Monday, January 25, 2016

Marvin Minsky, 1927-2016


Prof. Marvin Lee Minsky, or just Marvin to those who knew him, died last night.  We have lost one of the great humans of our time, perhaps of all time.  A humble, brilliant, passionate man, with a blazing intellect and an amazing zen, a childlike curiosity, Marvin pioneered much of the early work in AI, together with John McCarthy, Herb Simon, and Allen Newell and others.  He opened our eyes to much that was new, and he and his academic progeny have shaped a lot of what we know about AI today.

With a grad school recommendation letter of all of a single line, Marvin changed my life.  And his work, his teachings, his ways of exploring the unknown, his ability to span and to combine several widely varied disciplines, have been a great lesson to me, a source of great inspiration over more than 25 years, from my graduate studies, to our recent work on AI, both at Infosys and with OpenAI.  Indeed when I started my AI lecture recently for Infoscions, not happy with any of the recent work I saw, I went back to a paper Marvin wrote before I was born ("Steps Towards Artificial Intelligence").

As sad as I am, and countless others are at his passing, perhaps even sadder is his recent statement, on the current state of the work in AI, at a time when we hear about AI and its impact on our world and our lives all around us.  Last week I was in Davos at the World Economic Forum's mtg, and AI, and its feared impact on people's lives, and jobs, was the talk of the town.  I hosted a panel with some key experts as well, to try and add something hopefully thoughtful, to all these voices, but perhaps just added more to the noise, and all along I kept thinking of how Marvin would have reacted to all that sound, all those alarms.  Perhaps he'd have chuckled, before unleashing a typical Marvin zinger that would put things in perspective, and yet enlighten.  Despite the widespread interest in, and hype around, AI, we are nowhere close to implementing many of Marvin's ideas, including his work in the society of mind, which he published ~25 years ago.

So in looking back on his life, and reflecting on his passing, perhaps the best we can all resolve to do is to live his dream, his aspiration, of building systems that get ever closer to Artificial Intelligence, but to do so in a way that he would have been proud of; his purposefulness and integrity, his gang of experimenters, his childlike curiosity, his "model railroad club", his instinct to look at things from many different perspectives.  That a purposeful, unencumbered, pursuit of artificial intelligence may in the process get us that much closer to our natural spirituality.

Upon hearing the news of Marvin's passing, Alan Kay, his friend for the last 50 odd years, said to me "... there was no one ever like him."  So true.

R.I.P Marvin.  There was no one ever like you.  We will miss you...

Sunday, December 13, 2015

OpenAI: AI for All


Yesterday saw the announcement about the birth of OpenAI, a non-profit organization to develop and advance Artificial Intelligence (AI) technologies, and share these in the greater good.  Infosys, and I, are a part of this endeavor, and very excited about it and I've been asked tons of questions in the last 24 hours about this, so I thought I'll write some thoughts down.

Why?

A few weeks ago, Marvin Minsky, one of the fathers of Artificial Intelligence (AI), the one who gave the field its first definition -- that AI is "the science of making machines do things that would require intelligence if done by men" -- made a few sobering statements about the state of the art in AI.  Indeed I felt sad listening to this giant lament the lack of fundamental progress in the field, and highlight some of the underlying causes.  And this despite all the buzz and hype AI work has picked up lately.  Marvin is one of the truly great human beings and scientists, whose teachings and advice helped influence my life and led me to focus on AI in my grad studies and beyond.  So more than anything else, I see OpenAI as an opportunity to "do something about it".

My friend and teacher Alan Kay once referred to Sam Altman as a "builder of civilizations".  When Sam, a wise man who is but 30 years old, was thinking about the idea of building an open ecosystem for, among other endeavors, AI, Alan and I shared our ideas with him and our experiences.  Sam asked me if I would be ok with the fact that such an endeavor would be untethered and would produce results generally in the greater interests of humanity, and he was somewhat surprised by my reaction, that indeed I would only support this venture if such an openness was a fundamental requirement!  In all my experience with corporate research teams, I found a continual struggle for the teams to find relevance with the work in the "here and now", usually knowing that this unnecessary and premature seeking of relevance not only blinds us to those opportunities that can shift our paradigms, it defeats the point of research.  He shares the view that cooperation helps dramatically improve our lot, helps create a foundation for much larger value creation than any isolated "feudal" system can.  Indeed, endeavors such as agriculture, and science, show that when we share, we improve all of us.  As Newton once said, "if I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants".

