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.

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