TWO things strike me about the most widespread miscarriage of justice ever in the UK (“Calls for an inquiry into scandal that wrongly convicted PO staff”, The Herald, April 24). The first is its resemblance to last year’s exams fiasco when students’ futures were threatened with destruction by a computer algorithm. Now, hundreds of postmasters’ lives have been ruined by another computer system, Horizon. The common factor is a blind belief in the infallibility of digital technology.

The second thing is the strangeness of a remark of the Court of Appeal, that the Post Office’s prosecution of the Horizon cases was “an affront to the conscience of the court”. Affront? An affront, according to Chambers, is an insult, an indignity. Well, it was certainly an affront to the accused, some of whom went to prison, and one of whom committed suicide, but an affront to the court? Why didn’t the magistrates’ courts and the crown courts just throw these prosecutions out? It was because they, like the Post Office, believed Horizon. If an inquiry finds against individuals in the Post Office, should it not also find against the courts? I suspect any inquiry will come up with a fantastic number of recommendations, and then find a scapegoat.

But what it will miss is the underlying pathology, which is this omnipresent and blind obedience to the graven image of information technology. At heart, there is really only one lesson to be learned: that there is no such thing as “Artificial Intelligence”. Smartphones are not smart; they are as thick as two short planks. There is a notion, explored in the Alan Turing biopic The Imitation Game, that if you can’t tell the difference between the intelligence of a machine and that of a human being, then there is no difference. It’s based on the assumption, as explored by Ian McEwan in his novel Machines Like Me, that computing devices can resemble human beings. In reality, the game works in the opposite direction. The 21st century is seeing a concerted effort, driven by the multinational conglomerates, to turn human beings into machines. Of course the private schools invest heavily in IT, because they always follow the money. They turn out formulaic individuals. Hence we ensure that we are led by machines. This is why programmes like Any Questions and Question Time have become so desperately bad.

Computers have a place; you can’t run an MRI scanner without one. But they should be kept well away from all the human interactions that really matter. We must protect and preserve our humanity, and eschew the quantification of human souls.

Dr Hamish Maclaren, Stirling.


I THOROUGHLY enjoyed Hugh Macdonald's article regarding the closure of libraries: a witty, humorous account about a sad subject ("The end of libraries closes a book that promised opportunity for us all", The Herald, April 24).

About 15 years ago some of us congregated outside Greenock council offices to meet with councillors and to protest against the proposed closure of East End of Greenock and Upper Port Glasgow libraries, while keeping Kilmacolm library open.

Presumably the citizens of Kilmacolm, rumoured to have more than a clutch of resident millionaires, could possibly have been in a more favoured position to buy books than those in East End and Upper Port. Around the same time while travelling by bus into Greenock, I read a poster stating where to find help if you were one of the one in four who had literacy problems. (Hopefully someone else could read the poster for you.)

Unfortunately our protest was in vain.

The library closures were supposedly assessed on the amount of books borrowed. A library, however, is more than the sum of its book borrowers. A library, as Mr Macdonald states, has deep significance for its community – a place "devoid of commercial motive and free of charge; a definition of grace". It is a shame to remove any means of grace from a community in need.

Irene Munro, Conon Bridge.


DR Lindsay Neil (Letters, April 24) suggests that Scotland should opt out of funding for any new royal yacht. Surely a better idea would be an “opt-in” by means of crowd funding. This could be extended to cover the general cost of the monarchy. Another possibility could be the creation of a separate PAYE code to allow those so minded to fund them to their hearts’ content. This may also let us see if the monarchy is as wildly popular as breathless BBC “royal watchers" would have us believe.

John Boyle, Ardrossan.


IT’S probably aged-related that in recent years I have taken more interest in obituaries than when my demise was, in the normal run of things, likely to be more distant ("My life and death job at The Herald", The Herald, April 24 ).

They will be informative and respectful, and perhaps a few, reading between the lines, may hint at foibles and occasional minor indiscretions. Some will be uplifting and inspirational.

On a similar subject, I remember one intimation in The Herald some years ago, which I guess would have been appreciated by the deceased, in which the family announced a sudden death with the comment: “We never knew bridge could be so exciting”.

Something along those lines will do me.

R Russell Smith, Largs.