Rainbow Festival educates students

Madurai celebrated its first Rainbow Festival and the birth centenary of British mathematician Alan MathisonTuring with a programme for high school students focusing on various aspects in science and gender diversity. It was organized by Srishti, the first LGBT resource circle of Madurai, at Mahatma Montessori School. Inaugurated by the German rock band Panik through video conferencing, it was attended by 600 students.

The programme created an awareness among students about various types of gender and sexuality. Another session focused on queer issues and the students found it well-timed and clearly explained, feeling that adolescence is always about the questioning of norms.

The discussions focused less on the openness of sexuality and gender and more on the diversity of gender and sexuality. References from mythology were used to explain how those we call “other” in terms of sexuality and gender are found within our own cultural context. The programme stressed the acceptance of human love in various forms and provided a rare space to students describing realities that are hidden in texts and taboo subjects for discussion.

A fascinating fact was that girls showed a greater keenness than boys to know the subject. An illustration of the queer hall of fame changed several old conceptions on queer people as diseased, outliers and out of society. In discussing the lives of Aristotle, Plato, Da Vinci and others, students understood that queer people have also significantly contributed to the uplift of society.

At the end of the discussion, German musician David Bonk announced July 28 and 29 as the dates for the International Queer Film screening in Madurai. This too will be a first of its kind event and the panel of films shortlisted for screening includes the following:

Mr.and Mrs.Iyer: In this Tamil comedy by Charukesh Sekar on gay marriage, an orthodox South Indian couple is excited about their son’s decision to get married. But he has a surprise in store for them. What is it? Will the family accept? Will they break rules to make their son happy? Will conventional practices and beliefs allow him to get married to another man?

Prayers for Bobby: The film was nominated for two prime time Emmy Awards in 2009 and the 2010 Golden Globe Award. It is a true story of a mother torn between her loyalties, challenged by her faith, and moved by a tragedy that would forever change her life, and the lives of others. It is a must watch for every parent.

Milk: The film tells the story of the first openly gay politician in the United States, Harvey Milk. His life changed history. His courage changed lives. Sean Penn won the Academy Award for Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Leading Role and a Screen Actors Guild Award and was nominated for a Golden Globe Award for Best Actor.

I Can't Think Straight: The film is a lesbian romance movie about a London-based Jordanian of Palestinian descent, Tala, who is preparing for an elaborate wedding. A turn of events causes her to have an affair and subsequently fall in love with a British Indian, Leyla.

Boys Don't Cry: The film is a dramatization of the real-life story of Brandon Teena, played by Hilary Swank. Teena was a biologically born female who identified as a man and pursued a relationship with a young woman, played by Chloë Sevigny. He was beaten, raped and murdered by his male acquaintances after they discover he was anatomically female.

More than 50 films are planned to be screened. People interested in watching can register for the film fest with Srishti by calling 9042 462205.

Birth anniversary of the man who knew too much

The rise of computer science can be credited solely to the little-known Alan Mathison Turing, father of artificial intelligence, cryptanalyst, wartime code breaker, and victim of prejudice. His contributions enabled the British army to break the secret code used by Nazis, but they are not just limited to computer science. They extend to biology and philosophy.

In his ground-breaking 1950 paper 'Computing Machinery and Intelligence', Alan Turing proposed to consider whether machines could think.

It was not just a curious thought, but a question with philosophical implications so deep that philosophers even 60 years later are still arguing over it.

Turing stated that the only way to address the question was to replace it with another. His approach is now famously known as the 'Turing Test'. He believed that if any machine or digitally programmed computer could deceive a human being in a online chat (so that the physical appearance of the machine and its physical mechanisms of working do not play a role) into believing that the agent on the other side of the online chat is a human, then the machine could be granted 'intelligence' equivalent to those of humans.

Can this ascribing of intelligence to machines if they can imitate us in an online chat or a chess game be considered rational? Does it sound right? Philosophers have criticized the Turing Test ever since it was proposed.

The philosopher John Searle is said to have given the strongest possible argument against the Turing Test and the idea that machines can think. He proposed a scenario in which he himself did exactly what a Chinese-speaking conversation program would do and successfully fooled native Chinese speakers into believing that he understood Chinese. He showed that in this process he did not understand a word of Chinese, and so nor would any computer program solely based on the mechanism of following rules and performing formal symbol manipulations of ones and zeroes. This argument seemed convincing at first and it has, ever since its publication, shaken the foundations of the artificial intelligence community.

But Alan Turing was discriminated against for being queer and committed suicide when he was 41. In 2009, the UK government released a public apology for the prejudice it had shown against a scientist whose name should have stood with those of Darwin, Einstein and Newton.