News Article | January 4, 2016
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. Today, 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. Get CleanTechnica’s 1st (completely free) electric car report → “Electric Cars: What Early Adopters & First Followers Want.” Come attend CleanTechnica’s 1st “Cleantech Revolution Tour” event → in Berlin, Germany, April 9–10. Keep up to date with all the hottest cleantech news by subscribing to our (free) cleantech newsletter, or keep an eye on sector-specific news by getting our (also free) solar energy newsletter, electric vehicle newsletter, or wind energy newsletter.
The company said Wednesday it will give German customers of its online services the option of storing their data in new data centers it plans to build in Germany. The new option will be available in the second half of next year. European consumers, privacy advocates and lawmakers have cited reports based on leaks by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden to claim that data stored by U.S. companies isn't safe from U.S. government eavesdropping. Such concerns pose a threat to firms such as Microsoft, Google and Amazon, whose business model is increasingly built around data storage and so-called cloud services such as Microsoft's Office 365. Microsoft's chief executive said the company will start next year using data centers in Magdeburg and Frankfurt that are managed by T-Systems, a subsidiary of Deutsche Telekom. "These data centers will ensure that customers' data remains in Germany and that a German company controls access to data in accordance with German law," Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella said at a presentation in Berlin. In practice this would mean that U.S. authorities trying to access a German customer's data would have to work through authorities in Germany, where privacy laws are strict. "I would be hard-pressed to think that this would have been Microsoft's first choice had they not had pressure from the Europeans and especially from the Germans," said Robert Atkinson, founder and president of the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation. "They had no choice but to make this deal, with a telecom who frankly is a competitor of Microsoft." Microsoft's announcement comes a month after the European Court of Justice sunk a trans-Atlantic privacy agreement known as the "U.S.-EU Safe Harbor Framework" that had regulated the transfer of data to the United States. It's unclear whether, in the absence of a new data-sharing deal between Europe and the U.S., Microsoft's move might become the new norm for technology companies. "Microsoft is putting the bar higher with this model," said Carsten Casper, managing vice president at Gartner Europe. Among the outstanding questions is whether such an arrangement would work in other European countries and how much it might cost. "From a German standpoint, this is a good move—but the overall market is obviously bigger than just Germany," said Casper. Explore further: Microsoft allies with Salesforce.com in 'cloud' push
Guess who got a recent shout-out in Science Magazine? You guessed it—R&D! The news and information magazine for the research community was featured on the scientific website in a story on today’s innovators. The world magazine profiled researchers from George Mason University in Fairfax, Va. and the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation, a D.C.-based think tank, who conducted a study on the demographics of U.S. innovators. The researchers were said “to scour” R&D’s annual R&D 100 Awards winners list (link to 2015 list) to identify innovations in the past five years. R&D’s Editorial Director Bea Riemschneider could not be more proud. "This shines a spotlight on one of our most prestigious programs—the R&D 100 Awards—which honors significant innovations of the past year and is a key barometer of science and technology advances for more than 50 years. It’s wonderful to be recognized as a trend leader by Science Magazine,“ she said. The R&D 100 Awards, the “Oscars of Invention,” are in full swing and nominations are currently open. If your product, technology or service was created between Jan. 1, 2015 to March 31, 2016, it could be a great fit for the opportunity to be part of this prestigious community and tradition of innovation. Currently in its 54th year, R&D 100 Awards honors the latest and best innovations, as well as identifies the top technology products of the past year. Since 1963, the event has identified revolutionary technologies introduced to the market, including the ATM, LCDs, MRI machines, etc. The five categories that make up the R&D 100 Awards and are available for entry include: ANALYTICAL/TEST, IT/ELECTRICAL, MECHANICAL/MATERIALS, PROCESS/PROTOTYPING, and SOFTWARE/SERVICES. There are also Special Recognition Awards, such as GREEN TECHNOLOGY, CORPORATE SOCIAL RESPONSIBILITY and MARKET DISRUPTOR. If you’d like your product to shine and be considered, start your entry and register for this prestigious awards program.
