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Is Elon Musk A Luddite?

Originally published on Gas2.

Elon Musk is a Luddite, says the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation. The term “Luddite” refers to 19th century textile mill workers who feared that Jacquard looms controlled by punch cards would eliminate their jobs. Turns out, they were right.

elon-musk-shreds-hydrogen-fuel-c-500x281Today, the Foundation gives out Luddite Awards to people and organizations it thinks are standing in the way of technological progress. Last year, the states of Michigan, Arizona, Texas and New Jersey were nominated for a Luddite Award after their legislatures strengthened franchise dealer laws designed to prevent Tesla from selling its cars direct to consumers.

How odd, then, that Elon Musk, the CEO of Tesla, prime mover behind rooftop solar company SolarCity, inventor of the HyperLoop, head of SpaceX, and prospective colonizer of Mars should find himself on the short list of candidates for the 2015 Luddite Of The Year Award. What could Saint Elon possibly have done to incur the wrath of the Foundation?

It turns out he had the temerity, along with dozens of other prominent people including Dr. Stephen Hawking, to sign a letter warning of the potential dangers of artificial intelligence. They have pledged $1 billion to prevent the spread of “evil robots.” The ITIF calls the signers “alarmists” who “tout an artificial intelligence apocalypse.”

That’s pretty strange, since Tesla automobiles are currently engaged in one of the largest AI experiments in human history? Ever since Tesla rolled out its Autopilot suite of autonomous driving software, every Autopilot enabled Tesla in the world has been sharing its daily driving experiences with every other car via the internet. What one knows, they all know.

As reported by The Independent, the ITIF says, “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.” Gee, just because someone thinks artificial intelligence could run off the rails, that makes them a “neo-Luddite”? Have these people never watched 2001: A Space Odyssey?

“Indeed, the neo-Luddites have wide-ranging targets, including everything from genetically modified organisms to new Internet apps, artificial intelligence, and even productivity itself. In short, they seek a world that is largely free of risk, innovation, or uncontrolled change.” Yup, genetically modified human beings. What could possibly go wrong with that, huh?

Voting is open to the public and may be done online at the ITIF website. Results are expected to be announced a few weeks from now.

Reprinted with permission.

 
 
 
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Steve writes about the interface between technology and sustainability from his home in Florida or anywhere else The Force may lead him. 3000 years ago, Socrates said, "The secret to change is to focus all of your energy not on fighting the old but on building the new." Perhaps it's time we heed his advice.

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