Elon Musk has grandiose plans to establish human settlements on Mars, has helped rocket ships land vertically on Earth after reaching space, and runs the biggest, most sophisticated electric car company on the planet. These are facts. Here’s an opinion: Musk also opposes technological innovation.
That last came courtesy of the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation, a think tank in Washington DC. The group singled out Musk and noted retrograde thinker, um, Stephen Hawking as one of 10 nominees for its 2015 Luddite Award. They headline the “alarmists” category for signing a letter in July, along with 1,000 other Artificial Intelligence researchers, that sought to ban “killer robots.” More accurately, that letter was a political tactic to lobby the UN against the use of autonomous weapons in war. To that end, Musk and other tech luminaries in December started Open AI, ostensibly to keep artificial intelligence from being used to harm people.
Luddites were 19th-century textile workers who smashed machines that during the unchecked advance of industrialization had helped to all but enslave them. Their tactics — to protest the lack of labor regulations by breaking the means of production — came to be synonymous, perhaps unfairly, with a fear of or distaste for technology.
Under no plausible definition can Musk — a capitalist, a technologist, an industrialist — be considered a Luddite.
The ITIF, on the other hand, is doing a fine job of trolling the science press. The Luddite award goes to any policymaker, corporate entity, or individual with enough gall to stymie humanity’s forward march toward the future, or in the ITIF’s words, mercilessly “smash the engines of innovation” through “misunderstood self-interest or misbegotten ideology.” Naturally, now you’ll associate the Tesla Model S, and its absolutely smashing engine, with Musk and his alleged future-hating.