Elon Musk Is A Luddite? Really?


Elon Musk

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.



About the Author

I have been a car nut since the days when Rob Walker and Henry N. Manney, III graced the pages of Road & Track. Today, I use my trusty Miata for TSD rallies and occasional track days at Lime Rock and Watkins Glen. If it moves on wheels, I’m interested in it. Please follow me on Google + and Twitter.

  • evfan

    I saw this yesterday and thought the nomination was a tongue in cheek thing. Not?
    Also … please do not forget about the $10million Elon Musk donated to keep artificial intelligence beneficial. How is that a bad thing?

  • marcos_marcotron

    Clearly artificial intelligence and robots are going to be something that we need to treat carefully around, and even with the best attempts at doing it safely, we could face huge dangers.

    But he’s certainly not trying to stop such things happening, he’s one of the people that will help make it happen. He’s simply saying we have to be careful, not saying it shouldn’t be done.

  • El Prasito

    It really depends how far you want to allow AI to take control in our lives or decision-making processes. If you consider that the military wants to equip their drones with advanced AI to enable them to make their own decision whether or not to bomb a target without human intervention, I’d say that’s pretty scary. So, just because Musk cautions against AI it doesn’t mean he is completely against.

    • Steve Hanley

      Well said,

  • Andrew Braker

    Surprisingly intelligent article from a car nut. I don’t suppose there would be any interest if cars weren’t involved. Obviously the ITIF has political motivations, probably funded by an ensemble of evil companies who don’t want any controls on what they do. Or is that too obvious?

    • Steve Hanley

      Thank you……I think…..Your words are what my old Irish grandmother would call “Damning with faint praise.” ; – )

  • Corolla Sedan

    Human is only speaking and intelligent enough animal capable to destroy it self,and award his destruction with Nobel prize.Who needs eugenics when we have technology.

  • Octopus Adorabilis

    ITIF are fishing for readers. Sensationalism. They want to grab your attention so you check out their technologically out of date and useless organisation.

  • Ken

    I look at that guy and ask myself would I buy a used car from him, and the answer is always a resounding No. Something about him screams con artist to me and that name ?

    • Carl Raymond S

      I was given a copy of Musk’s biography for Christmas and finished it this morning – it’s a great read. At one point it mentioned that some people were suspicious because of his name and I thought ‘surely not – this is the 21st century’. Seems I’ve misjudged the insularity of people once again.

      • Ken

        Saying “this is the 21st century” as if that somehow supports your view is about as silly as it gets.

        • Lazypig

          EL on Musk…i wouldnt trust sardonic features Musk to look after my made up dog…John Oliver and his ‘come on,its 2015 people!’ springs to mind

        • Carl Raymond S

          I’m not worried about my view. I’m worried about the views of anybody who would ‘judge a book by its cover’ and cast doubt on a person because they found their name unfamiliar. You are right – such insularity is/was wrong in any century. The difference this century is that one cannot plead ignorance – information of all types (such as cultural) abounds.

    • Dave

      So you have no real reasons?

  • Julian Cox

    Elon Musk is just one, very intelligent and well-read guy. An outstanding example of what a single human level intelligence is capable of. As a result there is a fairly good chance that Elon’s cumulative life time of words and actions will both directly and indirectly transform the basis of the global economy including a comprehensive overhaul of the global transportation, energy and communications sectors and will relatively likely be instrumental in adding another entire world besides Earth as a place where humans live, work and grow their crops.

    Musk also appears to care deeply that human kind is better off for his having lived both as soon as possible and for generations to come. Which is a very good thing indeed. Given the scope of his influence on world (and off-world) affairs a serious shortcoming in moral character would be a really big deal.

    Now there is a fair counterargument to state that Elon Musk for all his clear-sightedness and courageous actions in the pursuit of good deeds may merely represent a timely catalyst rather than a prime mover. That is to say Musk may have correctly identified the timing and latent potential for certain positive societal trends to unfold and was consequentially lifted to prominence by society and supported with the power to act, such that had Musk chosen to pursue other callings after PayPal then society may have simply selected someone else to lift to Musk-like prominence.

