It was the year 1823, in the gallows with the noose around their neck were fourteen people to be hanged. Amongst these condemned men was a 16 year old boy crying out to his heart-broken mother in the watching crowd to help him.
But the boy’s mother was powerless to do anything that could save her son. She could only wail in despair and watch-on with a broken heart, as the final orders where given and her son struggled to fight with his last strength, the suffocating and biting pains brought by the rope around his neck. In no-time, the boy hung lifeless, his body swirling slowly from side to side as if to wave a final goodbye to a world he could not seem to understand.
The crowd looked on in helpless grief at the fourteen lifeless men, some of them fathers, husbands and lovers, brothers and uncles. This sentence to death by hanging was issued from the highest place of government, the crime committed was that these men where luddites.
Their jobs and means of livelihood were under attack by advancing technology, and they fought back the best way they knew. And so ended their tragic heroism; their story forever a testament that; technology and automation has the power to disrupt both positively and negatively.
Whenever an article about job loss due to technological advancement and automation is written, the Luddite story is always used as the perfect exemplum.
So who were the luddites and what crime did they commit really?
The Luddite movement began around the year 1810, it was made up of men whose profession at the time was in the textile industry. This included weavers, stocking makers and embroidery specialist. These were high paying professions at the time, but soon, new types of machines were invented. These machines could automate the work of making stockings and textile making with very little human input.
This resulted in entrepreneurs with access to huge capital to set up big factories, which in turn led to more and more handcraft workers going out of employment. These former craftsmen formed themselves into groups called the luddites and went about destroying the new machines, burning the factories and even killing some factory owners.
The issue escalated into a national threat, which involved the British parliament passing legislation against luddites who destroyed machines or burned down factories. Thousands of soldiers were deployed to the towns where the Luddite movement was prominent, and after a number of clashes, the Luddite revolution was eventually subdued by force and a show of public execution by hanging as the one described earlier.
The looms that marked the Luddite movement are today weaving threateningly around our world at a global and existential level. Our only safeguard is to learn and adapt the lessons from this momentous historical face-off between man and machines; as they contend for supremacy in the job market.
Just like the Luddite narrative where different stakeholders (workers, factory owners, & government) had a significant role to play in the final outcome of the story, the job disruption face-off we will experience going forward into this new era will also require the pro-active harmonization of thoughts, policies and end goal for all parties. From the individual, to the employers of labor, to regulatory government bodies; all will need to reconcile to the fact that they face a common threat, and that they must be united to defeat this common enemy.
Duriing the Ludite revolution, one of the very few legislators who advocated for the Luddites was Lord Byron. Coincidently, Lord Byron’s only legitimate daughter Ada Lovelace would become the first computer programmer by combining the technology of the Analytical Engine with the Jacquard loom.
This ironic thread has stretched even to our times, and is woven with the looming job-loss predicament we find ourselves today. For AI and Automated Machines need programming which to a great extent can be traced back to Lord Byron’s daughter — Ada Lovelace.
In the coming chapters of this book, I will be discussing some of the possible ways workers/individuals, employers (soon to be employers of robots & automated machines) and government through its legislative arms and agencies can avoid the tragic route of the Luddite-type scenario.
From the one end of the individual laborer to the farthest end of Government policy makers, everyone needs be involved in finding the most agreeable means for dealing with this encroaching robot and AI automated army.
By being futuristic and pro-active, Government will have little need for anti-riot police. On the other hand, owners of industry and employers of labor will have no fear of being stigmatized or attacked by disgruntled workers. And most importantly, the worker whose job will be swallowed up in the robot and AI automation deluge will find solace in the fact that they had anticipated such a scenario and prepared for it long before it could affect them negatively.