Sunday 7 July 2024

The use of digital pacifiers is ruining our children’s childhood!

Yes, you read it right! Digital devices are a substitute for the pacifiers we once stuck into the mouths of children when they were young ( I did not use a pacifier for my kids). A very disturbing trend has become visible these days and it is the decreasing age at which parents expose their children to digital devices, namely, smartphones, tablets and laptops. By doing so, parents are disrupting their children’s natural mental growth. Earlier exposure to digital content is killing the creative ability of children. It is also robbing our children of essential social interactions with others, something that is very important for their emotional development. 

Children today are lacking in essential emotional skills which in turn is developing a very poor emotional quotient in them. But then what is worrying is that the natural stages of the mental development of children through exposure to schemas, cognitive frameworks or concepts that in turn help our children organise and interpret information about the world around us have been disrupted by their early exposure to digital devices.

It is the selfishness of adults, or perhaps their insensitivity towards their duties as parents that is to blame for the disrupted, stunted or ineffectual cognitive, and emotional development of their children. One cannot condone the use of digital devices as pacifiers to keep children occupied while one browses through a catalogue of dresses to purchase online, or for that effect to complete an online assignment. Gen Y is being brought up in the most insensitive and appalling manner. They are not being exposed to nature, they are not allowed to socialise with kids of their own age, nor are they taken outdoors to play in parks, climb trees, jump over obstacles or even breathe in the fresh air. All they do is stay indoors, play online games, stare at screens and gorge on a virtual cornucopia of virtual experiences that drive a vicarious thrill that drives a cortisol rush,  or an adrenaline trip making them digital addicts.

An interesting development has taken place recently in North London in which parents at a Jewish primary school have been calling for smartphone free childhoods. Parents are worried how when they wake up ten years from now they would wonder how they could have allowed their children to have become associated with smartphones or the social media. There is a movement in the west where parents want to ban their children from owning smartphones until they attain an age of 14. Parents, teachers and counsellors all of the word are reporting alarming levels of body dysmorphia, cases of self-harm, depression leading to suicidal tendencies. All this has been reported by Elisa Bray in her article, ‘Smartphone ban: Meet the north London parents shunning devices for their children’ published on March 20, 2024 in The JC-Life and Culture publication.

Likewise, there is a Smartphone Free Childhood movement in Bristol run by GP Susanna Davies, whose special expertise is mental health in adolescents. The call for a smartphone free childhood is growing in size and soon it will be acknowledged that early use of smartphone by children is worse as bad as smoking twenty or more cigarettes in a day! And this is an important movement that is meant to protect the mental health of children before it is too late. We know that the use of smartphones by children causes them to isolate themselves from their family and friends. It leads to underdeveloped social skills, impacting their emotional intelligence which will eventually affect them when they become adults.

The Jewish community talks about handing over a standard “kosher” phone to children which is sufficient for communication purposes to children. Kosher phones don’t have access to the internet thus they are used only for vocal communication. However, I would go a step further and suggest that phones of any kind should not be given to children below 14-15 years of age!

The need of the hour is to focus more on developing strong values in children. We need, more than anything to develop a feeling of respect for nature and the environment and the need for sustainable development. These values can be developed through authentic experiential learning situations. Experiential learning curriculum can help keep children away from smartphones and internet enabled devices. We need teach children about understanding and addressing climate change, and its impact on the ecology. Expeditionary leaning can help the child learn more about the actual world around them and not the synthetic world provided by the internet. We need to teach our children about the need for good health and well-being. We need to teach them about being responsible consumers and producers, being conscious about animal welfare, and human impacts of consumer products. Children need to be taught to be agents of change, responsible citizens, that will happen only if we  nurture them in the true spirit of real adventure, the adventure of exploring the world through all the five senses and not just through smartphones, tablets and laptops. 

The use of smartphones and laptops and tablets, initially meant as aids to education have now become the means of learning and this is where things have gone wrong with how we teach children below the age of 14 years. The trade off of using smartphones, laptops and tablets has resulted in reduced creativity, reduced problem solving skills, attention deficit, and a general lack of energy. For teachers, undoubtedly, smartphones, tablets and laptops have made life easier, providing them with shortcuts and ease of work. This unfortunately has added to the amount of exposure to digital content and even social media thrown in that children have today.

