The Brahmins

The cognitive and personality profile, and overall achievement package, of Indians as a group is a rather interestingly unbalanced one. Sometimes they do spectacular things, like discovering the infinite series for trigonometric functions of sine, cosine, tangent, and arctangent as early as the 14th century, producing a good number of real geniuses like Ramanujan and Satyendra Nath Bose, and reaching Mars orbit on its first attempt, being the first Asian nation to do so, and doing so at a small fraction of the cost expended by NASA. An IMO gold medalist I talk to once said to me that there are probably more Indians than Chinese with IQ 160+ due to very high Brahmin IQ that has stabilized (meaning regression to a stable high Brahmin mean as opposed to the low Indian mean) over millennia of inbreeding within caste. I thought maybe. Certainly, I do sometimes get the impression that Indians, at least in science, are better than Chinese at breeding the type of genius with the right combination of technical ability and scientific discernment that manages to discover radically deep and groundbreaking science in a very independent and spectacular fashion. The Chinese have produced geniuses of the highest order (or close) in science the 20th century, like Chen Ning Yang in theoretical physics and Shing-Shen Chern in pure math, with Yang-Mills and Chern classes ubiquitous now in the literature of their respective fields, which are now very intertwined. However, they did so only after much training, exposure, and reinforcement based on the whole framework of modern science developed in the West over many centuries, and ancient China, on the other hand, did not produce in pure science anything near what Indians did, a sign of lack of genius and of poor taste, both in its rare individuals and at the collective societal level. On this, I like to think that Indians are Greeks and Chinese are Romans.

In sharp contrast to China, India in practical matters has been largely a complete fuckup, or at least vastly outmatched by China. It is well known that the ancient Chinese invented gunpowder and paper-making, whereas nothing of equal direct impact came out of ancient India. In modern times, China developed nuclear weapons way faster than India did, and even before that, defeated India in a war in 1962, which, even worse for India, was entirely her fault. Economically and infrastructurally, holistically speaking, India, exemplified by its frequent power outages and accident-prone train system, could be regarded as a few decades behind China, which is further confirmed by that India’s life expectancy and infant mortality rate is, today, where China had been at 20+ years ago. Given that the two had been around the same level in 1950, India’s development has unambiguously been a complete failure.

How to explain this? On this, I recall how my Chinese friend’s mom had said that it’s not because China’s elite is smarter than India’s elite, but because China’s grassroots is smarter than India’s grassroots. This is well-confirmed by international IQ studies which tend to put China’s average IQ at around 105 and India’s around 82, which is a 1.5 sigma difference. So even if India’s +3 sigma is as smart or smarter than China’s +3 sigma, there are too many dumb, dysfunctional people holding India back, from their needing to be fed while doing the routine work rather poorly. So, the smart, (usually) high caste Indians opt to go to America to escape India’s dysfunction, so ubiquitous that even the ultra-rich at home cannot immune itself. The best and brightest in that category tend to go through the IITs at home for undergrad, the most reliable ticket to a high paying tech job in the United States. That stratum of Indians has established by now quite a presence in top American tech companies and universities (just about every top STEM academic department in the US has several prominent Indian profs). For example, Microsoft and Google both have Indian CEOs, and plenty of Indian engineers and managers, with many of them in high ranking positions, especially at Google. In contrast, there are few Chinese in top leadership positions. When I learned that Google has several Indian SVPs but no Chinese, a guy from China responded with humorous ease followed by sarcastic insult: “不用担心,阿里巴巴的SVP全都是中国人,百度的SVP也全都是中国人,没有一个印度人。(In translation: Don’t worry, Alibaba’s SVPs are all Chinese, Baidu’s SVPs are all Chinese, not a single Indian) What does India have? Tata? Infosys?” This is, based on my experience, similar to how people react to the astronomical success of certain Indian academics, entrepreneurs, and business leaders in America. They will say: “Sure, an individual brilliant Indian does extremely well in America. But what does India as a nation get from that?”

