Technological innovation is the wellspring of human progress, providing higher living standards, improved health, a cleaner environment, increased access to information and many other benefits. Yet despite all of these benefits, a growing array of interests—some economic, some ideological—now stand in stubborn opposition to innovation. Following in the footsteps of the infamous Ned Ludd, an Englishman who led a movement in the early 19th century to destroy mechanized looms, today’s neo-Luddites likewise want to foil technological progress.
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. 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.
The rise of neo-Luddism is not just an interesting social and political development. Rather, it undercuts one of the central challenges of our time: the need to rapidly raise living standards to ensure that all households earn high incomes. If society does not support risk-taking and the robust introduction of new technologies, then we will be consigned to stagnation. Fostering an environment in which innovation can thrive means rejecting “neo-Luddism.” Indeed, if we want a society in which innovation thrives, then replacing neo-Luddism with an attitude of risk-taking and faith in the future needs to be at the top of the agenda. (You can take a test to determine how supportive you are of technological progress at DoYouLikeProgress.org.)
There are many bad ideas that, if followed, would slow human progress. But the purpose of ITIF’s annual Luddite award is to highlight the worst of the worst. For 2015, we present 10 nominees and invite readers to vote for the organization or individual they believe has done the most to smash the engines of innovation. In no particular order, this year’s nominees are as follows:
1. Alarmists tout an artificial intelligence apocalypse.
2. Advocates seek a ban on “killer robots.”
3. States limit automatic license plate readers.
4. Europe, China, and others choose taxi drivers over car-sharing passengers.
5. The paper industry opposes e-labeling.
6. California’s governor vetoes RFID in driver’s licenses.
7. Wyoming outlaws citizen science.
8. The Federal Communications Commission limits broadband innovation.
9. The Center for Food Safety fights genetically improved food.
10. Ohio and others ban red light cameras.