A.I. without borders

Some researchers from African countries were barred from attending last week’s  A.I. conference  in Montréal due to visa issues. 

The story is covered in this Wired article

The organizers of the Black in A.I. workshop were working around the clock with immigration experts, but at least 40 presenters were not able to attend. 

Even Justin Trudeau has promised an investigation, though after the fact.

This story again puts front and center the ways in which technologies that offer so much in the way of potential are being circumscribed by the diminishing commitment to open and fair borders.

A major AI conference will be hosted in Addis in 2020. Will that be a step towards opening the borders of research and development in AI?


Missed Opportunities for Using Text in Data Visualization

Data for Breakfast

Richard Brath, a partner at Uncharted Software and the author of Graph Analysis and Visualization, recently completed his Ph.D. thesis on using text in data visualization. Recently, Richard talked about his thesis with data visualization enthusiasts at Automattic. Before Richard’s talk, it seemed me that text has been treated as a “second-class citizen” in the data visualization world. But even I was surprised about the wealth of visual information that we can offer using text.

Richard Brath was kind enough to allow us to publish his talk for the global audience. You can find Richard’s blog at https://richardbrath.wordpress.com.

Enjoy the lecture.

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GeorgiaHistorySocial JusticeUncategorizedVoting

Who’s worse Brian Kemp or Lester Maddox?

Feeling some despair headed back to Georgia, and the U.S. generally after a month in India.

It’s about this question: Will Brian Kemp govern Georgia like Lester Maddox?

Lester Maddox became the governor of Georgia during my childhood. He was openly racist, was famous for selling axe handles with which to beat down civil rights activists, and actively fought a state memorial immediately after Dr Martin Luther King was assassinated.

Until Brian Kemp, I don’t remember any Georgia governor who so actively and openly embraced race based voter suppression and racist immigration messages.

Yet Maddox apparently went on the most aggressive hiring of African Americans in the state’s history.

I’m finding solace knowing that people of color in Georgia nonviolently sacrificed their livelihoods and their lives to end the Maddox mode of governance.

Those sacrifices opened the door for people like Stacey Abrams, Andrew Young, and Jimmy Carter.

Our grandmothers and uncles and neighbors did this with an inner soul power (to quote Dr King) that could not be suppressed by axe handles or tear gas. I find strength knowing that we can call on that soul power to do the same again.


Calculus and The Mother

Last weekend we spent a beautiful afternoon with cousins at the Sri Aurobindo Ashram in Delhi

There was a lecture going on about the divine inspiration of Calculus — a meditation on how both Newton and Leibniz came to discoveries of infinite series and limits that led to the starting point for advanced maths.

As I pondered the spirit of The Mother, my mind went back to the visit we’d taken to the Jantar Mantar in Jaipur — an astronomical observatory built around the time of Newton’s discovery. Surely, a society that had the capacity to develop highly accurate astronomical predictions had the sophistication to develop the machinery for dealing with infinitesimal rates of change.

Newton — or more likely Leibniz — was indeed late to the game by at least 200 years! 

Keralan mathematician Nilakantha Somayaji in the 1400s seems to have worked out machinery for dealing with infinitesimal velocity and converging series.

This was in service of improving the accuracy of astronomical calculations. I’m not even sure if Somayaji’s work was used in the Jantar Mantar observatories, but there is now speculation that the Kerala school might well have been known to Leibniz.

Chalk another wonder up to globalization, I’ll give props to The Mother for the inspirations.


Jantar Mantar

Blessings to my mother-in-law for treating us to an amazing trip to Jaipur!

The place that I can’t keep thinking about is the Jantar Mantar — the name translates to English as ‘calculating instrument — an astronomical observatory there constructed in the early 1700’s by the Maharajah Sawaii Jai Singh. 

It’s more like an astronomer’s playground! To behold the scale of the sundials and other celestial instruments is just — well you need to take a pause

The Samrat Yantra (the largest gnomon sundial above ) is capable of determining the time based on the sun position to within an accuracy of two seconds. 

Two second accuracy — 300 years of precision!

The smaller of the sundials (the Laghu Samrat Yantra) is shown above, it was accurate down to the second when we checked. You can see a time lapse video here

The Jai Prakesh Yantra  is capable of tracking Zodiac/Constellation positions measuring altitudes, azimuths, hour angles and declinations.

There is such a rich history of Indian astronomy, so much so that Jai Singh constructed several observatories of similar scale throughout India with no need for the works of Kepler and Galileo.

Climate changeSocial Justice

Trail of Tears: 21st century style

It is an established fact that California is burning due to human instigated climate change, but the devastating impact of pollution upon U.S. indigenous communities is forcing Biloxi-Chitimacha-Choctaw of Louisiana to plan relocation. According to the U.S. National Climate Assessment, the physical, psychological and spiritual impacts upon indigenous peoples will be immense unless there is immediate and joint action taken.

The deeper tragedy comes when you read between the lines of the U.S. climate assessment. The Biloxi-Chitimacha-Choctaw have had to work around legislation that has severely curtailed their ability to develop relocation plans to avoid life threatening climate impact.

Due to restrictions on the funding included within the legislation and the tribe’s lack of federal recognition, the state is managing the resettlement of the entire island community, which limits tribal authority over relocation plans. This arrangement exemplifies one way in which tribes are limited in deploying adaptation strategies when using funds that are not specifically designed to meet the unique needs of tribal communities

So y’all are wiping out their land and want them (and the existence of climate change) to disappear as well. Thanksgiving unmasked, I got you.


Mawlid with Shaykh Salim

Yesterday the world celebrated the birth of Prophet Muhammad (P.B.U.H.)

We visited Fatehpur Sikri the night before.

It’s a world heritage site built by Akbar the Great that has so much significance in the Islamic world.

Akbar picked this particular site for his palace because it was where Sufi Shayk Salim Chishti — a beloved advisor — had his camp.

My son and I offered prayers on behalf of family and friends at Shayk Salim’s resting place.

Despite Azad and our guide trying their best, I succumbed to a very persistent artisan.

Shayk was looking out though — the pieces I bought were an extremely good deal.

Capitalism aside, the moments were priceless — we felt so fortunate and uplifted to breathe in the spiritual beauty.