Monday, February 19, 2024

Case Study on promise and perils of AI: Imran Khan gives AI generated ‘Victory Speech’ from Jail

 Not a day goes by without a headline grabbing story about Artificial Intelligence (AI) and its innovative application. Not surprisingly, I was fascinated to “see” the “AI version” of former Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan’s victory speech posted on Youtube after his party won an unprecedented election. What was remarkable was the innovative use of technology that led to this win.

Mr. Khan who is currently serving a sentence on charges of corruption holed up in a Pakistani prison wasn’t allowed to contest elections or even engage directly in any political communications. But in a groundbreaking move that marked a paradigm shift in political communication, he continued to rally his troops via AI morphed images and synthesized speeches crafted with the assistance of cutting-edge artificial intelligence tools. In a grand finale, he took to the “virtual” stage, thanking his audience in an “AI version” of what he termed “an unprecedented fightback from the nation.”

This is indeed a fascinating application of AI/ML in politics out in the open – a topic at the intersection of Technology, Business, Government and Society. The mainstream media around the world and political analysts took note. The New York Times describes the victory speech as “the mellow, slightly robotic voice said in the minute-long video, which used historical images and footage of Mr. Khan and bore a disclaimer about its A.I. origins.”

Innovative use of AI tools and technologies

Using sophisticated deep learning models, AI can now analyze and synthesize audio and visual content with remarkable accuracy which are hard to distinguish from the real-version with a naked eye. This capability enables the creation of videos that seamlessly blend real and virtual elements, blurring the lines between fiction and reality. From realistic computer-generated characters to immersive virtual environments, AI-generated videos push the boundaries of what was once deemed impossible in visual storytelling.

Hollywood has long used AI-generated videos in streamlining the film making process, especially to generate special-effects that wow us. With the ability to automate certain tasks, such as scene composition, special effects, and even scriptwriting, AI can significantly reduce production timelines and costs. Filmmakers and content creators can leverage these technologies to bring their creative visions to life more efficiently, fostering a new era of innovation in the entertainment industry. The technology emerged from Hollywood to social media and is now into the mainstream influencing mindshare in politics and democracies.

Influencing mindshare

Imran Khan’s use of AI-generated videos to broadcast political speeches are at the intersection of innovation and society. These are not merely a string of algorithmically generated sentences but a reflection of the leader’s vision, values, and commitment to progress in Khan’s ‘voice’. The AI system, trained on vast datasets encompassing Khan’s speeches, policy documents, and public addresses, successfully captured the essence of his distinctive communication style.

Critics and supporters alike lauded the innovation, acknowledging the efficiency and effectiveness of AI-generated speeches. While skeptics questioned the authenticity and spontaneity of the delivery, supporters emphasized the potential for AI to enhance and amplify the impact of political messaging.

While ethicists are lauding the disclaimer that came with Khan’s speeches, one wonders about all DeepFakes circulating without a similar notice. What if Mr. Khan’s team had used the same technology to generate DeepFakes of his political opponent, Nawaz Sharif, in a compromising position with Bollowood starlet or worse making blasphemous speeches?

The Ethics

The widespread use of AI-generated videos, especially to influence large groups of people raises ethical considerations and challenges. The potential for deepfake technology, where AI can convincingly manipulate footage to depict events that never occurred or alter the words and actions of individuals, introduces concerns about misinformation and trust in the digital age.

As these technologies advance, concerns regarding misinformation, privacy invasion, and the potential misuse of AI-generated content have emerged, prompting a critical examination of the ethical implications surrounding this cutting-edge field. Striking a balance between the creative potential of AI-generated videos and the responsible use of this technology becomes crucial in navigating the ethical landscape.

While the technologies to detect deepfakes continue to advance at a fast pace, bad actors bank on the virality of social media. It is almost like a game of real-life whack-a-mole where the good-guys try to catch-up and swat deepfakes sprouting around. The bad guys who create deepfakes bank on their viral spread on social platforms. Attempts to later contradict them with facts backed by digital proof of tampering can’t undo the widespread damage done.

