Monday, August 15, 2022

Segmentation Experts?

We, management guys, take a lot of credit for a lot of concepts. A lot of those concepts are those for which all we contributed was a catchy name. Others we defined and practiced, and assumed that we were the best practitioners of those concepts. The problem, though, is that most management concepts have been in practice for ages and the best we have done is refine them and make it possible for people to consciously apply them when appropriate.

Which essentially means that those concepts may well be practiced, and more expertly, by others even though they may not be able to lay down the rules for applying them. Which brings me to the topic of this post - Segmentation.

When you want to sell your product, one of the things that you seek to do is to target your product to the customers most likely to buy them. For that, you take the whole lot of your customers and divide them into segments based on varying criteria - income, gender, nature of the person (conservative, adventurous, value for money, seeking uniqueness...), what have you. Then you target your product to the appropriate segment - middle income women, upper class adventurous men, whatever.

Companies have it easy. I mean, you manage a sizable proportion of your target segment, you have a profitable product. What if you had to do this sort of segmentation, in a winner-take-all scenario, AND based on selling to your target segments you have to cover a majority of ALL customers...what then? And, if there is a profession which operate entirely on that basis, who are the better experts - management experts or...politicians?

Democracy is a nice thing and, ideally, you think of people voting for the best person to serve the nation. When political parties try to market themselves as the 'best people' to voters, it is but natural that they try to offer them what they want. It is no real use to say you will give honest and efficient governance...everyone says that. What is your Unique Selling Proposition?

You try to find what voters want and, as usual, you find that they all want different things. There you go, starting on segmenting your voters. When it is management guys who do it, it is Market Segmentation; when politicians do it, it is called Vote Bank politics.

There you went, people segmenting voters on caste; regional parties invoking regional pride and so on and so forth. AND doing it successfully for so long. Till along came a party which succeeded on using religion successfully as a segmenting tool. And succeeding massively with that.

How do you fight a party which has positioned itself as the champion of a majority religion? Having divided and sub-divided people for so long into differing camps, the idea of NOT being divisive rings hollow from ANY of the existing parties. Still, some fight the divisiveness and the hatred. Some try to climb aboard the same bandwagon and try to position themselves as being equally good for the same market segment.

But, then, you have the others. If you cannot gain a foothold in that market segment, the only way to win is to split that market segment. So, apparently, they have started delving way back into history and finding a way to say that large swathes of the majority religion have actually been gulled into thinking that they belong to it when, in reality, they have been tricked into believing that their real religion is a part of the majority religion.

Hmmm! THAT is a turn for the ages for even the atheistic parties to be seriously worried about the 'real' religion of their voters. I mean, really, it was not too far back when the same lot was arguing, "How far back will you go in history and where will you draw the line about who were the invaders and who is indigenous to India?" Divisiveness is terrible for Society, yes, but the answer to divisive politics cannot be even more divisiveness...no matter what the imperatives of segmentation may be!

The time will come, I'm sure, when you and I will be at loggerheads because we descended from different tribes of prehistoric monkeys. THAT will be the day when we celebrate the acme of social segmentation.

Monday, August 8, 2022

Natural Intelligence?

There used to be this joke about a chap who went out for data collection. He goes into this house and asks the lady, "Are you married?" The lady says, "No!" He goes on to the next question in his list and asks, "How many children?" And gets roundly abused for insulting her. Assuming that he had got the order of questions wrong, he goes to the next house and asks the lady, 'How many children?" She says, "Three." He follows up with, "Are you married?"

Computers, in my younger days, were supposed to be like this man. They could never understand context and modify their processes but would mindlessly follow the procedure. Unless, of course, the context itself is built into the procedure. (Ah, by the way, the joke itself is in the context of a time when an unmarried man or woman was EXPECTED to be a virgin in the society of the day, which is why talking of children without marriage was insulting. Even if you did have them, you'd bash up anyone telling you that you did! Context, you see, is needed even to get a joke. Today, with live-in relationships gaining acceptance, the questions are completely valid and, possibly, safer for the questioner to ask.)

As I was saying, this gathering things by context and reading between the lines was the unique human reasoning ability which we used to assume that computers could never manage to do. Artificial Intelligence may or may not have breached that last frontier but...

There is this recent interaction I had with the service people of a water filter. Having had a new unit installed and running, I found that the water tap on the filter was leaking. I called them up to complain.

"Sir, let me verify the details. You have bought product X and it has been installed today?"

"Yes!"

"Are you still at the same address?"

Of course not! I am the idiot who installs a water filter in the house that I was about to vacate so that I could move into a new one within two hours.

"Yes!"

"Your product is within warranty period and the service will be free. Do you want to schedule the service?"

Tch Tch! I was just calling the service number because I was bored and wanted to shoot the breeze with someone. And, just to make the conversation flow, I happened to mention a leaky tap on my water purifier. Why would I need anyone to repair that leaky tap?

"Yes!"

I mean, I can understand why those questions exist in their list. Like, it could have been 9 months down the line after purchase and I may have changed houses. And, of course, if the product is post-warranty, and there is a charge for the servicing, I may opt out of getting them to do the servicing. But, as it stands...

