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Rethinking the Luddites (newyorker.com)
238 points by Hooke 10 months ago | hide | past | favorite | 543 comments



The luddite example is one of suddenness: The owners see the massive advantage of mechanization and move in fast. The workers are blindsided - they don't have the time and spend all the time they do have in a ludicrous war. The regions are somewhat mono-industry which completes in making a giant mess. All in all the exact quandary not to get caught in. Now that they have demonstrated it, long ago, do we really have to fall in the same problem again and again? Just because it didn't happen in the US, or in this century, doesn't mean we can't learn from it.

People at all level should do better using the time there is. For the ones (workers) to move up or away in their skills. For the others (businesses) to recognize a looming availability of human workforce which might be useful for some (other) business opportunity. For the third (governments) to - just in time - organize or encourage re-training at scale and in time. Trying to impose on each business to manage this whole world by itself is idiotic - normal business is tough and precarious enough. Trying to let each worker manage their own training is also insufficient: few people can optimally manage their own career at the same time as everything else.

An example in this direction is, I believe, Denmark's "Flexicurity". Firms can adapt to follow their needs; while workers can in general principle retain earnings while they retrain; while the state orchestrates availability of training (which itself can be a big industry sector). No doubt not perfect for anyone, but the general idea sounds solid.


Your comments fall into exactly the trap the article talks about. The luddites were painted as being against automation. That's only partially true, at best. Destroying machines was not the point. It was just the only thing that hurt and got remembered.

It was not layoffs that caused the revolts much worsening working conditions. They wanted things like getting paid in the promised time frame, and not having their children killed. It seems the protests were sprawling and later integrated every disappointment under the sun.

The other side took that as an opportunity to paint them as being generally anti progressive and against all forms of mechanization, but from what I understand there's not much to suggest that was actually true. Yes, machines were broken but so were a lot of other things as the protests turned violent.

Our lesson from the luddies should be that winners write history, we should not reiterate a centuries old smear campaign.


At times, the destruction was also quite utilitarian. For example, if you destroyed a piece of agricultural equipment, and it took three months to get another one up from London, you and your chums had work for the season. That's an entirely rational course of action (though not necessarily the most effective or moral one).


> It was not layoffs that caused the revolts much worsening working conditions.

I read the article (twice - it's interesting), and I wrote "spend all the time they do have in a ludicrous war".

For the workers of the time it looked probably like a fast combination of things. Which the author kinda summarizes as "the inequitable profitability of machines". Things likely included: at first a boom in employment: the factories started at the same time the old, somewhat distributed production method mostly continued - but probably with minimal worker freedom of choice as to who went to which. Then layoffs as the old method just about disappears and more factories start or fail in seemingly (to the workers) random occurences. Then working conditions as factories no doubt did not start safe or comfortable. Then like you say every complaint under the sun.

I don't think it matters actually: the workers reacted to upheaval and probably felt they had no time to be heard. That's the complaint we hear now: "The current jobs are going and that's not right". That's the point of my response: "How does that help anything or anyone?". The lesson should be to try responses that actually have a chance to succeed as opposed to getting in the papers for (metaphorically) breaking frames. Denmark and Co seem to have thought up something in the right general direction.


Well put.

To note, luddites' issues were not just losing their job. Let's remember that the earlier machines were very crude, safety was absolutely not in their design, and a worker life's also didn't have much weight. So, the early days of machine assisted production were in inhumane conditions, people losing limbs, kids getting killed in them (less skills needed also meant kid labour was a viable option) etc.

So yes, regulation on how the machines work, how much they get introduced, how the workers are impacted, trial periods to see the impacts etc. should help a lot in all respects. The difficult part being that those all mean putting breaks on profit making.


Even more cynical, small kids were sent into said machines to conduct maintenance while the machine was running!


Yes to this chain. Noticing this absurd lack of machine safety and doing something about it would have helped everyone. And the government reaction to the whole thing was equally absurd.



> the government reaction to the whole thing was equally absurd.

It, however, would later give Marx a nice example of how the government is the tool that the ruling class uses to oppress the working classes and get their way: because when seen from this angle, the reaction was entirely reasonable.


While originating in Marxism, this thought is also exposed by Libertarians in their critique of government. Giving too much power to the government is basically the same as giving power to elites and thus it is a move against freedom.


Ironic how most egalitarians are themselves elites. They want less government, when it hinders them. For all other reasons, government is good. E.g. fighting wars to get oil...


The “Libertarianism” that you refer to here is a word stolen from the Anarchist tradition (e.g. Chomsky), a socialist tendency that has nothing to do with the radical right-wing ideology of entities like the Libertarian Party in the US.

Such “Libertarianism” can't even claim that their own name originates with themselves.


So it seems things can only originate from leftist thought, but only after Marx, nothing before matters. The world began in 1800. Marx gave light, and created the world.


Right-Libertarianism came after Marx.


To add to your note: iirc the Luddites were also concerned because the quality of the cloth produced by the machines was worse than the handmade stuff, beyond all of the labor abuses and job losses. Another parallel to the AI age.


> quality of the cloth produced by the machines was worse than the handmade stuff

Yes, it was, but it was far cheaper. You can still get extraordinarily good fabrics today, extremely well-made hand-sewn leather goods. But a standard size carry-on suitcase made of high-quality leather in the US will run you around $1000-1500. You can buy a crappy mass-produced plastic one of the same size for around $100, or a well-made nylon one from Asia for around $300.


Yes, it was cheaper. And lower quality. What's your point.


Sometimes, you don't actually need good quality, and price is the only thing you care about. Without the machines, even the low-quality stuff is expensive.


Is it a surprise that producers of X claim people really want X and only their X? If true no government action is necessary. If false then government action forces consumers to buy something they don't want.

Note that sometimes government action forcing people to do things they don't want is necessary e.g. paying taxes and protecting the environment. That's hardly ever the case, though.


I didn't say anything about government, but it should be clear that the involvement of organization is inevitable. The industrialists ensured that by organizing the firm. To say that after that point we should just let the market decide is to say that only the industrialists are allowed to organize. This is folly.


Under the current regime jobs can be automated away and the businesses will reap 100% of the profit unless there is a union standing in its way: AI could be used on footage of a day's work some actor and recreate their likeness forever. Paid for one day, then the derived work is owned by the business forever.

We could for example say that 90% of jobs get automated away. The benefit for the businesses are astronomical as all those jobs get turned into direct profit. Meanwhile the workers get the change to... upskill? Yeah, so they just have to “upskill” forever while the businesses get free profit because they sit on the means of automation. (Remind me how the businesses have to put in work, here? Seems like they only get the upsides while the workers get all the downsides.)

Until there is nothing to upskill into anymore because only 12% of the labor pool is needed for actual work.

The notion that workers and employers are anywhere near to being peer competitors is bizarre.


Your proposed solution doesn't solve anything, it only delays it.

As long as workers are not self-organizing, top to bottom, up to and including what to produce, how much to priduce and how to produce it, the domination will exist. What is the added value to the society of having bosses ? Of having people not producing but deciding how to produce ?

Scratch the destruction of machines, the sudden uprise, the distinction between what group acted and what group negotiated. The real lesson to learn from this all: society doesn't need someone telling you what to do if they're not also a worker.


I remember the mantra of some in the tech field of "no problem - just learn to code" when blue collar jobs in the manufacturing in the US was on the wane as production moved to cheaper locations overseas.


I think that is a good point to bring up, but it is orthogonal.

Production moving overseas is not the same as technological advancement. One can be against outsourcing but in favor of domestic technological progress.


It is in fact the same from the economic point if view.

You are replacing labor input with capital input, whether it's buying a machine or offshoring the work. Workers offshore can be thought of as a machine.

Not that it's bad either way! But the labor economics are the same.


It's exactly the same. It was a sudden upheaval of the established way to make a living. Not even very sudden. And responded to in the usual low-thought primary manner (except for a few places like Denmark). Few frames got broken, but lots of strikes no doubt contributed to accelerate the process even in cases where it shouldn't have been economically optimal.


We all want our cheap TV's at Walmart but sadly people in general don't think of the bigger consequences of wanting low bargain basement prices for consumer good or paying low to little tax.

Yet they complain about joblessness and how the education system and their neighborhood/towns are going to the balls.


Taxes is also a big part of why manufacturing is expensive in some places. If they were removed, the savings could be passed on to the customers.


You really think that the savings will actually be passed onto the consumer rather than the company gobbling up that extra value? Also, if taxes are lowered on businesses, the tax burden will be passed to the working poor/middle class.


> You really think that the savings will actually be passed onto the consumer rather than the company gobbling up that extra value?

Absolutely yes. Compare gas prices in countries with high taxes on gas and countries with low taxes on gas. Compare products that are subject to vice taxes. It is not hypothetical, it's reality.