Even such brilliance of these elite Indians is somewhat questionable. On TopCoder, which plenty of Indians obsess over on Quora, now infested by low status Indians, India is ranked, as I am currently writing this, only 11th out of the 31 countries on there, with only two red (the highest category) coders, despite having more than twice the number of members as China, the second most populous nation in this algorithmic coding contest. They’ve actually done better in recent years. I remember back years ago when I participated, I, having been on the lower side of yellow (the second highest category) coder, would have ranked close to the top among the Indians. Of course, one must not discount the possibility that the best Indians have better things to do than practice for a contest where one solves artificial algorithmic problems, which is consistent with my having seen and worked with many Indians who are very competent at real software engineering, with quite a strong sense for systems design and real world production code, which are rather orthogonal to, and much more consequential than, what one sees in those contrived coding contests and interviews. Still, the dismally low performance of Indians on TopCoder still raises suspicions, because TopCoder, like the International Math Olympiad, which India is complete garbage at, is a 100% objective and fair contest, whereas success in the real world software engineering, determined by promotions and professional level, has a political and context component. It’s not just the Indians at home; even in America, where the smartest Indians tend to go, the Chinese kids beat the Indian kids by a wide margin on the elite math, computing, and physics olympiads, even when the Indian kids seem to have improved a fair bit over the recent years. From this, one can only conclude that Indians are naturally not that strong in the abilities which these contests load on, though of course they may be relatively much more talented in research and engineering, for which these contests are very imperfect predictors.

You, the reader, have probably noticed that up to now, we’ve focused mostly on brains and technical ability. Yes, they are essential, but personality characteristics (both individual and collective) and “soft skills” also matter, especially if one wants to rise to a leadership position. From my personal observation, Indians are, in general, very good at projecting confidence and assertiveness from the way the talk and present themselves, much better than Chinese are, at least in the American cultural context, even when you discount the language barrier Chinese face relative to Indians. I’m talking not only about how one says things in terms of word choice, but the vocal tone and body language behind it. Sure, you can disdain this as superficial, but it matters. Perception matters as much, and in some cases, more, than substance. There is also that Indians seem to have a stronger network and help each out more in the career world. Collective intelligence or ethnic nepotism, you be the judge.

I have stories to tell on this. First of all, I remember vividly how when I interned at the place as an Indian schoolmate, he was the only one who scheduled, successfully in a few cases, coffee meetings with executives, as an intern (!!!!!), when it never would have occurred to me, or probably almost everyone else except him, to even try. One can sort of link this to collective intelligence, in that it is an indicator of discernment with regard to who matters (the executives) and who doesn’t (the engineer worker bees) within the political organization. And needless to say, you rise up in the organization by aligning yourself with the people who matter. Yes, my telling a full-time engineer this was met largely with a response in the likes of: “He knows who matters and who doesn’t. And even if he completely fucks up, he has nothing to lose, he’s only a 2nd year college intern. In any case, he gets good practice interacting with people who matter.” There is also that multiple people I know have complained about blatant Indian favoritism in interviews in the likes of what is described in this Quora answer. Yes, others have told me that when Indians interview other Indians, the bar is much lower. It’s not just in interviews. Another guy told me about how he once worked for a company that turned into ruins after Indian managers protected some Indian fuckups from getting fired. Personally, I have seen a case of Indians getting promoted way faster than those of other ethnic groups on a big team with an Indian director. So sometimes, I ask myself the verboten. Could it be that Indians really are far higher ranked in tech companies than their ability and contribution, because they are much more self-promoting and collectively nepotistic than those of other groups? Moreover, could it be that many people secretly think and resent this but are too afraid to say out of fear of being publicly vilified for “being racist” and having their careers ruined from alienating a national group increasingly powerful in corporate America? And that gradually, other groups, as they awake to the rigging of the game and get past, reluctantly, their moral objections, will quietly do the same, transforming tech companies and the American workplace at large into literal prison gangs contend, destroying whatever is left of the ideal of meritocracy and fair play in this country, ever more mired in identity politics?

Don’t get me wrong. There is much variance in personality and character and ability in those of any ethnic group, including for Indians, and much overlap between ethnic groups. Like, I know of this really brilliant Indian who donates most of his tech salary to very worthy causes, leaving little for himself, and he would be the last person I would expect, based on his characterized as autistic personality, to successfully climb the corporate ladder, though through sheer talent alone, he should do just fine in the appropriate position. Moreover, I have interacted with several Indians who had been very kind, tolerant, and helpful towards me. However, averages can differ by a standard deviation or more, with enormous social consequences.

I actually feel somewhat sympathetic for India and the Indians here. Somebody, on this, even said something along the lines of: “India is just such a shitty place that the Indians here have nothing to lose, so they play dirty political games and engage in the most spineless social climbing.” What can be done to resolve this? Immediately, I cannot think of anything other than drastically reducing the number of abjectly impoverished, low IQ Indians in India by simultaneously improving economic conditions and enforcing birth control on the poor and unable, so that less suffering and dysfunction is spread to the next generation. India could, instead of drinking the democracy Kool-Aid, learn from China, in a way compatible to its own culture and circumstances, just as China did from the West and the Soviet Union, to great success. Its elite needs to correct many of its deeply flawed social attitudes, and not only that, actually act accordingly with full force; otherwise, the excessive damage India does to itself, America, and the world at large with its internal dysfunction and exported corruption will always far outweigh what its elites contribute to science and technology. I can’t be optimistic on this though, barring some really radical change.

