Elon Musk
Tesla boss Elon Musk, pictured, and Stephen Hawking have both been criticised for raising fears over AI development Reuters

Elon Musk and Stephen Hawking have jointly won the annual Luddite Award for their "stirring of fear and hysteria" in relation to artificial intelligence. The Information Technology and Innovation Foundation (ITIF) blamed the pair for causing unnecessary public panic.

The ITIF said Musk and Hawking, plus "a loose coalition of scientists and luminaries", caused fear and hysteria in 2015 "by raising alarms that artificial intelligence (AI) could spell doom for humanity". The foundation argues that "such alarmism distracts attention from the enormous benefits that AI can offer society".

Worse still, the duo were blamed for causing unnecessary panic which "could forestall progress on AI by discouraging more robust public and private investment". Microsoft founder Bill Gates was also grouped into the award for agreeing public with Musk's fears about the damaging potential of AI.

AI 'is like summoning the demon'

Musk said in 2015 that AI is "potentially more dangerous" than nuclear weapons and the previous year described developing more advanced AI as "summoning the demon". The Tesla founder also said AI could become humanity's "biggest existential threat".

Stephen Hawking
In 2015 Stephen Hawking agreed with Musk's fears of AI without human control Tim P Whitby/Getty Images

Despite this, Musk spent much of 2015 developing and eventually launching Auto Pilot, a feature on Tesla cars which uses AI to make them drive themselves.

New for 2016 is Summon, a feature which lets the car drive itself when no one is behind the wheel. Musk expects fully autonomous cars to be available to the public by the end of this decade.

In May, 2015, Hawking wrote: "Whereas the short-term impact of AI depends on who controls it, the long-term impact depends on whether it can be controlled at all." The pair signed an open letter at the start of 2015 pledging that AI would not grow beyond human control, and a second letter signed in July urged for a ban on autonomous weapons that "engage targets without human intervention".

A public disservice

ITIF president Robert D Atkinson said: "It is deeply unfortunate that luminaries such as Elon Musk and Stephen Hawking have contributed to feverish hand-wringing about a looming artificial intelligence apocalypse. Do we think either of them personally are Luddites? No, of course not. They are pioneers of science and technology. But they and others have done a disservice to the public – and have unquestionably given aid and comfort to an increasingly pervasive neo-Luddite impulse in society today – by demonising AI in the popular imagination."