Letters to the editor

Bryan Christie/John Cuneo/Brooks Kraft

Pas de Deux ex Machina

A computer can be configured to form sentences and respond to human language, as Brian Christian details in “Mind vs. Machine” (March Atlantic). But for the Turing Test to mean anything at all, the machine would need to demonstrate the capacity to conceptualize, and not merely to retrieve pieces from a vast toolbox of indexed algorithms and memories. We are capable of endless conversation largely devoid of content, which says more about the humans conducting the tests than it does about the computers’ ability to think.

Steve Mittelstaedt
Ferndale, Wash.

The distinction between judges and confederates in the Turing Test is unnecessary. You could instead have two groups of people, each randomly paired with either a computer or a person from the other group. Each person would demonstrate his or her humanity and assess the humanity of the conversational partner. As in real life, each would both judge and be judged.

A further variation would be to randomly pair computers either with people or with other computers, and ask each computer to evaluate the humanity of its conversational partner. It could be a humbling experience to watch two computers pretending to be as slow-witted, irrational, and fumble-fingered as mere humans.

Robert Mack
Cambridge, Mass.

Foodie Indulgence

B. R. Myers’s March polemic, “Fed Up,” conflates the gluttony of outrageous food entertainment with the socially conscious, sustainability-seeking food movement. Butchery may not be literature, but it does, literally, feed people. B. R. Myers’s derision smacks of pride, which I believe is somewhere on that list of seven …

Adam Cook
Lincoln, Ill.

How dare B. R. Myers claim that people—like Michael Pollan, like myself—in the slow-food movement “feign” concern for animals. Caring about food, how we share it, how we prepare it, where it comes from, and the impact of our eating on animals and the environment is a much-needed corrective to the industrialized and inhumane food system that provides the majority of edibles in this country. Myers does no service by confounding a laudable effort to bring awareness and compassion to the dinner table with simple over-indulgence.

Diane M. Jones
Boise, Idaho

Why the vitriol? Was B. R. Myers’s mother run over by a grocery truck? Perhaps the state of food writing is as bleak as he argues—certainly the examples he quotes are unattractive. But he does tar interest in food with a broad brush. Life is a great, diverse experience. Some people are interested in cars, some in music; others collect stamps. We all have to eat. Why not enjoy it? Is it “elitist” (a term Myers applies to foodies) to take interest in your meals? Does concern with one’s health also make one an elitist?

In any endeavor involving humans, there will be some unpleasant people. It would be unfortunate if all food writers were among them. But, Myers can be sure, not all “foodies” are.

Rick Ross
Sweet Home, Ore.

B. R. Myers replies:

A foodie is by definition an extremist; the word was created to distinguish those who live to eat from mere food-lovers like myself. The point I hoped to make in “Fed Up” is that we should no more leave the food discourse to these people than we would leave sex education to lechers.

Yes, Adam Cook, butchery feeds people, but the less butchery that goes on, the more people we can feed. I agree with Diane Jones that factories cannot supply the growing demand for meat without abusing animals and destroying the Earth. Unfortunately the solution dreamily proposed in Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma, which is to farm ever more meat ever less intensively, and chew it with proper “reverence,” only shows how hard it is for foodies to think outside the mouth. The best corrective to factory farms is a vegetarian diet, but the advertising-driven, foodie-controlled food media will never admit that.

Evidently Rick Ross saw no reason to check the state of food writing before insinuating that I had done it an injustice. Will he also send a letter chiding Anthony Bourdain for his consumption of endangered ortolan, perhaps joking about how his mother might have died? I doubt it; and as long as such “pleasant” foodies refuse to criticize the “unpleasant” ones, I will go on overlooking the distinction entirely.

Whither the Ticks?

What happened to the tick population on Mark Bowden’s farm (“Those Things With Feathers,” March Atlantic)?

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