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Originally published on The Times of India, May 27, 2019 https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/blogs/techonthecloud/trust-deficit-challenges-in-online-marketing/

When online marketing and sales came into being in early 1990s; the biggest challenge for online marketers and sellers was to overcome the trust deficit of buyers. After all, people have doubts whether the ordered goods online will actually arrive and the delivered product is indeed what they had ordered.

Usually customers go to a shop and find out what they are looking for to buy. They may see the product and find out details and also inspect the product for defects etc. If it is for buying a dress then they will try it to see how they look in the dress. So before customers buy any product; they check a lot of things.

In case of online shopping; customers can not feel and inspect a product. This definitely is a big challenge for online sellers to convince about a product to customers. Customers only see photos of the product and some product description. Even when a customer is convinced about a product then the next challenge is security. People are extremely concerned about providing their personal details to anybody. Due to these challenges; online marketing and selling is still a challenge today.

To tackle this trust deficit, online marketers and sellers have come up with many solutions.

  •  Some online sellers have come up with seller rank (the better customer reviews provide a better seller rank. A better sales rank means a better buying experience.)
  •  Purchase guarantee. Once a payment is made for a product on an online store then the customer will be guaranteed to receive the product.
  •  Secure connection to ensure no hacking of customer personal data (including credit card number etc.)
  •  Complete product description (color, size, photos from many angles, packaging information)

Recently some online sellers have also started “pay on delivery” service. The customer is not required to pay for the product bought online. The customer can pay for it only after the product is delivered to the customer.

Many online sellers have also started providing product comparison services on their online stores. This feature enables buyers to compare various competing products and choose the product as per their liking.

Amazon is one of the best online selling companies today. They are pioneers of online selling. They introduced the concepts of verified customer reviews, book selling rank, purchase protection etc. They started selling books online. First; they catered only to the USA market. Later they entered into markets of many countries including UK, Germany, France, Italy, Spain, Japan, Brazil, Australia, India, China etc. Over time; they have also diversified to sell anything to everything including electronics products, computers, mobiles, clothes and now even grocery and vegetables. Many offline companies like Wal-Mart also started selling online. They are not as successful as Amazon but the future definitely lies in online selling and so most retailers have come with their own online stores.

Winning customer trust is the most important aspect of selling. For online sellers, winning customer trust has always been challenging due to the nature of online business. But in the last 30 years, online sellers have learned as to how to overcome this challenge well. Today, the online markets comprise anything from 30% to 60% of a “business to customer” (B to C) segment in most countries.

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Ashfaque Ahmed's Blog by Ahmedashfaque - 2M ago

Originally published on Times of India https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/blogs/techonthecloud/life-in-2050-ad/

With lives changing fast these days; it is difficult to predict the future. After advent of Artificial Intelligence (AI); life definitely is changing fast. So let me predict what kind of life human beings will have in 2050 AD.

Most of the wealth of our world will be concentrated in the hands of a few mighty people (think of owners of Google, Facebook etc.). These people will own most of the private companies, real estate etc. everywhere around the world. These people will influence everything which impacts our lives. Rest of the people (more than 99.99%) will have no jobs as all the work will be done by robots and AI machines. These people will receive minimum incomes from governments so that they can pay for their bills and buy goods to lead their lives comfortably. The money to provide minimum incomes to people will come from hefty taxes paid by the few wealthy people. These wealthy people will not fork out hefty taxes because of altruistic intentions but because of business reasons. If people have no money, then they can not buy goods and services from the companies owned by these wealthy people. Even agriculture land and farming business will be owned by these wealthy people. So people will be depended on these wealthy people even for food.

The first Cyborgs (Half human and half robot) will be born somewhere around 2030 AD. These will be the wealthiest people whose brains will be networked with computers. These computers will have AI capabilities. These primitive Cyborgs will have limited AI capabilities. By 2050 AD; the AI capabilities will be tremendous. They will have abilities to surpass most of the boundaries defined by biology. So the Cyborgs will become immortal as they will be able to defeat diseases and old age. Since Cyborgs will be immortal; they will not have the need to procreate. So they will stop having children.

These wealthy people (Cyborgs) will also have full control of AI. They will use AI for their own benefits. But they will not allow other people to develop AI capabilities. So 99.99% people will never become Cyborgs. So we will see a bipolar world: the Cyborgs and the ordinary people. Since ordinary people will have no jobs; they will spend their time in pursuit of much simpler things like spending time on entertainment, daydreaming etc.

The basic income will have 2 components: the universal component (same for everyone) and incentive for education etc. The more educated a person becomes; the more income he/she will receive. Since everyone will have some kind of income; poverty will be eradicated completely.

