The most urgent story in modern tech begins not in Silicon Valley but two hundred years ago in rural England, when workers known as the Luddites rose up rather than starve at the hands of factory owners who were using automated machines to erase their livelihoods. The Luddites organized guerrilla raids to smash those machines and won the support of Lord Byron, enraged the Prince Regent, and inspired the birth of science fiction. This all-but-forgotten class struggle brought nineteenth-century England to its knees. Today, technology imperils millions of jobs, robots are crowding factory floors, and artificial intelligence will soon pervade every aspect of our economy. How will this change the way we live? And what can we do about it?
The book is a historical reconsideration of the movement and a gripping narrative of political resistance told in short vignettes ... Merchant ably demonstrates the dire stakes of the Luddites’ plight ... The book offers plenty of satisfying imagery for the twenty-first-century reader experiencing techlash.
He brings a journalist’s touch to the Luddites’ travails, drawing connections between the conflicts and indignities of their epoch and our own ... Merchant is keen to reframe the Luddites as proto-unionist reformers rather than violent revolutionaries.
Mr. Merchant’s narrative makes it easy to regard the factory owners as mustache-twirling villains who were enriching themselves off the labor of 7-year-olds ... Mr. Merchant is keen to see in the Luddites echoes of today’s demands for workers’ right.