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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US Tech Stocks Are Now Worth More Than the Entire European Stock Market

The dominance of major U.S. tech stocks in recent years has pushed the sector past another milestone as it is now more valuable than the entire European stock market, according to Bank of America Global Research. The firm said in a note that this is the first time the market cap of the U.S. tech sector, at $9.1 trillion, exceeds Europe, which including the U.K. and Switzerland is now at $8.9 trillion. For reference, the firm said that in 2007, Europe was four times the size of U.S. technology stocks.

Tech pulling ahead of the European continent comes as the U.S. market has become increasingly concentrated in mega-cap tech stocks, worrying some market strategists. The five biggest tech names — Apple, Microsoft, Alphabet, Amazon and Facebook — accounted for 17.5% of the S&P 500 in January, and the rotation into tech during the coronavirus pandemic has pushed that number well above 20%. Consumer tech goliath Apple is worth more than $2 trillion by itself. The run for Amazon might be the most stunning of the group. The company has been growing into a dominant force in e-commerce since the 1990s, but the explosion of the cloud computing industry has helped its stock surge over the past decade. Its share price was about 20 times higher on Thursday than it was in August 2010.

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Facing Unbearable Heat, Qatar Has Begun To Air-Condition the Outdoors

It was 116 degrees Fahrenheit in the shade outside the new Al Janoub soccer stadium, and the air felt to air-conditioning expert Saud Ghani as if God had pointed “a giant hair dryer” at Qatar. Yet inside the open-air stadium, a cool breeze was blowing. Beneath each of the 40,000 seats, small grates adorned with Arabic-style patterns were pushing out cool air at ankle level. And since cool air sinks, waves of it rolled gently down to the grassy playing field. Vents the size of soccer balls fed more cold air onto the field. Ghani, an engineering professor at Qatar University, designed the system at Al Janoub, one of eight stadiums that the tiny but fabulously rich Qatar must get in shape for the 2022 World Cup. His breakthrough realization was that he had to cool only people, not the upper reaches of the stadium — a graceful structure designed by the famed Zaha Hadid Architects and inspired by traditional boats known as dhows. “I don’t need to cool the birds,” Ghani said.

Qatar, the world’s leading exporter of liquefied natural gas, may be able to cool its stadiums, but it cannot cool the entire country. Fears that the hundreds of thousands of soccer fans might wilt or even die while shuttling between stadiums and metros and hotels in the unforgiving summer heat prompted the decision to delay the World Cup by five months. It is now scheduled for November, during Qatar’s milder winter. The change in the World Cup date is a symptom of a larger problem — climate change. Already one of the hottest places on Earth, Qatar has seen average temperatures rise more than 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 F) above preindustrial times, the current international goal for limiting the damage of global warming. The 2015 Paris climate summit said it would be better to keep temperatures “well below” that, ideally to no more than 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 F).

[…] To survive the summer heat, Qatar not only air-conditions its soccer stadiums, but also the outdoors — in markets, along sidewalks, even at outdoor malls so people can window shop with a cool breeze. “If you turn off air conditioners, it will be unbearable. You cannot function effectively,” says Yousef al-Horr, founder of the Gulf Organization for Research and Development. Yet outdoor air conditioning is part of a vicious cycle. Carbon emissions create global warming, which creates the desire for air conditioning, which creates the need for burning fuels that emit more carbon dioxide. In Qatar, total cooling capacity is expected to nearly double from 2016 to 2030, according to the International District Cooling & Heating Conference. And it’s going to get hotter.

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Oceans Are Getting Louder, Posing Potential Threats to Marine Life

Slow-moving, hulking ships crisscross miles of ocean in a lawn mower pattern, wielding an array of 12 to 48 air guns blasting pressurized air repeatedly into the depths of the ocean.

The sound waves hit the sea floor, penetrating miles into it, and bounce back to the surface, where they are picked up by hydrophones. The acoustic patterns form a three-dimensional map of where oil and gas most likely lie.

The seismic air guns probably produce the loudest noise that humans use regularly underwater, and it is about to become far louder in the Atlantic. As part of the Trump administration’s plans to allow offshore drilling for gas and oil exploration, five companies are in the process of seeking permits to carry out seismic mapping with the air guns all along the Eastern Seaboard, from Central Florida to the Northeast, for the first time in three decades. The surveys haven’t started yet in the Atlantic, but now that the ban on offshore drilling has been lifted, companies can be granted access to explore regions along the Gulf of Mexico and the Pacific.

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We’ve Reached ‘Peak Screen,’ voice next

We’ve hit what I call Peak Screen. For much of the last decade, a technology industry ruled by smartphones has pursued a singular goal of completely conquering our eyes. It has given us phones with ever-bigger screens and phones with unbelievable cameras, not to mention virtual reality goggles and several attempts at camera-glasses. Tech has now captured pretty much all visual capacity. Americans spend three to four hours a day looking at their phones and about 11 hours a day looking at screens of any kind.

So tech giants are building the beginning of something new: a less insistently visual tech world, a digital landscape that relies on voice assistants, headphones, watches and other wearables to take some pressure off our eyes. This could be a nightmare; we may simply add these new devices to our screen-addled lives.” Google, Apple, Amazon voice assisants, etc.

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