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Communications of the ACM

Letters to the editor

Lost in Translation


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Aaron Hertzman's Viewpoint "Computers Do Not Make Art, People Do," (May 2020, p. 45) makes excellent points as to why it is very unlikely that computers will ever replace artists. While I don't think he quite stated such, it appears to me that he may be of the opinion that replacement of (natural) intelligence (of human beings) with artificial intelligence is very unlikely.

The world is analog. So is nature. So are human beings. Most, if not all, of the endeavors we are addressing are based on digital technology, and possibly cannot replace analog entities. It is unfortunate, however, that with the hype these days, people are either unaware of reality, or simply ignoring reality, with undesirable consequences.

I like to cite a voicemail transcription I received recently. If not for one key word in the transcribed message, I would never have recognized the person claimed in the voicemail.

The transcribed message: "Hey, bro, this is Michael. I'm just wanted to know if you're at home. I need to buy roll the the chainsaw. I'm having real victory over their route here in my backyard, and I just can't get rid of it. Maybe with this all I can do that. Thank you Ral, bye-bye."

The original message: "Hey Rao, this is Marco. (umm) I just wanted to know if you are home. (umm) I need to borrow (umm) the chainsaw, I am having (rrr)real big trouble with the root here in my backyard, and I just can't get rid of it. Maybe with the saw I do that. Thank you, Rao, bye-bye."

I had to play the message a couple of times before I could jot down the details. I would like to think voicemail transcription still has a long way to go.

Raghavendra Rao Loka, Palo Alto, CA, USA

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The Question of DDT and Computing

Andrew A. Chien's editorial in the June 2020 issue (p. 5) recognized both the benefits and negatives of DDT. However, when discussing the impacts of computing on the environment, he focused only on the negative impacts. A balanced trade-off analysis must consider the benefits, such as the greening of the world and the increased food production brought about by the carbon emissions. The reference to climate change as an existential crisis and citation of Greta Thunberg as an authority lacks credibility. While I agree with his comments on what hardware professionals can and should do, the motivation could be better balanced.

Paul E. Peters, Easton, MD, USA

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Editor-in-Chief's response

Thanks for writing, Paul. I believe that computing's numerous positive impacts on the environment is widely appreciated and covered in Communications (see Gomes et al.1). I find that all too often, computing professionals think the good is enough to justify the negatives. But it's a bit too easy to pass it off as a "tradeoff." Why must it be so? As the negatives accumulate in scale and damage, let's rise to the challenge and invent ways to reduce the negative impacts of computing; not to reduce its use, but to enable its benefits to be multiplied. I, for one, am working to enable more computing good by reducing its negative impacts.

P.S. I didn't cite Greta as an authority on climate change; I was only quoting her admonition for how to solve the problem. Those calling it an existential crisis include many world leaders and of course a cadre of environmental scientists, a list far too long to cite.

Andrew A. Chien, Chicago, IL, USA

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Name Change

During the last 50 years there have been many Letters to the Editor about the "Computing Machinery" part of ACM's name.

Perhaps Association of Computing Members (or Memberships) would be better and would leave the abbreviation unchanged.

Richard Rosenbaum, Bloomfield Hills, MI, USA

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Editor-in-Chief's response

Ah, I knew it would not take long to get a recursive acronym! Association of Computing Members, members of what? Members of the Association of Computing Members, of course.

More suggestions?

Andrew A. Chien, Chicago, IL, USA

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References

1. Gomes, C. et al. Computational sustainability: Computing for a better world and a sustainable future. Commun. ACM 62, 9 (Sept. 2019), 56–65


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