IN SEARCH OF SERENDIPITY
Published on January 19, 2019
One of most difficult word in English to translate or explain is Serendipity. Most of the English words have Latin or Greek roots, but serendipity comes from an unlikely source. Persians morphed Sinhaladvipa as Sarandip, which eventually gave Sri Lanka, its another name, Serendip. In 1754, Horace Walpole, suggested by The Three Princes of Serendip, the title of a fairy tale in which the heroes ‘were always making discoveries, by accidents and sagacity, of things they were not in quest of’ coined the word Serendipity. Today this word broadly stands for the occurrence and development of events by chance in a happy or beneficial way.
Thanks to the dominance of a few large internet intermediaries, who claim to have the state-of-the-art AI based recommendation engines, I am now stripped off any serendipitous events in my life. Using my own data, I am now being dished out self fulfilling prophecies on where to eat, what to read and how to go somewhere. Some even dangerously recommends medicines for my better health. Despite all the advancements in artificial intelligence, the biggest limitation to AI today is that it learns from given data only. There is no other way that knowledge can be integrated, unlike human learning. This means that any inaccuracies or insufficiency in the data will be reflected in the results. What can I call these results?
So I started to search the antonym for serendipity. In as much as it is difficult to explain the subtlety of serendipity, there is no one exact or accurate antonym for serendipity. In fact there are 43 of them! In this list, the one that appealed the most to me is Zemblanity, a word coined by William Boyd in his book Armadillo. So what is the opposite of Serendip, a southern land of spice and warmth, lush greenery and hummingbirds, seawashed, sunbasted? Think of another world in the far north, barren, icebound, cold, a world of flint and stone. Call it Zembla. Ergo: zemblanity, the opposite of serendipity, the faculty of making unhappy, unlucky and expected discoveries by design!
Artificial Intelligence led decisions or recommendations can become “Zemblanitous”. AI gives machines and programs the ability to think like a human. While the cognitive capability can be built over time, it is limited in its inputs from the walled gardens; there is never the full picture. If only we are able to give the machines or the programs the full picture for it to think like us! Organisations are building (and perhaps hoarding) bytes and bytes of data in their arsenal to avoid giving zemblanitous outcomes. Owning the right set of data, labelling it correctly and constantly building on the same is the most critical component now. Fraud, Fakes and Frenemies are outcomes of half-baked data!
This is where I believe Blockchain can come to help AI. Distributed Ledger Technology (DLT) with its protocol, networks and application can help provide the much needed full and complete picture for better intelligence. There is a common view that AI enabled Smart Contracts can make DLT based applications affordable by consuming less gas. The reverse is equally true. Blockchain enabled AI has the potential to give machines and programs, the full and complete information to think like human. Smart Contracts can also provide the right checks and balances to ensure that the intelligence does not go rogue!
In this Fourth Industrial Revolution, Blockchain and AI are seen as being on the two ends of the spectrum. But triangulating blockchain with AI and big data is probably the most prudent thing to do. While this will still not guarantee serendipitous events in my life, I can at least be reasonably sure that the outcomes will not be zemblanitous!