, permit me to say, that is true of viewing most things in life (ah, remember, I told you I'm tech driven :)  

Would you agree with me if I told you we lost wisdom to knowledge, knowledge to information and ultimately, information to trivia & tidbits? I strongly feel so.  Our world today is bombarded with nuggets of noise - all of which add up to gigantic proportions - in our lives, in our hard disks, in our memory cards!

Therefore, oh so very relevant that we cut through the noise, identify patterns relevant to us.  

So far, so good.

The most important part of this blog post commences now :)  

Questioning those patterns, to me, is holy.  Each of us, I believe, have a fundamental duty to leave everything we come across, better - when it has passed us, in whatever form.  If you and I just have to just about saunter through life, why are we even here? Why exactly?  I am sure Nature didn't give us a transit visa through life!  Its because we are unique, we are bestowed some sets of skills and experience by Nature that we ought and are probably looked upon by Nature's scheme of things - to utilize all that we are bestowed with - to improve and better!  

I also notice, in today's times, very few question patterns (constructively - mind you me, by questioning, I don't mean bringing down people, perspectives or Institutions; i mean engaging in constructive introspection, discussion).  And I further notice, as depressing as it is, that intolerance is rising unchecked and those who question are not spared.  Scary and regressive?


Let's proceed with Angad Nadkarni's presentation..

He declares examinations are not about ticking the correct option under stress - they are about developing an intelligent workforce for any skills.  So, he / his team decided to hack the examination system :-D  And, created an app he likes to called 'examify' :) Taking question papers from every school, college & tuition and running them through some very complex algorithms to track trends in question papers. Net result: predict the future question paper :) So that students can study only the most important questions for every chosen subject, track the time one takes to solve, by question.  The app analyses each question as 'relatively difficult, normal / easy' by deriving from interactivity, presumably: here is a 'dekho' or sneak preview:

Objective is to distribute high quality exam preparation material to Indian students! 

Geez!  It had to come to this I tell you - given the Indian education system and society's obsession with examination scores!  

For an under 5 minute presentation, this leaves us with a huge load of reflections, questions, analysis!

I will attempt to splice this into two planes:

A.  Scientifically or technologically, bravo.  You just 'app'fied what any intelligent student in India always does for any professional exam - be it CAT or IIT entrance examination or the CA examinations :)  I know scores of friends who wouldn't even have qualified - had their trend analysis failed them :) 

B.  Socially, ethically I beg to differ.  Not so much with just Angad's App's objective.  But with the deep rooted social connotations that have even given rise to this App:

What do we educate ourselves and ours for?  Angad declares it is to develop an intelligent workforce for any skill.  Well it is not the whole truth, i m afraid.  We educate to output conscious, informed and empowered social citizens.  Agree?  

If you agree (and please leave a comment if you disagree - we gotta talk), in the first place, our society and examination system need serious 'questioning the patterns'.  Why have we driven our youngsters to such an extent that getting top scores - by hook, crook or well, by analyzing trends - is what drives them!  

Imagine a whole generation that has trend analyzed and become doctors, engineers, accountants, auditors, teachers!  How exactly will they contribute to their profession and life when those 'out of syllabus' situations arise (and, arise, they will, sooner rather than later)?  See the point?

You may argue that they will learn, in normal course.  Well, in that trial and error process, what social cost would our doctors, engineers and parents be putting us to? Yeah?  Do we want to raise a generation of 'ap(p)es'? Or, do we want to raise a sharp and comprehensively educated generation that understands its basics oh so well to be able to better it - for posterity? So much for being tech driven, I also passionately believe all analysis and no imagination is good for nothing!  And creativity and imagination flourish where there is space, comprehensive learning and love for the subject. 

If i have gotten you to agree with me that Angad's algorithm and app are brilliant just that we need to channelize it slightly differently for greater social good, let me skew this further to demonstrate how :) 

Imagine if we did a trend analysis of monsoon, of inflation, of population demographics (female foeticide, glass ceiling etc.), of illnesses, of medical insurance premiums - would that not yield many times lasting social welfare?  

No - i don't at all think I am being idealistic.  Remember 'questioning the patterns'? I am already questioning Angad Nadkarni's App's pattern :)  

Come, join the conversation .. 

Cheers :)