A Review of “Moon and Sun: Rumi’s Rubaiyat” by Zara Houshmand

by Ali Minai Your love stirs the ocean into reckless storms. At your feet, the clouds drop their pearls. Dark smoke rises in the sky, a fire burns Where your love’s lightning strikes the earth. These energetic lines open Moon and Sun: Rumi’s Rubaiyat, Zara Houshmand’s brilliant translation of selected ruba’iyat – quatrains – by…

What AI Fails to Understand – For Now

by Ali Minai Most people see understanding as a fundamental characteristic of intelligence. One of the main critiques directed at AI is that, well, computers may be able to “calculate” and “compute”, but they don’t really “understand”. What, then, is understanding? And is this critique of AI justified? Broadly speaking, there are two overlapping approaches…

The Season of Savagery and Hope

by Ali Minai April 2018: ‘Tis the Season of Giddiness in Democratlandia. Republicans are saddled with a widely despised President and riven by internal dissension. The Republican leadership in Congress is lurching from fiasco to fiasco – interrupted briefly by one great “success” on tax cuts. The zombie candidates of the Tea Party are still…

Artificial Stupidity

by Ali Minai "My colleagues, they study artificial intelligence; me, I study natural stupidity." —Amos Tversky, (quoted in “The Undoing Project” by Michael Lewis). Not only is this quote by Tversky amusing, it also offers profound insight into the nature of intelligence – real and artificial. Most of us working on artificial intelligence (AI) take…

The Dangerous Discounting of Donald Trump

by Ali Minai By this point in US Election 2016, everyone acknowledges that the Presidential candidacy of Donald Trump is one of the most transformative phenomena to arise in American society in a long time – possibly since the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s, of which it is, in some ways, a perverted mirror…

Viewing the Early Muslim State Through Its Coinage

by Ali Minai The Arab conquests of the 7th and 8th centuries CE were arguably among the most cataclysmic and consequential events in world history, creating a completely new and long-lasting civilization from India and Central Asia to the Western edge of North Africa. And, while this civilization has ramified and fragmented considerably over the…

War on a New Planet: Reimagining Conflict and Leadership in the Time of ISIS

by Ali Minai The terrible terrorist attacks by ISIS in Paris on November 13 have understandably generated a great surge of opinion and analysis – some of it insightful and some just opportunistic. It is precisely at times like these that the volume of immediate response threatens to obscure deeper issues, and for a problem…

On the Future of American Politics

by Ali Minai It is only the fall of 2015, and the United States is already in the grip of the Presidential campaign for an election that is still more than a year away. Since the emergence of 24-hour news, and especially with the explosive growth in social networks such as Facebook and Twitter, each…

Fearing Artificial Intelligence

by Ali Minai Artificial Intelligence is on everyone's mind. The message from a whole panel of luminaries – Stephen Hawking, Elon Musk, Bill Gates, Apple founder Steve Wozniak, Lord Martin Rees, Astronomer Royal of Britain and former President of the Royal Society, and many others – is clear: Be afraid! Be very afraid! To a…

Corridor of Opportunity

The decision on how to build and operate the China Pakistan Economic Corridor will require an inordinate degree of foresight and courage from the powers that rule Pakistan. A large change always creates uncertainties, and power hates uncertainty above all else. It would not be surprising if the corridor triggers a natural impulse to double down on control. But history also shows that many of humanity’s greatest follies have been committed in the attempt to maintain power without embracing change. As the topology of the world is changed by technology at multiple levels, decision-makers in Pakistan would do well to seek a less linear, more connected, and more participatory arrangement for the country – one where simple strategies for maintaining control could be replaced by more complicated, but ultimately more successful ones.

The Spectre of History: Thoughts on an Islamic Reformation

The fact is that true change across a diverse set of societies encompassing more than a billion people can occur neither through the edicts of scholars nor the concerted actions of dictators. It is even less likely to occur as a result of lectures by Western intellectuals. The space for militant ideologies will disappear only when a sufficient number of individuals professing the Islamic faith develop an attitude that celebrates humanity, seeks to engage with the universe on rational terms, and comes to value life in service of Man more than death for the glory of God. And these things will not occur through reformist fatwas, but by modern education, political participation, cultural renewal, reconnection with actual history, a change in economic incentives, and – as happened in Europe – by courageous individuals within the Muslim community reimagining the roles of Faith, Justice and Reason in society. The Muslim world does not need a Reformation; it needs a Renaissance – leading, perhaps, to an Enlightenment. Ultimately, it isn’t “Islam” that needs to change, it is Muslims.