The Information Technology and Innovation Foundation has awarded the 2015 Luddite awards, Congratulations to the following winners:
- Alarmists tout an artificial intelligence apocalypse.
- Advocates seek a ban on “killer robots.”
- States limit automatic license plate readers.
- Europe, China, and others choose taxi drivers over car-sharing passengers.
- The paper industry opposes e-labeling.
- California’s governor vetoes RFID in driver’s licenses.
- Wyoming outlaws citizen science.
- The Federal Communications Commission limits broadband innovation.
- The Center for Food Safety fights genetically improved food.
- Ohio and others ban red light cameras.
In #1 and #2, they argue that any risks from artificial intelligence are so far off that we shouldn’t worry about them now, and that the spillover effects from military AI research will be beneficial overall. In #8, they come out against net neutrality (at least, the recent U.S. legislation with that name). And in #9, they make some claims in favor of genetically modified food organisms that I hadn’t heard before:
Biotechnology is playing an increasing role delivering innovations in agriculture that the world desperately needs to meet rising demands for food, feed, and fiber, as the world’s population continues to grow. The most comprehensive meta-analysis to date shows biotech innovations in crop improvement have increased agricultural yields on average by 22 percent, reduced pesticide use by 37 percent, and increased farmer income by 68 percent. Improvements in animal husbandry have lagged, however, despite numerous needs and opportunities. That changed this year when the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the sale of fast-growing AquAdvantage bioengineered salmon. In their ongoing attempt to ban all genetically improved foods, an organization called Center for Food Safety announced plans to sue the FDA to block the approval.
The salmon represents a real innovation that will improve people’s health while reducing the price of food. It has been improved to reach market size in half the usual time (16-18 months, rather than the usual 32-36) on 20 percent less feed, meaning that for the first time salmon could be a low-cost substitute for meat in American diets. The salmon is intended to be grown in concrete tanks in warehouses close to major markets, like Chicago. The fish are sterile, so they cannot breed with wild salmon in the unlikely event they escape from their concrete tanks and get to an open ocean. They also have been designed to eliminate the potential downsides sometimes associated with conventionally farmed Atlantic salmon, which have been observed to escape from their sea pens and carry parasites or diseases into wild populations.
The FDA took more than a decade to review data on the salmon to ensure it would be safe for humans to eat. At the end of an exhaustive review process that examined thousands of pages of data and scientific literature, the FDA concluded the AquAdvantage salmon is, in all respects relevant to health, safety, and nutrition, indistinguishable from any other Atlantic salmon. Thus it is safe for consumers to eat and requires no special labels. These findings elicited an entirely predictable response from the neo-Luddite enemies of innovation.
I am not necessarily against all bioengineering of food, but I am concerned about biodiversity generally and the resilience of our food-growing system. Even if genetically modified (or hybridized or plain old inbred) organisms are deemed safe for consumption, you don’t want your entire food supply to come from a very narrow gene pool or to be controlled by a very narrow range of interests. With any new technology, you can pursue it while actively taking steps to mitigate the risks, and constantly asking yourself the hard questions about the ethics – identifying that line between right and wrong and choosing not to cross it.