World Wise

Rage Against the Ma­chine – Lud­dites should con­sider tech­nol­ogy’s up­side

Business Traveler (USA) - - CONTENT - By Dan Booth

Next year marks a bi­cen­ten­nial of sorts. Schol­ars point to 1817 as the end of the in­dus­trial sab­o­tage car­ried out un­der the ban­ner of the Lud­dite move­ment. It had all started in 1811, when English tex­tile work­ers re­belled against fac­tory own­ers who in­tro­duced tech­nol­ogy which the la­bor­ers saw as a threat to their liveli­hoods. Dur­ing the peak of the vi­o­lence, ma­chin­ery was smashed, mill own­ers were as­sas­si­nated and Lud­dites hanged in reprisal, and the reg­u­lar Bri­tish army was called in to crush the re­volt.

The ori­gins of the name Lud­dite are ob­scure, but may trace back some 30 years ear­lier to one Ned Ludd who, upon be­ing pro­voked by a tire­some boss, took a ham­mer to a cou­ple of knit­ting ma­chines. Thus his name be­came for­ever linked with those ‘de­stroy­ers of ma­chines.’ To­day the name lives on, but might be more aptly char­ac­ter­ized as‘ dis-trusters of ma­chines.’

Lud­dites were one of many la­bor move­ments that rose up in re­sponse to the In­dus­trial Rev­o­lu­tion. It’s doubt­ful whether the orig­i­nal Lud­dites were ac­tu­ally afraid of tech­nol­ogy per se. In to­day’s par­lance, how­ever, the name has been ap­pro­pri­ated to ap­ply – deroga­to­rily, and some­what in­ac­cu­rately – to any­one who re­jects tech­nol­ogy. In other words, a techno­phobe.

Last spring, the pres­ti­gious Mas­sachusetts In­sti­tute of Tech­nol­ogy is­sued its an­nual list of Ten Break­through Tech­nolo­gies of 2016, and some of th­ese de­vel­op­ments might cause even the most ar­dent Lud­dite to re­con­sider. Among the most in­ter­est­ing con­tenders; ge­net­i­cally en­gi­neered im­mune cells to com­bat can­cers, re­us­able space rock­ets, and nat­u­ral speech recog­ni­tion soft­ware so we can talk to ma­chines more in­tu­itively.

Ro­bot­ics that learn from one an­other are high on the list, as are self-driv­ing cars. Power so­lu­tions run the gamut from the huge – a plant in Buf­falo, NY, that’s meant to man­u­fac­ture a gi­gawatt’s worth of so­lar pan­els ev­ery year – to the mi­cro – a method of self-pow­er­ing small In­ter­net-con­nected de­vices just by har­vest­ing en­ergy from ex­ist­ing TV, ra­dio or WiFi sig­nals.

Slack is an in­terof­fice mes­sag­ing ap­pli­ca­tion. Un­like pre­vi­ous chat or col­lab­o­ra­tion tools, Slack chan­nels mes­sages into streams that al­low ev­ery­one who works to­gether to‘ over hear’ con­ver­sa­tions about projects or ini­tia­tives, thereby keep­ing more of the team‘ in the loop.’ Mes­sages on Slack tend to be short, more like mo­bile text mes­sages so the ap­pli­ca­tion feels more im­me­di­ate and ef­fort­less.

The most fas­ci­nat­ing part of MIT’s list is that all th­ese break­throughs are ei­ther re­al­ity now or could be within the next year or two. Of course some will fall by the way­side, sup­planted by as-yet-unimag­ined, but su­pe­rior, tech­nolo­gies or un­fore­seen mar­ket de­mands. But oth­ers could be with us for a long time, fun­da­men­tally chang­ing the way we live.

So the next time you’re tempted to chuck your ail­ing smart­phone out the win­dow, or, like Ned Ludd, take a ham­mer to your lap­top, re­mem­ber: The next big thing is al­ways just around the corner.

And it may be bet­ter than any­thing you can imag­ine. BT

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Canada

© PressReader. All rights reserved.