It is gonna be a breeze for AI to overtake humans, this way. You really do not need to put in too much effort on AI. Now, human intelligence is incapable of reacting to context. (Sort of reminds me of how to make a line bigger without touching it. Draw a smaller line by the side. So, how to make AI better than human intelligence? Reduce human intelligence! And, thus, we seem to teach people to work as mindlessly as the computers of my day worked.)

Come to think of it, these chaps are taking the easy way out trying to build Artificial Intelligence. THAT's a piece of cake.

Now, if they were to attempt to mimic Natural Stupidity...

Monday, August 1, 2022

The lost art - Empathy

Come to think of it, Empathy is not really a lost art. I mean, you can only lose something which you first had. And I am not too sure that most of us ever had empathy. As in being able to see the world from the point of view of another person - sort of walk in his shoes as it were. True that, like logic or honor or any such thing, empathy is one of those things which we had always been quick to identify as absent in the OTHER guy. But comes to one's own self...

But, then, it used to be the case that we missed out on being empathetic primarily when the other chap talks or acts in a manner different from what we ourselves would do. You know, like, when you are non-smoker, it comes easy to you to see the smoker as a heartless person who revels in the death by secondary smoke of others. To put yourself in his place, see how you have become accustomed to it, and see why it can be just a habit and not a conscious decision to kill people around him...that requires empathy. (Ah! No, no, no, the idea is not that you AGREE that it's OK, just that you understand that he is not necessarily a heartless villain!)

That, though, was the only sort of empathy that used to come difficult to people, this thing of understanding why others would do what you would never do. When it comes to what others do what you would do, it was relatively easy. Though, yes, even when it came to the other chap doing what YOU would do in the same circumstances, you needed to be reminded to put yourself in his shoes and see if you would act different. Empathy is one of those easily put to sleep emotions that has to be woken up in order to influence you.

Not any longer, it seems, this idea that you understand why the other chap does what he does by checking out what you would do in the same circumstances. To that extent, yes, empathy is lost. Like, when someone opposed to you complains of an action by someone belonging to your side, that chap is a hypocrite who cries foul only when it suits him; as can be readily proved by the fact that he did not complain about a similar action done by someone on 'his' side. When the vice versa happens, the other chap is indulging in 'Whataboutery' when he points out that YOU remained silent likewise. So, yeah, what is Whataboutery when the other guy does it is a legitimate counter-point to his hypocrisy when you do it.

I could possibly go on and on. When you call him names, you are merely identifying his nature; when he calls you names, he is indulging in ad hominem because he is unable to counter your arguments logically. When you disparage his religion, it is freedom of expression; when he disparages yours, it is fanning religious hatred. And so on. (There you go, getting precisely the wrong meaning. The idea is that YOU should not dismiss things airily as Whataboutery or call the other person names or disparage his religion. NOT that HE is justified in doing all that merely because you also do)

So, yeah, someone points out that, in his shoes, you would act the exact same way that he does and you'd say, "I am not such an evil person that I will BE in his shoes in the first place". And THAT is the death of empathy. For, the moment you see a different way of looking at the world as villainous why would you even WANT to empathize?

And, meanwhile, I can only remember a joke from a Tamil movie. "Un raththam rathham; en raththam thakkaali chutneyaa?" Loosely translated, it means, "When you are wounded, you shed blood; when I'm hurt, you see it as tomato sauce?"

That, roughly speaking, seems to be the state of empathy these days!

Monday, July 25, 2022

Intent

The strangest thing about humanity is that we are able to simultaneously hold two contradictory opinions and not even be aware that we are doing it. And, still, we consider ourselves a rational species.(I have said that before? So?)

When it comes to judging the actions of our fellow-men, the idea that the same action can be reprehensible or pardonable depending on the intent of the person doing it seems ridiculous. You have a clear idea about actions...whether YOU think it is good, bad or indifferent. THAT is final and the chap who does that action falls into that box, intent be damned.

And, yet, when it comes to ANY conversation, the lightest word that anyone may say, we dive right between the lines...to interpret his intent, his actual words be damned! AND intent is almost always determined based on who you think he IS and need not necessarily have any link to what he actually says.

I mean, like, let us hear someone say things in opposition, say, of a lynching. You dive right in, see who IS lynched, whether the chap who says it is seen as in the 'party' of the lyncher or the lynchee, so to speak. THEN, you start off on 'why did he not say this when that other person a couple of years back was lynched' and so on. Reacting to what you think is HIS intent...that of propagating HIS own philosophy and NOT any sympathy for the 'lynchee' or his revulsion for the barbaric practice of people feeling free to go on a rampage with scant regard for the law.

In small and big ways, every single conversation is marred with the search for Intent...whether you see the intent to put you down in the slightest criticism, or see larger things like casteism or patriarchy even in things that would pass as benevolent actions if there were no caste or gender relationships in the picture. AND, of course, these days you can hardly release a movie or write a book unless you have screened every single word and every single pixel to see what intent someone can read into it. Viva Social Media!

Reading intent is a great thing. If only people will spend more time on reading and correcting THEIR intent and not on working 24x7 trying to find fault with others' intent...But,  then, we are much more confident that we have divined other people's intent when we are totally unsure about our own.

One may as well dream of Faster-than-Light travel, I suppose, as to expect people to 'see the beam in their eye before seeing the mote in other people's eyes'. AND, who knows, FTL may come to pass sooner!