Fun with Marissa Mayer

Marissa Mayer is an epitome of all that’s wrong with Silicon Valley, and the world at large, increasingly influenced by it, culturally, in quite an undesirable way. She is an obvious pseudo-nerd (where here, nerd = really smart talented honest technical person) posing as one for marketing, like much of the SillyCon Valley elite. I’m not being “sexist,” for all that James Damore has triggered. There are women who are genuinely technically competent with good character, and Marissa does not seem to belong in that category. I had to be reminded of her again. How?

Well, I talk frequently with this girl who did undergrad (in CS and math) at MIT, who is now at Uber. She’s not that nerdy though.

In a group chat, she was like:
sigh it makes me worried about planning on staying at uber for 4 years
An uber (no-pun intended) nerd guy responds:
it’s ok to stay at one company if your career is actually progressing
if not then you should leave
i just wanna get promoted and then leave
but it’ll probably take all 4 years
Me (tongue-in-cheek, for those too autistic to detect sarcasm):
Her name why don’t you become the Marissa Mayer of Uber instead
The same uber nerd:
nobody likes Marissa Mayer
Another guy:
i think my name just noticed that they’re both female
with his superior pattern-matching mind

Uber nerd’s name, if you could, would you do Marissa Mayer

idk, she’s old
The other guy:
uber nerd’s name needs someone to intellectually stimulate him

Something I learned today about Microsoft

I recall when I was in high school, some old guy told me that Microsoft got really lucky with its IBM deal. I didn’t know about that, and I didn’t care enough to learn about that until today. Apparently, Microsoft bought the license for an operating system created by Gary Kildall and his company by the name of CP/M, from which they derived MS-DOS. It is said that Microsoft basically

According to Wikipedia,

When Digital Research founder Gary Kildall examined PC DOS and found that it duplicated CP/M’s programming interface, he wanted to sue IBM, which at the time claimed that PC DOS was its own product. However, Digital Research’s attorney did not believe that the relevant law was clear enough to sue. Nonetheless, Kildall confronted IBM and persuaded them to offer CP/M-86 with the PC in exchange for a release of liability.

I’d totally believe it. The truth is to win in business, even in technology, is as much if not more about connections, marketing, and legal tactics, than about the innovativeness of the actual technology and product itself. Bill Gates, in addition to being very gifted technically, was from a very prominent family, with his father as a partner of a law firm, and he was willing to engage to the extremes in cutthroat, win-at-all-costs behavior.

I can see the following analogy. Bill Gates is to Gary Kildall as Thomas Edison is to Nikola Tesla. Tesla was much stronger, more inventive, and more farsighted technologically, but Edison was the one to successfully commercialize and gain credit, and similarly, Kildall actually did very foundational programming work, in compilers and operating systems, or so it seems; Bill Gates did not but he ended up winning. Heck, Kildall even had it much worse in many ways. Tesla is more or less a household name, though less so than Edison. On the other hand, very few people have heard of Kildall. I see another, less direct analogy. You know how the Chinese government is often despised for using access to the Chinese market to extort technology/IP from foreign companies? Concretely, there is that China purchased high speed rail technology from German and Japanese companies and basically reverse-engineered and re-designed it, and eventually with its size, built what is now by far the world’s largest high speed rail network. I wouldn’t be surprised if what the Chinese did in high speed rail technology was mostly of an incremental and scaling nature, as opposed to one of foundational innovation. As much hype as there is in the media about Chinese tech, I still don’t see all that much radical innovation there. Of course, that has much to do with China’s having started very very behind. When you’re like that, you can in most fields only learn and copy, and even that is often pretty non-trivial. After all, most countries and corporations cannot even copy. So you could say there is somewhat of a parallel between China and Microsoft. The one glaring exception I can think of is that China sucks at marketing, while Microsoft is for the most part good at it. By the way, Bill Gates is revered, often blindly, in China, with few people there seeming to know or care about his nasty side. He has marketed himself very successfully, especially his whole philanthropic foundation. As cynical as I am, I think Bill Gates is doing all that mostly after he already won, to redeem himself, reputation wise.

