Doomsday debate engages local schools

Every year since 1983 Pakuranga Rotary has hosted teams from local schools for a fiercely contested debate with the Holyoake Trophy as the prize.

Sponsored by Noel Holyoake, a past District Governor of District 9920, Pakuranga Rotary member and director of Holyoake Industries, the debate involves senior students from the three colleges in the district – Edgewater College, Pakuranga College and Saint Kentigern College with teams alternating to challenge the winner from the previous year.

Since 2018 the trophy had been held by Saint Kentigern College but the holders were hotly challenged by Pakuranga College at the recent Rotary meeting at Waipuna Convention Centre.

Teams do not receive the moot for the debate until noon on the day of the contest.

The 2019 topic had echoes of Stephen Hawking’s warning to the world in his last book-If robots don’t get us, climate change will.

The moot was “That AI presents a greater threat to mankind’s future than climate change”.

The Pakuranga College team of Khusrav Bhajiwalla, Jaxon Gear, Helen Lam and Chris Matthews (Teacher i/c) which argued for the affirmative, wove a picture of a world dominated by artificial intelligence which didn’t share human values, caused massive unemployment and anarchy and which posed a more serious threat long-term to the world than the climate change issue which was solvable.

Ben Shepherd, William Feng, Ben Fraser and Chris Hodder (Teacher i/c) representing St. Kentigern College and arguing in the negative, countered that the portrayal of the risks posed by AI was overhyped and unrealistic and that extreme weather will overwhelm us before cell phones overpower us.

This year the debate was adjudicated by Jeanette Roberts, with years of experience, Desiré Truter, acting head of English and teacher-in-charge of the debating team at Edgewater College and, for the first time, local MP Simeon Brown who is a member of Pakuranga Rotary Club.

In awarding the debate (and retention of the Holyoake Trophy) to St Kents, Simeon made reference to the quality of the debate and the passion exhibited by both teams.

There was certainly nothing artificial about the intelligence on display from our local college debating teams.