> Also, if taxes are lowered on businesses, the tax burden will be passed to the working poor/middle class.

All taxes on businesses are passed onto the consumers already. For businesses that sell products and services that everybody uses, that means the taxes are passed on the working poor and middle class. The only way to have taxes explicitly excluding the poor and middle class is to have tariffs on luxury goods, and maybe vice taxes since those products are not essential.

There's no doubt that many company owners would try to use any tax reduction to make more profit for themselves, but that leaves space for competitors to take market share.


"We all want"

Let me push back on that. We are all TOLD to want, using psychologically manipulative tactics. Advertising as corporate/Capitalist propaganda.


Woah woah woah buddy you’ve got that completely backwards. Journalists started that whole learn to code bullshit and then got justly lampooned about it when there were a bunch of media lay offs afterwards. It was a huge meme a while back so I’m not sure how you missed it.


It doesn’t matter who said it, people bought it, used it and spread it.


Yeah but he's correcting the parent, who said "the mantra of some in the tech field", which is wrong.


So, can we use "just learn to use promps" for white collar folks and software devs risk loosing their jobs because of AI?


We've been using it for the artists and writers and everyone else, so what's good for the goose is good for the gander I guess.


I thought it was “just go into the trades”.


Hu? The "learn to code" was not coming from the tech field itself (programmers know that coding is hard and FAANG are not hiring coal miners), but used as a dig against out-of-touch journalists who wrote articles like that:

https://imgur.com/TKX47O3

… and, well, infamously Joe Biden in his 2019 campaign:

https://thehill.com/changing-america/enrichment/education/47...

> Biden said, “Anybody who can go down 3,000 feet in a mine can sure as hell learn to program as well… Anybody who can throw coal into a furnace can learn how to program, for God’s sake!” According to Weigel, the comment was met with silence from the audience.


It turns out manufacturing is actually doing fine in the US as an industry. Just very different and probably employing higher skilled machinists (and at CNC machines).

But meanwhile Denmark has been making a go at a constructive, thought out, response. Perhaps let's look at how that works - who retrains for what? (Which I don't know in detail.)


No need to look too far back, the similar big bait and switch by ClosedAI/Microsoft is happening right now.


>> to recognize a looming availability of human workforce which might be useful for some (other) business opportunity.

In other words: a cheap labor force of people now desperate enough to accept lower compensation that their previous employment. If these later employers were able/willing to pay a similar wage, they would have already been doing so. Predicting a forthcoming a wave of despite people as a business opportunity, a chance to pay people lower wages tomorrow than you would have to today ... that is a dark sentiment. I think twitter is going to fail, but I'm going to wait on launching my new startup until the market is flooded with x-twitter employees willing to work for peanuts. Dark.


You can call it dark, or you can hire the many fine software people laid off from the twitter ridiculosity. Your choice.

The job market is strange currently. Low unemployement rate (in part because of how many people withdrew). Businesses complaining they can't find people (some in part because they offer too little money). Many perenially underemployed. Absurd hiring processes (because of perceived cost of hiring the wrong person rather than nobody at all.)

My point is that simply "calling it dark" is not helpful to any of the participants.


I heard Brian Merchant on 99% Invisible and this take is slight historical revisionism, but I'm ok with that.

It's revisionist because he's conflating the earlier movement when workers tried to negotiate with factory owners and organize with the Luddite movement. True - the failure of the first movement led to Ludditism out of desperation, but the groups are separate. Luddite literally is named after Ned Ludd smashing machinery, so it cannot be the name of the movement that was around organizing and negotiation because they only turned to smashing when organizing was made illegal. Basically workers tried to negotiate, were stymied, and a bunch of frustrated people started smashing machines, which caused a positive reaction from people so it started spreading and others started smashing stuff too.

When I first heard of Ludditism it was with more nuance that it's used today - to be a Luddite was to rage against technology with the art of a bull in a china shop. It wasn't a blanket term against "anti-progress" like it is now, but rather a dumb approach to dealing with change. Of course now it is used just to shut down people who don't like technology, so that's why I'm ok with some amount of revisionism, since the way it's being used currently is revisionist itself.

The only danger in conflating these legit concerns about automation with a violent movement is this implication that violence is the only way to bridge this gap, and I can see a strong argument that is was true back in those days, due to the Crown literally making any organizing and collective negotiation illegal, I strongly don't believe it's true today. I believe a violent reaction today would cause more harm to workers rights than help.


Can I slighty revise your comment and take out the bit where it says you're okay with revisionism?

Talk about a slippery slope...


I get it - I'm against revisionism in theory but practically there's a strong argument that all history is revisionist. I am conflicted, but I'm going to argue the "ok with revisionism" side of things - "Ok" being the weakest pro word, like I'd rate this 6 out of 9 if 1 was "totally against", 5 was "totally neutral" and 9 was "totally for".

Part of us building the future is interpreting the past in a way that applies to our current world. For example - our modern western world was built on reinterpreting Romans and Greeks and idealizing their use of democracy. We had to throw away a lot of awful things they did to focus on just the good stuff. And even that period of history is being debated about how to interpret it in an attempt to understand who we are now - was it slave owning colonists who only prospered due to others labour or was it enlightened open thinkers who brought prosperity to the world, or was it a mix of those things or something else entirely. Revising the Luddite movement to include the earlier peaceful methods with the goal of saying healthy skepticism about technology is IMO a good thing - the Luddite movement specifically is tightly linked to the earlier movement so it's not a stretch to revise things it to include that whole chain of events.

But I'd be lying if I wasn't annoyed when he said things that weren't technically correct during the 99% invisible interview. But it's also revisionist to use Luddite as bludgeon, so if people are going to remove any subtlety from a word, I'd rather it was revised in an helpful way.


> Today, the word “Luddite” is used as an insult to anyone resistant to technological innovation

Interesting, I never thought of the term as pejorative. I always thought of the movement as a kind of working-class heroes trying to navigate an uncertain future where rich people made them obsolete.


It's not pejorative for you if you are a liberal, for me it is pejorative, I see Luddites as people who damage important parts of production systems and threaten people's lives.

I understand your point of view if you're from a first-world country and you never experienced the terror of having people interfering with the means of production.


It is sometimes scary how long propaganda continues to work. In the case of the Luddites, ot was factory owners propaganda about, rightfully, discruntled workers opossing abuse and exploitation.

In a sense, this propaganda win in England gave us the current oppossition to unions we see in the US and among corporations.


It's funny this guy was worried about the luddites hurting people when several luddites were ultimately gunned down.


Not to speak of all the injuries and fatalities happening in those factories day in day out. On top of all the other negative health effects from dust and such.

But somehow the rich dudes in their villas, and especially their money, need protection.


Luddites were very careful not to hurt any people (I think in one case they were cornered by defensive action, but that was clearly in self-defense), and they even only targeted specific machines they had problems with, leaving all other machines intact. But just the same I don't agree with their methods since any violence is easily co-opted to paint them as bad and ultimately hurts the goals they were trying to achieve.


Violence certainly wasn't the first thing they tried here


You people need to understand that the Unabomber was also a Luddite. Propaganda works in both ways.


> understand your point of view if you're from a first-world country and you never experienced the terror of having people interfering with the means of production.

Do you mean a strike? A very common event in many first-world countries like the US or France ?


Not a strike, damaging machines and planting bombs.


I'm not aware of a violent non-state actor that exclusively or primarily attacks the means of production instead of military personnel and regular civilian targets. Is there any?


Insurgencies often employ such tactics. One example is the ANC's miliatry wing uMkhonto we Sizwe. They only targeted such infrastructure (power plants, transportation lines etc.) for almost a decade before any civilian/military attacks occurred.


The Luddites of today throw paint on art and glue themselves to it, or to roads stopping traffic, to make some kind of point about wetlands.


You don't understand either group.


I like these kind of different takes that makes me think, but this one left me a bit confused. Isn't salvation through new technology a main doctrine of the climate doomsday believers?


That is not what the prejorative mean, I don't see the point in making this political.


Everything is political my friend.


When everything is X, nothing is X.


When everything exists, nothing exists?

There are no universal properties?

A non-trivial universal property for a domain asserts something non-trivial about everything in the domain. You think 'political' is a trivial property?


Who knows?

But this is reference to exceptional (low entropy) properties. If you multiply highly informational properties, they stop being informative. And move more towards white noise.


In this case, you have reached a context in which a property is of zero bits (trivial), but still has useful content, which is already recorded in the context.


Everything can be politicized


Yes, but not everything needs to analyzed politically.

Nor making a political assumption about someone.


[flagged]


I never stated nor insinuated that you shouldn't form opinions about "things", my point was very clear about the fact that you don't need to _always_ analyze something politically and can instead analyze it differently or choose not to because it doesn't serve much interest or benefit for you, the community or society.