Sunday 30 June 2024

Human Intelligence Versus Artificial Intelligence

We are experiencing the fifth industrial revolution where we are transiting from the current age of digitalization to the next stage of the socio-technological stage of transformation according to Mark Knell, Research Professor, NIFU.-1 This is an age of nano computing, Biotechnology, Quantum computing, and Artificial Intelligence, according to Mark Knell. The challenges we face from Quantum Computing and Artificial Intelligence are mind-boggling, however, these were also faced by us during the fourth industrial revolution. We were able to tide through the fourth industrial revolution, but as data analysis and computing become ever more complex, one wonders if Human Intelligence might not take a beating!

In this battle between Human Intelligence and Artificial Intelligence, one needs to understand that it was Human Intelligence that created Artificial Intelligence! Therefore Human Intelligence must be superior to Artificial Intelligence since it formed the latter! Unfortunately, we rely on Artificial Intelligence to provide stop-gap solutions for all our problems. We don't realize is that Human Intelligence is backed by ages of experiences that might not be available to Artificial Intelligence. Sentience is (till now) a Human quality that marks us as a distinct entity. One cannot deny, however, that In the days to come, Sentience in Artificial Intelligence could become a possibility. That, however, raises serious issues regarding the very existence of the Human Race on the planet, thanks to the damage we have caused to the environment.

What marks human intelligence apart from artificial intelligence is the ability to make connections, the ability to be inspired, and the openness to unconnected ideas. Creativity is in most cases beyond logical explanation! Kekule's inspiration for the structure of the Benzine molecule went beyond logical explanation. Newton's ability to connect the incident of the falling apple. According to Martin Rees, a former President of the Royal Society, "The force that makes the apple fall and that holds us on the ground is the same as the force that keeps the moon and planets in their orbits." Doesn't this observation go beyond the ability of Artificial Intelligence to make a conclusion based on an actual incident?

How does one explain the existence of instincts in human beings? Instinctincts are inborn impulses in response to situations in life and they defy logic or explanation. They are based on genetically determined behavior based on stimuli that have been recorded throughout human existence. The ability of human beings to be governed by instincts defies logical definition. 

Creativity is an essential Human quality that cannot be replicated by Artificial Intelligence for the very fact that it is not based on algorithms or even data! JRR Tolkien was a great author who created an entire realm in literature based on the creation myth. The short story, Leaf by Niggle written by JRR Tolkien exemplifies the very concept of the creation myth. The short story, "Leaf by Niggle" can be viewed as an exposition of the creation myth. It is an illustration of Tolkien's religious philosophy of creation and sub-creation. According to this philosophy, true creation is the exclusive province of God, and those who aspire to create can only make examples of good and bad. This assumption precludes the very idea of sentience.

The ability to be inspired is an essential human quality testified by numerous examples in history where novelists and poets have been able to make futuristic projections that have been converted into reality by scientists and inventors. Take for example, H.G. Wells, an author who predicted the possibility of time travel, traveling in space much before his time. Aldous Huxley wrote about Eugenics in his novel Brave New World, published in 1932, much before the advent of Artificial Intelligence. Jules Verne wrote about the submarine in his novel, Twenty Thousand Leagues Under The Sea, in 1870, much before the advent of Artificial Intelligence. These works of art and literature preempt the advent of Artificial Intelligence in an age devoid of machine intelligence, or even machine learning. How then do you explain these futuristic predictions unless they had been inspired by an external source of intelligence?

Human Intelligence predates Artificial Intelligence, especially in times when human beings did not have access to sophisticated machines. The concept of zero was introduced by Aryabhata in the fifth century and Brhamagupta introduced the concept of zero in 628 AD in calculations. These mathematicians were not equipped with Artificial Intelligence, nor did they have computers to assist them. So then, how do we explain the superiority of Artificial Intelligence over Human Intelligence if not for the fact that machines have made calculations easier? Advocates of Artificial Intelligence ignore the very concept of intelligence especially when they ignore the historical basis of Intelligence itself! Intelligence assumes not just the ability to connect data but also to think beyond data. Human Intelligence can go beyond data and perhaps even connect dots that might seem to be disconnected!