I am really excited that Sam, Elon Musk, and others -- including Reid Hoffman, Peter Thiel, and Amazon Web Services, and Infosys of course -- are supporting this great endeavor, and in addition to Alan, a great set of leaders will serve as advisors.  Ilya Sutskever, who has worked over the last several years as a leader in developing the so called "deep learning" techniques, will direct the research at OpenAI, and will be joined by several dynamic leaders and individual contributors, whose conviction and imagination will help this field move forward, based on the best of what we know, the best ideas, the best inventions, and the key lessons.

Our wish is that together the OpenAI team will do unfettered research in the most important, most relevant dimensions of AI, no matter how long it takes to get there, not limited to just identifying dancing cats in videos, but to creating ideas and inventions that amplify our humanity, that help us learn more, see/perceive and understand more, and be more.

Why Open?

One question that's been asked since yesterday, is why should this be open?  Isn't it better to have deep AI be in the hands of a select few experts or specialists?  My sense is, our trust in complex systems stems mostly from understanding these and their predictability, whether it is nuclear reactors, lathe machines, or 18-wheelers; or of course, AI.  If complex systems are not open, not open to be used, extended, and learned about, they end up becoming yet another mysterious thing for us, ones that we end up praying to and mythifying.  The more open we make AI, the better.

Why Infosys?

Another question that's been asked a lot, is why Infosys?  We at Infosys, with over 150k software engineers, are unique beneficiaries of and contributors to this endeavor.  Most of our work is in building and maintaining software systems, and AI will increasingly shape the construction and evolution of intelligent software systems, in all kinds of domains and industries.  In addition, as a large services company, many parts of our work can transform fundamentally with AI.  In services like infrastructure management, business process outsourcing, and verification and maintenance of existing software, we can massively migrate mechanizable work to automation, and instead build intelligent software systems, that amplify us, our abilities, as well as those of our customers.  So a great transformation that we are undertaking at Infosys, is to embrace automation at a very large scale, so people can, as Prof Mashelkar once said, "do more with less for more", and at the same time, educate ourselves in new areas to help build intelligent systems, but also to innovate in our work, to exercise our creativity in everything we do, and amplify our abilities, our humanity, using AI.

But beyond business, there is another key reason; our endeavor to do purposeful work.  Our founders always believed in this.  Many years ago, Mr Murthy and our founders started the ACM Infosys award, which celebrates great young Computer Science practitioners.  The Infosys Science Foundation supports work in the pure sciences, as does the Infosys Foundation in India.  And most recently, the Infosys Foundation in the US, is working hard on its mission to help enable/expand computer science education, and has already started many promising initiatives here in the US.  So OpenAI aligns very nicely with our long-held values.

So as we get started on this great journey, I find myself excited, hopeful that OpenAI will help uncover great innovations, that new AI techniques yet to be discovered, and built to share, built in ways that are open to all, will help us transcend our limitations, improve and amplify us all, and that our work in artificial intelligences, may help bring us closer to our natural spirituality...

-Vishal
Palo Alto,
Dec 12, 2015

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Days, Quarters, Years. The Moments in Our Momentous Lives...


Today marks an year since I started my journey as the CEO of Infosys.  One Year.  One spin of the earth around the sun, with my life's work centered around the Infosys planet.  There has been a ton of interest about my first year.  This, of course, is a good thing.  I feel privileged to be in this position, and feel ever more aware of the weight of the responsibility.  But I don't understand the significance of the one year mark.  I never did.  Anniversaries and artificial ritualized celebrations of the sort, beyond the uniquely personal aspects of these, somehow always seemed to me to be pointless constructions.

