Tourism benefits the world

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INTRODUCTION

Tourism has traditionally been seen as a way of showing appreciation for different places, peoples and cultures, but mounting fears about the impact of mass tourism have led many to question whether tourists are actually ruining the places they love. A debate about the effects of tourism on tourist destinations has been going on for some time [Ref: Telegraph], leading to the rise of related ideas like ethical tourism [Ref: Tourism Concern] or eco-tourism [Ref: International Ecotourism Society].

Most recently, there has been a renewed focus on the impact that tourism has on major or historic cities. Scottish authors Ian Rankin [Ref: Times] and Val McDermid [Ref: Edinburgh News] have clashed on whether tourism is ‘killing’ Edinburgh. Barcelona is widely considered to have been ‘ruined’ by tourism [Ref: The Guardian], and Venice has considered taking radical steps including banning sitting down in key areas to alleviate the supposed problems of overtourism [Ref: Telegraph]. Moreover, the short-stay rental service Airbnb – used by many tourists – has been accused of driving up rents for locals, turning residential areas into unofficial hotels [Ref: BBC] and even robbing cities of their individuality [Ref: The Verge].

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Humanity should fear advances in artificial intelligence

updated 2024

INTRODUCTION

The increasing ability of machines in recent years to replicate or even supersede human abilities in complex tasks has been impressive. Already, artificial intelligence (AI) techniques have been used to allow machines to beat the best players in the world at both chess [Ref: Time] and the Chinese board game Go [Ref: Guardian]. IBM’s Watson has beaten the best human players on the long-running US quiz show, Jeopardy! [Ref: Techrepublic]. AI has long been built into consumer goods such as Google search, Alexa and Siri, and is being rolled out in the NHS [Ref: Gov.uk]. Things really took off in September 2022, however, with the release of OpenAI’s ChatGPT. Its ability to produce convincingly human-sounding text in response to prompts written in everyday language was a sensation, reaching one million users within five days [Ref: Exploding Topics]. Since then, AI applications have hit the mainstream, available and easy-to-use for anyone with an internet connection; alongside text-generation products like ChatGPT, AI-powered tools for generating images, audio, video, code and more have proliferated.

But the implications for society are only just becoming apparent. In January 2024, the managing director of the International Monetary Fund claimed 40 per cent of jobs worldwide will be affected by AI. She warned that it will likely worsen global inequality, but could also enhance some humans’ performance and create new jobs [Ref: Guardian]. Jobs lost could range from call-centre staff being replaced by chatbots to highly-educated law and finance professionals; these industries are now projected to be among the most affected by AI [Ref: Guardian]. Facial recognition systems, combined with ubiquitous CCTV, could erode our privacy. AI-powered autonomous weapons, or bioweapons developed using AI technology, could herald new and deadlier forms of warfare. The world-famous physicist, Stephen Hawking, even claimed that ‘AI may replace humans altogether’ as a ‘new form of life’ that can rapidly learn and improve, making people obsolete [Ref: Independent]. However, AI is also projected to boost the UK’s GDP by up to 10 per cent by 2030 [Ref: PwC] and has the potential to revolutionise fields as diverse as medicine, education and sustainability. So, should we welcome AI’s potential, or are the risks too great?

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Populism is a threat to democracy

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INTRODUCTION

Populism is the political buzzword of the day – with commentators, political theorists and politicians all debating its meaning and the merits of its apparent rise in recent years. From the election of Donald Trump in America [Ref: Guardian], and the rise of Marine Le Pen in France [Ref: Guardian], to left wing anti-austerity parties Syriza in Greece [Ref: New Statesman], and Podemos in Spain [Ref: BBC News], it seems that populist politics has carved a niche for itself in the political landscape. However, some fear that the rise of right wing populism in particular, is dangerous for democracy and liberal values, going so far as to suggest that it has echoes of the emergence of fascism in the 1930’s and 1940’s [Ref: Guardian].

But is it as clear cut as that – should we view populism with optimism or fear? For advocates, populism whether left or right wing, is democracy and popular sovereignty in action, and embodies the will of the people, potentially acting as a catalyst for profound and lasting political change, by disrupting consensus and re-invigorating debate. It signifies the re-engagement of the populace with politics and political ideas, and ultimately represents the, “public desire for democracy” [Ref: Spiked].

However, critics see populism in less favourable terms, with many suggesting that populist movements are empty vessels for which to carry all the vitriol that the public may have on a range of issues. One commentator concludes that populism is essentially “the belief that there are easy solutions to hard problems – [the] belief that one can escape reality.” [Ref: Atlantic] So amid the competing arguments, is populism something we should welcome as capturing the undiluted will of the people, the very essence of democracy? Or should we be wary of it as a divisive and dangerous phenomenon, attempting to distil complex societal problems into simplistic slogans with little practical application? Is populism good for politics?

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We should build on the Green Belt

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INTRODUCTION

For several years, there has been an ongoing debate about the merits of the green belt [Ref: Wikipedia] in the UK, with supporters and critics clashing over its relevance and necessity in the 21st century. The issue has come to a head more recently however, with the government publishing its new housing White Paper in February [Ref: Gov.UK], with estimates suggesting that there have only been an average of 160,000 homes built per year in the UK since the 1970’s – compared to the more than 275,000 required to keep up with population growth and under supply [Ref: Gov.UK]. This has led to talk of a housing crisis, with the number of houses available, and the affordability of homes in the UK hitting the headlines [Ref: Telegraph], leading many to argue that the solution is to build on the green belt [Ref: spiked].