Unless you are willing to bite the bullet and agree then that we ought to analyze politically why a ball is round or why birds fly.


The alternative is to oppose the political class that has been manipulating popular opinion for a hundred years now in order to maintain their positions of power. Our current form of representation, although it’s a joke to call it that now, has been obsolete for decades. Examine the principals upon which it’s based, they make no sense with modern communication technology.


You realize that this is all a political choice right?


Being against the practice of politics is still politics huh? That’s kind of a loose definition don’t you think?


Can you write down your analysis of the preceding comments for the benefit of the passing reader?


Nothing to add, __loam's comment is very right.


Indeed. Lets leave politics out of a political labour movement.


Luddites was the precursor to the labor movement, I never dispute this.

It's the attempt made to label someone as "liberal" because they didn't know that Luddites was/is used as a pejorative, to someone who clearly has not stated they identify as such.

Which is just absurd, like labeling someone as a supporter of imperialism because they didn't know that royal means "of having the status of a king or queen or a member of their family".

Not only that but to then also indirectly insinuating this is because they are essentially too sheltered/spoiled to understand the value of goods.

Specifically:

>I understand your point of view if you're from a first-world country and you never experienced the terror of having people interfering with the means of production.

Despite the original poster never stated something that would highlight such a point of view, beyond admitting not knowing the definition/use of a word.


I don’t think “only rich people are worried about automation” is a very reasonable take. And the scale is a bit different - the luddites weren’t throwing the economy into disarray, they were trying to stop it from changing.


Who said only rich people are worried about automation? And about the second point, yeah, of course, the Unabomber was not trying to throw the economy into disarray...


You keep mentioning the Unabomber. OP and the original article are talking about the original luddites, a group in the early 1800’s that fought back against poor working conditions (by destroying machinery, etc after discussion got them no where with their employers). The luddites were actually fine with the implementation of machines, and many of them were actually factory machinists themselves, they just wanted better pay and improved and safer working conditions.

Not exactly sure what your point is regarding the unabomber (who is considered a neo-Luddite, not a traditional Luddite). Is it that movements and labels change over time? Because what the unabomber wanted vs what the luddites wanted (almost a full two centuries before the Unabomber), were completely different things.

But even if we’re comparing the Luddite movement within their respective times, you’re taking an extreme example of a mentally ill domestic terrorist and conflating him with the entire Luddite movement, a movement that barely even exists in the 20th/21st century. Luddite is now used pretty casually to describe a technophobe or someone bad with technology. It doesn’t really describe a member of the Luddite movement anymore.


No It is pejorative in First World also. I'd say the dominant view is that it is pejorative .

Really, all through collage and career, in the US for last 30 years.

Calling someone a Luddite was an insult, someone that is standing in the way, not smart, desiring to just go live on a farm without any technology because it is all just too complicated.

I've never heard the term used in a positive way.

Not saying this is true of the actual Luddites, just how the term is used in the US.


The sense of the word "luddite" (I guess until this recent rethought) has always been pejorative, and has zero dependency on political ideology. Why even bring it into the conversation, unless you're trying to stir some shit up.


When you are a top dog in a system it is easy to say cute things like this.


> important parts of production systems and threaten people's lives

Which is fair and proportional if people doing it got their own livelihood threatened by introduction of said systems. Especially in 19th century when not having a work to do meant not having food.


It all depends on who prevails. The american revolution would be viewed through a different lens if the British had won. The french resistance blowing up trains could be considered terrorist acts if ww2 ended differently.


[flagged]


We all have our perspectives - from the top or the bottom and even the middle.


Along with being skilled laborers, Luddites were also proprietors and small business owners.


Basically a cross section of the, to cite Marxx, non-capital owning class os citizens. Aka, the vast majority of us. Only difference today, parts the groups thatbmade uo the Luddites back then are now actively cheering in those developments.

Change isbinevitable, and in the long run society usually benefits as whole. The transition period is the problem, and on that front we are making no progress what so ever right now.


Seriously? You consider people who resist technological advancement "heros"? Do you not work in tech? Why are you on hacker news? I honestly don't understand the motivation of anti-technology people who frequent hacker news. It makes no sense to me.


It's certainly used to describe certain reactionaries even if it doesn't make sense squared historically.


Presumably you work in technology, yet you see destroying technology as heroic?


Did you read the article? The whole point of it is about "rethinking the luddites" to understand them as pro workers rights (which would be nice to have more of in our field), rather than anti technology.


Another book with a similar premise is " Breaking Things at Work:The Luddites Are Right About Why You Hate Your Job" https://www.versobooks.com/products/688-breaking-things-at-w...

This book came out in 2021, so there's definitely a trend to look back at the Luddites, investigate what their movement and actions were about, and apply some of those ideas to today. I actually just happened to pick this up in a local bookshop on a whim this weekend, but haven't read it yet.


99% invisible had Brian Merchant on recently. I agree with him except on the point that “Luddite” can be reclaimed. In an ideal world that would be possible, but in practical terms Luddite means a person who is against technological change.

If you want to defend Luddite positions you don’t need to defend the term itself. Then the correct retort would be I’m not a Luddite I’m an X where X is something intuitive and short.


I like to characterize my approach to technology as "informed carefulness". So maybe "I'm a cautious adopter of technology. I adopt what works, what improves my life, and respects my rights."

The violation of people's trust through the use of telemetry is precisely what turned me skeptical of modern day stuff. There's a lot of stuff that I would probably use, if it wasn't hellbent on learning the color of my underwear, how often I snore, or what products I'm interested in.

You won't catch me with a Ring camera, any Alexa device, I use uBlock, etc. There is so much more I would be comfortable using in this world of technology if there was a modicum of mutual respect.


This reminds me that I find it hilarious when they ask permission to collect more data on you so they can make the ads "more relevant." This is close to their version of mutual respect, "We'll show you the ads you WANT to see."


Note the ambiguity: more relevant ads as profitable for the ad provider vs. offers more relevant (useful) to you.


> There is so much more I would be comfortable using in this world of technology if there was a modicum of mutual respect.

This sentiment was likely shared by many of the original Luddites.


Any country (including the US) that tries to prevent AI from replacing some jobs will find its economy buried by another country that did not.


Conversely, a country that allows AI to replace too many jobs will find itself buried in masses of angry people with little to lose except their devalued lives.


Both of these comments are excellent. However, countries don’t make decisions. Individuals (that are mentally capable) make decisions, within their economic framework, and the result emerges at the national or global level.

Individuals will decide how to respond to AI, and we will see what happens. My guess, based on past adoptions of work-saving technologies, is that anyone capable of using AI to make their job easier will do so. And that may result in the elimination of other jobs.


Countries (governments) make lots of decisions as (governmental) entities with their own (effective) lives. Probably too many too fast. The problem is they often make the wrong decisions in spite of having very large and often educated staff. That's a problem. Someone asked recently what are the large problems facing humanity going forward and I think this is one of them. Government as entities will make lots of decisions in this case and no doubt most will be at counter-purpose. And this is a huge problem for humanity in general (because of the gross, terrible economic inefficiency of the process.)

We must find far more effective ways for governments to think, deliberate, simulate, act or not act, implement, enforce.


> countries don’t make decisions. Individuals (that are mentally capable) make decisions, within their economic framework, and the result emerges at the national or global level.

The economic framework, including rules, regulations, incentives, and penalties, amongst others, are set by government (“the country”).

Also, if government decides to employ and find AI, that already pushes things in a certain direction.

So yes, while individuals decide how to use AI, it is very much governments that have tremendous capacity and interest to bend and accelerate or decelerate its adoption patterns.


Have this in too many countries, and we’ll have a world war on our hands again.


That's a good point. A nuance to that would be that not every field impacts the economy, or put another way, our economies work with a lot of inefficiencies.

There could be a future where the fields that matter the most are heavily impacted and most of the work is automatized, while a flurry of other parts are strictly kept off AI and automatization.

I have in mind the extent to which agriculture requires way fewer people that we'd imagine given its scale and importance, while we have people making money doing funny faces on camera [0].

[0] that's also absolutely needed by the society, but it's not at the same primary level


Another edgy soundbite to further pump up the AI hype-mythos.


They came for the manual laborers, and I was not a manual laborer, so I did nothing.

Then they came for the skilled craftsmen, and I was not a skilled craftsman, so I did nothing.

Then they came for the clerks and bookeepers, and I was not a clerk or a bookkeeper, so I did nothing.

Now they've come for the chattering classes, and there is no one left to speak for me.


Sort of backwards.

First they came for the writers and illustrators, and I did nothing because I'm not a writer or an illustrator.

Then they came for the musicians, and I did nothing because I only listen to music.

Then they came for the text-dependent professional classes, and I did nothing because I'm not one of those people.

They they came for the programmers, and the plumbers sat around laughing saying "and you thought you were so much better than us!"