We posted a good quarter recently.  Our Q1 results saw the best revenue growth in 15 quarters.  Most of this was due to great execution by our sharply focused leadership teams, and some of it due to the innovation seeds that we've sown over various points last year, that are starting to bear fruit.  But again, the 90-day cycle, an imposition largely constructed by public markets around the world, seems to defy any meaningful purpose.  Indeed, arguably, focus on 90-day performance, can often distract us from longer-term progress.  When we look at many emerging and flaring crises in the broader economy around us, we can see the results of some of the short-term gain oriented decisions and mindsets.  Whether in the debt matter between the Eurozone and Greece, or Italy, or the stock market situation in China or even many industries' responses to the disruptions they face, etc...  We all see large-scale phenomena over the centuries that are collaborative in nature, whether agriculture or science or long-term research or some forms of democracies, and the fruits they continually yield, and yet we, by and large, make like hunters and gatherers and force ourselves into local minimas, knowing that the right things to do have far longer cycles than 90 days.  There are far too few examples of long-term innovation, and waiting for fruits to be borne over longer lifecycles than our attentions and our senses can stay tuned for.

And yet we too are governed by our cycles.  Our life cycles.  Earlier this week Prof. Kalam passed away. An extraordinary, and extraordinarily humble and grounded human being, one that set an almost incomparable example of what a human can do, and at the same time showed us that a human can do so if we get ourselves to.  While doing something he loved, his amazing life came to an abrupt end.  Once again, a reminder of the fragility, and yet the finality of our lives.  We shine, sometimes brightly, for a while, usually an all too brief a while, and then we fade away, into the same grand void the same grand dance that creates us.

So all this got me thinking this weekend, on our moments, our anniversaries and our lives.

I was in Munich yesterday and the day before, visiting some clients and meeting our team.  Had some amazing sessions and discussions.  But the visit with our onsite team was what stayed with me.  Young kids and experienced Infoscions.  Full of passion and energy.  Inspired.  Of course there were the selfies.  But it was the glint, the gleam, in their eyes that I found inspiring, and awesome.  They were all bringing innovations to their day-to-day work, and were excited about sharing these.  I asked them about their lives in Munich, the long summers, the harsh winters, the language, the food.  Most of the colleagues were young, a lot of them singles, yet to marry.  Living away from families and loved ones.  One young male infoscion said he's had to learn to cook.  That there is a local grocery store (called Bollywood!).  But their energy, the human energy, was palpable.  And on my way back to the hotel, I thought this was what it was all about; this urge to innovate, to do more, to be more, to do something beyond us, to improve the lot around us, every day, every single day.  To wake up every day and to work to improve things.  To deal with the struggles and stresses of our lives, and yet to work to endure and to improve.  To renew all we are and all we do, and yet bring some new in addition.  To marry our natural daily cycles, with longer-term improvements and patience.  Living in the moment and yet not being blinded by instant gratification.  So the most heartening bit of all was to see this basic duality at work in our teams, and that lifted me up.  I found that to be the most fitting realization for today.  And if today is anything like yesterday was, anniversary or not, it will have been a worthwhile day, a day to remember for all the right reasons, a great piece of our extraordinarily fragile, immortal, lives.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Davos, a state of mind

I wrote the following thoughts on our internal Infosys portal, and felt it is worth sharing with the wider world...

--

Davos is a small town in Switzerland, but, for a few days in January, during the World Economic Forum’s gathering, it transforms into a large state of mind.  I’ve been here with our amazing, inspired, Infosys team, meeting with clients, partners, world leaders, thought leaders and other leaders and visionaries.  Beyond the learnings and the dealings, there are the journeys Davos puts you on.  It is easy to get lost here, in more ways than one.  In the maze of routes and security gates that connect the various venues.  But also in the plethora of thoughts, visions, roadmaps, forecasts, warnings and other articulations, for these are to be found all around, aplenty.  I’ve been absorbing much of this, over the last 3 days, and every once in a while have also been adding to the mix, answering the questions of curious journalists, and in other venues.  It is somewhat surreal; there is a lot of human warmth in the freezing alpine cold, a very curious and spontaneous blend of diversity, of thought, of personalities, of ego, and of humanity in general.  The atmosphere, in many ways, drowns out the content.  And all you remember, to paraphrase Maya Angelou, is how you felt.  As I look back on the last 3 days, I feel good, about the future of the world, the future of our company.  For sure much doomsday prognostication was to be found, and real threats analyzed, but by and large, as I get ready to visit a great client and partner of ours, at 11PM, I find myself with a distinct feeling of comfort, that the road ahead of us is ours to carve, ours to shape, that while there are great big factors and forces that can influence our world and forces that can shape our contexts, that the stage has been set for us to do our thing, and that if we do it, the greatness to follow is ours to achieve.  That the times ahead are calling on us to be bold, to be decisive, to be determined, not to sway in the winds driven by others, but in building the great futures that our clients seek and that we deserve.  So in that sense Davos has been a great mirror, a great echo chamber, one where you travel far to reach, and get lost in the brilliance of humanity, only to find that which you always knew, but perhaps had lost the courage to believe…

