June 9 – Fall Of The Machines

Today’s factismal: The most-remembered protest against industrialization started 204 years ago.

If you read the newspapers today, you’ll see headlines that would have been familiar more than two centuries ago. In among the stories of war and rumors of war there will be the obligatory feel good pieces about the library of kittens and the hysterical op-ed pieces on how modern civilization is going to wrack and ruin. And perhaps most familiar of all will be the story about how the machines are taking over and soon we will all be unemployed.

One of the original terminators (Image courtesy  T. Allom)

One of the original terminators
(Image courtesy T. Allom)

Back in the year 1811, the machines that were taking over were spinning jennies, knitting machines, and industrial looms. These machines could create textiles of better quality at a faster pace than the traditional handloom weavers could; as a result, the machined goods were less expensive and more plentiful and were throwing weavers out of business. The weavers didn’t take this lying down. They started breaking threshing machines and stocking frames and other machines during the day and then would gather at night to practice drills and maneuvers as part of a “citizen’s army” that they named “Luddites” after a mythical young boy who destroyed a stocking frame. Over the next two years, these Luddites would fight several battles with the British Army before finally being overwhelmed and sent to various British colonies as punishment.

Today we can see the same raging against the machine with warnings that your job will be taken over and musings on the coming singularity (along with a few level-headed assessments of whether or not you really have to worry). And, as was the case two hundred years ago, the truth is that the coming industrial revolution will be neither as bad as we fear nor as good as we hope. Some jobs that people do, such as cab drivers and deliveryman, will soon go the way of the knocker up (replaced by the alarm clock), the breaker boy (replaced by the coal mill), the elevator operator (replaced by buttons), the soda jerk (replaced by bottles), and the iceman (replaced by the refrigerator). But other jobs will be created and the net gain to humanity will outweigh the costs.

If you’d like to help us start gaining now, then why not participate in a DARPA citizen science project? Called Verigames, this project is designed as a series of games that actually identify flaws in computer software. When you play the games you not only have fun, but you also have the opportunity to make the machines we use safer and more reliable. To play along, head over to:

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