It is well known from the history of technology that the invention of new things was always problematic. In the 15th century for example, in which Gutenberg has invented the first printing press, the world wasn't pleased. Instead the Luddite movement was doing everything to destroy his work. As far as I know from the history lesson, Gutenberg was recognized in his time as an evil sorcerer and the printing press as work of the devil.

This development was in later decades also visible. At first, a great invention was done for example the first steam driven car, and the ordinary people don't understand the technology and were in fear of it.

A modern form of technology is computing and especially artificial intelligence. From a technical point of view, it is one of the most important inventions ever, and this might result into a very strong possible form of rejection. Some people in the world are not excited by Artificial Intelligence. They not want any sorts of robots and intelligent machines.

The terminology itself is well known. The fundamental rejection of new technology because of religious or moral reasons is called Luddism or Neoluddism. Because the technophobic Ned Ludd has destroyed a while ago two stocking frames. After this episode, every rant against technology is called after him. But what I do not understand the motivation behind it. Did Ned Ludd thought, that he can change the world if he destroyed a machine? Did he believe that mankind will become good if no Gutenberg printing press are used? The problem is that, for example, if the first steam engine was never invented, also the following inventions like the internet and intelligent machines wouldn't have been invented. But what would be the alternative? What is the perspective of Ned Ludd, how does he see the better tomorrow, if no technology innovation is allowed?


1 Answer 1


My understanding of Neo-Luddism is that it is concerned with the unforeseeable effects of technology.

The "blackening of London" (see Blake's London) in the early industrial era was an unforeseen effect, and would have had impacts on health related to air quality.

The unforeseen effect of heavy use of plastic materials has led not only to a large amount of plastics in the ocean, but to recent revelation of micro-particles in the drinking water supply.

Heavy use of nitrogen fertilizers has lead to dead zones (oxygen depleted water) in coastal zones, with real impacts on the food chain.

Management of nuclear waste is another issue that was overlooked at the beginning, before there was a real understanding of the effects on organisms, including humans.

  • The original Luddites were attacking technology because it was clear it would eliminate jobs.

The Luddite wiki states that "It is a misconception that the Luddites protested against the machinery itself in an attempt to halt the progress of technology," rather "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." This is consistent with my understanding.

  • The extension of the idea of Neo-Luddism, as raised by Hawking and Musk, among others, is not a rejection of technology, but a warning about the inability to predict the dangers of new technology. They seem to be, in part, warning about the potential dangers of superintelligence.

The fears regarding superintelligence, or, self-replicating nanobots (see grey goo) are similar to concerns regarding nuclear weapons and mutually assured destruction. (Nash explains why deterrence works, but it assumes rational actors.)

But, the more concrete warnings about strong-narrow AI (AlphaGo and extensions) is that it may result in unfathomable levels of persistent, long-term unemployment as the types of tasks strong-narrow AI can do better than humans will expand, likely in an exponential function.

I always like to take it back to the origins, so I'll mention Prometheus ("forethought") and his brother Epimetheus ("hindsight").

Prometheus saves mankind with gifts, including fire, but fire is both creative and destructive. In the myths, the punishments to mankind for Prometheus' theft are sent by Zeus, because the myth, and the core ideas, predate modern science and philosophy.

A simple reductionist explanation of Neo-Luddism may be simply that "hindsight is 20/20".

Forge ahead blindly at your own peril. Proceed cautiously to minimize potential downside.

  • In some sense, practical Neo-Luddism--not the rejection technology the cognizance of the dangers of technology--may just be a form of minimax.

You must log in to answer this question.