I leave here as a world citizen, a proud Infoscion, ready to, together with you, all of us together, to build the future of our predictions, the future of our aspirations, a more human future.  And that, underneath the layers, of snow and of words, is what I've found this town to be all about.
Best, 
V


Friday, November 28, 2014

Rain Drops in Tokyo

Gray and rainy day in Tokyo.  Rain drops making their way down the window; a very beautiful, reflective, humbling dance.  Puts things in perspective, as we go about our daily busy-nesses and try to find our own ways to be thankful on this thanksgiving wknd...
As I sit here, busy with important, yet mundane, matters, and try to find a balance between reflecting and living in the moment, between living in the here and now, and in the nows down the horizons of time, the flow of some of the drops down my window made me write this.

In the moment
With its momentum
The rain drop slides down the window
Purposeful, making its way to its potential
Does it know it is the rain?


And then the 5-7-5 spirit of the Haiku, led to this...

In the moment, raindrop slides
With its momentum, purposefully down the window
Does it know it's rain?




-- Vishal, Nov 29, 2014

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Phool Inder Sikka


Phool Rani, Nov 1940 - Sep 2014.

My mother and me, circa 1971. 




















Mother, Wife, Mother-In-Law, Grandmother, Sister, Daughter, Friend.
Delhiite, Gujarati, Californian.
School Teacher, Life's Teacher, Warrior, Rebel, Pioneer, Avid Traveler, Adventurer, Foodie, Curiousity Hound, Brilliant, Larger-than-life, Bon Vivant, Encourager, Comfort-giver, Pacifier, Confidant, Guidepost...
The first, and the strongest pillar in our lives.

R.I.P. Mama.

Monday, September 1, 2014

Our Second Third


It’s been a month since I started as the CEO of Infosys.  An intense and rewarding journey.  And journey is a key word here: I've been on the road a lot.  And perhaps that is fitting, especially when charting a new course, because the thinking of it happens on planes, trains and automobiles heading in all kinds of directions.

Late in the evening of my very first day, I found myself in our university in Mysore, addressing ~13k of our fired up, screaming, trainees in the amphitheater of our magnificent campus.  And that campus, which I’d heard so much about over the years, was far beyond my expectations.  Its beauty, its attention to detail, its magnitude, and its sheer awesomeness, is something to behold.  Almost 350 acres, lush green, massive use of renewable energy, and just a great example of sustainability and smart city innovation.  And the university itself is an extraordinary institution.  We can train ~16k resident students concurrently with a world-class team of educators. Truly exemplifying the spirit of a company that is founded on education, on learning.  As my mom used to say, when we can learn anything, we can do anything.  And nowhere is that simple truth more evident than in our Mysore campus, where you get the palpable feeling that the young trainees, on their way to great companies in the world to do great work, can do anything, because they can learn anything.  It became clear to me that revitalizing our learning core must be a key focus for us going forward.

And last week I was in Lodz, Poland, where one of our largest BPO team works from.  Part of an enterprise that endeavors to run nothing less than the mission-critical business processes of some of the largest companies in the world.  Our team collectively processes hundreds of Billions of dollars in trade on behalf of our clients, just the procurement processes oversee more than 1% of the world's business trade!  But what amazed me the most was our team there.  Their passion, desire to improve, their creativity, was amazing, and infectious.  The way Business Process Outsourcing has come to be, what I refer to as yesterday's BPO, is not so relevant to businesses anymore.  We can do better.  We must do better.  And at Lodz one can see how automation, intelligence technologies, collaboration technologies, design-thinking, and a culture of continuous improvement both radical and incremental, will completely rethink BPO, into something far more exciting and relevant.  One that is focused on innovation, on a deep understanding of how business is done, and on amplifying our teams with technology and automation and AI techniques, so they can deliver amazing business value and solutions, not merely augmenting them in a dreary downward spiral of cost.  It was exhilarating.