The ability to think beyond data and to be inspired beyond logic is an essential trait of human intelligence that is distinct from Artificial Intelligence. Spirituality is a human resource that is denied to Artificial Intelligence. The Crux of the Bible, the Upanishads, or even the Gita far defy the very capabilities of Artificial Intelligence to explain the very basis of Human Existence. We might continue to be amazed by the products of Artificial Intelligence, but we should not ignore the amazing products of Human Intelligence that have attempted to explain our very existence on this planet. The purpose of life can only be explained by the role each individual has to perform during his or her existence on this Earth. Artificial Intelligence can not explain why we exist or for that effect our very purpose in life.

The ability to make futuristic projections in life, the ability to connect unrelated dots, the ability to be inspired, and the ability to create are human qualities that are yet to be explored by Artificial Intelligence. Till then we can only view Artificial Intelligence as the agility to crunch numbers, process data and make conclusions. Plato in his allegory of the Cave attempted to define the very concept of reality. He did not have the resources that we have today. Socrates attempted to define the concept of the self, he believed that self-knowledge is essential for moral maturity and good life. The very essence of intelligence is self-awareness, the awareness of what is right and what is wrong, the ability to think clearly and the ability to make wise decisions.

The moral values and ethics that define human life are essential elements that form the basis of Human Intelligence. These values have been handed over to us down the ages. Spiritual values have been given to us by spiritual leaders, prophets, and leaders. These values form the core of human life and they are beyond the capabilities of Machine Learning. The teachings of our spiritual leaders defy logical explanations. The miracles performed by Jesus defy explanation. There is, thus an intelligence that defies logic, rationality, and mathematics. Human beings are gifted with an intelligence that defies logical explanation and goes beyond the capacity of Artificial intelligence. Faith, Hope, and Miracles defy logic. And they are the things that make human beings much different from machines!

We will destroy ourselves or even prosper for reasons that defy explanation. We are human beings and who can explain why we do things the way we do them. Human Intelligence defies logic and rationality and nothing can explain the whys and wherfors. Human Intelligence is unique and distinct. I just cannot explain the reasons behind having premonitions of incidents happening in the future, or perhaps that spine-tingling sensation of something bad happening. The feeling of being observed by someone, or for that effect that chemistry of bonding between two people defies explanation. 

Wednesday 19 June 2024

Greater Flamingos of Gurgaon

These photographs were taken of a flock of Greater Flamingos that had once landed at the erstwhile Basai Wetland, a once important Bio-diversity hotspot for migratory birds including a few important native birds. These photographs were taken exactly two years ago in the month of June. Today, the Basai Wetland in Gurgaon has been reclaimed for development activities. A flyover bisects it into two and the rest of the ponds have been filled up. It is bounded on one side by the Dwarka Expressway. I am glad to have photographed the last visitors at the location.

This post is dedicated to all the Greater Flamingos I have photographed till now. The latest photographs were taken at the Najafgarh Lake from the Haryana side, namely the Chandu Budhehra side. The birds were spotted at great distance and so they are not very clear. Unfortunately, my 70-300 mm lens was not good enough! 

Greater Flamingos are some of the graceful larger migratory birds that have been visiting some of the few remaining wetlands in Gurgaon. They will soon disappear from the region as the remaining wetlands give way to developmental projects. Unplanned development, demand for space to build homes and offices have taken a toll on the wildlife in the region. 

Celebrating Father's Day at The Church of The Epiphany, Gurgaon

Father's Day was celebrated at the Church of the Epiphany on the 16th of June. The day also marked the conclusion of the Vacation Bible Study workshop for Sunday School Children of the church and its sister church, the Sadhu Sundar Singh Church at Sohna. The church was packed with people and extra seating had to be arranged.

Mass was conducted by none other than three ministers, Revd. Prateek Pillay, the presbyter in charge, Revd. Dr. Samuel Richmond Saxena, Dean, Caleb Institute, Furrukhnagar and Revd. Vikar Mall from the Sahdu Sundersingh Church, Sohna.

The programme was led by Mr. Dipender Benjamin. The Sunday school children sang several hymns and spiritual songs that had the gathering spellbound. Lunch was served at the end of the service. I have shared a few photographs of the day. A special thanks to Mr. Sunil Sannoo, Hon. Secy. of the Pastorate committee, Mr. Dinesh Masih, Hon. Treasurer of  the Pastorate Committee, Mrs. Jyoti Sannoo, overall in Charge of the Sunday School, Mrs. Neelima Thomas of the WFCS, Mr. Robin Moses for handling the catering and lunch requirements, and there are quite a few names that I have not mentioned but are the reason why we had such an amazing mass!