AI ‘alarmists’ nominated for 2015 ‘Luddite Award’

December 21, 2015

An 1844 engraving showing a post-1820s Jacquard loom (credit: public domain/Penny Magazine)

The Information Technology and Innovation Foundation (ITIF) today (Dec. 21) announced 10 nominees for its 2015 Luddite Award. The annual “honor” recognizes the year’s most egregious example of a government, organization, or individual stymieing the progress of technological innovation.

ITIF also opened an online poll and invited the public to help decide the “winner.” The result will be announced in late January.

The nominees include (in no specific order):

1. Alarmists, including respected luminaries such as Elon Musk, Stephen Hawking, and Bill Gates, touting an artificial- intelligence apocalypse.

2. Advocates, including Hawking and Noam Chomsky, seeking a ban on “killer robots.”

3. Vermont and other states limiting automatic license plate readers.

4. Europe, China, and others choosing taxi drivers over car-sharing passengers.

5. The U.S. paper industry opposing e-labeling.

6. California’s governor vetoing RFID tags in driver’s licenses.

7. Wyoming effectively outlawing citizen science.

8. The Federal Communications Commission limiting broadband innovation.

9. The Center for Food Safety fighting genetically improved food.

10. Ohio and other states banning red light cameras.

‘Paranoia about evil machines’

(credit: Paramount Pictures)

“Just as Ned Ludd wanted to smash mechanized looms and halt industrial progress in the 19th century, today’s neo-Luddites want to foil technological innovation to the detriment of the rest of society,” said Robert D. Atkinson, ITIF’s founder and president.

“If we want a world in which innovation thrives, then everyone’s New Year’s resolution should be to replace neo-Luddism with an attitude of risk-taking and faith in the future.”

Atkinson notes that “paranoia about evil machines has swirled around in popular culture for more than 200 years, and these claims continue to grip the popular imagination, in no small part because these apocalyptic ideas are widely represented in books, movies, and music.

“The last year alone saw blockbuster films with a parade of digital villains, such as Avengers: Age of Ultron, Ex Machina, and Terminator: Genisys.”

He also cites statements in Oxford professor Nick Bostrom’s book Superintelligence: Paths, Dangers, Strategies, “reflecting the general fear that ‘superintelligence’ in machines could outperform ‘the best human minds in every field, including scientific creativity, general wisdom and social skills.’ Bostrom argues that artificial intelligence will advance to a point where its goals are no longer compatible with that of humans and, as a result, superintelligent machines will seek to enslave or exterminate us.”

“Raising such sci-fi doomsday scenarios just makes it harder for the public, policymakers,  and scientists to support more funding for AI research, Atkinson concludes. “Indeed, continuing the negative campaign against artificial intelligence could potentially dry up funding for AI research, other than money for how to control, rather than enable AI. What legislator wants to be known as ‘the godfather of the technology that destroyed the human race’?”

Not mentioned in the ITIF statement is the recently announced non-profit “OpenAI” research company founded by Elon Musk and associates, committing $1 billion toward their goal to advance digital intelligence in the way that is most likely to benefit humanity as a whole.”

The 2014 Luddite Award winners

The winners last year: the states of Arizona, Michigan, New Jersey, and Texas, for taking action to prevent Tesla from opening stores in their states to sell cars directly to consumers. Other nominees included:

  • National Rifle Association (NRA) for its opposition to smart guns
  • “Stop Smart Meters” Seeks To Stop Smart Innovation in Meters and Cars
  • Free Press Lobbies for Rules to Stop Innovation in Broadband Networks
  • The Media and Pundits Claiming That “Robots” Are Killing Jobs.