Thursday, 25 September 2008

Staying alive...

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In my last post, I spoke of how we graduated from Stealth Mode and started developing the product we had in mind - a framework to create virtual personalities and simulate their behavior in different situations which mimic the real world. It was tough, but we had successfully worked on tough things before.

What we had never done before was to create a world for ourselves, where we could afford to work on crazy little ideas of our own without being at the end of a pointing finger. I wonder why our education system has never bothered to teach us the traits required to hold on to our dreams, no matter how different they are from those of the ones around us. If I come to think of it, personally, my stay at Election Commission and CEL at BITS Pilani might be the main reason why I never felt alienated by this difference as long as I was in BITS Pilani.

I did have my share of gloomy days when it suddenly seemed meaningless to defy everybody around, defy the world and the system that has brought us so far. Though most times, the pain had little to do with Vita Peracta. And there were days when I wanted to quit, drop all grand plans and take refuge in a safe and certain life. The only reason those moments did not stick on, was an infinite source of encouragement and hope, called Nakul Jamadagni. Me & Nakul have had numerous chats at all corners of our campus, at all times of the day. I cherish every single one of them for making me forget that anything at all was different, in what we were doing.

A common feature in all those conversations was long arguments. We used to put out all possible reasons and emotions we had, for or against anything which was the cause of worry. I think, to find someone who will argue against you with all his/her heart is really a huge advantage no matter what you are doing in life. Even to this day, the thing I miss the most about people & places I'm far from is the time I've spent arguing. 'Coz some of the most important things I've learnt in life, are from people who've told me I'm wrong.

Saturday, 20 September 2008

Breaking out of Stealth

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To tell or not to tell - is a dilemma which haunts most individuals when a new idea hits them. I won't pretend to have an answer. I'll just take you through how we went about breaking out of our stealth mode.

But first, let me clarify my stand on this issue. Even I am an advocate of the new age culture of democratizing innovation. But I do believe a stealth mode is necessary for an idea, at least in a non-ideal world like ours where most ideas end up being born into their graves. Stealth protects you from losing motivation about your idea even before you get a feel for its true potential. Stealth helps you shape your idea to reflect your own self, before letting it grow freely and rapidly in an open environment. Having said that, I do understand that a prolonged stealth mode is as likely to kill an idea, as letting it out before a wrong crowd.

Fortunately, in our case the idea was born within a team and hence reduced the risk of reaching a stale mate under stealth. The real break-out moment came during the winter holidays. With a 11page white paper, me & Sindhu knocked the doors of every neuro-psychologist, social psychologist, evolutionary biologist and psychology doctors we knew. At the same time, Nakul was speaking to HR directors and business heads of several companies in Mumbai. We even found ways to get introduced to experts in the field of computational and cognitive neuroscience from a few major research groups around the globe. In 10 days, I had 100+ conversations labeled "Vita" in my gmail account and we had personally interacted with 15+ individuals from relevant groups.

What did we get? Insights - loads of it & a very promising network of people who were convinced more because of our energy than the idea, which was still looked upon in disbelief like a magic trick that you could not break. To me, the theory was so beautiful, it had to be true. It probably worked in our favor that our framework was already able to predict a good number of behavioral traits which were only inductively asserted till then.

A few people truly liked our idea and got involved in developing it further, while most others liked us and that gave us the confidence to continue working on the idea. By this time, we were convinced that our idea is well ahead of our time and hence almost stopped working on the business aspect of it. The business was turning into a science project.

[Thank you list: Dr. Anders Sandberg, Dr. Ahalya Raghuram, Dr. Vidyanand Nanjundiah, Dr. Manjula, Dr. Keshav Kumar, Ms. Renu, Mr. Rituraj, Dr. Anita Ghai, Dr. Kusuma, Dr. Shobini Rao, Mr. Vijay Rao and Dr. Suman Kapur]

Friday, 12 September 2008

An idea...

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Today's world needs a new religion, a new belief which can hold their life together - is what Nakul & me concluded after a funny discussion at VK radi (an eatery at BITS Pilani). We thought we were the right guys to go ahead and seed such a belief in people's minds. All we needed was an extremely sane guy who could connect easily to the masses and make them believe in whatever philosophy we plan to grow. We couldn't think of such a guy but I very much knew a girl who I thought would be a perfect fit for the role - Sindhu.

An hour later, the 3 of us were sitting at Sky Lawns and discussing about what we thought was a growing problem - lack of understanding about life. Yet another hour passed, before we realized we were just sitting and throwing around idiotic ideas that would never work. So we left. But only now do I see how many new and insane ideas that one hour of talk had seeded in all of us. Yet, we left the place without any prejudice for or against any idea.

After going back, I got hooked on to gmail as usual - a prized trait gifted by CEL (Center for Entrepreneurial Leadership, BITS Pilani), specifically by one lanky, energetic idea bank at CEL called Chinmay Kulkarni. I still don't know what made me dig out a saved chat that was a few days old, where me & Sindhu had tried to come up with a million reasons for why the world and its people are the way they are. What caught my attention was a phrase that could only mean one thing to me at that time - 'Captain Jack Sparrow', but it meant a lot more. It meant 'Life in its complete form' - Vita Peracta.

A week later, we were working on creating a game where the virtual world responds to the player's decisions in exactly the same way as the real world would. But the problem was that the virtual world would have virtual people and we had no clue about how virtual people behave. We did not even have a clue about how real people behave in a real world. A few days later, we found out, no one else has a clue either.

The world still rested its head on the shoulders of two tall figures in Psychology - Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung. It probably was too ahead of their time to think about going one step ahead of their psychological theories and start testing if they can accurately predict people's behavior using any of those theories. It sadly turns out that you can't. People are too unique to be boxed into standard categories and deduce their behavior. What we needed was a framework to accommodate millions of traits that make us what we are and yet keep the framework simple enough to be put to everyday use.

Sounded like it was still too ahead of our time as well, we now pardoned Freud & Jung. Seemed impossible. Yet, we felt we were holding in our hands, the ends of a few threads that would someday stitch themselves into a beautiful picture of the human mind. We started to help it stitch faster. The idea had taken hold, dreams of an infinite possibilities had found a way to creep into our minds and to me personally, it was a joyful way to keep myself distracted from everything I hated about our world - Boxes & Walls.

[This post is dedicated to Nakul & Sindhu. I'm beginning to realize that an idea is a bunch of ignited minds and not just a bunch of connected thoughts. The latter can never change the world and we're experimenting with the former.]

Friday, 5 September 2008

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Pre-Launch: Website Under Construction - Vita Beans