Of Luddites, Bots, and the FTC

A Luddite is not anti technology. They are anti fraud.

The Luddites were a secret oath-based organization[1] of English textile workers in the 19th century, where a radical faction destroyed textile machinery as a form of protest. The group was protesting against the use of machinery in a “fraudulent and deceitful manner” to get around standard labour practices.[2] Luddites feared that the time spent learning the skills of their craft would go to waste, as machines would replace their role in the industry.[3] It is a misconception that the Luddites protested against the machinery itself in an attempt to halt the progress of technology. Over time, however, the term has come to mean one opposed to industrialisation, automation, computerisation, or new technologies in general.[4]

Language is defined by the winners of conflict, and in this case, the Luddites lost the deeper conversation about unequal distribution of the spoils of capitalism to the thrill of industrialization. Just as a language is a dialect with an army and Navy, a definition is a sound with implied threat and reward.

The Luddites made a mistake, besides being violent and murderous. 200 years ago they were happily smashing machines all throughout England, but then they tried to smash the wrong machine. The British army.

The British Army clashed with the Luddites on several occasions. At one time there were more British soldiers fighting the Luddites than there were fighting Napoleon on the Iberian Peninsula.[27][d]

Not only did the Luddites begin to lose badly to the army, they lost badly to the legal system. As the Luddites gasped their last breath:

A Parliament by the voting 3% made “machine breaking” (i.e. industrial sabotage) a capital crime with the Frame Breaking Act of 1812[32]and the Malicious Damage Act 1861.[33] Lord Byron opposed this legislation, becoming one of the few prominent defenders of the Luddites after the treatment of the defendants at the York trials.[34] Coincidently, Lord Byron’s only legitimate daughter Ada Lovelace would become the first computer programmer by combining the technology of the Analytical Engine with the Jacquard loom[35].

The daughter of the lone defender of the Luddites was Ada Lovelace. Huh.

And so being a Luddite become an anti-technology slur, a joke, a way to suggest that you didn’t understand the economics of change. Economists even call this the Luddite Fallacy.

Far be it for me to suggest that economics itself is chock full of fallacy and pseudo science.

But the reason I bring up Luddites is not only because I was once in the band called the Luddites. (There are a couple such bands, I was in the one in Atlanta that played “Giant Robots”).

I want to be clear this is not an anti-technology blog. Nor would I condone violence for political gain. I am not a Luddite in the traditional or Neo sense.

But, I do think that the technology of Laws and Armies and Nations can and should be oriented to protect people, and not just a few people. Everyone. Every Singleton in the universe.

There is no sum total of human experience, there are only discrete human experiences. Anyone who suggests they can “add it all up” is trying to sell you something. Likely their BA in Economics.

The conversation about the threat of AI in terms of economic disruption needs to shift gears away from trying to make people afraid. People are afraid already, that battle is won.

The conversation needs to be about which entity will protect us. Sure the ACLU will do their part, but how about the FTC protecting us from bot fraud as I have written about? How about city government banning autonomous vehicles without a human driver with hands, and moral responsibility, available.

The Luddites did not have true democratic means to pass laws to ensure a safe and meaningful life for their children. So they broke stuff. We do have those means. And we don’t even need to elect new people to do it. We just need to let our government know that we demand it do its job.

Protect us. Not from immigrants. Not from bots. From the people who would use bots to create fear of immigrants, distracting us from the real issue:

Fraud.

Fraud against consumers. Stealing our attention, our only real commodity. Making us believe the unreal is real, that code is a human. Faking out our natural tribal instincts. We need to throw a real legal wrench in the use of bots in this manner. People need to go to jail.

FTC, do your job.

Painting by Simon Stålenhag

2 comments

  1. This reminds me of claims that the south seceded because they were concerned with states rights or tariffs that disproportionately hurt their livelihoods while propping up the north. While superficially true, this claim serves primarily to obscure the essence of the situation.

    Luddites destroyed machinery BECAUSE it was being used in ways that decreased labor costs, imperilling their jobs and livelihoods while improving life for just about everyone else.

    • I think saying it improved life for just about everyone else suggests that the industrial revolution that was about to happen was kind to the people of England. As we know it was so horrid to children and the underprivileged it inspired Marx to pen the Communist Manifesto. The Luddite protests were about frustration of not being cared for properly by the owners of the machines. The machines were one target, but they also murdered their owners. Attacks on the machines were just part of the movement. To be clear again, I think that is entirely the wrong way to control technology change. I am trying to bring out that those frustrated with AI taking jobs need to be more thoughtful than slashing tires of autonomous vehicles.

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