Since all the work will be done by robots and AI machines; there will be absolute efficiency everywhere. Due to the highest level of efficiency; there will be no shortage or glut of goods in the markets.

All the pollution creating industries and vehicles will be things of the past. Air will be clean in all cities. The looming climate change catastrophe will also be under control. Solar energy will be tapped for almost all energy needs of the people.

So how do you like the future in 2050 AD? If you think it is rosy then think twice. Your life will be controlled by a Cyborg!

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Originally published in Times of India https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/blogs/techonthecloud/the-left-the-right-and-the-centre/

There are many variations of politics around the world. But in general, we can categorize them as politics leaning to the left, the right or the centre. Let us understand what is left, right and centre in politics.

Before the advent of elections to vote people who will govern a country or a region; we used to have kings. Kings were never elected by people. Instead, kings were the people who had the power to defeat any enemies using their armies. Once a person would defeat the army of a king; he would become the new king of that country. Once a person became a king then one of his children would become a king or queen after the death of that person. If the new queen or king was weak then some person who had the ambition to become king, would assemble an army and fight with the army of the existing king or queen. If this person wins in this war then he or she will become the new king.

In those days, people would depend on the mercy of the king or queen. The king or queen will make laws, collect revenue from people and sometimes may also indulge in philanthropy. Some good kings and queens were good to their people and some of them were bad. People would prosper or suffer accordingly.

With the advent of elections to elect people who will govern a country; things changed. People formed political parties to fight elections. These political parties have their own philosophy as to how to govern a country or region. Some of them think that giving incentives to the rich people of society will benefit all people of the country or region. This is because these rich people will start new businesses. The proliferation of new businesses will generate employment opportunities for common people. This will result in people having more money in their pockets. Since people will have more money in their pockets; they will spend more. When people spend more; there will be more money coming in the economy and the economy grows. When the economy grows; rich people also have more money in their pockets. So they will start more new businesses. This cycle continues and the country and its people become prosperous. This kind of thinking on part of a political party is known as right wing politics.

Some people like Karl Marx saw that the right wing politics does not help all people in a society. They observed that many sections of society remained poor despite the growth of the economy. They proposed a political thought which would eliminate poverty and make the society more equitable. They proposed that if two people have put the same amount of labour then they should be compensated equally. They also believed that rich people are monsters and are exploiting poor people using their money power. So rich people should be extricated of their money and this money should be used for the betterment of poor people. This political thought gained ground and many political parties were formed around the world on this philosophy. This kind of political thinking is known as left-wing politics.

Many left-leaning political parties were ruling many countries like Russia, China, Vietnam, Poland, Romania, Yugoslavia etc. Starting in the late 19th century. People around the world realized pitfalls of left-wing politics after seeing how these countries were governed. Since merit and hard work is not recognized in left-wing politics, there is little incentive for people to do hard work. People who are talented languish as their talent is not recognized. Similarly, hard-working people stop working hard as there is no incentive for hard work in such systems. So left leaning politics fails.

A new kind of politics was evolved due to failures of both right and left-wing politics. In this kind of politics; a balance is maintained between an equitable society and the need to compensate for merit and hard work. The rich are taxed so that the generated revenue can be used to run schemes for the betterment of poor people. The rich are allowed to run their businesses and make profits. They are taxed only on the capital gains they make from running their businesses. In a way; it is a win-win solution for all sections of the society. This kind of political thinking is known as centre wing politics.

Today, we are seeing a world where the gap between the rich and poor is growing. This is a dangerous situation as this will eventually lead to confrontation and war between the rich and poor people of this world. The best solution being proposed is to introduce a basic minimum income scheme for the poor. The money to finance such a scheme can only come from taxing the rich more and thus get revenue to finance such a scheme. This kind of scheme can only come when a centre leaning government is in place.

Considering all benefits and drawbacks; it becomes clear that centre wing politics is the best thing for societies around the world.

Which way you lean stupid?

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originally published on Times of India https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/blogs/techonthecloud/perception-versus-reality/

With the same data; it is perfectly possible to create a perception which is entirely different from reality. People; especially the young ones can be gullible enough and may perceive things which are different from reality. It is the power of some great people to create a perception different from reality. Some people use their power to create a perception which may heal people. On the other hand some people may use their power of creating a perception which may hurt people. For example, today the Indian economy is in shambles. It has recorded the worst job market situation in last 45 years. The farmers are in distress. Over all, the incumbent government has failed in all aspects of governing the country. And yet, the youth of the country see a rosy picture. They have the perception that India is shining. How this can be possible, when the reality is entirely different?