If AI can truly reason and build complex applications - I.e it has mastered composition and causality, then AI would have a full mental map of how commercial and residential buildings work.

How every pipe fitting links to each other. In that case plumbers aren’t needed for small things since a user could state their problem to a smartphone and AI could guide them to the correct fix as it debugs the users house.

Same with construction or doctors or teachers.

If AI can truly learn and reason the physical world, then it doesn’t mean much to be human.

What is being a human in terms of labor? A 100 watt 80kg biological agent with general intelligence that can learn and follow steps. With eyes and ears they sense, with legs they move and and with hands they apply fine motor skills to move other objects.

The whole point of AI is to build cheaper labor that follows instructions, never sleeps, never forgets, replaceable if broken.

The rich and powerful will 100% get more rich and powerful, the question is how well that prosperity will be shared with the rest.

It could be that some powerful nations say let’s go kill entire other continents and take their land with our robot and drone army.

Globally 35 billion barrels of oil / yr are consumed. Thats 1700 kWh/barell * 35B = 59.5TWh/year = 6.8 TW. This means if someone could make human equivalent robots that take gasoline as energy, they’d have an army of 68 billion human-like robots.


The one thing that is clear from your comment is that you've never done much plumbing or electrical work. I don't mean to be rude, but your idea that the problem is to build "a full mental map of how commercial and residential buildings work" is just absurdly far off the mark. I mean, that is an important part of the work, but its just a necessary and utterly insufficient aspect.

> The whole point of AI is to build cheaper labor that follows instructions, never sleeps, never forgets, replaceable if broken.

How utterly tedious, boring and unimaginative.


AI will become creative too; then all of humans' services will be exhausted, except for one - existential service - if you want some people to just exist.


“They” is “we.”


And we're all better for it. We've got way better jobs than making stockings.


Reading through these comments (and not being from the US), I think I'll play it safe and just never use this "luddite" term, ever.


Man's greatest advantage over (Generative) AI is his creativity, originality, ingenuity, spirituality and commonsense. Our defeat is sealed once we become more impressed with statistically produces results (including the obvious hallucinations and subtle lies by mission and omission), rather than trusting our God given qualities.

We are and should not try stopping technology: we just have to sublime our human qualities and keep proving technologies' limitations (many of which are so obvious as requiring only some commonsense).


> Brian Merchant’s new book, “Blood in the Machine,” argues that Luddism stood not against technology per se but for the rights of workers in the face of automation.

And this isn't common knowledge?


for people outside of tech, apparently not. I get it - all they know is this thing they've been called many times and just see it's a pejorative. It's a little grating when he says it was misused intentionally by tech overlords to paint concerned people as anti-progress (he says this in the 99% interview), but I get where he's coming from - some people use just as an insult to throw around, whether or not they know the source.


Judging by half the derogatory comments here, it's not something widely known within tech either. The most annoying thing about this place is that half the people here think they're immune to Dunning-Kruger and Gell-Man based on the hobby/profession they happen to have.


Luddites in the age of AI don't exist.

Until at least some data centers get burned down to the ground, comparing the current anti-AI movement to Luddites is just ridiculous.


Are you aware that the Writer's Guild of America were striking for 4 months against AI doing their jobs: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2023_Writers_Guild_of_America_...

There are also many law suits against AI works:

https://www.nytimes.com/2023/09/20/books/authors-openai-laws...

You really require that they resort to physical violence when they know fully that data in one DC will be backed up elsewhere so it will have no effect. From my pov, they are using the violence of the legal system to stop/slow AI.


> Are you aware that the Writer's Guild of America were striking

Hollywood strikes are something that happens every ~5 years even without AI. [1]

> There are also many law suits against AI works

If they won then maybe that would count. Otherwise I see it as "PETA sued zoos".

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Hollywood_strikes


Are you really calling a legal strike violence? What options do the working class have left then, if even their legal rights are considered violence? This rhetoric is dangerous and completely anti-worker.


> From my pov, they are using the violence of the legal system to stop/slow AI.

Luddites used extra-legal methods to try to accomplish their goals, so I don't think the comparison really works.


I'm not a historian but I think luddites need to be seen in the context of the history of trade unions. Unions at the time existed but didn't have the power they developed in the 1900s. So extra legal means seemed to be all that was available to them; while nowadays people can work more effectively inside the law.


if it puts a billion people out of work I don't think that having a few hundred data centres will help even slightly



Won't the end result be the same?

In that the luddities were either extinct or had merged with the labor movement?

Since that is what most people would in practice object to, a no safety net or regulation for the protection of their jobs.


Directly make me think about Bill Joy: Why the Future Doesn’t Need Us

https://www.wired.com/2000/04/joy-2/

https://reasonandmeaning.com/2014/12/02/bill-joy-why-the-fut...


Thanks for making that connection, Joy was an interesting voice back in the day. Curious: has he done anything in longer form than that Wired article to expand this idea?


Counterpoint to fears of losing the drudgery we're entitled to: once the value of labor has evaporated, and we still have the masses controlling the ballot box, we may finally achieve Fully Automated Luxury Communism[1].

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fully_Automated_Luxury_Communi...


And we have the, mostly commercial, propaganda machine controlling the masses.

And regardless, if the masses would try to use the ballot box to make moves to something like FALC, it would be taken away, by force if necessary. This has been seen countless times.

Looking at how wealth, capital and power are concentrating, we are well on our way to some sort of new feudal system.


How do we know we are not in feudal system right now? Propaganda machine is telling us we are in a democracy, but all I see is oligarchy controlling the system.


It’s called the iron law of oligarchy.[1] All democratic organizations decay into oligarchies - a minority group of elites that are in control. So the question becomes who gets to join that elite and how do people get cycled out of it. When there isn’t a sufficient cycling (people who shouldn’t be a part any longer remain - nepotism etc; people that don’t deserve to be a part are invited - diversity for diversities sake, etc) people then it becomes rotten.

[1] https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Iron_law_of_oligarchy


Hah, and go figure:

> Later Michels migrated to Italy and joined Benito Mussolini's Fascist Party, as he believed this was the next legitimate step of modern societies.

"Iron law" isn't a law in any real sense here, other that it was one fascist guy calling it that. Still, there's a valid point:

> By controlling who has access to information, those in power can centralize their power successfully, often with little accountability, due to the apathy, indifference and non-participation most rank-and-file members have in relation to their organization's decision-making processes

This really shines a light on the innovative system that Australia uses[1], which I think helps mitigate the non-participation factor: voting in Australia is compulsory. It's your civic duty to participate in elections and everyone is automatically registered when they reach the age of 18.

Overall I think that it's hard to make any 'iron laws' in modern times, because these laws were based on looking back rather than forward. A lot of these are based on assumptions that technology wouldn't change, but that's not the case - modern telecommunications have moved us past the age where information only traveled as fast as a horse could carry you. For 99.99% of human history it was totally impossible for a direct democracy to function, but with instant, global communications and information access that's no longer a safe assumption.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Electoral_system_of_Australia


I'd never heard of this, and it's already proved a fascinating rabbit hole. Thanks!


It’s worth looking into Vilfredo Pareto and Gaetano Mosca, both from the Italian school of elitism. The overruling theme being a well connected, organized minority will always rule over a disorganized and disinterested majority.

Machiavelli too had many interesting ideas, in particular how the elite moved through the various forms of government. A monarch decays into a despot and is eventually overtaken by an aristocracy of nobles which decays into democracy over a few generations which has a very short life and takes on the darker side of “rule by few” as an oligarchy. Eventually they become so decadent that a populist government (rule by many, the darker side of democracy) overtakes them and soon after a new prince, or monarch “of the people” is born and the cycle continues possibly over many hundreds of years.

Looking at America I think we are in the oligarchical phase and pushing hard towards a populist whom will reform the government dramatically.


I'm really interested in these views that view these human systems almost as physical systems, with semi-legible dynamics and complex (but comprehensible) interactions, and even implications. Thus the irons laws.

I'm also very taken with the idea of systems propagating themselves. Formally, this is called "autopoiesis" and is its own fascinating and related rabbit hole.

The coolest thing this morning, prompted by your comment, is the "self-licking ice cream cone" [1]. This paper [2] is particularly intriguing. Thanks again.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Self-licking_ice_cream_cone

[2] https://www.researchgate.net/publication/234554226


Yeah the self licking icecream cone is a classic at this point and correctly identifies one of the problems with new government (or any organization) programs/agencies/projects. Without explicit end goals and objectives that when met will trigger the dissolution of the program/agency/project as having successfully completed their mission, they end up existing to find reasons to exist. We see it everywhere today.

For example, at one point 50 years ago it was decided that we needed to do things to get more females into universities - a noble goal. So we set up a variety of things that made it more accessible to females and the things we did were successful. The way we did this is questionable (lower standards for females, in part) but they accomplished the goals. But we still have these systems setup and the people who run them have become entrenched and organized and any motion to dismantle them is met with aggression. You can extrapolate this well beyond females.