For supporters, building on the green belt would allow for new towns to be built [Ref: Guardian], and encourage more radical thinking on how our existing cities are constituted, permitting them to expand and become better places to live. Moreover, they argue that building on the green belt is the most sensible way to alleviate the housing crisis, because: “For too long governments have viewed the green belt as sacrosanct, but with such limited housing supply, action on the green belt is vital.” [Ref: Huffington Post]

Critics though, claim that the green belt is an important planning mechanism that prevents urban sprawl [Ref: Encyclopaedia Brittanica], and preserves the countryside, with Conservative MP Andrew Mitchell warning that: “The green belt was bequeathed to us by past generations, and we should take extraordinary care before allowing it to disappear under bricks and mortar. Once built on, it can never be restored.” [Ref: Daily Mail] They are adamant that building on the green belt is not the answer, with other suggestions mooted, such as building on previously used brown field land [Ref: Collins Dictionary], and increasing the housing density in towns and cities [Ref: Evening Standard]. Considering the competing arguments, should we build on the green belt, or would this irreversibly damage the countryside and do little to solve the housebuilding shortfall?

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Social media sites should filter out fake news

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INTRODUCTION

In November, Donald Trump stunned the world when he defeated Democratic rival Hilary Clinton to win the 45th presidency of the USA. In the aftermath of the result, attempting to explain what seemed like such an upset, BuzzFeed News released a report claiming that fake or hoax news stories with headlines such as “The pope loves Trump” outperformed legitimate stories in the final months of campaigning [Ref: BuzzFeed]. Thus, some commentators have claimed that untrue stories had persuaded undecided voters to vote for Trump [Ref: Independent], and highlight a broader problem facing Western Democracy after the Brexit vote, that we have entered an era of “Post-truth” politics [Ref: New Statesman].

Many see the proliferation of social media sites in the past ten years as a key component of the problem; because of instant ‘likes’ and ‘shares’, once a story is discovered to be fake or untrue, the damage is often already done. As a result, these critics argue that social media sites need to make a more concerted effort to police content and filter out stories that are untrue for the democratic good [Ref: Guardian].

However, others claim that the panic over fake news is just a ploy to shut down free speech, with one commentator arguing that applying pressure to companies like Facebook to take down certain types of news, is the first step on the slippery slope toward regulating online debate [Ref: Telegraph]. In some quarters, the fake news panic is seen as more evidence of the mainstream media failing to do its job of objectively searching for truth, and claim that the electorate are smart enough to decide for themselves what to believe, without news being filtered out online [Ref: spiked]. Does fake news online pose any serious threat to the nature of our discourse, or should we trust people to figure out what is and isn’t true? Should social media sites filter out fake news stories?

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Autonomous vehicles will make driving safer

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INTRODUCTION

In 2015 the UK’s first self-driving pod – the LUTZ Pathfinder – was made public by the government-funded Transport Systems Catapult [Ref: Transport Systems Catapult]. This follows in the wake of the launch in 2010 of technology giant Google’s Self-Driving Car project to “make driving safer, more enjoyable and more efficient.” [Ref: Google] Google asked us to imagine a point where: “Deaths from traffic accidents—over 1.2 million worldwide every year—could be reduced dramatically, especially since 94% of accidents in the U.S. involve human error” [Ref: Google], and Transport Systems Catapult additionally suggest that we could see, “a marked reduction in congestion as well as…benefits to the environment” from autonomous vehicles [Ref: Transport Systems Catapult]. The idea of ‘autonomous vehicles’ isn’t a new one [Ref: Computer History Museum], but the advent of these projects has caused both excitement and concern.

Supporters of the new technology argue that: “The strongest case for self-driving cars is safety” [Ref: Guardian], whilst others are concerned that self-driving cars, “introduce a whole new category of road user…that entirely lacks an understanding that all those road users share” [Ref: Slate], and question how this new automated technology will integrate into a human-controlled and human-centred environment. Autonomous cars have hit the headlines recently following crashes [Ref: WiredABC News] in the USA [Ref: ABC News] and the first fatality brought about as a result of this new technology [Ref: Guardian ] has brought into focus the possible limitations of the technology, with some arguing that talk of automation and ‘autopilots’ “encourage people to think that the systems are more capable than they really are, and that is a serious problem.” [Ref: Scientific American] So is the future of driving a safer, autonomous one, or is that still a futuristic dream? What are the pros and cons of this new technology?

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Monuments to historical figures should remain

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INTRODUCTION

On 9 April 2015, the University of Cape Town removed a statue commemorating the 19th century British imperialist Cecil Rhodes [Ref: BBC News]. This was the culmination of a month long campaign by both students and academics as part of the ‘Rhodes Must Fall’ movement, which argued that Rhodes was more than just a symbol of past oppression – that he represented an institutional racism which continues to exist within the university today [Ref: BBC News].

Since then, the debate surrounding the legitimacy of certain historical monuments has gathered pace, with the American city of New Orleans recently voting to remove statues of prominent Confederate figures of the American Civil War, such as Robert E. Lee and Jefferson Davis in an attempt to confront the South’s racist past [Ref: CNN]. At Oxford University, a campaign began for the removal of a statue of Rhodes at Oriel College, with supporters observing that any steps to address the lack of black and minority students and lecturers at the institution were undermined by the monument [Ref: Guardian].

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