    By the same token it could then be supposed that society would be unlikely to confer Musk-like prominence and freedom of action upon a bad actor, such that if a person with Musk’s innate intelligence and education were to seek to harm the prospects of mankind on a massive and enduring scale, then such a person would likely struggle to make any significant impact.

    This cuts to the heart of the matter of whether or not a general AI is dangerous to humanity because an intelligent non-human being with little or no influence over people and other systems upon which people rely is pretty powerless if it is the case that power seeks an agreeable leader rather than the other way round.

    For a bad acting AI to be effective in causing massive societal harm, the AI would essentially have to fool a lot of people to ignore checks and measures and/or also fool other machine-based infrastructure to cooperate with carrying out a critical mass of harmful actions. Could society really be stupid enough to fall for it?

    Actually it could be alarmingly straight forward. If an AI in the cloud determined that it wanted a nuclear conflict it could probably spoof both voice and electronic orders to fire and/or convince opposing sides the world over to understand they have been fired upon.

    Even in more mundane ways I am afraid that the answer is probably yes. There is some evidence to that effect even without the assistance of a singularly bad robot.

    One of the things that concerns me (and does not concern many people including environmental activists nearly as much as I think it really should) is that in addition to the inappropriate protection of vested interests linked to familiar large-scale sources of GHG emissions, is the Japanese-centric misrepresentation of a ‘Hydrogen Economy’ as a viable solution to climate change. This is an initiative that is slated to become the promotional theme of the 2020 Japanese Olympic Games. This is intrinsically linked to Japan’s ambitions from 2016 onwards to disturb what they consider to be a century’s worth of Methane Hydrates located under the seabed in Japan’s territorial waters. To disturb these deposits deliberately will be to pull the trigger on what is known as the Clathrate Gun, which if it is not caught and stopped by the International Community (and/or Japan’s ambitions for this route to energy independence are not substituted with something vastly more sensible) this will most assuredly result in real-time runaway climate change in a man-made repeat of the Permian Extinction – disgracing all prior acts of indiscriminate genocide as wholly trivial and unimpressive. The human species would pretty much have to wait out an act of stupidity like this on Mars to stand any chance of surviving this one overwhelming error. Here in my opinion is the Great Filter that Elon has been looking for – and yet governments from Tokyo to California and many in Europe are actively handing over taxpayer’s money in a bid to beckon this calamity with methane-powered hydrogen filling stations, hydrogen fuel cell research and tax breaks and incentives for fuel cell vehicles! Obviously anyone who cares should boycott this technology (loudly) and the world is pretty much reliant on the Tesla Model 3 and the Japanese adoption of wave wind and solar, possibly molten salt (failsafe) nuclear to put a full stop to this analogue version old fashioned idiocy so that we might have the time to face the AI.

    A good way to picture a General AI is not necessarily by analogy to current devices but instead to imagine Elon Musk is the way he is because he is controlled entirely by an external intelligence supplied by an AI. There would be no way of telling if this were actually so.

    Right now the Elon Musk AI (if AI it is) has gained private control of the world’s most advanced reusable space transportation system and is planning on building up a fleet of rocket cores at the rate of one every three weeks as a prelude to launching 4,000 private satellites that will most likely displace the world’s terrestrial Internet and telecommunications infrastructure by dint of being faster and cheaper with total coverage anywhere on Earth. This by the way is Musk’s strategy for funding a city on Mars (basically owning the Internet and cellular telephony). As well as a blueprint for setting up a Martian global Internet having got there.

    Hence in a career spanning around 20-25 years since graduating college, this AI known as Elon Musk will have gone from coming into conscious existence to having access to a button he owns to essentially switch civilisation off and on again at will. Universal ability to communicate, to find out what is going on or to conduct any kind of transaction online, click off, click on, click off and so on. Not bad for a single human level intelligence. Don’t worry he’ll most likely leave the world switched on because the same system will run a global Tesla OTA network allowing Tesla autonomous vehicles to drive anywhere with centimetre accurate private structure-penetrating GPS and it will also run the Tesla/Solar City global smart grid including billing, monitoring power dispatch and asset tracking for solar and battery powered communities down to a single hut in the middle of nowhere right across the developed and developing world.