So we end up in a situation where more and more people find a prime mechanisms of elite credentialism (elite universities) as unfair and meaningless. And our pool of elites are weaker and unable to defend themselves against the rise of populism since so many of them aren't actually elites in reality, even if they pretend they are or believe they are being oblivious to all the artificial mechanisms that put them there in the first place.

Anyways, the book "The Machiavellians" is a good read. https://www.amazon.com/Machiavellians-Defenders-Freedom-Jame...


We have already introduced so many automations into our lives in the past century. People from 100 years ago would assume that, with the tools we have today, we already would have reached “fully automated luxury communism”. But instead, we fall short of that utopia.

The growth in consumption seems to always ever so slightly outpace innovation.

A result of this relationship between consumption and innovation seems to be that there is always some drudgery for humans right beyond the edge of what we can automate. The drudgery serves to eek just a bit more out of the system in order to match the demands of consumption.

Tomorrows drudgery will not look like todays, but it will remain drudgery all the same.


I think there's a lot of truth to this. I also suspect that, if you translated the median person from the US to the alternate-reality world of FALC they might look around in wonder; while the people native to the FALC reality would be as disaffected as many are today.


For how long? The authoritarians have deeper pockets than ever and democrats (lower case d) are struggling.


"Masses controlling the ballot box" is far more complicated than most people understand.


Please elaborate.



This version of the Luddites is the one I was taught in my history classes—in both HS and college my teachers were careful to emphasize that the colloquial usage and the actual movement are only loosely related, and we discussed how the Luddites weren't rejecting technology per se so much as they were acting out of desperation to preserve their way of life.

This is certainly something worth learning from today, and a new book bringing this interpretation to more people is worthwhile, but it's not a novel take on the movement, just an attempt to reclaim the colloquial phrase.


Pretty much every take posted under your thread here about luddites is a terrible one.

People in this thread don't seem to understand what the more archaic form of "preserve their way of life" actually means.

It means not starving to death. Back then there was no social safety net. Once your trade was not needed back then you were likely kicked to the street. There was not retraining to learn some new trade.

This is something in the times of "Learn 2 code", or "Go be a plumber" that we hear tossed about so casually. When you cause mass unemployment in a trade, especially very rapidly, you can destabilize society, you can induce crime, and even if you're not directly affected by the trade, you can be indirectly affected by the instability of the changing employment market.


Fully agreed. And everything that you say in that last paragraph is just as true today as it was then, at least in the US. We do not have a good strategy in place for taking care of all of these displaced people, and society in general will suffer for it.


> Once your trade was not needed back then you were likely kicked to the street

This is precisely what happened to Luddites and their families, at least the ones who weren't executed or exiled by the state.


There are many things twisted like this in our living memory and it irritates the hell out of me. How do we deal with it aside from endlessly correcting people? Indeed, Luddites weren't against technology.

The McDonald's hot coffee lady case wasn't frivolous.

"The customer is always right..."? Yeah, "... in matters of taste." It means you don't sell a customer who wants a green car a red one.

The "welfare queen" story wasn't about a woman who was lazy and collecting benefits, she just fit a profile that matched peoples' prejudice. It's difficult to stay on the government dole and there's a lot of conditions for receiving it. Defrauding them can disqualify you from further benefits or land you in the slammer. People aren't out there living the high life off of SS.

Sorry if it seems scattershot, I'm just describing other things that get twisted far away from their original circumstance, usually just to enable anti social behavior, like calling someone who takes a careful approach to technology a Luddite.


For better or worse, in modern parlance "luddite" is the same as "vandal" or "barbarian": actual Vandals weren't really vandalistic, and Barbarians weren't all that barbaric.

If the term wasn't "luddite", "vandal", or "barbarian" then it would be something else to describe the same thing. That is: these terms aren't really a source of any sentiment, and merely used to describe it.

This is different from e.g. the McDonald's coffee lady, where people draw real conclusions about modern society from the case (usually with very limited knowledge of the facts) and is the source of a sentiment.


> The McDonald's hot coffee lady case wasn't frivolous.

No, this isn't "twisted in our living memory". The people who think that the lawsuit is frivolous haven't forgotten that the coffee was hotter than other fast-food coffee, or rather, it has no bearing on their assessment.

Coffee is a hot beverage, and it's in your personal responsibility not to put a flimsy cup containing a hot beverage between your legs, especially not while sitting in a car. It's completely irrelevant whether the coffee was 85°C, 75°C, or 65°C, or whether there's a large warning label on the side of the cup – as an adult you can be expected to exert common sense, and if you don't, then McDonald's shouldn't be held liable for your clumsiness.


I would encourage you to read the facts, e.g. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Liebeck_v._McDonald's_Restaura...

They sold 180–190 °F coffee, with a lid, to a 79yo lady at a drive-through window. She was sitting in her car and spilled the coffee in her lap while trying to remove the lid. I don't have an opinion on the legal ramifications, but the setting has 'horrific accident waiting to happen' written all over it.


> I would encourage you to read the facts [...]

I already have, thank you.

> They sold 180–190 °F coffee, with a lid, to a 79yo lady at a drive-through window.

I know. That "79yo lady" is an adult who is liable for her own actions. Coffee is hot, duh, I would expect someone of that age to know that. McDonald's isn't responsible for babysitting people who should know better than to squeeze hot beverages between their legs.

> the setting has 'horrific accident waiting to happen' written all over it

Not more than handing someone knife and fork. If you go out for dinner and you cut yourself in the finger, or you stab an eye out because you forgot how to use cutlery, is that also the restaurant's fault? Should they give everyone dull knifes and spoons only, just in case?


> I know. That "79yo lady" is an adult who is liable for her own actions. Coffee is hot, duh, I would expect someone of that age to know that. McDonald's isn't responsible for babysitting people who should know better than to squeeze hot beverages between their legs.

Are you aware that during discovery, it was uncovered that McDonalds had undertaken studies to determine how hot they needed to make the coffee to avoid in-restaurant guests from drinking it too quickly and getting free refills. They knew the coffee was too hot and had received many complaints, and other people had been burned, but it was in fact "the point" to ensure the coffee was too hot, to save a couple of cents per customer.


Don't waste your time on such worthless rhetoric coming from the other guy. He clearly thinks it's okay to hurt people, moreso if it can be argued 'they brought it on themselves'. I wonder what their opinions on sexual assault are.


Is it also personal responsibility when a rollercoaster fails? They knew the risks, allegedly.

This is a dim moral view of humanity. Basically nobody is liable to you, even if they fuck up? That's not how morals and ethics work.

I'm convinced those that beat the drum of personal responsibility are simply conservatives that want everyone to lead a shit life. There is only so much one can do to avoid the damage that others cause. But of course, no personal responsibility to the businesses hurting people, right?

Dead giveaway of conservative, backwards outlooks. You would not be able to build a community with those values.

What are your thoughts on sexual assault?


The real lesson we should be taking from the Luddites is while they did establish a precedent for fighting for worker's rights, they failed in any meaningful way to reverse the march of technology. In fact throughout history we have never managed to put the technology genie back in the bottle, probably going back to the first tools and weapons that were ever created. So we had better figure out real quick how we are going to live with AI, because there is no going back now.


> they were acting out of desperation to preserve their way of life

Should I have the right to preserve my way of life when it imposes costs on others?


Should you have the right to press for changes that impose a cost on others?


Halting technological process is way way more costly for humanity than the alternative.


This is an assertion made, necessarily, without evidence. It's also value laden in terms of what is considered "costly", and who should make the judgement.


Maybe if we look at the opposite assertion, that technological regress would improve humanity, we can arbitrate which is likely more directionally correct.

There’s also a third assertion which can help our thinking, and that is that we have just about the right amount and type of technology, so we should halt now (vs regress or progress).

So the question then is: which of these three assertions are likely correct?


The fact that moving from A to B is a net negative does not imply that moving "back" from B to A is a net positive. All 3 scenarios (net positive, net negative, neutral) are entirely possible.

"The right amount of type of technology" is again a value judgement, tied into ideas about what a good life involves. It is also complicated by long term side effects, as we are seeing with the use of fossil fuels - there was a fairly good argument for their use 120 years ago, but it turns out that whether that argument was or wasn't correct, planning to continue to use them "forever" is not only infeasible, but utterly detrimental.


OK. To make it concrete: do you think that if we reduced our technology and never increase it again, humanity would be in a better position than if we continued on the technology train?


Sure, then I won't "press". I'll just release a product and see if the market wants it.


So it's okay to perform the harmful act, knowing the harm it will cause, as long as you leave yourself the out of being able to say it'd have come to nothing had others declined to participate? I once heard a heroin dealer make a similar claim.