People with gift of gab can present a rosy picture with data which is just the opposite of the reality. The best way to create a perception is to take attention away of people from what is happening. Using some conjuring act; people are then shown something different. People thus forget about the real fact and now start paying attention to the new act which is being shown. This is how magicians do their trick. They may do something with their one hand which may bring attention of the people watching to this action while they may use their other hand at the same time to perform some act which may seem like a magic.

Governing a big country like India is definitely a huge task. Variation in culture, language, religion, foods, geography etc. is so vast in India that fulfilling ambitions of all segments of the Indian people is impossible. So politicians have learned many tricks to keep people entertained and get their votes. If not all of the votes; then at least enough votes to get the power to govern the country. They do their math to come up with a number of votes which are enough for them. One of the best tricks in their bag is the old and trusted “divide and rule” policy. They engage one segment of the society to pit against other segments. People then start believing that all the ills in the society are resulting from bad things done by this other segment. Thus this segment of the society ends up voting for the politicians who create such perceptions. This helps them to win elections.

There is no wonder then that the most successful politicians today in India have perfected the Houdini act well!

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Originally published on Times of India https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/blogs/techonthecloud/government-program-failures-who-is-to-blame/

In their election manifestos; political parties promise many programs for people. They promise that if their party is elected then they will fulfil their promises. But most of the time, these promises are not fulfilled. Even if the political party is earnest in its efforts; still they are not able to fulfil their promises. Who is to blame?

Most often than not; the problem lies in the implementation of these schemes. When computers were not there then the government officials used to grab all those benefits themselves and the people suffered. It was difficult to find out large scale corruptions as manual accounting systems could never find out where all the money had gone which was meant to implement a government scheme.

Now we have computers everywhere. But still, the ground reality is that most government schemes fail. Why? Don’t computers bring transparency to all accounting for money spent on a government scheme?

There are still many problems in implementing government schemes. The toughest problem is to find out the right beneficiaries. Suppose the government wants to pay Rs 5,000 ($70 approximately) per month to each person who is a landless peasant. How can these people be identified? Generally you may find these people in villages. Government officials usually find it difficult to collect data from villages due to remoteness and inaccessibility. These people are usually illiterate and have no awareness of government schemes. So even when government officials reach these villages; the right recipients do not come forward. If they come forward then they may not have the papers to prove that they are the right recipients. So a large number of right recipients are left behind in many government schemes. On the other hand, many illegitimate recipients claim and get benefits due to having forged documents. Thus many government schemes fail despite best efforts.

One more problem with data about people is that it takes years to collect data; sometimes more than 5 years. In such a long period, many things get changed. For example, the structure of a household may get changed. Income levels may also get changed. So finding out the right recipients becomes difficult.

Whereas the goal of any such government scheme is to provide benefits to 100% of right beneficiaries; in reality, such schemes could hardly reach 60% of the right recipients.

One more aspect of implementation failures of government schemes is the allocation of funds for a scheme. Most of the time, number of recipients for a government scheme is not known in advance. So allocation of funds becomes a problem for such schemes.

Governments realize these ground realities but they do not have remedies. I think the best way of moving forward is to reform data collection systems. Getting accurate data within a short period of time can help in implementing government schemes better election manifesto.

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Ashfaque Ahmed's Blog by Ahmedashfaque - 3M ago

Originally published by the Times of India https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/blogs/techonthecloud/data-is-king/

World is changing fast. Yesterday, data used to be stored in brains of people in form of memories. People used to share this data through verbal communication with others.

When recording devices were invented then voice and video recordings were done to save some of this data outside the brains of people. But this data was still not transferable or stored easily. Aggregating such kind of data and making meaningful inferences from a collection of these data pieces was not possible.

And then came computers! Now creation and saving all kinds of data became very easy. People could shoot photos and videos and save them in their computers. Business houses could create and store all their business data on computers. Slowly people started using computers do many things including shopping, socializing, relaxing (watching videos, listening to songs etc.), business, communication etc. This has resulted in creation of ever more data. Now the good question to be asked is: what is use of all this data? If all this data being created is useful at all!

People have been using data to make decisions or do useful things. When people cook food, they use their past experience to make it delicious. This past experience is nothing but a piece of data. Use of data in this way no doubt helps our lives better. But what if we can aggregate data from many people and many places and use it to do things even better. In fact large amounts of data is extremely useful. You may not believe but it is a fact that acquisition and use of data is a trillion dollar industry today.

