Monthly Archive for March, 2008

AI fatwas

I was somewhat amused to read the controversy regarding a French team working on an electronic Islamic fatwa machine. Here’s a snippet quoting the inventor (emphasis added):

I have consulted with several Islamic scholars and clerics in elevated positions there is no need to mention their names so as to avoid stirring up public opinion however, they have assured me that such a device is not ‘haram’ [prohibited by Islam]. But there are fears and scepticism regarding misuse and causing any misrepresentation or defamation to the figure of the Prophet. There are also fears in terms of Arab and Islamic public opinion and their acceptance of a machine such as this.

Source: Can a Machine Issue Islamic Fatwas? [Asharq Al-Awsat]

Personally I think the dons at Al Azhar ought to lighten up. Obviously, any AI device must be supplied with caveats. Nevertheless I think such a machine, could be very valuable aid for those exploring Islamic jurisprudence for themselves.

Gore to be drafted?

Senior Democrats mull Al Gore’s nomination [Daily Telegraph]

About time too!

It’s been obvious since Super Tuesday that the Democratic nomination contest would go all the way to the convention and that that would ultimately hand the Presidency over to McCain. I don’t believe that either Clinton or Obama can beat Mac now. If the Democrats want the White House, they have to draft Gore, and get these childish squabblers off the stage ASAP.

They probably also ought to look at amending the US Constitution to remove the ban on Presidents’ serving two terms. That way, if Bill Clinton fans want him back in the White House they can actually vote for him, rather than having to vote for his wife.

Academics should not allocate research funds

It’s long been the case that the greatest barrier to the advancement of a UK involvement in manned space exploration programme has been the vested interests of the scientific establishment. Distinguished academic prima donnas have a tendency to allocate research funds to their own pet projects (or to at least vote down expensive projects that may compete for funds with their own). Now we learn that the disgraceful decision to close the Jodrell Bank observatory was made by other scientists protecting their vested interests [The Times].

This state of affairs in unacceptable. Left to their own devices it’s only natural for scientists to allocate funds to projects closer to their own interests. Yet even on a broader perspective it should not be for the scientific community to decide who taxpayer funded research grants should be allocated. Science has benefits far beyond the sake of science itself. There are not just the tangible benefits such as improvement to health and quality of life. There are also intangible benefits such as inspiring future generations. Scientists alone are not best placed to weigh up all these pros and cons.

Of course it’s right that scientists should be involved in the decision-making process – any funding body needs to include expert members. But the funding council boards should not consist of expert members exclusively. As with other public bodies there should be a diversity of skills, knowledge and experience, with a lay majority, so that future decisions can be made to reflect the overall interests and priorities of society, not the scientific establishment.

Tories celebrating Empire Day – in 2008?

Under David Cameron’s leadership the Tories have made themselves much more appealing in many ways. Yet sometimes I wonder whether the Conservative Party can ever fully bring itself into the 21st century. Here’s an invitation I got (in all seriousness) by email from a young Tory I knew at University:

X invited you to "EMPIRE DAY DINNER AND WALTZ" on Saturday, May 24 at 6:00pm.

X says, "You are invited to this prestigious White Tie charity gala at the Carlton Club on Empire Day.

Waltz, Dinner, Champagne, Wine, Military Band performance, Jazz band, Auction, Speeches all included in ticket price. I hope you can come.

X".

Event: EMPIRE DAY DINNER AND WALTZ
       "God Save The Queen!"
What: Dinner Party
Host: Cllr Michael Champion
When: Saturday, May 24 at 6:00pm
Where: The Carlton Club

To see more details and RSVP, follow the link below:
http://www.facebook.com/n/?event.php&eid=26142382024

Thanks,
The Facebook Team

Obviously "X" is not his real name… Will he ever grow up enough to realise there is no more Empire? Unlikely.