So you're now comparing AI use to heroin use? Not the most accurate comparison if you ask me.


No, of course not; that would be foolish. I'm pointing out that this argument goes equally well to justify either practice, and a lot more ill besides. That makes it a weak argument, and it makes someone who uses it look likewise, because who'd go for this if they had anything better?


Preserving way of life here means "not starving and my kids have stuff to eat"


How were the Luddites harming others by preserving their way of life?

Also, costs? We're caring about money in a discussion about technology and culture? By that measure, the only cultures we should have around are the ones that cost the least.


> How were the Luddites harming others by preserving their way of life?

Me and my pals have some skill that you can now buy a machine and replace so me my pals put on masks and come visit you to smash those machines. Me and my pals want to keep getting paid for the work the machine can do nearly free now. Are me and my pals not imposing costs on others?

> We're caring about money in a discussion about technology and culture? By that measure, the only cultures we should have around are the ones that cost the least.

What would you say to slave owners struggling to preserve their culture and way of life when slavery was being outlawed? Would you support them? Because to preserve their culture and way of life which imposes costs on others is ok?


The Luddites were free people who knew a trade that machines were threatening to make obsolete. The slavery situation is nowhere near comparable. Slave owners didn't care one iota about their livestock, they were a means to an end. Did the Luddites capture or enslave anyone? I think this comparison was made solely to raise the temperature of the conversation.

Vandalism or destruction of property is nowhere near as insidious as the erasure of an entire culture and squeezing money out of them for literally generations.

I'm not convinced you have a clear view of who the Luddites were. We should look back at that situation as a hint as to how we should move forward with technology in society, if we make that choice. Choosing to leave certain people behind and not offer retraining or some other opportunity is exactly what creates the malice that would motivate a tradesman to destroy machinery. People know when they're being screwed or left out. So, maybe we shouldn't screw people over whose skills become obsolete by technologies. We should be forward-thinking and responsible in the effects our innovations have on our social systems.

Or we can blame individuals and call them names. Good enough I guess?


If your job was X by hand and now a machine does X better what gives you the right to deny others who want to use such a machine?

> The Luddites were free people who knew a trade that machines were threatening to make obsolete.

Did Luddites not feel it was their right to impose costs on others to maintain their way of life?

> Slave owners didn't care one iota about their livestock, they were a means to an end.

Slave owners not feel it was their right to impose costs on others to maintain their way of life?

The two cases are obviously different however do you deny both involve the the belief that it is ok to impose costs on others to maintain some way of life? There is nothing in common?

>Choosing to leave certain people behind and not offer retraining or some other opportunity is exactly what creates the malice that would motivate a tradesman to destroy machinery.

A society that leaves members behind will be out competed and replaced by societies that are smarter about this. Ditto for a society that imposes costs on others so that some group can continue to maintain some legacy way of life.


> If your job was X by hand and now a machine does X better what gives you the right to deny others who want to use such a machine?

Self-preservation? Do you expect them to roll over and die?

> Did Luddites not feel it was their right to impose costs on others to maintain their way of life?

Did the factory owners not feel it was their right to suddenly and massively disrupt the industries that Luddites were making a living in? What about the cost on them?


> Self-preservation? Do you expect them to roll over and die?

Above I said “A society that leaves members behind will be out competed and replaced by societies that are smarter about this. Ditto for a society that imposes costs on others so that some group can continue to maintain some legacy way of life.” Are these ideas unreasonable? If you think they are good ideas, the rational thing to do is spread them so there is collective will to have a safety net that ensures nobody is left behind. This needs to exist and be collectively paid for ahead of time. That many do not understand this is a problem. One solution is laws like forced purchased of private vehicle insurance. Another is to include such insurance as part of citizenship which now has a higher price / taxes. What is needed are some prices signals so that those who make decisions that put them at greater risk should pay higher costs to prevent such decisions.

> Did the factory owners not feel it was their right to suddenly and massively disrupt the industries that Luddites were making a living in? What about the cost on them?

Nobody “owes” you a job. Factory owners must follow laws but are otherwise free to run factory as they like even shut it down. They are at the mercy of a market of consumers. Are you willing to pay for hand made goods / services when machine made offer better value? What do you suppose happens to a business that refuses to modernize?


The Luddite movement came about more due to working condition concerns and factory owners skirting standard labor practices rather than an anti-tech slant. The workers just wanted safe working conditions and fair wages, not to halt progress.

“But the Luddites themselves “were totally fine with machines,” says Kevin Binfield, editor of the 2004 collection Writings of the Luddites. They confined their attacks to manufacturers who used machines in what they called “a fraudulent and deceitful manner” to get around standard labor practices. “They just wanted machines that made high-quality goods,” says Binfield, “and they wanted these machines to be run by workers who had gone through an apprenticeship and got paid decent wages. Those were their only concerns.” [1]

“Part of why Ludd could count on such support was that Lt Mellor began by strategically targeting the factories that had the worst records of safety and that paid the lowest wages.” [2]

“Malcolm L. Thomas argued in his 1970 history The Luddites that machine-breaking was one of the very few tactics that workers could use to increase pressure on employers, undermine lower-paid competing workers, and create solidarity among workers. "These attacks on machines did not imply any necessary hostility to machinery as such; machinery was just a conveniently exposed target against which an attack could be made." [3]

“In the place of a “cottage industry” where clothworkers, often working from home, could work as many or as few hours in the day as suited them, a new institution was arising: the factory. Inside the factory, workers would work long hours at dangerous machinery, be fed meager meals, and submit to the punitive authority of the foreman. The Luddites saw that the winners from this technological “progress” would not be workers—neither the expert textile makers losing their jobs, nor the exploited children replacing them. The winners were the factory owners who, having found a new way to disempower their workers, were able to amass a greater share of the profits those workers generated.” [4]

[1] https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/what-the-luddites-rea...

[2] https://thereader.mitpress.mit.edu/the-future-encyclopedia-o...

[3] https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Luddite

[4] https://time.com/6317437/luddites-ai-blood-in-the-machine-me...


> How were the Luddites harming others by preserving their way of life?

By preventing the others from buying the less-expensive machine made goods, thus harming their quality of life.


You certainly have the right to try.


Being a Luddite and a Dunce (John Duns Scotus) is not a bad thing.


> Today, the word “Luddite” is used as an insult to anyone resistant to technological innovation; it suggests ignoramuses, sticks in the mud, obstacles to progress. But a new book by the journalist and author Brian Merchant, titled “Blood in the Machine,” argues that Luddism stood not against technology per se but for the rights of workers above the inequitable profitability of machines.

Just because Luddites were sympathetic doesn't change the fact that they were wrong. They didn't care for the welfare of workers in general so much as they were looking out for themselves. It did not matter to them that hundreds of thousands of peasants chose to move to find work in the cities because it was better than life in the countryside and by destroying machinery, Luddites were taking away their livelihoods while the factories were shut down.

It's usually at this time that someone will bring up the enclosure of common land as the reason why people were forced out of the countryside, but that doesn't change that factory life was still offered a better alternative for a lot of people. The privatization of fertile land was inevitable with a growing population. Without the new factory jobs, even more people would be stuck as serfs like they were in China or Russia at the time.


> Just because Luddites were sympathetic doesn't change the fact that they were wrong. They didn't care for the welfare of workers in general so much as they were looking out for themselves.

Unions don't fight for the welfare of workers in general. They fight for their members and their members only.

So thank you for your strong anti-union speech, I guess.


Unions like IWW fight for all workers, cause they want to end whole wage work.


I also don't agree with the characterization of unions as heroic for the same reason, but at least, they don't typically intentionally destroy factories.


>They didn't care for the welfare of workers in general so much as they were looking out for themselves

This! It's the same deal with white collar workers complaining about AI just now, while ignoring previous automation, when it benefited them.


90% of people ever to exist were only looking out for themselves. The luddite claim that the industrial revolution made their life worse was absolutely not wrong, even if their actions were selfish.


>The luddite claim that the industrial revolution made their life worse was absolutely not wrong

So what? How is this even relevant? ATM machines also made the lives of bank tellers worse cause they lost their jobs. As well as the countless automations that happened. "Oh, better stop all technological progress to ensure I have a job", it doesn't work like this, it never did, and anyone who tried this failed miserably because it is selfish and it doesn't work. What matters is that society as a whole was better after every automation. Honestly this whole whining about automation NOW is mainly white collar workers, such as journalists and artists, throwing a hissy fit and asking for special protection because they feel like their job is """"really special"""" unlike other peoples job, it's not like other people have bills to pay and stuff.


It's quite common for modern governments to identify industries or regions which are heading towards economic decline and put in place measures to ensure the decline happens in a gradual, controlled way. This reduces a whole host of associated social problems that tend to accompany economic decline. I think it's a good thing, and I think it's probably better economically than the alternative.