And in between these two experiences, there was:
- Connect 2014 in Las Vegas, where our worldwide sales team as well as many partners were gathered.  It was great to be with this fired up team, sharing strategy and roadmap, opportunities and concerns, and to just understand and learn and connect.
- Tons of hanging out with Infoscions across the board, learning the company's culture and fabric (and the bounty of TLAs that Infoscions seem to rattle off fluently).  I've been reading about our products, analysts reports, our processes, many many examples of code and experiences, and also the 2700+ concrete ideas that were submitted by Infoscions as part of Murmuration. 
- An offsite of 3 great days with our entire leadership team, in the august environs of my alma mater Stanford, thinking thru things, fighting thru issues old and new, small and big, mundane and sublime, as well as hanging out at the d.school doing a great embrace of design thinking, sitting down with startup companies and listening to many friends from the industry and the valley, talking about the road ahead for us.
- And more than 20 enlightening sessions with clients and partners.

What all of this has made clear, more than ever before, is that the world around us is being transformed in a fundamental way with software, with computing and communication technologies.  As bits reshape and pervade the atoms all around us, connecting us and the world around us, most businesses find themselves in a struggle to survive, to transform themselves and to be relevant in the times to come.  And in this struggle sits the great opportunity for us, the great opportunity of our times.  Every client I talk to, invariably has two distinct sets of priorities:
1. Renewing their existing systems and landscapes and activities.  Opening up their existing systems, to the benefits of cloud computing and other technologies, opening them up to the pervasive connectedness around us, whether of mobility, or connected systems and sensors, or analytics and complex data science techniques for business improvements and also achieving operational efficiencies in their existing operations.
2. Building completely new systems to help their businesses grow in new ways, in "being digital" as Nicholas Negroponte presaged 20 years ago.  New intelligent systems and applications, built on new platforms, in new unprecedented areas of business, where software is making its way for the very first time, and where previous generation systems simply can't be transformed or bent into.  And these systems must be built in completely new ways, with new economics, even sometimes with new business models.

This dichotomy of Renew and New, is the basis for our clients' future.  And it must be ours too.  In many ways it is a timeless dichotomy.  Alan Kay (and Arthur Koestler) called it the pink plane and the blue plane.  Our clients must transform themselves with this dual priority.  And so must we.  Our transformation must enable, and follow from, that of our clients.  And to enable all of this, we have to invest in our future, in deep employee engagement and massive two-way communication, in research and technology and learning new ways, new hows and new whats, and especially in education.  Our team and I are working thru all these matters.  I am looking forward to starting to share elements of our road ahead beginning in mid-October.  But for now it is clear that our work ahead will be driven by
- our grounding in education,
- while continually improving and optimizing our existing business areas with better processes and better automation/intelligence in all walks of our business, and
- in embracing and practicing design-thinking and innovation to help us and our clients explore their great new frontiers.
I look fwd to sharing more on our road ahead starting in mid-october.

On this labor day, as I get ready to get on another flight, I am surprised, and inspired, by the parallel between the journey of India and that of Infosys.  Infosys is 33 years old, and I’ve referred to our road ahead as a journey for the next 33 years, the next third of a century, our second third.  A couple of weeks ago India celebrated her Independence Day, her 67 years of independence.  For half of that journey, my company has been around, as a leader, a pioneer.  And as I look to its, and India’s, next 33 years, which will culminate in India’s 100 years as an independent nation, I find myself thinking about the great human potential that is yet to be fulfilled.  The great amplification that we can bring to ourselves, and to others, with our education, our learnings, our skills, our products and services, our culture.  How the transformation of our company, can be, and must be, an enabling transformation of all of our clients with great, purposeful technology.  And I find myself full of hope, expectations, anxiety, excitement, like a traveler at the beginning of a great journey, a rewarding one, full of great experiences and challenges, great fun and accomplishments, and contributions, a journey that enriches and empowers us all.

-- V