April 24, 2002




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Robot politics

Jeremy Smith's review of roboticist author Rodney Brooks's Flesh and Machines is chilling ["Robots Are Us," Lit, 3/27/02]. Before we hurry to make robots a central part of our lives, like cars, nuclear power, and other failed techno-panaceas, we need to temper our amazing techno-know-how with some logic.

If robots become capable of emotional lives as well as physical and mental labor, then they will either be slaves or beings with equal human rights. If they are slaves, they will compete with free laborers – humans – and drive us out of our jobs. If they have equal rights, then they'll get to vote and run for office. And how will they vote? Probably the way their programmers – giant corporations and governments – intend. Roboticists may say that programming will include something akin to free will. Forget it. A few glitches aside, most will be programmed and "raised" by corporations and governments and so act in their interest. As Smith's review states, robot research costing billions is done by corporations and governments. Whether slaves or "free," robots will benefit their government and corporate masters at the expense of the rest of us.

Professor Brooks believes humanoid robots will represent the final triumph of science over religion. Considering the brutal consequences of such previous scientific victories as nuclear power and the internal combustion engine, robots may well represent the final triumph of science over nature and humanity.

Howard Williams San Francisco

God, Bush, and the media

If it had been any other country, Israel's refusal to allow doctors and ambulances to attend dying Palestinians would be considered a war crime ["Is Sharon the Problem?," 4/17/02]. But in Israel's case, God, President Bush, and the American media have OK'd it.

David Fairley San Francisco

Private schools, public parks

While San Francisco's Recreation and Park Department considers cutting hours and increasing fees at playgrounds and recreation centers, it seems that private schools will be given free use of our public facilities.

The swanky new Live Oak School is opening its doors across the street from Jackson Playground and Playing Field, which were renovated at a cost of $631,000 in 1999. Live Oak's Web site announces, "Yes, Live Oak will be using Jackson Playground during the day. This usage will be in coordination with the S.F. Parks and Recreation Department and will be within their constraints." I was informed by RPD that it regularly gives the use of public facilities to private schools, often free of charge.

Nearby, a $20,000-a-year planned private high school intends to use tiny Esprit Park as part of its operation. Esprit was recently acquired by the city at a cost of $3.8 million dollars after a 10-year neighborhood effort.

I think it's outrageous that RPD is cutting programs and increasing fees while giving away our recreational facilities to private businesses. Private schools, which arguably compete with and undermine our public schools, need to provide private facilities.

Steve Cockrell San Francisco

Save Presidio PX

How do our thousands of Bay Area military and Department of Defense retirees keep alive the Presidio of San Francisco's commissary and exchange, as well as thwart a dumb and uncaring DOD decision?

I only recently learned of DOD's (uncaring to its veterans) plan to close the Presidio Army Air Force Exchange Services Post Exchange as well as commissary, at the end of May 2002.

To my knowledge, until recently, there was no opportunity for public comment, and most of the thousands of Bay Area retirees, most on fixed incomes (in this very-high-cost-of living area), were kept totally unaware of this potential financial disaster by the DOD and our local media.

I think the Base Realignment and Closure commission that recommended the Presidio be closed firmly desired (and perhaps, stipulated) that the post exchange and commissary remain in place, in virtual perpetuity, as the one and only convenient remaining location, due to the planned closure of virtually all other DOD military bases and facilities in this area.

The BRAC's clear intent was to provide both exchange and commissary services for the tens of thousands of former WWI, WWII, Korean, Vietnam, and Gulf War veteran retirees who still proudly call this area "home."

Apparently, the issue became further exacerbated because of the exorbitant rent charged to the exchange and commissary, by the so-called Presidio Trust, a group of antimilitary nonveterans. The net effect was to severely reduce profits from both of these important facilities and make both a "target" for closure to some uncaring bureaucrat in the Pentagon.

It seems to me that the closure date should be postponed until the end of this fiscal year and that the closure itself could be reexamined during that interim period, including appropriate notification of all affected retirees, as well as having their participation requested at several scheduled and well-advertised meetings held for their public comment.

Commander Jay C. Oakman U.S. Coast Guard (retired) San Francisco