> What matters is that society as a whole was better after every automation.

If your family's wealth had historically sat somewhere around the median in your society and then a major change occurred which caused your family's wealth to drop to the bottom 20% in your society, wouldn't you be angry about that? I would be. And I wouldn't be placated by assurances that society as a whole will be better off.

Not that I think demanding a halt to technological progress is a rational response (I've mentioned elsewhere I don't think that's really possible to achieve, even if we wanted to), but I understand why some people might respond that way.

The people "throwing a hissy fit" are, in my opinion, right about the problem but wrong about the solution (which is often the case). Automation rapidly making a large number of people redundant is an economic shock which can be softened via sensible intervention.


> ATM machines also made the lives of bank tellers worse cause they lost their jobs.

Nit: this isn't accurate. ATM machines are the textbook example of a case where automation actually increased employment. Bank teller employment continued to grow at around the same rate as before ATMs were introduced even while ATM installations skyrocketed, because it suddenly became much cheaper to operate a bank branch. So while tellers per bank went down, the overall number of tellers increased because there were so many new branches opening.


>So what? How is this even relevant?

Because when the luddites were kicked off their fiefdoms, there was no social safety net to ensure they didn't starve.

This is the point the gun ho capitalists tend to completely forget about while bitching that taxes are too high. When people are given the option of 'starving in the street' or 'burning your factory to the ground' they'll choose the later. If you setup a society where losing your job is not losing your life, for example by providing retraining, you the rabid free market fiend will have a safer life.


> Without the new factory jobs, even more people would be stuck as serfs like they were in China or Russia at the time.

Both the Luddites and the enclosure of common land as discussed in history books both were in the context of the UK, which had a very different system that was not at all comparable to serfdom. To the extent that it is true the UK cities were better than the UK countryside, it's not because the people moving there were already an abused underclass of near-slaves like you imply, and the enclosure of common land would absolutely have had an impact on the ability of the free farmers to get by.


The Luddites weren't wrong.


Yes, and factories are a good thing for every other country as well. Why have 1b Chinese moved from rural farm life to city factory life? Because rural farm life is unimaginably shitty in pretty much every way.


from a maximization point of view, it's clear that there is some kind of maximum point in human welfare graph. It doesnt go up and up and up forever. At some point, we'll reach (reached?) the maximum and furyher progress will lower rather than increase the human experience. It's no surprise. But I think it's ultimately just local maxima. I dont see how this tech wont benefit us in the grand scheme of things.


The better of countries have already reached the point where increase in GDP doesn't increase wellbeing, and wellbeing is actually in decline.


This is probably one of the reasons why there is finally talk in some countries of moving on to a four-day week.


At least in nordic countries there was a systematic (and even somewhat successful) political agenda to reduce working hours in the 1980s (when social democracy was the leading ideology). This has appeared sporadically in discussions as well but in practice during the neoliberal era the push has been to longer hours.

IMHO having to work more when productivity and automation increases is quite a clear sign of a fundamentally broken economic system.

https://www.atlasofplaces.com/essays/on-the-phenomenon-of-bu...


Thanks! That is like a sad follow-up to Bertrand Russell's In Praise of Idleness (1932). That essay ended "there is no reason to go on being foolish for ever"... but so far there are not many signs of things improving.

https://harpers.org/archive/1932/10/in-praise-of-idleness/


> Luddism stood not against technology per se but for the rights of workers above the inequitable profitability of machines

Being against the inequitable profitability of machines is just as dumb as being against technology, especially outside of a socialist context which this definitely was. It's basically crying that someone else is doing something better than you. In fact, I think being against technology wholesale is a much more defensible position since it creates an arms race, its unpredictable, it forces everyone into a lifestyle, etc.


> It's basically crying that someone else is doing something better than you.

That "someone else" used state power to beat you, imprison you and starve your family if you dared to organize with other workers.

Meanwhile, literal conspiracies of factory owners had full legal protection and the ability to write laws, including laws that gave the death penalty for machine breaking.


Source for this please

> That "someone else" used state power to beat you, imprison you and starve your family if you dared to organize with other workers.

Luddites pre-dated socialism and worker organization. Unless you mean, organizing a terrorist organization to blow up factories.


> Source for this please

The Combination Act of 1799, and following Combination Acts, made it illegal for workers to organize in any sense[1][2].

> Luddites pre-dated socialism and worker organization

They pre-date Marxist socialism, but the term socialism predates Marx and has had various meanings before then. Marx chose to adopt the existing term to describe his concept of socialism.

It's weird for you to say that Luddites pre-dated worker organization, when workers had organized for collective bargaining in the past, and owners made it illegal. It's also interesting considering the history of workers organized in guilds that certainly predate the Luddites by centuries.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Combination_Act_1799

[2] https://www.marxists.org/history/england/combination-laws/in...


Here's a random tweet that I believe foreshadows the future:

"I hate AI but also I've had the most insightful conversations with it about writing. It has been more honest, helpful and playful in workshopping story ideas than any real human I know. It's like chatting with a room full of actual writers and the value of that can't be ignored."

I've seen similar sentiment from a few digital artists. Those who are very anti-AI will get left behind and be outcompeted by more productive AI users. There will be a lot of disruption. We should think how to best support people whose jobs will be irreplaceably lost because of AI. There is only so much content that the market wants. Eventually we should get some form of UBI as more and more people are affected.


I think it's better to think of what jobs will be spared when we have a general problem solver, or a general goal to action mapper. I can't think of a single one.


Athletes might be an example. But yes, once robotics advances, there won't be that many left.


Athletes only really have a job because of advertising money. Why advertise to homeless people?


The rich will pay to watch the poors fight each other.


Opposing technological development because it might cost people jobs is how you fall behind as a country. The last thing I want is for China to become the leader of the world because they actually pushed forward with technological progress.


I think you completely missed the article's thesis. It's not about whether people lose their jobs, it's about whether people lose their livelihoods. Millions of lost jobs is inevitable, but millions of ruined lives is unacceptable.

> In the era of A.I., we have another opportunity to decide whether automation will create advantages for all, or whether its benefits will flow only to the business owners and investors looking to reduce their payrolls. One 1812 letter from the Luddites described their mission as fighting against “all Machinery hurtful to Commonality.” That remains a strong standard by which to judge technological gains.


I don't think AI and automation actually matters here. You just have a strong welfare safety net so anyone is caught regardless of how they got there. And then you don't have to do wacky accounting about jobs replaced by AI.


AI is already here. Advancements in the next 5-10 years are going to be unprecedented. Will we be able to spin up a safety net at the same pace?


I think it's clear that China is not the one to push for development of something that may flip the current state of power between government and the people.


tl;dr for those who didn't read it: capital sucks, think of the workers, regulate the tide of technology so .... workers can retool for another job, I guess? How do you regulate the tide?


History is written by the victors. I hadn’t heard about the Luddite movement until recently but had known of the slang for years. This book argues we might see the term reclaimed by those who have suddenly lost value from the emergence of AI.


History is written by whoever signs the check, and the popular perception of the Luddites reflects that.


The best way to prevent the future is to invent it.

Paraphrasing Alan Kaye here. There's a certain inevitability to AI. The proverbial cat is out of the bag. Our choices are simply to be part of this revolution or to be left behind while the likes of China and others, not blocked by mildly hysterical ethical activists protesting their own irrelevance, plow ahead. It's really that simple.

I call out China here because 1) they have lots of people actually working on AI. 2) a lot of the hardware we use for AI is actually being created there. 3) they have a history of getting stuff done once they decide they want to do something.

Delaying tactics, insisting it is done right, getting upset about things changing, fearing the loss of control, and similar sentiments simply aren't constructive. It's not going to stop this. If you want it done right, make sure you are involved in the doing.


I'm not aware of anyone who wants to "prevent AI" - as incredibly ambiguous as that phrase is.

What I suppose some people worry about is stuff like:

1. That they will have some means of feeding themselves and their families going forward

2. That they won't be at the whim of increasingly totalitarian (and arbitrary) governments with increasing power

3. That they will continue to find human connection

4. That they won't be overwhelmed by lots of crap content

If someone _thinks_ there's a problem, there _is_ a problem: It's pretty tricky to talk people out of their fears. You can tell them to shut up, or you can address their fears and make them feel better about the future. That typically includes putting some checks and balances in place, as well as adjusting their expectations.

China started doing mass surveillance early on, they're probably better at the technologies involved than the average country. By your logic, other countries should stop whining about it and start doing the same (or more), to not be left behind. I don't think everyone needs to do the worst thing that's technically possible to do. Sometimes those things aren't even all that beneficial for the success of a country, which I'd measure in citizen satisfaction and safety from hostile countries ultimately.


