Life’s Lessons From Harddisk Crashes

Many years ago, on a winter night, I restarted my laptop amidst a Windows update. The computer did not boot properly again, as something had gotten corrupted (Windows 7), and I did all the wrong things to get it back to a working state. By the time I could hear early morning traffic of delivery vehicles on the road, I realized I had lost most of my data, which was largely entertainment but also some really old photos and portfolio pieces, ten years of my past in photos – zapped out of existence. No amount of self-attempted software data recovery would let me get back those files. I had overwritten my data multiple times on that limited hard-drive in the panic of trying to fix it. It was a decimating feeling and I had learned a lesson, afterwhich I have slowly created and bettered a routine of regular backups. It soothes an unexplained trait of an archivist, which I have, and have only became aware of in the recent years.

A snippet from that night (seems like a UX issue which started it all) –

It happened today, once again, even though I had been preparing myself for this for years. And surprisingly, it happened in the same manner it had the last time. I remember losing tonnes of data back then- most of my music and movie collection – painfully curated and maintained, were lost to chunks that would take hundreds of years to sew together and make sense. I also lost my sketches and work for the portfolio – I have no idea if I will be able to get them back. So, either I am absolutely stupid or the Linux community needs to make the disk partitioning experience more forgiving and less rigid – it seems like it is made in such a way that the user’s actions ultimately lead him to delete/erase a partition only to clutch his hair for the rest of the night.

But I am glad this happened now and at no other time – if I didn’t have the scattered backups at all, things would have been disastrous. At least it got me into reorganizing my backup storage and to deal with duplicates and other terrifyingly mixed up file structures and content – to look at the problems I had been neglecting. I will have to create a system.

Dramatic, but not the first time it had happened either – this was, what I call, the third crash. The ones before had taken out most of the data with them, but that occured at a time when a lesser part of my life was on the computer –  my life’s work and experiences until then, and my storage media, had been limited in size. Within a decade between 2005 to 2015, things had changed for my generation in India. But, I had no clue it would become what it is now.

The initial few years were very iterative and painful as I was very callous, yet constantly occupied with the idea, and also limited on resources. I went hard at it, probably to compensate for what had happened the last time. My friends also noticed this and they pointed it out, often mockingly. I realized that this was going too far and it did not have to become the centerpiece of my existence. The archivist tries to preserve, but with a deeper understanding that some or all of what he preserves will be lost – all I could do was to not add any noise to it.

Now that I have a system in place (though far from perfect), I do sleep at night without a worry – owning less, consuming and generating less, and accepting that all the information ever created will eventually be lost at some time. The realization prevented this habit from malignizing into an OCD-like issue. Yet, it is still amazing to meet regular people who do not care about all of this at all, and would not even think twice if they lost all their data with their phone (which most of them do – multiple times within a couple of years). They also already have most of their lives on their phones or computers. These people already are playing on chaos’ side by its rules without even knowing about it. I like that. I wish I could be carefree like that, and because I cannot be, I had to figure out a middle-ground. Life is all about surfing on the edge of order and chaos, as many wiser have said before me in different words. I sometimes feel that this was a loser’s compromise. But then again, I do not know of anyone who ever won against entropy.

Post-Sensory

They have managed to nail computer vision, and the abilities of machines discern sounds and create speech are better than ever. Presently, the focus has been on the sense of touch – and the interfaces are focusing on the tactile, trying to refine it and give it the quantity (and at times quality) so that a machine may experience it the same way. But taste is what I want them to define next to a machine.

Computer Taste. Taste Recognition. As absurd as it sounds.

Vision and sound have probably been the easiest of sensory experiences for us to mechanize and digitize.  Taste, I feel, shall probably be the last and the most difficult of all senses to replicate. Even with the most refined of present sensor-tech we have created that can detect and quantify a change in the natural world, taste is something at a higher level, it is a combination of the other senses. It is where the touch, smell and vision come into play together. Even with combinations of individual sensor-values affecting brain activity for each item tasted, what we would be able to create further from a model trained on this would only give us the brain activity equivalent, and it would not be replicating the sensation itself.

But maybe it will be possible one day, when the total sensory input gets strong enough to surpass taste, where taste is not necessary as a more powerful sensory dimension would exist in its place and be much more useful to an artificial super-intelligence. It would be like tasting one’s food by just by the sight or smell of it, like how we do countless times in passing.

That sensory dimension sounds a lot like desire.