Of course, this is not the last word on the topic. We are sure to see armchair-critics of politics continue to debate these applications as citizens of two other major Democracies – the largest and the oldest – go to polls this year. The innovative and ‘ethical’ use of the tools by Imran Khan’s team during the Pakistani elections are being studied by political wonks and consultants around the world.

Originally published in Express computers - The role of Artificial Intelligence in Influencing Democracies  

Friday, February 16, 2024

Reflecting on Life and Business lessons from Jeffrey Archer's Kane and Abel. When letting go of a grudge is not easy, but one must #bookreview #lifelessons

 During a recent break, I decided to revisit Jeffery Archer’s old masterpiece years after I had read it, and was struck how the life-experiences hits home. 

This bestseller is a story spanning the lifetimes of two strong willed men whose life couldn’t have been more different, but whose lives are intertwined by fate. Jeffery Archer weaves a tapestry of life in America spanning the first and second world war seen through the eyes of two protagonists William Kane and Abel Rosnovski.   

Abel Rosnovski is an adopted son of a Romanian Baron who finds himself in a Siberian Gulag after Russians plunder the Baron’s castle raping the women and killing most men. Exhibiting a fighting spirit, young Abel manages to escape from the Gulag into Turkey, eventually seeking asylum in America where he begins to carve out his American Dream. 

William Kane is a young, upstart but smart banker who grew into his family empire after graduating from Harvard. While he doesn’t have a chip on his shoulder, as a son of a banker who owns one of the largest banks in America, he was predestined to take on this mantle. 

During the early days of his empire building, Abel faces a big financial setback, and seeks a loan from a bank and meets William Kane. Kane tells Abel that the board of his bank found the request unviable and had to deny it due to the financial crisis. Kane tries explaining that he is just a messenger, though he personally thinks Abel’s venture should be funded. Abel Rosnovski feels let down and is unconvinced by the explanation and begins to harbor strong feelings against Kane. He was hoping for this lifeline to rescue the large financial bet he had made, a bet that would implode without an immediate cash infusion. 

While Abel is in a quandary, a mysterious benefactor steps in to give him a ‘loan’ with a stipulation that Abel was never to be told about who funded that grant. Abel assumes it is one of the other competitors in hotel business who had taken a fondness for him. 

Kane and Abel’s saga continues with a few twists and turns, all the while each trying to backstab the other till the end of their lives, even at which point neither is willing or able to reconcile; at least not verbally. Grudge and Revenge are significant themes in the novel, and it explores how seeking vengeance can have lasting consequences. 

A story that plays out in real life all around us

While fictionalized masterfully by Jeffery Archer’s, we see such deep-rooted grudges play out even between family and friends. 

Take the example of a close friend of mine who was telling me about a grudge his brother has been harboring for more than a decade. His father had mortgaged their family home to draw out some money for an investment that went sour. Having lost his life’s savings, the bank had offered to ‘reverse mortgage’ the property to let their parents live there.

On discovering this huge burden, my friend wanted to step in to clear the debt before their parents passed away. His brother wasn’t inclined to join hands and invest, especially since he had migrated to England with his family. He didn’t want to let that loan taken by their father run its course; After all he was living thousands of miles away. My friend drew up a legal contract and paid up the mortgage with his funds. While taking over the title of the property, he paid his brother “a fair share” based on the market value of the building at the time. My friend then moved into the house to be around for his aging parents. 

His brother visited India for their father’s funeral and discovered that the value of the property had doubled in the decade since their contract had been drawn. He gave an ultimatum to his brother – re-settle his share of the property based on the “current market value” – and if the request wasn’t headed, he would “sever all ties” with his brother and never return to “that house.” 

Life lessons from the novel

In a story reminiscent of Jeffery Archer’s Kane and Abel, or the biblical version, years have gone by, but the brothers haven’t reconciled. This story seems to play out in millions of families among siblings, relatives, and friends with estranged members unable or unwilling to reconcile long forgotten differences. Years go by while the memory of the transgression is replayed with embellishments over and over again kindling the old flame.