What about this guy:

"the most likely result of building a superhumanly smart AI, under anything remotely like the current circumstances, is that literally everyone on Earth will die"

"Shut down all the large GPU clusters...be willing to destroy a rogue datacenter by airstrike"

https://time.com/6266923/ai-eliezer-yudkowsky-open-letter-no...


Touché :D


I've seen many people on Twitter and Reddit calling for a total ban of image generators, because they take away jobs from artists. Yes - they think that even "ethical" models from Adobe and Getty should be banned.


If nobody addresses their fears in a reasonable fashion, I guess they're gonna find their own solutions. Like smashing machines according to TFA.

But that's a specific subset of generative AI they object to. Maybe there are people who oppose _all AI_ (including symbolic AI like pathfinding algorithms), but I'm not aware of any.


China actually has regulation for safe AI. It's hard to say how "safe" that regulation is. But it's better than what US is doing with OpenAI. Essentially do whatever lol.

https://www.lw.com/admin/upload/SiteAttachments/Chinas-New-A...


They also use AI to monitor and police their own citizens. AI serves the common good there and is a tool that is wielded by the elite that dictates what that common good is. Nominally in their subject's name of course. But it's not a democracy.


If you look inside police departments, courtrooms, etc, you'll find a lot of AI in the US. That includes monitoring. Cities like NYC are under constant surveillance on the street, below the street and in the air. Even outside of the cities, Ring, for example, partners with police departments to deploy Ring cameras that they can access from people's doors.

And that's just surface level government usage. Go on, in, or near any of the "elite's" assets, and you will be recorded and analyzed from a dozen angles, whether those assets are physical or digital.

The monitoring infrastructure might be largely built and/or deployed by private companies, but those companies know who their paying customers are: entities that are governmental, non-governmental and entities that blur the lines, that want to monitor and police citizens.



So essentially the modern framing of the luddite movement is a giant strawman argument mischaracterizing labor as being against technology when in reality they were just trying to figure out how to survive in a world where their work and livelihoods were made redundant practically overnight.

The same will happen to modern wage labor due to AI. Automation will not be a sudden an obvious moment (eg. Google deciding to lay off every software engineer), rather it will be a slow hemorrhaging of the working class where vast swaths of workers will be laid off, and unable to find work of similar pay and stability ever again. The job market will continue to get exponentially more and more competitive, and the illusion of stability will collapse. This same trend has already been playing out over the last few decades, but the pace at which it's playing out is now accelerating exponentially.

Because jobs will still exist, the status quo "just re-train them" optimists will remain ignorant and in denial, clinging to old models of the past. They'll say ridiculous things like "we can re-train the bus drivers by teaching them how to code", or "just teach illustrators how to prompt".

Of course advancing technology should be a good thing, and with the modern technology we have now we already could afford a society of leisure and abundance. But our current capitalist system drains most people of the time/energy for big picture thinking (unrelated to making a buck), and our representative democracy (compared to direct or delegative democracy) further discourages political participation from regular people who aren't wealthy enough to have the abundance of leisure and financial security required to think about anything other than money.

The result is that governments only serve the interests of the wealthy, while providing only an illusion of representing the masses. The rigidity and inflexibility of government systems means that nothing will change short of a revolution.

The easiest and simplest policy change that can be made to alleviate job loss + destitution from AI and to reframe AI automation from a game with winners + losers to a game where everyone wins is to implement a Universal Basic Income (UBI).

Think we can't afford a UBI? Fine. Start small, and peg it to the revenues of something specific like a Land Value Tax (Henry George's "citizen's dividend"). Watch society not collapse and everyone be happier (eg. like when COVID forced employers to allow more remote work) as society collectively moves up Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs. The increasing abundance of leisure will start the flywheel towards increasing political participation and representation of the people, systemic political reform towards delegative democracy (liquid democracy), and the next evolution of the human species in the "AI Age".

Until then, the only way to safeguard yourself from the AI automation wave is to achieve financial independence and to fully embrace AI, since workers who know how to leverage the latest AI tools will displace those who don't.


Being opposed to technology is something I don't understand. I'm a software engineer; and if some day AI can fully replace me, that is a "me" problem. I should be able to bring value, I should be able to adapt. When horses where THE way of transportation, there were hundreds of jobs, and thousands of workers supporting the horse industry. creating stables, blacksmiths, vets, etc. but in a matter of couple of decades, the horses were replaced by cars. now Imagine if those people started wrecking cars and car factories. over time, if someone is fully unable to adapt to progress and wants to keep going his way, he will be eliminated by the survival of the fittest. and those who were able to adapt, found other jobs that they could bring value in. For example many of the blacksmiths became mechanics.

If an artist can lose his job to AI, it means he was never anything more than a weaker version of AI. you can't be angry because someone does your job better than you and for cheaper.

Should we regulate and control the advancements, so something like the atomic bombs, like hiroshima doesn't happen with AI? Absolutely yes. Should we have our guards up and say AI is bad, it will be end of us, etc.? No. opposing progress is something that humans have always loved to do.


I think the problem isn't with technology, it's with a certain brand of technological “disruption” that doesn't actually advance anything forward but simply shifts work, energy and capital elsewhere, or worse, externalises costs, e.g. Uber.


> Being opposed to technology is something I don't understand.

TFA article is about how Luddites were not opposed to technology per se.


> 'Some with sociopathy may not realize that what they’re doing is wrong while others may simply not care. And sometimes, Dr. Coulter says, it can be both.

“There’s just a total lack of empathy or recognizing that what they’ve done has hurt someone or it’s only benefited themselves,” he says. “And sometimes they might recognize what they’re doing is wrong, they just don’t care or they justify it to themselves.”'

https://health.clevelandclinic.org/sociopath-personality-dis...


I'm not observing a situation of people massively losing their jobs or losing money. If you do, feel free to share your experience. So far, the AI technology has been a nice toy/support for the people.


Anecdotally I hear that freelance article writing dried up pretty quickly now that you can just ask GPT "write an article about my dry cleaning company in Phoenix" and similar bottom-of-the-barrel content tasks.


Ever boiled a frog?


Respectfully, AI is a core issue in the strikes in Hollywood right now, and a whole industry has been out of work for months now.


AI is very far from a "core issue" in those strikes, but merely something that is being thrown around as a bargaining chip (the actual issue is the streaming business and how it affects the entertainment economy). Not a single writer or actor to date has lost their job because of or been replaced by AI.


This is true but the "prophecy" is this is unavoidable due to rapid development and no ceiling in sight.


Are you not? Over 50% of people in the USA are living paycheck to paycheck with no emergency fund. Perhaps look a little harder.


For the first time in history a machine can come up with novel ideas.

Up until now, you were only really automating away the boring stuff.


Since when can a computer come up with a novel idea?

Do not be fooled by GPT, it's a fancy Markov chain hooked up to training data. It cannot come up with anything that wasn't already in its data set.


https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/AlphaGo_versus_Lee_Sedol

“AlphaGo showed anomalies and moves from a broader perspective which professional Go players described as looking like mistakes at the first sight but an intentional strategy in hindsight.”

Doesn’t matter if the data was already there if a human overlooks it. It took an AI to do something that everyone thought was a mistake at first.


GPT-4 is around the 99th percentile on creative thinking.[1]

[1] https://www.umt.edu/news/2023/07/070523test.php


Can you?


Yes, I think most people can come up with a somewhat novel idea. A lot has been done, so there are fewer novel ideas than there were 10000 years ago, but I see little reason why a human cannot come up with a novel idea.

It's not even the ideas that are valuable, it's making them happen. I can think up tons of things, but lack the resources to make any of them happen.


I thought that this had been the conventional view for a while now. Certainly it is what i have believed for many years, that the Luddites were reacting to iniquitous working practices and market forces.


You are definitely correct, but there is a popular perception that Luddites are just reactionarily "opposing progress" because it hurts their own personal interests.


Those are actually both the same thing. Luddites were being reactionary, they were opposing progress because it hurt their own personal interests, and it was 100% rational for them to do this (and thus should be expected).


"Luddites were reacting to iniquitous working practices and market forces." is the same thing as "reactionarily opposing progress because it hurts their own personal interests."


I meant to stress the "opposing progress" part of my comment. The two things are only the same if there was a universal, objective definition of progress with bettering humanity. Imposing a subjective yet "active" intent like opposing progress just obfuscates context and nuance around what's happening.


The hypocrisy in this popular perception is, that this would be anything but completely normal human behavior. Does anyone believe C level executives would replace themselves by (advanced) AIs, just because is would make sense economically?


And the advoctaes for this kind of change are only pushing it, against all resistence and withbany means, because it serves their personal interest. Difference being, the Ludditea had their livelihoods and health to loose. The other just a bunch of even more money earned on the backs of an exploited and abused workforce.


At least the Luddites eventually had other work to go to. This time around I'm not so sure of that.


AI can't be used for fuel in a power plant. That's where we will still dominate.


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