Autumn 2015
Letters to the Editor

The extraordinary accomplishments of former U of T president John Evans, artificial intelligence and the importance of having time to think


A True Renaissance Man

While Cynthia Macdonald’s tribute to John Evans (“John Evans Was a Champion of Innovative Medical Education”) captures the extraordinary contributions and accomplishments of this renowned Canadian, we should also note that Evans was one of the most accomplished athletes in our university’s history.

As a football player with the Varsity Blues at a time when crowds of more than 25,000 regularly attended home games, Evans was a two-time all-star lineman (1950, 1951), played on two Yates Cup champion teams (1948, 1951) and was captain of the 1951 team. He was inducted as a charter member of the U of T Sports Hall of Fame in 1987.

As president of the university, Evans was instrumental in promoting the amalgamation of the men’s and women’s athletic associations to create the Department of Athletics and Recreation in 1977.

John Evans is to be remembered as a true Renaissance man and an inspiration for students, faculty, administrators and athletes.

Rick Kollins
BA 1964 UC, BEd 1973, MEd 1980
Buffalo, New York

Machines versus Organisms

In “Getting Smarter,” computer scientist Geoffrey Hinton attempts to diminish the distinction between organism and machine. He neglects to observe that machines can only self-organize from their topmost processing level, downward, and by principles that an organism or another machine has designed into them. In contrast, organisms self-organize from the biochemical level, upward, in successive, hierarchic, integrated and yet discontinuous (in a word, emergent) layers of adaptation to their total environment – and without need of any planning process. Even without flying a banner attesting to “consciousness” or reflexive cognition or whatever one wishes to call it, cognitive processing throughout Kingdom Animalia bears the seams and tool marks of both original and continued self-reorganization at many levels.

Ken McCallion
MA 1987
Toronto
Social Media #Fail

The juxtaposition of the article “Breaking News,” about training journalists at the Munk School of Global Affairs (Summer 2015), and “Sound Bites” on p. 12 of the same issue, which indicates that students are getting much of their news from social media, illustrates the need to train all students in how to inform themselves about current events. We now have the ability to access media, presenting a variety of viewpoints, from across Canada and around the world at little or no cost. Instead, many of us spend our time on Facebook or other social media discussing trivia or celebrity rumours.

Kenneth Mintz
PhD 1972
Victoria

Pause and Think

Reimagining undergraduate education, as described in the Q&A with Susan McCahan, U of T’s new vice-provost for innovations in undergraduate education (“Better Ways to Learn,” Summer 2015), is a really important initiative. But we must also give students time to pause and think (or not, as they choose!) I believe the action-packed curriculum combined with frequent examination is a progressive disaster that fails absolutely to create the thinkers for the future. We need to give kids more free time. They may even discover gravity relaxing in their aunt’s orchard and watching apples fall from the trees. They say Isaac Newton did!

David Jenkins
MD 1975, Toronto

Survey Camp’s Legacy
Many lifetime friendships resulted when the civil engineering class of 1956 attended Survey Camp (“Memories of Gull Lake,” Summer 2015). That class has organized a reunion every year, and attended second reunions to celebrate their 10th, 25th and 50th anniversaries. Since 1964, the 5T6 Civils have presented an annual scholarship, now worth $3,000, to a student completing second year. Since 1964, the class has presented 51 scholarships worth $63,500.

Orlando Martini
BASc 1956, MASc 1968
Toronto

No Substitute for Human Interaction

U of T’s Team Attollo and the judges of the Hult Prize (“Using Their Words“) must have missed a key message of Better Speech and Hearing Month in May (sponsored by the American Speech, Language and Hearing Association): there is no substitute for human interaction when it comes to children’s language development. Yes, input matters. What also matters is face-to-face interaction and turn-taking. If we want children to have a rich vocabulary, we need to give them rich experiences of the real world to talk about. Someone to talk to matters as well. A Talking Sticker could be a fun supplement to language learning. But could it truly close the word gap and empower the underprivileged? The idealism is lovely, but the simplistic magical thinking needs some talking about.

Susan Gowans
MEd 1993
Toronto

Team Attollo responds:
Based on our research and observations in India during field testing, mothers from less privileged families are often busy with multiple jobs and don’t have as much time to spend with their children. Additionally, they often struggle with literacy and cannot read to their children. Our device is no replacement for a mother’s (or father’s) face-to-face interaction, but rather can be used to fill the gap when the parent is not around and assist the parent in reading to their child.
Safety for Seniors

I’d like to congratulate Prof. Alex Mihailidis on his brilliant work and his commitment to help the elderly lead a better and safer life. (“A Robot’s Helping Hand,” Summer 2015).

Evelyn Stefov
MEng 1980
Thornhill, Ontario

Corrections
“Using Their Words” (Summer 2015) incorrectly identified the members of Team Attollo. Pictured were: Lak Chinta (PhD 2009, MBA 2015), Aisha Bukhari (BASc 2008, MBA 2015) and Peter Cinat (BASc 2002, MBA 2014) – Jamie Austin (PhD 2012, MBA 2015) was not in the picture. The same article stated that by age three, a child from a high-income family will generally have been exposed to 30 million more words than a child from a poorer socio-economic background. In fact, the gap is closer to 10 million words. U of T Magazine regrets the errors.


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