All of us use social media like Twitter, Facebook etc. The owners of the companies such as Twitter and Facebook have spent billions of dollars in developing the software products which we use everyday for free. Why any company which has spent billions of dollar in developing a software product will allow users to use it for free? Wouldn’t it make sense for them to charge users for using their software product? But they don’t. Why? Simply because they are looking for your data. The data generated by you when you sign up for using their product and then the content you create when you use their product results in making lots of money for them. In fact your data is trillions of dollars worth of money for them.

These social media platforms make their money from flashing advertisements on their web pages. They charge a fee from advertisers for displaying advertisements on their web pages. Today billions of people use their platforms everyday. Naturally billions of impressions of advertisement are displayed on their web pages daily. Thus revenue from advertisements definitely is big for these companies.

Now the next question could be: How your data makes a difference in the generation of revenue from advertisements? This indeed is an interesting question. Let us find out. Suppose the advertisers pay for their advertisements on a flat rate basis as per number of impressions. In this case this advertisement model will be similar to the ones used for television channels. But advertisements displayed on internet web pages have an inherent advantage as compared to the ones displayed on television screens. While the advertisements displayed on television screens are not interactive; the ones displayed on web pages can be interactive. Users can click on the advertisements and can buy things online. This advantage can make advertisements on web pages far more useful for advertisers as more sales can be expected per number of advertisement impressions as compared to the ones displayed on television screens.

But we can see that user data is still not related to clicks on advertisements displayed on web pages. Let us come to this point now. Suppose somehow we can find out preferences and purchasing history of individual users then we can display advertisements only of relevant products and services to a user. A user will more likely click on these relevant advertisements and buy products and services as compared to irrelevant advertisements. So here comes user data. From user data, it is possible to find out user preferences and past purchasing records. Thus it will be possible to display only relevant advertisements to each user.

This arrangement works well for everyone. The advertisers need to spend less on advertising to sell their products and services. The users are saved from bombardment of irrelevant advertisements and thus their usage experience is enhanced when they use these social media platforms. But the biggest beneficiaries are the owners of these social media platforms. They not only are able to generate more revenues from displaying advertisements; they also use user data for other purposes. Today, the biggest use of user data is in artificial intelligence (AI). These companies are building artificial intelligence programs which are being used in applications such as image recognition, speech processing, video processing etc. As we know AI is the hottest industry today and user data is invaluable to train and build AI programs. So data is indeed king!

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This post was published on “The times of India” on 22 March 2019 https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/blogs/techonthecloud/what-is-general-purpose-artificial-intelligence/

Artificial Intelligence (AI) is the hottest industry today. Billions of dollars are being spent worldwide to research and develop new technologies in the field of AI. One of the biggest goals of these researches is to develop General Purpose Artificial Intelligence (GPAI). What is GPAI?

We already know AI is the ability of computing software programs to learn as to how to make decisions or do things based on complex input data. For example, suppose you are thinking about investing your money so that your investment is risk-free and at the same time provides a good return on your investment. We know that there are many financial instruments available in the market which; vary considerably on the parameters of risks and returns. Investing money in shares of companies can provide good returns but are highly risky. You can lose money if share prices fall. But you can get good returns if share prices rise. At the other extreme are fixed deposits of banks. Returns on investment here are totally risk-free but returns are very low. Then there are many financial instruments like mutual funds which are less risky but can provide more returns compared to fixed deposits.

People invest their money after thinking about these factors. In a way, we can say that we use our intelligence to make a decision about an investment. AI software programs have been developed to do such tasks even better than us human beings. In fact, many AI software programs have been developed to do many such tasks and are already in the market. These AI software programs are really smart and can do things better than human beings. But if these AI software programs have better intelligence as compared to human beings?

Even though these AI software programs can outsmart human beings in performing some specialized tasks, nevertheless a human being has far more intelligence as compared to these AI software programs. A human being is capable of doing many things even when not much information is available or no prior experience exists. AI algorithms, on the other hand, are capable of doing only a specific kind of tasks. For example, a human being can easily perform language-related tasks (reading, writing, speaking, listening etc.), physical tasks (walking, manual work etc.), mental tasks (financial investment, marketing strategy) etc. To perform all these tasks, we may need different AI software programs. We still do not have an AI software program which can perform all these different kind of tasks alone.

What is General Purpose Artificial Intelligence (GPAI)? It is the ability of an AI software program to perform a different kind of tasks just like a human does. In technical terms, it means that we have to build an AI software program which can be trained to perform a different kind of tasks. When it happens then such an AI software product is termed as GPAI.

