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I’m a Luddite – and Why You Should Be One Too

Los Angeles Times technology columnist Brian Merchant has written a book about the 1811 Luddite rebellion against industrial technology, decrying “entrepreneurs and industrialists pushing for new, dubiously legal, highly automated and labor-saving modes of production.”

In a new piece he applauds the spirit of the Luddites. “The kind of visionaries we need now are those who see precisely how certain technologies are causing harm and who resist them when necessary.”
The parallels to the modern day are everywhere. In the 1800s, entrepreneurs used technology to justify imposing a new mode of work: the factory system. In the 2000s, CEOs used technology to justify imposing a new mode of work: algorithmically organized gig labor, in which pay is lower and protections scarce. In the 1800s, hosiers and factory owners used automation less to overtly replace workers than to deskill them and drive down their wages. Digital media bosses, call center operators and studio executives are using AI in much the same way. Then, as now, the titans used technology both as a new mode of production and as an idea that allowed them to ignore long-standing laws and regulations. In the 1800s, this might have been a factory boss arguing that his mill exempted him from a statute governing apprentice labor. Today, it’s a ride-hailing app that claims to be a software company so it doesn’t have to play by the rules of a cab firm.

Then, as now, leaders dazzled by unregulated technologies ignored their potential downsides. Then, it might have been state-of-the-art water frames that could produce an incredible volume of yarn — but needed hundreds of vulnerable child laborers to operate. Today, it’s a cellphone or a same-day delivery, made possible by thousands of human laborers toiling in often punishing conditions.

Then, as now, workers and critics sounded the alarm…

Resistance is gathering again, too. Amazon workers are joining union drives despite intense opposition. Actors and screenwriters are striking and artists and illustrators have called for a ban of generative AI in editorial outlets. Organizing, illegal in the Luddites’ time, has historically proved the best bulwark against automation. But governments must also step up. They must offer robust protections and social services for those in precarious positions. They must enforce antitrust laws. Crucially, they must develop regulations to rein in the antidemocratic model of technological development wherein a handful of billionaires and venture capital firms determine the shape of the future — and who wins and loses in it.

The clothworkers of the 1800s had the right idea: They believed everyone should share in the bounty of the amazing technologies their work makes possible.

That’s why I’m a Luddite — and why you should be one, too.

So whatever happened to the Luddites? The article reminds readers that the factory system “took root,” and “brought prosperity for some, but it created an immiserated working class.

“The 200 years since have seen breathtaking technological innovation — but much less social innovation in how the benefits are shared.”

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Chinese Newspaper Touts Videogame Where Players ‘Hunt Down Traitors’ in Hong Kong

An online game calling on players to hunt down traitors who seek to separate Hong Kong from China and fuel street violence has reportedly begun to attract players across Chinese mainland social media platforms. The game, “fight the traitors together,” is set against the backdrop of the social unrest that has persisted in Hong Kong. The script asks the player to find eight secessionists hidden in the crowd participating in Hong Kong protests.

Players can knock them down with slaps or rotten eggs until they are captured. Online gamers claim the game allows them to vent their anger at the separatist behavior of secessionists during the recent Hong Kong riots. The eight traitors in the game, caricatured based on real people, include Jimmy Lai Chee-ying, Martin Lee Chu-ming and Joshua Wong Chi-fung, prominent opposition figures who have played a major role in inciting unrest in Hong Kong. There are also traitor figures in ancient China…

In the game, amid a crowd of black-clad rioters wearing yellow hats and face masks, Anson Chan Fang On-sang, another leading opposition figure, carries a bag with a U.S. flag, clutches a stack of U.S. dollars and holds a loudspeaker to incite violence in the streets.

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Stare Into The Lights My Pretties

Surveillance tools for “War on Terror” used on indigenous activists

“A shadowy international mercenary and security firm known as TigerSwan targeted the movement opposed to the Dakota Access Pipeline with military-style counterterrorism measures, collaborating closely with police in at least five states, according to internal documents obtained by The Intercept. The documents provide the first detailed picture of how TigerSwan, which originated as a U.S. military and State Department contractor helping to execute the global war on terror, worked at the behest of its client Energy Transfer Partners, the company building the Dakota Access Pipeline, to respond to the indigenous-led movement that sought to stop the project.

TigerSwan spearheaded a multifaceted private security operation characterized by sweeping and invasive surveillance of protesters.

Activists on the ground were tracked by a Dakota Access helicopter that provided live video coverage to their observers in police agencies, according to an October 12 email thread that included officers from the FBI, DHS, BIA, state, and local police. In one email, National Security Intelligence Specialist Terry Van Horn of the U.S. attorney’s office acknowledged his direct access to the helicopter video feed, which was tracking protesters’ movements during a demonstration. “Watching a live feed from DAPL Helicopter, pending arrival at site(s),” he wrote. Cecily Fong, a spokesperson for law enforcement throughout the protests, acknowledged that an operations center in Bismarck had access to the feed, stating in an email to The Intercept that “the video was provided as a courtesy so we had eyes on the situation.”

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Stare Into The Lights My Pretties

FOI request garners 18hrs of drone spy footage from FBI of Black Lives Matter protests

In a very COINTELPRO-esque context, the ACLU has received more than 18 hours of video from surveillance cameras installed on FBI aircraft that flew over Baltimore in the days after the death of Freddie Gray in police custody in 2015. The footage offers a rare insight into the workings of a government surveillance operation targeting protests.

“The cache is likely the most comprehensive collection of aerial surveillance footage ever released by a US law enforcement agency… The footage shows the crowds of protesters captured in a combination of visible light and infrared spectrum video taken by the planes’ wing-mounted FLIR Talon cameras. While individual faces are not clearly visible in the videos, it’s frighteningly easy to imagine how cameras with a slightly improved zoom resolution and face recognition technology could be used to identify protesters in the future. ”

The collection of aerial surveillance footage of Baltimore protests from April 29, 2015 to May 3, 2015, from FBI archives is available on their website, or better yet, the Internet Archive.

“Records from the Federal Aviation Administration showed that the FBI’s aircraft, which were registered to front companies to conceal their ownership, carried sophisticated camera systems on board, complete with night-vision capabilities.”

The FBI says they’re only using the planes to track specific suspects in “serious crime investigations,” and that “the FBI flew their spy planes more than 3,500 times in the last six months of 2015, according to an analysis of data collected by the aircraft-tracking site FlightRadar24.”

“The FBI has been criticized in the recent past for its actions regarding domestic advocacy groups. A 2010 report by the Department of Justice Inspector General found the FBI opened investigations connected to organizations such as Greenpeace and the Catholic Worker movement that classified possible “trespassing or vandalism” as domestic terrorism cases. The report also found the FBI’s National Press Office “made false and misleading statements” when questioned by the media about documents obtained by public records requests.”

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