Elon Musk And Stephen Hawking Win 2015 Luddite Award

Chris White


An innovation group Tuesday awarded its annual Luddite Award to a group of techno-luminaries espousing anti-artificial intelligence (AI) rhetoric.

The Information Technology and Innovation Foundation (ITIF) foisted the Luddite Award honor on various groups of technologists and scientists critical of AI, but aimed the bulk of its scorn at physicist Stephen Hawking and Tesla CEO Elon Musk for past comments they made criticizing autonomous technology.

“It is deeply unfortunate that luminaries such as Elon Musk and Stephen Hawking have contributed to feverish hand-wringing about a looming artificial intelligence apocalypse,” ITIF President Robert D. Atkinson noted in a statement.

He added: “Do we think either of them personally are Luddites? No, of course not. They are pioneers of science and technology. But they and others have done a disservice to the public—and have unquestionably given aid and comfort to an increasingly pervasive neo-Luddite impulse in society today—by demonizing AI in the popular imagination.”

The term Luddite refers to a group of 19th century workers who traveled about Europe destroying cotton mills and lumber mills, claiming the new technology would destroy the world.

Musk, the mind behind moribund SolarCity, used his wealth and cache as a leading figure in technological innovations to fund a nonprofit company called Open AI which seeks to create artificial intelligence that will not eliminate humanity.

Tesla’s head honcho was one of a number of technologists and scientists to launch a $1 billion pledge last year to make robots that won’t hurt people.

”Our goal is to advance digital intelligence in the way that is most likely to benefit humanity as a whole, unconstrained by a need to generate financial return,” Open AI stated on its website.

The states of Michigan, Arizona, Texas and New Jersey were nominated for a Luddite Award by ITIF in 2014 for bolstering franchise auto dealer laws keeping Tesla’s electric vehicles from being sold directly to customers.

That was then, this is now.

The foundation now believes Musk and his anti-AI cohorts are looking to “foil technological progress.”

“Neo-Luddites no longer wield sledgehammers, but they wield something much more powerful: bad ideas. For they work to convince policymakers and the public that innovation is the cause, not the solution to some of our biggest social and economic challenges, and therefore something to be thwarted,” ITIF noted on its website last year prior to giving the award.

Hawking also signed the AI-safety pledge, which in the eyes of ITIF qualifies him as a Luddite.

“A super intelligent AI will be extremely good at accomplishing its goals, and if those goals aren’t aligned with ours, we’re in trouble,” the noted physicist warned.

Hawking added: “You’re probably not an evil ant-hater who steps on ants out of malice, but if you’re in charge of a hydroelectric green energy project and there’s an anthill in the region to be flooded, too bad for the ants. Let’s not place humanity in the position of those ants.”

Atkinson thinks Musk and Hawking are going about it the wrong way. Scientists and the technology industry should be praising, not scorning, AI as a tool to help push progress and prosperity.

“If we want to continue increasing productivity, creating jobs, and increasing wages, then we should be accelerating AI development, not raising fears about its destructive potential,” Atkinson concluded in the ITIF statement.

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