From anti-Google bus vandalism to Uber drivers being attacked in Paris, the rise in anti-tech tension is hard to miss. Some suggest that this is the beginning of a trend with more upheaval to come. But before we get all hysterical about robots replacing humans, we may want to take a look at the history books to understand our uprisings against technology.
We have a Terminator complex. We don’t want the machines we create to outsmart us, leave us jobless, or worse. And yes, you could easily attribute overall high unemployment rates to a more automated economy, but you could just as easily pin recent drops in that rate to the vast number of jobs being created by the tech sector.
The Luddite movement in the early 1800s was history’s most famous display of people organizing to prove how essential the human workforce is to the economy. Working class Englishmen, during a a seemingly endless war on Napolean’s France and rampant low wages, lashed out at the Industrial Revolution’s textile machinery. The men saw machines as a threat to their employment as they were gradually phased out and replaced by the technology. So they met at night secretly, sent death threats to magistrates, attacked the British army, and assailed the machines. Luddites didn’t attack the foundations of emerging industry, but rather wanted high-quality machines run by well-paid, properly trained workers.
Still, society was fearful in early 1800s England that machines were jeopardizing their livelihoods as they knew them, a sentiment that sounds familiar today. Back then, machines were attacked. Today, Bay Area residents and Parisian taxi drivers are assaulting omnipotent technology in any form they can.
The situation in Silicon Valley has gone from bad to worse. Google’s corporate buses are being vandalized by Bay Area protestors upset with rising housing prices and tech companies’ limited investment in the local community. Last week, a Google engineer was personally vilified by fliers left around his home saying, “Anthony Levandowski is building an unconscionable world of surveillance, control and automation. He is also your neighbour.” The activists objected to Google’s role in creating military robots, so they followed Levandowski to his Berkeley home to publicly try to shame him.
In Paris last year, taxi drivers assaulted Uber drivers and passengers. They slashed tires and broke windows in protest of the startup stealing clients from the hard-working taxi chauffeurs. Additionally, Amazon was protested last year by employees demanding fair labor treatment. The protestors wore stickers emblazoned with their message in front of Amazon.com headquarters: “We are people! Not Robots!”
The parallels between the Luddites and the protests against the tech community are relevant but don’t necessarily foreshadow what may come next. The uprising in the U.K. only lasted for six years, with little-to-no global significance on technological progress. The impact of today’s protests has yet to be seen, but it’s worth noting that it’s not the first time people have lashed out at technology. Nor will it be the last.