There is another parallel between the two. Microsoft may not be the best at anything or closely relatedly, terribly innovative, but it can do just about everything, and China is like that too. Microsoft has its own software ecosystem, from operating system to programming language to distributed system to search engine to word processor to phone (which I just learned got cancelled). Microsoft even has a prominent games division, with Xbox and Age of Empires, which I much enjoyed playing as a kid, though I wasn’t very good at it. In this way, Microsoft is more comprehensive than Google. Google doesn’t really have programming languages (C# is a much bigger deal than Go as far as I can tell), nor does it have its own PC. And the other major tech companies like Apple, Facebook are all much more specialized.

I’ll conclude with a comment on my take related to this whole trade war ongoing between US and China that’s been so big in the media lately, particularly on how US likes to blame to China for stealing its technology. I seriously believe this is way overblown, though of course I can’t know for sure how much actually valuable the Chinese actually managed to steal from US defense companies. To convince you that I’m not saying this out of any ethnic bias, I’ve give some justification of my position.

First of all, those really smart, high trained, and highly creative/innovative/productive mainland Chinese in America have mostly stayed in America, benefitting American companies and the American economy massively. Sure there is some communication and collaboration with people in China, but I would expect it to be relatively minimal in anything that is terribly advanced and not already in the public domain (which means academia doesn’t count). Why? Because if you’re working in America at the cutting edge of technology you’re busy enough yourself. And you’re a Pacific Ocean apart. But if those people actually return to China with their expertise, then they could contribute massively to China’s science and technology. There seems to be much more of that happening in the past couple years, and I expect the trend to continue that way.

There is also that military technology wise, China seems to be developing mostly indigenously, with of course much input from Russia, whose equipment at the most advanced level China often prefers over her own for obvious reasons. After all, the technological ecosystem left behind by the former USSR that Russia inherited, while much inferior to the US one, is still quite formidable. On this, I find it necessary to extend this to a phenomenon with much deeper roots little heard of in America due to political bias. It is that China more or less unambiguously got way more technologically from the former Soviet Union than from the US. China’s modern technology and industry was essentially founded upon what the Soviet Union gave to China in the 50s. That was the decade when China achieved basic modernization in a comprehensive way with the help of the designs the Soviet Union provided then for a wide array of technologies from chemical plants to cars to airplanes, that was accompanied by Soviet experts actually working in China. It has occurred to me given how effective the Soviet STEM education system was, they had trained enough of a surplus of, relative to the ones working at home, second-rate, scientists and engineers and technicians to send to China. Sure, there were some highly trained, brilliant people with higher education and work experience in the US who returned to China in the 50s who did important work there afterwards, but that doesn’t really count as actual technology transfer. There was basically no direct exchange with the US during that period. So if Russia blames China for stealing its technology, there is not really all that much that the Chinese can say, given their history of more or less cloning a lesser version of the best that the Soviets/Russians had, but if the US does, China can perfectly reasonably say for many things that the US had basically nothing to do with it.

Why am I saying this? Because there seems to be much misunderstanding in America on this matter, so I feel somewhat obliged to point this out. How people will react, that is another matter. But I’ll at least keep a solid, publicly viewable record.

I consider myself pretty dispassionate by the way. I mostly want to understand how the world actually works. There is propaganda everywhere, but I shall say that much of US propaganda is especially ridiculous. Given the pervasiveness and dominance of Anglo culture, a legacy of the British Empire and later American supremacy of course, it might fool the majority of people, but there will always be some who cannot be fooled, even if they grow up in America. I think it’s time that American elites face the truth instead of denying it; it’ll be beneficial for both America and the world at large. Downgrading and outright denying the achievements and ability of groups or nations for political reasons signifies not only poor character, but also personal insecurity. No other elite does this as grossly as the American elite. Also, a propaganda/culture war is hard to sustain if relies too much on telling lies. America’s doing this will also further alienate the elites of certain high achieving groups in America who contribute much to America’s technology and innovation. It cannot last forever.

In saying this I convey another implicit message. It’s important to be technically strong, but it’s just as important if not more so to know how to stand up for yourself and even act in a cutthroat/rogue way if really necessary. Know how to advocate for yourself and don’t let others take credit for your work and your accomplishments. China could learn more of that side of Bill Gates, and I believe they already are. Of course, they will do even better in the future with that. Another group that ought to do that, with allusion to Michael O Church, are the programmers and technologists in Silicon Valley and in America at large, who are an increasingly marginalized group. It’ll be good for both themselves and for America as a country.