Friday, May 28, 2010

Impact of Maoist Movement on Traffic Load Shifts - Fuzzy Neuron Unwinding of a Sunday

The recent violent upsurge in Maoist movement was reflected in the train blast (in West Bengal) that claimed so many innocent lives. It was announced that train traffic from and towards West Bengal through Maoist dominated belts would be stopped for security purposes. Then will this imply a shift in some passengers from train towards air flight route (travelling between West Bengal and other places of India) during the night to avoid the security threats. The answer is not clear. But definitely, these security threats might have an effect on traffic shifts from one form to the other. Shifts in traffic loads and form owing to shocks like the one mentioned here can be analyzed using some of the modelling techniques. One such technique, could be using the fuzzy neuron system design technniques.

Till last year, the word fuzzy neuron technique itself was a very fuzzy word to me. It was only one day, while discussing with my colleague Manish in TERI (who has a vast knowledge on science policy theoretical domain), on issues of innovation and potential of commercialisation of technologies from lab to market, the idea of fuzzy designing came up. Following that, read some initial literature and the more I read about this application tool, it became clear how so many incidents around us could be explored through this application technique which has been largely used by students of engineering. The importance of applying this tool in studying various hazy areas of social science became crystal clear. Once I got convinced about that fact, the journey didnot stop there. The journey of learning about this technique got a new meaning on one of the Sunday afternoons of last month.

This was the day when I went to have a mock, training and discussion session with my elder brother's (Dabhai) multifaceted, talented (extremely good portrait artist, a person who has worked on fuzzy system applications in analysing various engineering problems in the domain of civil engineering) close friend Debargha. The discussion initiated with a specific problem of how he had applied fuzzy neuron designing techniques in analysing road pavement behaviour. The complex mathematics that went behind in analysing the pavement behaviour was explained through simple illustrations, graphs, equations, intuitions over cups of tea and four hour long discussion. Mystery behind the fuzzy designing was gradually unwoven by a discussion format that was very much transdisciplinary as well as multidisciplinary. Once the session got over, I realised there are so many areas in social science applications to policy making where this tool can be used.

Immediately after few weeks, the Maoist attack on the train took place. I could clearly see how a research problem analysing the shifts in train traffic behaviour could be demystified through fuzzy neuron system designing. If we apply fuzzy systems in this case then, the attack could be seen as fuzzy shocks in the model with different transitional probabilities of going from one state to the other. The value of such probabilities would depend on what kind of distribution we run in such a model. Fuzzy systems analysing switchover of passengers to air traffic from train due to shocks like Maoist attack would also need to incorporate series of other variables like air, train tariffs and innumerable complex set of socio economic variables. The tariff variables would be again a complex outcome of several demand and supply side factors all of which might not be captured by this system of designing. In this context, one word of caution is that no model is sacrosanct by itself and often fails to reflect the criticality of different socio economic variables, factors of the society. This has been time and again proved, the latest of which lies in the failure of the modelling applications that could not visualise the financial meltdown in developed countries.

However the point, I am trying to make is - models have limitations, but they are still used to give an estimated directional linkage towards policy making viz. social science applications in policy making. It is in this context, the world today needs more of multi and transdisciplinary research where minds from various streams and schools of thought need to analyse, see through a problem using different philosophical bents of mind. In our generation and in the days to come, with growing complexities of a society (which is being observed in fragmentation in all forms and segments of the society), it is very important that we learn from each others applied mindsets and try to seek solution of complex societal problems like the one with which I started this blog.

Once we are able to that with the help of a very different form of educational, institutional structures in our country, we can really help in some ways the policy makers to find some direction in addressing certain key issues of our and future generation.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Mangalore Air Crash and Compensation Structures -

The disturbing incident of "Mangalore Air Crash" was followed by declaration of compensation for the families of crash victims. A compensation amount was declared by the aviation minister. According to experts, this compensation is based on standard compensation guidelines as prescribed by a protocol that deals with aircrashes when an airline taking off from one country crashes in another country while landing.

Insurance experts would suggest that the compensation should be based on income levels, level of damages caused by the accident. But is it the right approach of valuation basis for compensation measures of accident. The larger ethical question is that loss of human life should always be compensated in a similar way in a developed, progressive society irrespective of family and income background of victims. Loss of human life of a villager from Kosi flood is equally important as loss of middle income class citizen from a plane crash. Do we have valuation mechanisms in place in the country that designs compensation structures from natural disaster or accidents in a standardised way with a larger focus on the quality of human life dimension? This brings us to the question of estimating the value of a human life in a country like India. That value would definitely differ across the various segments of our Indian society. Its high time somebody undertakes an exercise of estimating value of human life in India across different societal strata. Once that exercise is being undertaken, the information could be centralised through electronic platform. Such data could be used by policy makers, number crunchers to design compensation structures that doesnot merely emphasize on income, damages but focuses largely on the valuation of a human life and its existence. So what is right now missing in the compensation structures of natural disasters, accidents is an ethical human rights based approach. Its high time that we move towards such rights based compensation structures as a step to move towards an egalatarian society where human existence from any part of the society is given an equal preference.

Once such an approach is introduced into the compensation structures it could create new dimensions for its applications even in the domain of adaptation measures required for addressing effects of human induced climate change on the society of developing and less developed countries. This becomes more crucial as many of these countries could be victims of human induced climate change in future if GHG emissions are not tackled and checked properly.

Mangalore air crash really sparked up a rights based thought process in compensation structures that could hold a key towards bringing fairer recognition of human life in comparison to what exists today.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Entropy and the Maoist Problem - Applying the lense of Georgescu Roegen

In the entire training span of learning streams of economics from 1999 till 2010 (month of May), I had left out an important stream of thought process. This realisation surfaced within me when I was introduced to a very enriching philosophical discourse of "Georgescu Roegen" by my colleague Shailly. Shailly gave me three very interesting papers by Georgescu Roegen dealing with - a) applications of entropy law in analysing economic production systems questioning neoclassical production theories, b)inconvenient philosophical questions regarding the applications of mathematical tools in "economic science", c) debate and contradictions between neoclassical economists and contributions of Georgescu Roegen.

After reading three papers, I immediately found out similarities between an entropic system and the Maoist problem. Georgescu Roegen applies entropic system and highlights how resources should be taken as part of production systems. In such a relationship, the inputs are not substitutable but follow a complementary relationship. So according to Roegen, resources are transformed from one form to another with the inputs playing a more transformative agent role. It is with the transformation process in natural science, entropy law mentions about irreversibility of process in matter transformation. Such irreversibility is also applied in case of heat exchange processes. With respect to tranformation of matter, if it has to be made reversible, energy has to be released or absorbed into the system.

The Maoist problem at the grass roots are originating owing to fractured mandates between state and local people. Local economic systems could be seen as a seperate social system not aligned to the other society beyond the domain of the rural economic systems. There is a social pressure within these local economic systems to seperate away and move far from the state control. With larger state oppression such a pressure would increase and there will be a force on the local social systems (where Maoist problem is arising) to move and get isolated for forming a seperate identity in an irreversible way. To create reversibility and bring back the local social systems unified with the state systems different forms of energy has to be absorbed. This cant be in the form of violent military operations. It has to be more in the form of negotiation, local level trust development with a state, centre coordination. In the absence of such, the irreversibile nature of the Maoist problem (or the force of moving away from state and getting isolated as a seperate social system, entity) would enhance and the entropy would increase.


Social systems also follow laws of fundamental natural science. I have a strong feeling that this will be validated in the long run in India.