Yearly Archives: 2007


Good question. I first thought about writing on my personal blog about atheism a while ago when I read the blog of a high school student in the US who was being persecuted at school for being atheist. I can’t for the life of me find that blog and all I remember is that it was hosted at and that he was using that ugly yellowish-polka-dot theme.

But if you meant why am I an atheist. Well, that requires a longer answer and one that a single blogpost would not suffice. Simply put though, atheism makes sense. If you’re of a scientific bent of mind and you honestly think about things, there really isn’t any reason to posit the existance of gods.

Maybe more in future posts… 🙂 Welcome!

Time to gloat…

… for a little while at least! 😉

I’ve been an enthusiastic (and decent) quizzer for most of my college years in Bangalore. Ever since I moved to Bombay, I’ve not had much chance to take part in any quizzes until the Bombay Quiz Club came around.

They’re a group of quizzers that coalesced to do some informal quizzing every so often in Bombay. One thing led to another and they now have a mostly fixed schedule of meeting every two weeks for some intensive quizzing and recently they’ve even decided to formalise the organisation.

But even though they’re more than a year old, I never got around to attending a quiz until about a month ago. It was a lot of fun and the team I was in placed second with me answering a few questions. I attended the next quiz, two weeks later and once again the team I was in placed second, but this time only because the cricket geeks in my team hammered away at the round of 20 cricket questions rocketing up our team from 5th place to 2nd!

And then this week, this happened. So for a short period, I’m the “top quizzer” in Bombay! 😛 This won’t last, of course, unless I’m really lucky through the year and always end up in winning or placing teams.

The State of Evolution

Kansas Evolution

From the cartoons of R J Matson

Welcome back!

If you’ve been following us at the Blogspot blog, its great to see you here! While we’re still sort of working out how this blog is going to shape up here (including a name change possibly), the content is not going to change.

I guess a science blog will fit right in at a site called Absolute Geeky! What’s the story behind that name? Well, I’d long wanted my own domain and when I finally decided to go ahead and book it, I decided my geekiness is what sets me apart from most people. So I didn’t have to spend too much time figuring out what should be called (and thanks to A for the suggestion.)

Expect to see some new posts here real soon now since I’ve berated Madgenius and Samudrika for not posting, they’ve both assured me that they have new posts up their sleeve.

Going google-eyed over AI

It all started with this blog post by John Battelle which mentioned Larry Page talking about AI at an AAAS conference.

Who wouldn’t be interested? Harish and I watched the short clip on ZDnet and we were both a bit taken aback by what Page was saying. (You can get a video of the complete speech on this page.)

If you look at your DNA its just about 600 MB compressed, which is smaller than any operating system. Your Linux, windows, any operating system. That includes booting up your brain, right … by definition. So your algorithms are probably not that complicated, its probably about the overall computation.

I spotted the obvious flaw there that genome size is directly related to complexity of the system. Now any biologist worth her salt will tell you that this is simply not true. Gone are the days when we believed that knowing the complete genetic code of an organism will tell us everything we need to know about that organism. Far from it, the questions raised by sequencing genomes are far more than ones it answers!

But what does this all have to do with artificial intelligence or AI? Well apparently, a lot of people are buying Larry Page’s argument! Now believe what you will about the complexity or simplicity of AI. I’m no expert in the field. But to use the supposed “simplicity” of the DNA “program” to prove your point about AI is plain wrong.

I spent some time explaining to Harish the biology behind my thinking and he converted his understanding into a blog post with a clever title. He also went around posting comments in the blogosphere talking about why Page’s logic was flawed and pointed back to his post. Except for a couple of people, most didn’t understand the point Harish was trying to make with all the biology in his post, so let me try it this one time.

Page’s argument as I understand it is:

  1. Human DNA is simple to understand.
  2. Human DNA programs for the human brain.
  3. The human brain makes human beings intelligent.
  4. Therefore, AI is simple

All cut and dried. What’s wrong? Well, a couple of things. I could debate about how simple or not simple human DNA is, but lets assume it is simple. We’d still be stuck at step 2. DNA does NOT “program” in any sense the human body or brain. Using the metaphor of a “program” is quite wrong and it is this precisely that which leads most people to make mistakes in assuming what DNA can or can’t do.

My point is that the sequence of DNA in a genome is an incomplete description of a living system. Therefore it is not a good way to estimate how easy or hard it would be to build an AI system.

I do not know enough about AIs, nor the current state of research in that field to be able to debate how close or far away we are from building one. But I do know enough biology to tell you that using DNA to argue that AI is around the corner is wrong.

The Diet Coke and Mentos Experiments

Now if only science experiments in schools and colleges were like this!

What a great way to learn about the contents of carbonated beverages, a common candy, materials science (the surface of the Mentos), theories about boiling, phase transitions, nucleation sites… and more!

(If you’re too lazy to wait for the video to download and watch it, it’s these two guys from who have made very elaborate fountains using Diet Coke and Mentos. Put a Mentos into a two litre bottle of Diet Coke and voila, instant fountain. Of course, it’s more complicated than that, but still relatively simple. Watch the video, it’s a lot of fun! And well choreographed!)