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Saturday, 07 February 2015 12:12

It could only happen in America – the Luddite Awards

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Inspired by Englishman Ned Ludd, whose actions in the 19th century to destroy mechanized looms helped spur a social movement, todays neo-Luddites likewise want to “smash” today’s technology.

Luddites no longer use sledgehammers – they use myopic ideas to convince policy makers that technological innovation is something to be thwarted. Their targets are broad – genetically modified organisms; new Internet apps; smart electric meters; broadband networks; health IT; big data; and increasingly productivity itself.

They want a more pure world where risk is close to zero, losers from innovation are few, and change is slow and managed. I cannot argue that we need a social conscience, or even a devil’s advocate, to question the technology race - especially where personal freedoms are sacrificed for ‘convenience’.

But on the whole the vast majority of humans say “Bring it on – we want change at ultra-rapid rates.“

Robert Atkinson, President of Information Technology and Innovation Foundation (ITIF) says “Innovation and technological development are absolutely essential to achieving this goal [rapidly increase living standards and quality of life for all], but over the last decade a vast array of organisations have stepped up their efforts thwart technological innovation. By highlighting the most egregious examples of these efforts we hope to better educate the public and policymakers on why Luddite opposition is profoundly mistaken.”

The ten Luddite nominees were:

1. The National Rifle Association’s Opposition to Smart Guns. Smart guns only recognise their owner and prevent unauthorised use – shame the USA has millions, perhaps billions of unregistered older dumb guns. You have to start somewhere and smart guns make sense.

2. The Vermont Legislature Passes Law Requiring GMO Food Labelling. Do you want mandatory labelling with a skull and crossbones when the majority of GMO product is more about sustainable and affordable food around the world?

3. Arizona, Michigan, New Jersey, and Texas Take Action to Prevent Tesla From Opening Stores to Sell Cars Directly to Consumers. Some states in the union have legislation to stop manufacturers selling directly at the expense of dealers. Most have allowed Tesla to open ‘retail stores’ to promote a new technology. Protectionism at its worst – you can always order a Tesla on-line!

4.The French Government Stops Amazon From Providing Free Shipping on Books. In July 2014, new legislation came into effect in France aimed at preserving French bookshops against competition from online booksellers such as Amazon. The law bans combining the free delivery of books with existing legislation —the Lang Law—that allows booksellers to offer no more than a five percent discount on publisher prices.

5.“Stop Smart Meters” Seeks To Stop Smart Innovation in Meters and Cars. Smart meters are digital electric meters that use a small radio to allow two-way communication between the customer and the utility, enabling both parties to review daily energy use and eliminating tens of thousands of tedious, sometimes dangerous and error prone jobs – like going door to door to read the dials on analogue meters.

6.Free Press Lobbies for Rules to Stop Innovation in Broadband Networks. Broadband is replacing single-purpose telco and cable networks of the past. It needs to provide a better level of service for some applications, especially latency sensitive ones like Internet telephony. It requires versatility that only can be provided by the addition of smart management to raw bandwidth. But in analysing the vehement arguments for “net neutrality” it becomes evident that a number of “public interest” groups, are in fact led by Free Press, an advocacy group founded by Robert McChesney, a socialist committed to, in his own words, overthrowing the “capitalist system itself.”

7.New York State Cracks Down on Airbnb and its Hosts. The “sharing economy” is a person-to-person economic exchange system, where people share physical resources for a fee. It is great for cars, accommodation, even tools and trades. In 2014 Airbnb increased its number of rented rooms to nearly 30,000, making it the largest “hotel” in the city – thus upsetting the well-established hotel chains with long and deep traditions of watering and feeding policy makers.

8.Virginia and Nevada Take on Ride Share. The sharing-economy taxi-alternative services like Uber allow users to call cars to their location and use convenient payment methods. In addition, passengers use an online tool to rate drivers on overall quality. Yes there has been some criticism of driver quality – far less than criticism levied against traditional taxi drivers. Not surprisingly, the incumbent taxi industry has launched efforts to convince regulators to crack down on this technology-enabled competition.

9.The Media and Pundits Claiming That “Robots” Are Killing Jobs. The dominant narrative around technology is that it is leading to fewer jobs overall. Pundits – let’s not call them experts - have now sounded the alarm, scapegoating technological change for our current unemployment situation and claiming it will only get worse. Earlier in 2014 Paul Krugman wrote: “Today, however, a much darker picture of the effects of technology on labour is emerging. In this picture, highly educated workers are as likely as less educated workers to find themselves displaced and devalued, and pushing for more education may create as many problems as it solves.” Well that’s fine at home in the USA but what about the huge levels of automation in Asia? Really this is all about freedom of enterprise and not about protectionism. Other jobs will be invented.

10.The Electronic Frontier Foundation’s Opposition to Health IT. Electronic medical records and other information technology innovations hold the promise of improved quality, lower cost for health care. The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), a non-profit advocacy organization dedicated to defending civil liberties, including privacy and free expression, in the digital world, launched a major campaign in 2014 to demonise electronic medical records and convince policy makers to limit their use. Here is one area where convenience of electronic records saves lives!

You can read the original awards report here - it is 25 pages and sure its proselytizing for technology – but it reasonably fairly exposes the lengths Luddites go to in order to stop ‘progress’.

Opinion

There is a fair bit of it expressed in this article – I just want to add that in a free country we have free speech. But too many Luddites have personal agenda including their own economic interests – where to maintain the status quo is to their benefit. Too many Luddites fan the flames of fear and suck the oxygen from real debate. Too many media and pundits depend on the Luddite narrative to sell newspapers!

There is only one current arguement when it comes to technology – that is the freedom of the individual to have their personal data protected at all costs. Otherwise I don’t care if a robot replaces me, I love Airnb, am warming to Uber, and would kill to own a Tesla …

Note the header image is from Zazzle  – a quality, Australian online retailer of Luddite wear and other non-Luddite fabulous gifts and accessories. I love their recommendation for Luddite products. This product is most recommended for other ukulele players.

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Ray Shaw

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Ray Shaw [email protected]  has a passion for IT ever since building his first computer in 1980. He is a qualified journalist, hosted a consumer IT based radio program on ABC radio for 10 years, has developed world leading software for the events industry and is smart enough to no longer own a retail computer store!

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