The story of Kane and Abel also plays out in the business world and professional life as much as in personal lives. Business backstabbing is par for the course in many cultures, and the rivalries continue for years or decades. Even in the office, some folks who are slighted for a raise or promotion may carry a ‘personal’ grudge against colleagues or bosses. 

In Jeffrey Archer's bestseller, the characters are unable to reconcile, even towards the end of their eventful lives, leaving the readers wishing they had. The characters' decisions to settle scores lead to unexpected outcomes, underscoring the importance of forgiveness and understanding. Reflecting on lessons from there, one has an opportunity to bury the hatchet and let go of grudges in one’s life as it progresses. 

Thursday, February 8, 2024

Looking beyond headlines on death of Indian student abroad. Stay safe while studying abroad

During the past few weeks, we are seeing headlines about Indian students studying abroad and there is a a growing concern over a few cases of assaults. The click-bait headlines like this speak of yet another incident: "Another Indian Student Assaulted, At Least 5 Students Dead in a Month." 

Some feel that this "alarming surge in violence against Indian students studying overseas" demands immediate attention, investigation, and coordinated efforts to ensure the safety of international students.

Over the past few decades, there has been a significant increase in the number of Indian students pursuing higher education abroad. The allure of diverse academic opportunities, exposure to different cultures, and the potential for a global career have driven countless students to international shores. Countries like the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand have become popular destinations for Indian students seeking quality education.

However, alongside the benefits of studying abroad, these students often face various challenges, including cultural adjustment, language barriers, and, increasingly, safety concerns. The latest string of assaults has brought the spotlight onto the vulnerabilities that Indian students may encounter while pursuing their academic dreams in foreign lands.

The tragic loss of at least five Indian students in the span of a month raises questions about the safety measures in place and the need for a collective response. Each death represents not just a statistic but a profound human tragedy, leaving grieving families and shattered communities in its wake.  

There is no single pattern in these deaths

Understanding the root causes of these assaults is crucial for implementing effective preventive measures. Factors such as xenophobia, racial discrimination, and inadequate support systems for international students may contribute to their vulnerability. 

  • Vivek Saini - A 25-year-old Indian student in the US was hammered to death by a drug addict at a convenience store in Georgia where he worked. 
  • Shreyas Reddy Beniger - A19-year-old student was found dead in Ohio last week. Though Beniger's parents live in Hyderabad, he held an American passport. Authorities had ruled out foul play in the case. 
  • Neel Acharya - Was found dead in the Purdue University campus hours after his mother had reported him missing. The County Coroner said in a press release that no foul play is suspected in the Neel’s death 
  • Akul Dhawan - An Indian-American was discovered dead outside the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign (UIUC) recently. According to the Champaign County Coroner, the initial findings of the autopsy suggested he died from hypothermia. 
  • Sameer Kamath -  Kamath, a US Citizen pursuing a doctorate at Purdue University was found dead in a nature preserve recently. Authorities have ruled his death as suicide, saying that it was from a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head

Additionally, cultural misunderstandings, lack of awareness, and insufficient communication between local authorities and the international student community can exacerbate the risks faced by students studying abroad.

Ensuring the safety of international students is a shared responsibility that involves collaboration between host countries, educational institutions, and the students themselves. Local law enforcement agencies must take swift and decisive action against perpetrators of violence, sending a clear message that such acts will not be tolerated. Educational institutions should enhance support services, including cultural orientation programs and counseling, to assist students in navigating their new environments.

Here are a few basic tips for those studying abroad 

  1. Know your surroundings and neighborhood – talk to locals for tips 
  2. Share your tips and experiences with fellow students 
  3. Do not be desperate for that extra dollar 
  4. If you really must work outside campus, take safety precautions 
  5. Mental health is a real issue – try to lend a helping to peer and fellow students

It is crucial for the international community to unite in creating a safer environment for all students pursuing education beyond their borders. The collective responsibility of governments, educational institutions, and the students themselves is paramount in ensuring that such incidents do not become a recurring nightmare for the global student community. By addressing the root causes, fostering awareness, and promoting collaboration, we can strive towards a future where every student, regardless of their nationality, can pursue education in a secure and nurturing environment.