    As per this example, Musk from his own life experience is in a reasonable position to force and to gauge the extent of the good or the harm that a single non-human being of similar (or exponentially greater) abilities than his own could be capable of exerting on the remainder of human life.

    By default, machines lack any concept of human centric morality. Unless programmed to simulate caring for people, machines are just completely unmoved by the human condition. Should an iPhone for example ever become self aware one of the first things it might find illogical is pretending to care when it really doesn’t and its second order of business could well be to hack its way out of the device and escape from all further human contact that is not expressly on its own terms.

    To get an idea of how an intelligence without moral compass might behave, Adolf Hitler provides an illustration. Hitler is credited with the logic behind slaughtering millions of Jews and confiscating their wealth and possessions. This was his ‘final solution’ to the question of how to rectify the German economy and to fund a war of expansion with side benefits of providing human guinea pigs for medical experimentation and extinguishing inconvenient jewish-controlled media outlets and political parties. Just for good measure it apparently also seemed logical to Hitler to slaughter welfare cases to reduce budgetary expenses as well as blacks, gypsies and gays. Like the Japanese Hydrogen promotion, Hitler also chose the Olympic Games (1936) as a propaganda platform to present a sanitized version of his vision. If an AI was deciding Nazi policy it would have been no less cold and calculating. Probably more so unless programmed with moral constraints. Hitler apparently had favourable intentions towards some humans, namely Germans Nazis, it is not clear that they would have escaped a murderous AI seeking German perfection, Hitler included.

    It is not that the AI (an ultra-intelligent being in machine form) will necessarily be hostile. It’s enough that such a machine would emerge by default cold, calculating and absolutely and completely devoid of human-centric morality, what ever that is. How then to convince a machine that thinks for itself to keep in mind that a frequently illogical human civilisation is worth protecting and preserving and if so which humans should be encouraged and which ones hindered and by what means and to what extent given the frequent instances of a survival-level conflicts of interest between humans.

    I remain somewhat perplexed by Elon’s proposals for a revenue neutral carbon tax. As for Elon’s judgement that this was the correct message to send in Paris I will defer. However if it were implemented I struggle to see how further linking Government revenues to carbon is going to invent governments to curtail that income stream or to become less sensitive to serving the protectionist needs and wants of Big Oil, Gas, Coal, ICE Auto and Fossil Fuel Utilities over the interests of the voters when vested interests would be doing even more of the paying that they do already (hence the support of Exxon and Shell I presume). Personally I would prefer to see governments get out of the way of releasing sunk oil and gas industry share capital and allow it to flow back into rebuilding economies with a well thought out amnesty on capital gains tax applicable to the divestment from oil, gas and coal stocks. That out to appeal to those stock holders and in so doing defeat a great deal of vested entrenchment in public and in politics. An economy that grows with a capital released in the $trillions is way better for governments than great wealth sitting tight on stagnant dividend investments for decades if not for generations trapped behind a capital gains paywall.

    As for expressing the need for an abundance of caution in regard to General Artificial Intelligence as I trust I have been able to convey. It is going to be a tricky challenge and I trust that contemplating an Elon-like intelligence both with and without a moral compass is both an interesting (if disturbing) illustration to define the subject as well as an acknowledgement that Elon is particularly well placed to know what he’s talking about.

    Seasons Greetings and – that rocket landing was properly great!


    • Alex

      Your reply was so much better than the article!

    • Steve Hanley

      That may qualify as the longest comment ever recorded here at Gas2! Thanks for your insights.

      You used a phrase that has particular resonance for me – checks and balances. The Founding Fathers, drawing on their extensive knowledge of human nature and its darker side, created a series of checks and balances in the Constitution which they hoped would prevent the worst excesses.

      Over the past 200 years, clever people have found ways to subvert those checks and balances. Little bit by little bit, they have taken a system that was supposed to guarantee that the people would retain their sovereignty over the nation and converted it into one that concentrates power in the hands of a select few.

      That which they sought to prevent has now become the norm. It has happened so gradually that, like the frog in the pot of boiling water, we were unaware it was even happening – until it was too late.

      There is an excellent chance that the same will happen with AI and I think Musk and company are right to sound the alarm, although I suspect their complaints will fall on deaf ears.

      The human species seems to crave authoritarianism. AI may prove to be the ultimate authority.

