Faster computers will not accelerate our destruction
Regarding Gwynne Dyer's article ''Smart may not be so clever'', it may be worth separating fact from (science) fiction.
''The singularity'' is, apparently, a term designating the point at which humans cease to be the most intelligent creatures on Earth.
This would happen if some new, highly intelligent species were to evolve and overtake us or if we were able to create super-intelligent machines.
But one thing the singularity hypothesis does not imply is that ''high data-processing capacity is synonymous with self-conscious intelligence''.
Self-conscious intelligence is certainly not the result of high data-processing capacity.
My pocket calculator can ''process data'' faster than I can but it has no understanding or intelligence.
It has no grasp of meanings. It is programmed by humans to produce certain shapes as output given certain shapes as input.
Modern computers are no different in kind from my calculator, just more complex. To produce a robot that could think, let alone think faster than we can, would require more than just devising a computer program.
As Dyer himself says, we don't think it a big deal that some machines can lift more than we can; so why be impressed by something that can ''process data'' quicker than we can?
Modern computers are useful tools but they understand nothing.
All these points were made a number of years ago by the famous Berkeley philosopher John Searle, but they need to be repeated.
Dr Brian Garrett, School of Philosophy, RSSS, Australian National University
Jesus still relevant
According to Benjamin Herscovitch (''Masses rapt in hippy values'', Forum, December 22, p9), the increase in the number of Australians who now declare themselves to be without any religion - from 16 per cent in 1996 to 22 per cent in 2012 - indicates that ''Christmas in the new irreligious and non-Christian Australia will need to drift from its traditional religious moorings to remain relevant''.
Whatever his motivations for this assault on Christianity, Herscovitch certainly could not be more wrong.
Leaving aside the fact that 61 per cent of Australians still see themselves as Christian and that most other religions, notably Islam, see value in the Christian message, Herscovitch simply doesn't appear to understand the meaning of Christmas. He says that Christians should not ''look askance''at Christmas without Christ because ''its core message of family and community will remain meaningful to a majority of Australians, thereby ensuring one key element of Australia's Christian past lives on, albeit in a modified form''. While Easter is clearly the most important religious celebration of Christianity, the Christian significance of Christmas goes far deeper than some ritualised get-together! It is instead a profound meditation on the power of hope arising from humble beginnings.
I speak as one of the 22 per cent irreligious who counts themselves as an atheist.
Yet while I regard the belief and hope in an all-powerful deity to be misguided, the message of Jesus Christ has never been more important and needed. The money-changers have never been more powerfully in control and not just in our banking system but in governments and the global news media and entertainment industries, polluting everything they touch.
Jesus remains the revolutionary figure who challenged the corruption and perversions of the Pharisees. The modern inheritors of the Pharisaic tradition revel in their role in his execution, declaring him to be burning in hell.
They hated him then and they hate him now. It is this hatred that has set the Middle East afire with the ethnic cleansing of Palestine and torturing of people in their hundreds of thousands, the destruction of Lebanon, Iraq and Afghanistan, the start of war against Syria and the prospective annihilation of Iran. The message of the nativity - ''peace on earth and goodwill to all men'' - has never been more urgent.
Chris Williams, Griffith
Burgess Cameron (Letters, December 22) raises a broader issue that surely must be at the very heart of the climate debate, namely the planet's exploding human population. The matter becomes more pressing if we are reminded that in 1971 there were 3.5 billion of us. This has doubled in just 40 short years to 7 billion, with ever increasing pressures on ever declining resources. It would seem reasonable to assume that in 20 short years from today the world's population could reach 11 billion to 14 billion regardless of predictions by population ''experts'' who claim it will ''level out'' around 9 billion. A truly frightening thought.
We seem to have our heads in the sand when it comes to acknowledging the seriousness of the situation. Clearly, if pre-industrial carbon dioxide levels were 280 ppm (parts per million) and carbon dioxide levels are now 398 ppm, we will cut pollution without addressing the population question. A classic tiger chasing its tail situation.
I'm constantly amazed that many climate summits of the past 40 years have failed to adequately recognise the urgency of this problem. But then again, maybe they're still trying to find ways to make a buck out of it.
William Gray, Bungendore, NSW
Case to answer
The former head of Western Australia's Anti-Corruption Commission, Terry O'Conner, QC, would probably disagree with T. Marks' view (Letters, December 26) that the AWU affair is nothing more than a beat-up by Julia Gillard's political opponents. Indeed O'Conner recently expressed an opinion, based on information in the public domain, that the Prime Minister would appear to have a case to answer as a result of her involvement in the incorporation of the AWU Workplace Reform Association, later describe by Gillard as a slush fund. O'Conner's article is easily found on the internet and I commend it to Marks for some holiday reading.
