Letters to the Editor: September/October 2023

On triumphs in space, safety nets, and studying literature in the time of ChatGPT

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Out of This World
Omar Mouallem’s “O, Canadarm” (June) is a well-deserved celebration of Canadian excellence in space robotics. In that spirit, as an assistant professor at the University of British Columbia’s department of physics and astronomy, I would have also liked to see some flexing for the array of Canadian achievements in astrophysics. To name just a few: cosmic fireworks captured by the James Webb Space Telescope (with two Canadian components), mysterious bursts of radio waves measured by the world-leading Canadian Hydrogen Intensity Mapping Experiment (CHIME) telescope in British Columbia, and the 2015 Nobel Prize in Physics for the true nature of ghostly neutrino particles detected by the Sudbury Neutrino Observatory (SNO). Looking ahead: Canada recently announced planned investment in the Square Kilometre Array Observatory (SKAO), an ambitious radio telescope project with the potential to teach us about mysterious dark energy and the origins of life. We’re well beyond a second golden age—we’re at the beginning of an entirely new era, with Canada at the forefront of exciting discoveries far beyond the reach of our solar system.

Jess McIver
Vancouver, BC

Social Security
In “Have You Been to the Library Lately?” (June), Nicholas Hune-Brown draws an accurate picture of how libraries have grown to encompass social services for marginalized communities. However, he was perhaps unaware of the issue of increased workload. As a library assistant since 1976, I now have a workload double or triple what I did decades ago. When you factor in these new pressures on library workers, on top of the fact that pay has not kept step with our increased workloads, it may help explain our sagging morale. This lack of a strong social safety net reminded me of Meagan Gillmore’s exploration of Canada’s liberal Medical Assistance in Dying (MAID) program in “Too Easy to Die” (June). Both stories speak to a profound societal gap. If the marginalized folks I see at the library had mental health, housing, and food support, we library workers wouldn’t have to be ad hoc social workers; similarly, if people considering MAID had mental health, medical, housing, and social support, many might not choose MAID.

Melanie Dugan
Kingston, ON

Future of Choice
Meagan Gillmore’s exploration of why there should be more guardrails against MAID fails to include a major end-of-life concern for all people, regardless of income: the increasing probability of developing some form of dementia, if we live long enough. At present, there is only a very narrow window between developing symptoms of dementia and becoming incompetent to consent, and by that point, the legalities can be daunting. People need to have the option of making an advance request for MAID in the event of dementia or other long-term conditions that could seriously and permanently impair us.

Geneva Hagen
Victoria, BC

The Robot Ate My Homework
In “Will ChatGPT Kill the Student Essay? Universities Aren’t Ready for the Answer” (thewalrus.ca), Irina Dumitrescu explores the detrimental effects of AI tools on student writing. Having begun my university career as an English major alongside the rise of ChatGPT, I feel no inclination to use it. This is not the result of moral qualms but because the study of literature is also the study of emotions, relationships, and philosophy—all things that are deeply human. Students drawn to these complex ideas should avoid such a mechanical way of producing essays.

Alice Kreinin
Waterloo, ON

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