Author Brian Merchant suggests that Luddites pose a greater threat to the wealthy than Robin Hood.

The Luddites have a rich historical background, with anyone opposing technological progress often being labeled a Luddite. Today, the term has been revived due to generative artificial intelligence and its critics. Brian Merchant, an author and journalist, has written a book called Blood in the Machine, which explores the Luddite revolt in 19th century England and draws parallels with current technologies.

Merchant began his research a decade ago, seeing the resurgence of the term Luddite amidst the growth of Uber and its impact on taxi drivers. He clarifies that the Luddite revolt was actually a labor struggle, not a movement against technology itself. The book quotes historian Eric Hobsbawm, highlighting the Luddite tactic of collective bargaining through riots.

Ned Ludd, a legendary figure who may or may not have existed, became a symbol of the Luddite movement. The book explores how the Luddites used his name to incite fear and resistance against technology that was being used against workers. Merchant draws parallels between the Luddites’ struggle and modern labor issues in Silicon Valley.

Merchant criticizes the undemocratic nature of technological development, where a small group of corporations dominate new technologies with access to capital. He argues that this pattern has been consistent for 200 years, with technology often advancing without regard for social stability. The book discusses the potential for future unrest or backlash against big tech companies.

In recent years, discussions around a universal basic income in response to automation have taken place in Silicon Valley. Merchant views this as a superficial solution to a larger structural problem. He notes that while new jobs may be created by technology, vulnerable jobs are eroded over time, leading to social and economic challenges.

Merchant suggests that recent events such as the destruction of Waymo self-driving car may be indicative of growing anger towards big tech companies. He also highlights the potential for collective action citing Hollywood screenwriters’ recent strike and negotiation as an example of pushing back against abusive uses of technology.

Overall, Blood in the Machine delves into the history of

By Riley Johnson

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