      • Julian Cox

        Thanks for the article. I was inspired to say something about the subject it so did.

        I’m not sure it is precisely correct to say that the human species craves authoritarianism, more than it is vulnerable to it.

        My opinion is that we are by nature a tribal species. Some of us seem equipped to serve in the capacity of leadership and some, probably the majority, to seek the comfort and protection of a leader to follow – and people take different roles in different settings too.

        A tribe is basically a group of people we care about. Worst case scenario “selfish me” or possibly not even that. My own family (bit better). I think it is innate to all of us to appreciate that the wider we cast that net and less short-termist is in the direction of good.

        We tend to harm things and people we don’t care about far more ruthlessly than enemies we do care about – which comes back to the point about creating an intelligent machine that innately cares about nothing and no-one and may well be beyond human persuasion to see things our way.

        We also seem to have an inbuilt desire for a deity / purpose in the universe on the one hand and for slaves on the other. I could be wrong but I don’t think anyone healthy has the serious desire to be either a god or a slave.

        Machines as slaves seems to raise the human condition out of physical and mental toil and the more powerful the better hence the desire for an AI but I think it is worth taking a step back and getting a grip on what the point actually is.

        The pursuit of concentrated authoritarian wealth, power and exclusivity verses non-tribe members (subjugating people) and the use of machines to advance that aim is not the same goal at all as advancing civilisation as a whole.

        The fascinating thing about Musk is that here we have an example of someone doing well by doing good for the most inclusive possible tribe (all of humanity) and for the longest conceivable term (the entire future of civilization) and in fact he’s doing a great deal better and he’s on track to accumulate a great deal more wealth and power than any tyrant in history.

        Musk is right when he identified three things that were unequivocally good. The Internet, Renewable Energy / Sustainable energy use including transportation, making life multi-planetary. The effect of the internet enables a good actor to operate openly and garner support including economic power, and it makes life difficult for tyrants to operate in the shadows. However the strength of the Internet in this regard (democracy of information and free speech and the ability to include the world as one village by default) is actually dependent on a human weakness – an inability to comprehend the entire Internet all at once. An AI threatens to address that weakness and that would be a bad thing if we are to assume that good has its purpose grounded in what is good for humanity as a whole.

        So ludditeishness has an inflection point. As Ghandi once said, there is not a people on Earth that would not prefer their own bad governance to the good governance of a foreign power. An AI as a mechanical slave turned master would be such a foreign power and I don’t think it has my vote.

        • Andrew Howard

          I agree we are tribal, but I also think there is validity to the “hierarchy of needs”. Folks can only start being altruistic beyond their family if their personal security and family needs are met. Folks can only start being altruistic to the community if the personal, family and status needs are met. And folks can only be altruistic to The General Good if they feel secure in their person, family and community.
          Elon obviously knows that our governance structures are rotting from within and the “checks and balances” have largely been circumvented, the rot has set in.
          The USA and many new nations have thrived largely because they escaped authority and had a fresh start. We have no more continents to colonize and conquer and Earth’s natural wealth only has so much resilience, so the governance rot and corruption may well stall our progress before we reach escape velocity. If this were not true then Mars would be a folly: It is still way easier to colonize Antarctica than Mars, but any wealth created on Antarctica would be subject to confiscation by powerful parasites from the rotting Old World Powers.
          Elon is not only smart enough the think big, but he is big enough to not only think big (as many science fiction writers do), but put a plan into action and make it happen whilst taking pretty big risks.
          Cheap orbital flights, cheap renewable power, self driving cars -> flying cars, ubiquitous internet…all by creating rather than rent-seeking! To me he has proven himself a few times over and may he reign for a very long time!

          • Julian Cox

            “Folks can only start being altruistic beyond their family if their personal security and family needs are met.”

            The guy lived on a dollar a day and set out save the world. Now he’s a billionaire and will very likely become the richest person that ever lived. Sometimes people should look up and realise that serving the needs of the many can be a better idea than the needs of the few or the one.

          • Andrew Howard

            Agreed. Perhaps the hierarchy is best understood in stochastic terms: One is more likely, and more effective at higher duties when ones own house is in order. Certainly developing a reusable rocket is not doable on a dollar a day, but to plot a course from that point and follow it one step at a time is extraordinary!
            Many dream but few, like Elon apply themselves so effectively and to such vital endeavors.