Here’s what the FCC under Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump will have to sort out. When the Federal Communications Commission enacted landmark net neutrality rules last year, it solidified the issue as a signature one for the Obama administration. But the battle over the “open Internet” did not end then, and a number of unresolved issues will be left for the next administration. A June decision by the federal appeals court for the District of Columbia circuit rejected challenges to the new rules, which ban Internet service providers from blocking or throttling legal content and prohibit business transactions in which an Internet service provider agrees to prioritize content on its network (the dreaded Internet “fast lane”). That means opponents of net neutrality, including the Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, must hope the D.C. circuit appeals court rehears the case, or that the Supreme Court takes it on. Hillary Clinton, the Democratic nominee, has supported the Obama administration’s actions on net neutrality and would be likely to continue advocating for the new rules as debate over how to regulate ISPs continues. Below are three important questions hanging over the future of Internet regulation. Will you have to pay for privacy? The FCC took a bold and controversial step last year when it enacted its new rules, changing the classification of broadband from an “information service” to a “telecommunications service.” That allowed the agency to begin regulating ISPs under stricter laws that govern so-called common carriers—service providers that transport goods or people, like airlines, trucking companies, and telephone companies. In April, the FCC proposed new privacy rules for ISPs. They would be allowed to use certain data without consent because it is crucial to providing the service. And they could use customer data for “communications-related” marketing, but customers would be able to opt out. For everything else, customers would have to opt in, and access to the service could not be predicated on opting in. That’s unique, at least on the Internet. The FCC argues that unique privacy regulations are required because ISPs can “capture a breadth of data that an individual streaming video provider, search engine or even e-commerce site simply does not.” Comcast is urging the agency to allow ISPs to offer customers “discounts or other value” in exchange for their data, prompting backlash from groups that say such deals would discriminate against customers with lower incomes. The FCC could finalize the privacy rules before the end of this year. What’s the real reason your Netflix movie is loading so slowly? Under the new rules, the FCC has the authority for the first time to oversee the business arrangements that providers make to connect their networks to each other. Such deals first entered the public spotlight a few years ago, when many Netflix customers began experiencing poor performance. What followed was a public dispute between Comcast and Netflix, which blamed the ISP for intentionally allowing performance to degrade at points where its network connects with the networks of companies Netflix pays to transport traffic across the Internet’s “backbone.” Netflix called on the FCC to take a greater role in overseeing the business arrangements around these connection points, called interconnections. A subsequent study by Measurement Lab, a policy research consortium, revealed months-long patterns of poor broadband performance for customers of the major ISPs. The authors inferred that this was due to issues at interconnections, concluding that some didn’t have sufficient capacity. But without access to detailed proprietary information from the ISPs, we can’t be certain this was the cause of the poor performance, says Nick Feamster, director of the Center for Information Technology Policy at Princeton University. It’s too early to tell if the FCC’s new power to police these business arrangements will lead to fewer performance problems. Will this debate ever end? Because it has so many facets, the debate over what should be allowed in the “open Internet” is bound to continue for years. It’s not clear yet, for example, how regulators might address the emerging practice of “zero rating,” in which wireless providers allow customers to use certain applications without having the data from those applications count against data usage caps. Some say this kind of arrangement violates net neutrality, especially in the case of deals like AT&T’s “sponsored data” plan, which allows companies to pay to have data from their apps treated this way. Meanwhile, critics of the FCC’s new rules argue, among other things, that the blanket ban on “paid prioritization,” or business deals in which customers pay ISPs to have their traffic given precedence, could have the unintended consequence of stifling innovation. Doug Brake, a telecommunications policy analyst at the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation, argues that paid prioritization wouldn’t necessarily harm consumers and could open up new applications, like specialized video conferencing with an assured level of quality, or certain applications of virtual or augmented reality. Ultimately, opponents of the rules will keep fighting them in court. And it’s a distinct possibility that eventually the Supreme Court could take up the case.
In January, the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation in Washington DC gave its annual Luddite Award to “a loose coalition of scientists and luminaries who stirred fear and hysteria in 2015 by raising alarms that artificial intelligence (AI) could spell doom for humanity”. The winners — if that is the correct word — included pioneering inventor Elon Musk and physicist Stephen Hawking. In January last year, both signed an open letter that argued for research and regulatory and ethical frameworks to ensure that AI benefits humanity and to guarantee that “our AI systems must do what we want them to do”. Hardly “fear and hysteria”. As AI converges with progress in robotics, cloud computing and precision manufacturing, tipping points will arise at which significant technological changes are likely to occur very quickly. Crucially, advances in robot vision and hearing, combined with AI, are allowing robots to better perceive their environments. This could lead to an explosion of intelligent robot applications — including those in which robots will work closely with humans. Even academic debate on AI has tended to be polarized between sceptics and fanciful futurists. Yet there is an emerging middle-ground consensus that AI research is poised to have profound impacts on society. For those who remain sceptical that progress is imminent, bear in mind that Google, Toyota, Facebook, Microsoft and other companies are together pouring billions of dollars into AI and robotics research, which they see as the next frontier for profits. Efforts to accelerate research must be accompanied by safeguards against the potential pitfalls of these powerful technologies. Stuart Russell, a computer scientist at the University of California, Berkeley, who is well known for his deeply sceptical views on over-expectations of technological progress, is convinced that it is time to assess and mitigate potential risks. “Several technologies are reaching the level where they could be developed in potentially harmful directions,” says Russell, who was a driving force behind the open letter signed by Musk and Hawking. So, what are the risks? Machines and robots that outperform humans across the board could self-improve beyond our control — and their interests might not align with ours. This extreme scenario, which cannot be discounted, is what captures most popular attention. But it is misleading to dismiss all concerns as worried about this. There are more immediate risks, even with narrow aspects of AI that can already perform some tasks better than humans can. Few foresaw that the Internet and other technologies would open the way for mass, and often indiscriminate, surveillance by intelligence and law-enforcement agencies, threatening principles of privacy and the right to dissent. AI could make such surveillance more widespread and more powerful. Then there are cybersecurity threats to smart cities, infrastructure and industries that become overdependent on AI — and the all too clear threat that drones and other autonomous offensive weapons systems will allow machines to make lethal decisions alone. The first wave of AI is already beginning to pervade our lives inconspicuously, from speech recognition and search engines to image classification. Self-driving cars and applications in health care are within sight, and subsequent waves could transform vast sectors of the economy, science and society. These could offer substantial benefits — but to whom? Historically, automation in agriculture and industry has caused mass extinctions of jobs and led to profound societal changes — including rapid urbanization. But job losses have typically been more than compensated for by jobs created in the service and high-tech industries. Many experts worry that AI and robots are now set to replace repetitive but skilled jobs that had been thought to be beyond machines, and it’s not obvious where new jobs would come from. The spectre of permanent mass unemployment, and increased inequality that hits hardest along lines of class, race and gender, is perhaps all too real. A society dependent on AI could yield broad benefits if increased wealth resulting from gains in productivity is shared. But currently, most such benefits are concentrated in companies and the capital of their shareholders — including the infamous 1%. It is crucial that progress in technology is matched by solid, well-funded research to anticipate the scenarios it could bring about, and to study possible political and economic reforms that will allow those usurped by machinery to contribute to society. If that is a Luddite perspective, then so be it.