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A fascinating tale of the intersect of neuroscience and computing

This is a fascinating tale of the intersect of neuroscience and computing.

The Two-Second Advantage

By Vivek Ranadive & Kevin Maney
Hodder & Stoughton/Hachette
Pages: 240
Price: Rs 499

The Unique Identification Authority of India aims to give every Indian a number that will save him or her the trouble of furnishing different types of identification proofs, ensure that the poor get their subsidies and migrant workers more secure mobility, and so forth. It will create a humongous digital database which, as it gathers mass, will help the government serve the people better.

Let us hope the people at UIDAI have read this book, or India will have just another huge and useless database. The central thesis of The Two-Second Advantage is that data mountains are growing too big for traditional analytics to yield any significant advantages for any one company or organisation, and only those equipped with predictive analytics will survive.

The authors begin with the story of Wayne Gretzky, the all-time great of ice hockey, whose success stemmed from the predictive ability of his brain, and despite his disadvantage when it came to brawn. From there, the authors dive into research labs, brain theory and computer science to make their points.

First, computing power is being overwhelmed by volumes. According to the authors, in 2010, digital information equivalent to 1,200 trillion books was created. Second, the authors say, databases are inherently focused on the past - the shampoo you bought last month, the airline you chose last week - and cannot predict that you are about to shun your regular airline for tomorrow's flight because a rival has a better offer. On the one hand, the computer is nowhere near the human brain as a predictive machine: it only tops at processing speed. On the other, the human brain - except that of a few rare or autistic individuals - is lousy at remembering and processing mountains of data.

A Wayne Gretzky processes "chunks" or complex patterns of information stored as such, and not as individual bits that have to be associated all over again. So too when you read this article, you are "chunking" all the information associated with individual letters, the words formed by those letters, the grammar, sense and so on, all of which your brain has been associating over the years, from the time you picked up the alphabet as a toddler, taking months to absorb the letter 'm' in kindergarten. "Chunking", the authors write, enables the brain to constantly aggregate small details into chunks of instantly recognisable patterns.

The authors say we are in the third stage of computing, 'Enterprise 3.0'. Enterprise 1.0 was the first stage of computing, and Enterprise 2.0 was born with modern computing systems. In Enterprise 3.0, systems are learning to respond to events, not questions - and react ahead of time. And changes are happening in all spheres of life, from sports to health care, from immigration control to safer flying. That is the good news. The bad news is that if your employer is not keeping up, his company could be as dead as a dodo. In two seconds.

BOOKMARKS

Everything You Know About Business Is Wrong
Everything You Know About Business Is Wrong
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Pages: 213
Price: Rs 295
Recession, inflation, job on the line... And now a book with this depressing title. No harm in reading it on your next flight, and learning some new tricks.

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