Page 2, 20th September 1968

20th September 1968
Page 2
Page 2, 20th September 1968 — A humanist 'heretic' on morals'

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Locations: Cambridge


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A humanist 'heretic' on morals'

By a Special Correspondent

TIHE Churches are not the only organisations to have their dissenters and doubters. At the Rationalist Press Association's 16th annual conference at Churchill College. Cambridge, one delegate said he was "struck by humanists' complete lack of that old-fashioned word, morals." during their three days' discussion.

The humanist "heretic" continued: "If there were any Christians here, they'd find plenty of ammunition for the theory that when a person throws away his religion, he throws away his morality.

"With computers around, I don't have any need of writing love-letters—or perhaps, even, lovemaking—or of playing checkers or cards.

"If I invent a new game the computers will be able to beat me at that. It becomes of no consequence to a scientist if what he produces is good or had for the human race."

"SHAME" Cries of "shame" greeted the speaker and there were protests that scientists do care about morals.

Earlier Nigel Calder, science editor of New Statesman, told the mainly middle-aged audience that the dangers of fallout, the arms race and pesticides—although rightly matters of concern— were but minor aspects of the kind of world science was trying to create.

After predicting that man would soon be able to control weather. alter the ageing process and even "allow a woman who finds it inconvenient to carry her own baby for nine months to have it carried by a cow," Mr. Calder said computers should be used to lessen drudgery, not to put half the population on the dole and over-work the rest.

DEFINITION Professor C. H. LonguetHiggins, of the Department of Machine Intelligence and Perception, University of Edinburgh, also worried some of the conference delegates with his confidence that computers would not be able to take-over from human-beings for some time yet.

In answer to the question: "Can a computer define a human quality like morale?" he replied: "Once we can define something precisely, the possibility of automation exists, But we don't really know what we mean when we say 'morale' just as when we say 'God,' or rather don't say 'God' . ."

On the whole the humanists agreed with their speakers about the wonderful opportunities which computers will give man, but one critic remarked somewhat sadly: "I wish that, instead of putting your computers through their tricks, you'd solve our economic and social problems."

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