Recently DeepMind Technologies (an AI company owned by Alphabet Inc.) has announced that it has achieved GPAI with their AI software program known as AlphaGo. This AI software program can be trained to play many kinds of computer-based games like Go, Chess, Minesweeper etc. This means just one AI software product can perform many types of tasks after learning all those tasks. This indeed is a great milestone in the field of AI!

But AlphaGo still has its limitations. Foremost limitation is that it works in an idea environment where it receives signals just from the game which it is currently playing.  There is no “noise” (no distractions of the real world where too many things happen where we have no control). The other limitation is that it works only at the visual cognition level. Humans interpret their environment from signals related to visual, sound, smell, touch and taste.

AI research and development is still to go a long way to build an AI software program which can have the same level of intelligence as compared to a human being. The AlphaGo AI software program still has not achieved the same level of intelligence as compared to a human being. But in the next 10 years or so; we will be able to see AI software programs which may achieve or even surpass human-level intelligence!

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When a business manager needs to plan for his/her business; he/she will use his/her brain to think about various things and finally mentally develops the plan. This business plan is executed by carrying out many business activities. Finally some software programs may also be developed to do everyday business (sales, service, product development, material production) etc.

Every human being uses its brain to either plan for things or just do some day to day work. So far computers were helping people with their day to day work. But Artificial Intelligence (AI) is different! AI can think and learn. How they are able to do it?

General software programs do not have any intelligence. They just compute whatever input is provided to them. But AI programs are different. They learn from past data and then they are saved. Now this program can identify objects correctly for which it was trained. for example, if an AI program was created to identify cats in any photograph then if it is fed with photographs of various objects then it will correctly identify cats in those photographs if there indeed are cats in those photographs. General purpose software products can not do such things as they can not learn.

AI is based on statistics. While training and AI program, we need to minimize error in identifying objects. This is done by using a technique which is known as gradient descent. This kind of learning is almost same as how our brains learn.

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It is a fact that jobs are shrinking worldwide at an unprecedented pace! The reasons are obvious. Computers and Artificial Intelligence machines are taking places where humans used to work. But why at such an unprecedented rate? Let us analyze.

In any organization, tasks include business planning and business execution. While business planning is done by managers; business execution is carried out by a large team of clerks and workers. Clerical jobs include taking customer orders, taking customer complaints, doing accounting etc. Manual working jobs include doing assembly work, packing, picking, dispatching etc.

There are some more types of jobs: product designing, advertising, journalism, analysis, testing etc.

Now let us consider as to how computers replaced some of types of jobs. When computers were not around; all calculations used to be done using paper and pencil. So a lot of people used to be needed in all types of clerical work. But after many Software programs were developed to take care of many of these computations; less people were needed to do these jobs as productivity per person increased manifold thanks to computers.

Automation resulted in many manual jobs being done by industrial robots. So many assembly jobs, picking, packing etc. were taken up by industrial robots. Only some of manual jobs which could not be performed by robots were done manually.

Now we live in Artificial Intelligence (AI) era! AI machines can do many things like a human can. AI machines can learn almost like a human brain and so can perform tasks which were previously unthinkable. AI machine can hear voices and after learning can make decisions based on what information they heard. Similarly AI machines can see and can make decisions base on what information they saw. For example, an AI machine can drive a car by seeing things around and making decisions like what speed o drive, where to stop, where to take a turn, how to avoid a collision with other cars and obstacles etc.

In the era of computers and software programs, a business manager still had to use his/her brain to think and make decisions. Only those decisions used to result in plans which would later be carried out by either other human beings or computers (all the clerical or manual jobs). But now AI machines can also make such decisions or create plans. So even managers are being replaced by AI machines.

No wonder that jobs are shrinking fast.

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Most people know Artificial Intelligence (AI) is dangerous. It is because Artificial Intelligence based machines can learn by themselves and do things better than human beings. It is not far fetched that sooner than later they will become better than human beings and so will become a threat to the human race.

Just like all natural creations, human beings have limitations. A human being can grow only to a certain height. A human can develop a certain level of body strength. A human being can run fast only to a certain limit. So we see that a human being definitely has limits to grow only to a certain limit. Even a human brain has limitations. It has a certain capacity to think and devise machines and tools to defend itself from evil forces.

AI on the other hand has no such limitations. As we know, AI machines can learn by themselves. With current technology, they have a limitations as to how much they can learn by themselves. This learning capability of AI is growing by leaps and bounds; thanks to tremendous advancement in technology. Once AI machines match learning capabilities of human beings then very quickly they will have far more learning capabilities on their disposal.

When that happens then AI machines can start building other AI machines by themselves. They themselves can make themselves more powerful.

That day is not far away and it will be an end to human civilization!

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