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In the realm of technology, there are those who embrace progress with open arms and those who view it with suspicion and fear. Those who fall into the latter category are often labeled as Luddites. But what does it mean to be a Luddite in today’s world?

Author and journalist Brian Merchant has tackled this question in his latest book, Blood in the Machine. The book explores the origins of the current revolt against big technology and draws parallels with the Luddite movement in 19th century England. 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.

The book clarifies that the Luddite revolt was actually a labor struggle, not a movement against technology itself. It quotes historian Eric Hobsbawm, highlighting the Luddite tactic of collective bargaining through riots. The author also explores how Ned Ludd, a legendary figure who may or may not have existed, became a symbol of the Luddite movement. He used his name to incite fear and resistance against technology that was being used against workers.

Merchant argues that modern labor issues in Silicon Valley echo this struggle for fair treatment by big tech companies. He criticizes the undemocratic nature of technological development, where corporations dominate new technologies with access to capital. He suggests that this pattern has been consistent for 200 years, with technology often advancing without regard for social stability.

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. While new jobs may be created by technology, vulnerable jobs are eroded over time, leading to social and economic challenges. He notes that recent events such as the destruction of Waymo self-driving cars and Hollywood screenwriters’ strike and negotiation against abusive uses of technology could indicate growing anger towards big tech companies.

Overall, Blood in the Machine sheds light on how history informs our understanding of current challenges in tech industry by exploring what it means to be a Luddite today. Merchant raises important questions about democratic oversight in technological development and its impact on society at large.

As we continue to navigate our way through rapid technological advancements, these issues become increasingly pressing – so much so that they demand attention from policymakers and industry leaders alike

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