H. Ronald, Jerrabomberra, NSW
A great scientist
It was disappointing that Professor Nancy Millis, who was one of Australia's most distinguished female scientists before dying in September 2012, was not included in your article ''Lives lived well, champions all'' (December 26, p15). I had the pleasure of meeting Professor Millis on several occasions and she was not only an eminent scientist, but a really down-to-earth person. Is it the media that generates such overwhelming interest in sportspeople, TV personalities, musicians and other artists, while scientists and their achievements go unnoticed? Or is the preoccupation with sport and the arts a true reflection of a public that is largely ignorant of science and the fundamental role it plays in our lives?
Lynda Graf, Garran
Don Sephton (Letters, December 26) opines, ''Just how sick is American society''? No sicker than a society where binge-drinking runs rampant among young adults, drink-drivers are released to offend repeatedly, obesity abounds, and life-styles are increasingly unsustainable.
No sicker than a political system where big business and unions exert a disproportionate pull on political parties, where each parliamentarian is required to support party policies no matter how they violate his or her morals, where crossing-the-floor translates to a career-limiting move, where gambling, liquor, and tobacco lobbies interfere with legislation to help those afflicted by addictions.
Where health, education, longevity, employment and social achievements of our indigenous population continue to veer away from those of our immigrants.
As an American, I don't understand other Americans' fascination with guns or their literal interpretation of our Second Amendment.
If Mr Sephton believes we're genuinely a sick society, then perhaps to ensure his personal integrity he should avoid all American products and services, including those derived from American sciences and technology.
Judy Bamberger, O'Connor
Guns must go
As a teacher I find the idea that I should take a gun to class to ''care'' for my students a truly poisonous concept that would create an atmosphere of terror, not safety, in the classroom. In the wake of the mass murders in Connecticut, such an idea is obscene in the extreme.
A core belief of the National Rifle Association is that the more guns that are in circulation in a society, the safer that society will be. This belief has changed over the years from a political or social stance to what now appears to be a deeply-seated psychosis that prevents the organisation from thinking clearly or responsibly.
It refuses to recognise what is blindingly obvious to virtually every other nation on Earth: that a country saturated with firearms that revels in a ''stand your ground'', ''law of the frontier'' mentality is sick to the depths of its collective heart and that this sickness will never be cured by having even more guns.
Good luck to President Obama and the millions of sane Americans who know that strict gun controls are needed now.
Steve Ellis, Hackett
Time to think
Security breaches are inevitable at the Alexander Maconochie Centre, or any prison, but not because of excessive focus on prisoners' human rights, as former superintendent Doug Buchanan claims. They are inevitable because when intelligent and creative people are imprisoned, they have lots of time on their hands to think of ways to circumvent security. The NSW prison system, which Mr Buchanan came from, has also had serious breaches in recent years. I doubt anyone would claim these occurred because of the views of the NSW Corrective Services Commissioner at the time, Ron Woodham, on prisoners' human rights.
Peter Marshall, Captains Flat, NSW
To the point
NOT VERY CHRISTIAN OF YOU
John Bell (Letters, December 26) asserts that without the birth of Christ, there would be no gatherings, gifts or holidays. Not so, John - there are many of us who are very aware that Yuletide was hijacked from the pagans.
We also know that, if indeed there ever was an historical Jesus, he was born in late August or early September, as this is when the census took place. One certainly doesn't need to be Christian to celebrate this time of year.
Jo Hann, Wanniassa
IT'S ALL ABOUT CLERICAL POWER
Robert Willson (Letters, December 24) claims Christmas is diminished without God, and yet Sheikh Yahya Safi (''Christmas fatwa was a mistake: Muslims'', December 24, p1) proclaims Christmas offends God. Why do these opposing clerics want this relaxing season to stick in our throats? Is their attempt to sully our pleasure born of any concern? No. What we have are identical examples of religious grotesquery - casting a wet blanket of guilt over people's pleasure for no good reason. This needling has nothing to do with God and all to do with clerical power.
Peter Robinson, Ainslie
EVERY TOWN NEEDS A HALL
Can anyone think of a city of comparable size to Canberra that doesn't include a town hall? Canberra also needs a public facility named after Marion Mahony.
Katherine Beauchamp, Ainslie
WARMISTS OUTDO THEMSELVES
Burgess Cameron (Letters, December 22) is full of gloom. CO2 was higher in the 1820s, 1850s and the early 1940s as measured by the Pettenkoffer method. The IPCC chooses to ignore that data.
As for rivers, where is the evidence that the Murray was always open to the sea prior to white settlement? It was always a slow briny river. Sturt, who found the Darling, said it was too briny for even horses to drink. And temperature has not risen for 15 years. How many years of no warming do we need before the warmists admit the emperor has no clothes?
Brian Hatch Narrabundah
CREDIT WHERE IT IS DUE
All credit to the ACT Legislative Assembly for refusing to be slavishly conformist. Its members were voted in by believers and non-believers. Robert Willson (Letters, December 26) says ''we all rely on the blessings of God''. What blessings? Tornadoes and earthquakes? The good dying young?
The churches have always offered specious explanations, like ''this was God's revenge for our sins'' to the opposite: ''thank God we were spared'' - (while others perished.)
Ned Ovolny, Duffy