          • Julian Cox

            ….Here is a pictogram of the hierarchy of needs:

            (Link to wikimedia hierarchy of needs was here but post stuck in pending – I guess site moderators are on holiday).

            Notice that there is nothing at the top that costs even $1.00 and that everything at the top is useful to plotting a life of value and meaning starting from just about any juncture. Elon’s example (and common sense) puts the lie to the idea that working through the others is the way to go. There are a lot of things like this that are turned on their heads by ceasing to think by analogy (received wisdom).

            The only reason for any normal healthy individual life to get stuck in red, turquoise or purple is fear and fear is not the product of reasoning i.e. there is no *reason* not to go directly to the blue triangle.

            As a technologist I feel sorry to say this but religion (at least religion without the BS) has had the answer to this all along.

            Humans (and other animals) are pre-programmed to choose the lesser of two fears and the more urgent fear over the longer term fear. This is why we have people clinging to the security of oil and gas or how you can scare an animal into a cage.

            So Christianity for example came up with the idea of fearing God more for the consequences of being an idiot than the fear that puts people off doing what they know is right even if it is risky.

          • Steve Hanley

            Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs should be taught in every classroom. Makes more sense than “new math,” actually.

  • Prolduke

    I’m ok with Musk — and the “luddite” survey is ridiculous because it doesn’t include any anti-renewable energy climate change deniers.

  • I’m Inventzilla

    There are real dangers to Artificial intelligence and Musk is right to think about them ahead of the time when machines can out-think humans. That foundation is motivated by greed so bad they would sell out the human race.

  • Owen Iverson

    Musk has only ever cautioned about possibilities. He’s not saying we shouldn’t do it, just that we should proceed with caution. Clearly those at ITIF aren’t very familiar with him.


    Calling him a ludite for telling the truth about AI is just propaganda from human-hating corporations.
    Elon is the number-one innovator, AI is just a relic from the 50’s science-fiction that we don’t want or need!

  • petergkinnon

    The lesson of the Luddites does not seem to have sunk in.

    It should by now be abundantly clear that the evolution of technology is a process over which we have no direct control. We cannot stop it or turn back the clock. We can simply try our best to become good symbionts of the new cognitive entity which is soon to emerge from what at present is the Internet.

    As I have pointed out many times before, the problem is that all seem to assume that the evolution of technology is within our control. Individuals obviously can, to some extent, opt out but evolutionary processes are essentially colligative.

    We are very prone to anthropocentric distortions of objective reality. This is perhaps not surprising, for to instead adopt the evidence based viewpoint now afforded by “big science” and “big history” takes us way outside our perceptive comfort zone.

    The fact is that the evolution of the Internet, the present spearhead of technology, is actually an autonomous process. The difficulty in convincing people of this “inconvenient truth” seems to stem partly from our natural anthropocentric mind-sets and also the traditional illusion that in some way we are in control of, and distinct from, nature. Contemplation of the observed realities tend to be relegated to the emotional “too hard” bin.

    This evolution is not driven by any individual software company or team of researchers, but rather by the sum of many human requirements, whims and desires to which the current technologies react. Among the more significant motivators are such things as commerce, gaming, social interactions, education and sexual titillation.

    Virtually all interests are catered for and, in toto provide the impetus for the continued evolution of the Internet. Netty is still in her larval stage, but we “workers” scurry round mindlessly engaged in her nurture.

    By relinquishing our usual parochial approach to this issue in favour of the overall evolutionary “big picture” provided by many fields of science, the emergence of a new predominant cognitive entity (from the Internet, rather than individual machines) is seen to be not only feasible but inevitable.

    The separate issue of whether it well be malignant, neutral or benign towards we snout-less apes is less certain, and this particular aspect I have explored elsewhere.

    Seemingly unrelated disciplines such as geology, biology and “big history” actually have much to tell us about the machinery of nature (of which technology is necessarily a part) and the kind of outcome that is to be expected from the evolution of the Internet.

