Gates, Musk, Hawking Called ‘Innovation Killers’ For AI Comments

A US think tank has branded Bill Gates, Elon Musk and Stephen Hawking “innovation killers” for their comments this year urging caution in the development of artificially intelligent machines.

The Washington-based Information Technology and Innovation Foundation (ITIF) called the three “alarmist” for their comments on artificial intelligence, which it said threaten to dampen the spirit of technological innovation – something that in the ITIF’s view is “the wellspring of human progress”.

‘Doomsday scenarios’

The ITIF backs policies that create an environment favourable to the development of new technologies, notably opposing policies that place limits on companies’ activities.

Gates is the co-founder of Microsoft, while Musk is chief executive of electric car maker Tesla and SpaceX, and Hawking is one of the world’s most prominent theoretical physicists.

The recent films Ex Machina, Terminator: Genisys and Avengers: Age of Ultron are similarly guilty of endangering humanity’s vital spirit, the ITIF argued.

“Raising such sci-fi doomsday scenarios just makes it harder for the public, policymakers, and scientists to support more funding for AI research,” ITIF stated, adding that “artificial intelligence and machine learning promise enormous benefits to society.”

The think tank cited the use of artificial intelligence in formulating search-engine results and fine-tuning medical diagnoses.

The ITIF also criticised those who seek to ban artificially intelligent autonomous weapons, the FCC’s approval of “net neutrality” measures – which the ITIF views as placing illigitimate limits upon broadband network operators – and those seeking to limit the spread of genetically modified foods.

‘Biggest existential threat’

“A growing array of interests now stand in stubborn opposition to innovation,” the ITIF said.

Professor Hawking told the BBC in December 2014 that a thinking machine could “redesign itself at an ever-increasing rate” and “supersede” humans, while Musk, speaking during an interview at the AeroAstro Centennial Symposium at MIT this year, called AI “our biggest existential threat”.

Gates, in an interview with the BBC, said he was “concerned” about AI and agreed with Musk’s view.

The ITIF made the comments in nominations for its “Luddite of the Year” award, which is to be decided by an online vote.

Luddites were weavers who in the early 19th century organised to destroy the stocking frames, spinning frames and power looms that threatened their livelihood.

Weavers and other craftsmen were at that time largely independent, but foresaw that the machines then being introduced would to concentrate economic power in the hands of wealthy mill owners, reducing their own status to that of mere employees whose means of support would be controlled by their masters.

The machine-breakers left messages attributing their acts of destruction to a Robin Hood-like symbolic figure they called “Ned Ludd”, “King Ludd” or “Captain Ludd”, using this pseudonym much in the same way that the hacker collective Anonymous and other activists currently use the Guy Fawkes mask. The Luddites sparked a region-wide movement in the North-West of England that was ultimately suppressed by military force.

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Matthew Broersma

Matt Broersma is a long standing tech freelance, who has worked for Ziff-Davis, ZDnet and other leading publications

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