Forbes India 15th Anniversary Special

Ajit Balakrishnan: Books for Turbulent Times

Ajit Balakrishnan believes 'Programming Collective Intelligence' should be part of every higher education curriculum

Published: Sep 9, 2009 08:46:10 AM IST
Updated: Sep 9, 2009 09:06:47 AM IST

If you are one of those people who like to understand the underlying trends that are driving the increasingly bewildering world of today, read The Work of Nations: Preparing Ourselves for 21st Century Capitalism by Robert Reich.

He says that the nature of work today is increasingly dividing into three types; experts in symbol manipulation (management consultants, computer science architects, financial analysts), in-person servers (waiters, salesmen, flight stewards), routine producers (factory and call centre workers, computer programmers), with symbol manipulators earning a disproportionate part of national income; he has ideas on what to do about this.

Ajit Balakrishnan is Founder & CEO of
Image: Vikas Khot
Ajit Balakrishnan is Founder & CEO of
If you are asked to recommend one book which ought to be in the curriculum of every higher education institution, you would do well to recommend Programming Collective Intelligence by Toby Segaran. This book has the practical how-tos on using the new science of machine learning. While machine learning sounds esoteric, you may well be using it if you use any service on the Web.

Machine learning is used, for example, to reduce spam in your email box, and by book and news sites to recommend more books and articles based on your initial choices. In days to come, it will find application beyond these and your friend’s son would do well to be armed with techniques in this book.

If you are one of those who tears his hair at the apparently irrational behaviour of politicians and policy makers, try Deborah Stone’s Policy Paradox: The Art of Political Decision Making. She is a professor of law and social policy at Brandeis University and she makes the point, in a very accessible way, that the “rationality project”, the attempt to find a linear, rational reasoning in policy formulation usually is frustrating.

For instance, many find frustrating the actions of promoters of quotas in educational institutions for different castes.

It helps if you reflect that they are acting under their assumption that the only way to break down social stratification in India is to prevent it being propagated inter-generationally through higher educational institutions. In the real world, policy grows out such conflicting definitions, of basic societal goals like security, equality, and liberty.

(Ajit Balakrishnan is Founder & CEO of; Co-ordinated by Neelima Mahajan-Bansal)

(This story appears in the 11 September, 2009 issue of Forbes India. To visit our Archives, click here.)