Entrepreneurs Talk the Walk

Goa University’s Department of Management Studies organised another event under the banner of ‘Entrepreneurs Talk the Walk’ on October 25th, 2018 at 5:00 p.m.

Mr. Ashton Souza (Director, Goa Information Technology Innovation Centre), gave me a wonderful opportunity to interact with an enthusiastic batch of second year students in the MBA programme.

During our telephonic conversation a few days prior, he said something to the effect of speaking about my work, journey and startup.

Work? Check.

My journey? Sure; got all 16 years and 7 months covered (although only the last 4 years were pertinent).

Startup? Not yet… but certainly sometime in the near future.

It wasn’t until the next day that I realised, usually, only full-fledged entrepreneurs were invited to speak at this event! (almost tripped over my own feet at this point)

Ironically, an English Literature school examination was scheduled on the same day, from 12 p.m. to 3 p.m., so I was relieved when the organiser told me the talk could be held from 5 p.m. to 6 p.m. instead of the previously planned time of 2:30 p.m. to 3:30 p.m.

Here’s an excerpt from the latter part of the talk, providing insights into the future of artificial intelligence, robotics and sectors where autonomous systems could be integrated to improve efficiency.

At some point or the other, we’ve all come across that person who is sooo worried about an artificial intelligence uprising with robots taking over the world. It sounds highly irrational, until, you consider the other, seemingly unrelated, big question: Can I lose my job to a robot? If that’s the kind of apocalyptic revolution you have in mind, then you’re not alone; the sentiment has been echoed by many.

But before we proceed on this front, I’d like you to take a moment, step back and think about it very rationally, any form of technology, not just AI, is a double-edged sword. How one wields it, is what makes a world of difference. Besides, science fiction films pretty much make their money scaring the pants off their audience, so they don’t always give us the right idea about real artificial intelligence.

But is it possible that robots will take over certain professions? Definitely. Moreover, I believe that we will be wise enough to know and regulate exactly which sectors they may be permitted to enter and up to which level.

If that doesn’t sound sufficiently pacifying, we also have the Caveman principle on our side. According to this, humans have freely allowed technology to develop at breathtaking speeds, as long as it is within our control. With every disruptive innovation humanity encountered, be it the usage of fire, the invention of the wheel or the advent of artificial intelligence, we have simultaneously created an equivalent number of safeguards against them. Broken down to the very fundamentals, it hurts our ego to know that something else could be more powerful and have a greater extent of control than us. That internal firewall, is our greatest safeguard against AI. With all due respect to the human mind, artificial intelligence is no match for natural stupidity!

As of now, the industrial manufacturing sector is almost entirely dependent on robotic and autonomous systems for production.

In the next few decades, we could expect to see a gradual increase in their usage across the medical and logistics sectors as well. Neural networks have proved time and again to be supremely faster at processing logistical problems and providing feasible solutions which can be integrated with existing platforms in both fields.

An excellent example of this is the insulin patch available for patients suffering from a diabetes.

Patients suffering from it require doses of insulin to be injected into their bloodstream before every meal in order to regulate their blood sugar level. This is a painful and cumbersome procedure as in the case of Type 1 diabetes, the patients include children too.

A relatively new invention called the insulin patch with micro-needles uses transdermal injection of insulin into the patient’s blood stream over a period of several hours in minute doses. It is a painless option and one that is being widely adopted.

With the power of AI, a chip could be attached to this patch, could monitor the concentration of blood sugar and release the insulin over a period of time without the need to change patches time and again.

It would offer a much more efficient method of administering, not only insulin for diabetics; but also other drugs like synthetic dopamine in patients undergoing treatment for Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s and several other neurodegenerative diseases.

Disaster management too, would be greatly boosted. A centralised system could be employed to efficiently mobilise manpower in areas where it is most required and maximise the efforts of everyone involved in mounting rescue attempts and setting up relief camps. More importantly, such neural networks would require minimal human intervention as they would simultaneously be aware of weather changes in the affected region by satellite data, and directly communicate such information to first responders and emergency services. For instance, during the floods in Kerala this year, 40 helicopters, 31 aircrafts, 182 teams of first responders, 18 medical teams from the defence forces, 58 teams of the National Disaster Response Force, 7 companies of the Central Armed Police Force, 500 boats and no less than 4,537 fisherfolk were mobilised in the relief operations. To their credit, over 65,000 lives were saved across the state. Such situations may arise at any given point of time and managing rescue attempts in stressful conditions of this magnitude is nothing short of a logistical nightmare!

I had planned a little surprise demonstration (without informing the organiser in advance) and brought it up after a prelude to ‘falling in style’; a movement that is normally referred to as walking.

I’d like you all to think back to the last time you walked. By a very carefully calculated estimate that would be… just before you took your seats.

Walking may not seem to be a complicated task for human beings. As a matter of fact, it’s one of the first milestones of physical development in our lives. But when it comes to replicating this movement with motors and actuators, that’s quite a different story.

The hip joint connecting the human pelvis to the femur (our thigh bone) is actually a triple axis movement joint. If you could all get up and analyse it by swinging your leg outward and inward, that’s one. Left to right is the next; and now straighten your leg and twist it clockwise and anticlockwise: that’s the third. The versatility of just one simple joint is unbelievably complex to replicate in humanoid robots.

In addition to the hip joint, there are two more major joints required, namely: hinge movement at the knee and flexibility at the ankle.

That sums up to 6 axes of rotation in just one leg!

While replicating it with my small bipedal robot, it wasn’t feasible to use all six axes. There were time constraints and the motors took almost half a month to be delivered. So with a bit of tweaking and over a month of trial and error, it was finally brought down to 3 degrees of freedom (that is, three axes) per leg.

The result, was a walker with a rather heavy gait; hence the name: Stomper.

Thereon, Stomper took centre-stage and did it’s thing. It was pre-programmed with the football kicking code to demonstrate the immense complexity of maintaining stable equilibrium after every movement in a bipedal system of mobility.

The evening ended with the best Q&A session I’ve ever fielded! Questions ranged from the applications of AI in business, to the prospect of artificial intelligence extending into emotional intelligence as well. There were several thought-provoking discussions from a plethora of viewpoints even after the event ended.

Thank you, students from the Department of Management Studies, Goa University, for a highly productive interactive session!

Special thanks to Mr. Ashton Souza for inviting me to speak at the event.

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