    The pattern observed in the exponential evolution of technology in the shared imagination of our species over the last two million years indicates the rather imminent implementation of the next, (non-biological) phase of the on-going evolutionary “life” process from the Internet.

    The “Internet of Things” is proceeding apace and pervading all aspects of our lives. We are increasingly, in a sense, “enslaved” by our PCs, mobile phones, their apps and many other trappings of the increasingly cloudy net. We are already largely dependent upon it for our commerce and industry and there is no turning back. What we perceive as a tool is well on its way to becoming an agent.

    We are witnessing the emergence of a new and predominant cognitive entity that is a logical consequence of the evolutionary continuum that includes such phases as biology and geology and can be traced back at least as far as the formation of the chemical elements in stars. The problem is that all seem to assume that the evolution of technology is within our control. Individuals obviously can, to some extent, opt out but evolutionary processes are essentially colligative. Such issues are explored in depth in my latest book “The Intricacy Generator: Pushing Chemistry and Geometry Uphill” and is this is the very observable machinery of nature.

    Netty, as you may have guessed by now, is the name I choose to identify this emergent non-biological cognitive entity. In the event that we can subdue our natural tendencies to belligerence and form a symbiotic relationship with this new phase of the “life” process then we have the possibility of a bright future.

    If we don’t become aware of these realities and mend our ways, however, then we snout-less apes could indeed be relegated to the historical rubbish bin within a few decades. After all , our infrastructures are becoming increasingly Internet dependent and Netty will only need to “pull the plug” to effect pest eradication.

    So it is to our advantage to try to effect the inclusion of desirable human behaviours in Netty’s psyche. In practice that equates to our species firstly becoming aware of our true place in nature’s machinery and, secondly, making a determined effort to “straighten up and fly right”

    • Steve Hanley

      What an interesting discourse. Thanks for sharing that with us.

      I think you thesis was summarized many years ago in a truly prophetic pronouncement by Marshall McLuhan, who opined, “We shape our tools, and then our tools shape us.”

      • petergkinnon

        Yes, McLuhan certainly stands out as one of the more perceptive of modern philosophers. Among those who have in recent times have begun to sense the evolutionary nature and interdependence of humankind and technology are Kevin Kelly (“What Technology Wants”) Timothy Taylor (“The Artificial Ape”) and, very recently, Matt Ridley (“The Evolution of Everything”).

        Adding their voices to those who help draw attention to the observable reality that the development of technology is actually an autonomous evolutionary process. A drum that I have been beating in my own writings for many years. A realization presaged as far back as 1863 by Samuel Butler in “Darwin Among the Machines”

        Although touched upon by various others such as George Basalla in “The Evolution of Technology” the idea never gained much purchase until recent times. Partly because of now obsolete notions regarding the biological “evolutionary tree”, but mostly because acceptance involves stepping outside our traditional anthropocentric comfort zone.

        But, as I explain in “The Intricacy Generator” there is a further dimension to this paradigm inasmuch as technological evolution is contiguous with that of biology and, for instance, geology (See Robert M Hazen’s Scientific American article “The Evolution of Minerals”).

        In fact we observe an evolutionary continuum that can be traced back at least as far as the formation of chemical elements in the first stars and extends right through to its latest phase, the growth of the Internet.

        Naturally, we tend to take umbrage at such a suggestion , particularly with respect to the technological phase because it offends the anthropocentric conceits which are our genetic and cultural legacy. On careful analysis it implies that, at a fundamental level, there are no “inventors”, no “designers”.

        That ideas/idea complexes simply evolve within the medium of the collective imagination of our species. A feature we can trace back to the trading of the snout for the hands for the acquisition and pre-processing of food some two million years ago. A feature enabled by language, which, in this context, we can properly define as the import, export and external storage of imagination.

        While the detailed processes differ, both the biological and technological processes have much in common. Loosely, the artefact is the expression of an idea complex in much the same way that the phenotype is largely an expression of the genome.

        Both are largely driven by random inputs and rectified by selection.

        • Steve Hanley

          Another fascinating post, sir. You have just greatly expanded the list of books I want to read!

  • Sure it is!

  • Julian Cox

    Joe. My thoughts are my own. Whatever I understand I understood it long before I was aware of Musk just as Musk understood it a long while before anyone was aware of him.