My prediction for the upcoming year is that Luddism will gain traction. And we should take it seriously.

Up to now, technophobes tended to be quiet in a niche trying to conceal that they were apparently more IT illiterate than their acquaintances. Now it becomes clear how far left behind many others are, too, most notably the schools who have practically ignored and slept away the development of the last 20 years.

Many have never been comfortable navigating the web until the big platforms prescribed them what to see in their stream. Many have never been comfortable using a desktop computer for personal exchanges until Whatsapp offered them a crippled form of communication on the mobile.

Despite the plague, they just wanted to carry on as usual as much as possible, when they were suddenly forced to have the classroom right within their living room, and the crippled systems replaced big parts of their usual reality. Of course this makes angry. And it made them notice that ‘virtual’ is different from authentic and real.

Popular IT offerings have often focussed on noisy and colorful sounds, pictures, movies, or VR, to create a lively immersive experience similar to TV consumption. (Which was good for commerce but was not what the unique novel strengths of IT are: for example, simply sorting and rearranging large data sets, or overcoming the book’s limitations by simultaneously showing overview and detail.)

Now after many hours of zoom, people are craving for the real, the genuine and the authentic.

(A few avowed technophobes have always made a cult out of their craving for more haptic devices, such as their beloved fountain pens and their good-smelling notebooks. But the general trend has been even leading away from haptic affordances. For example, the very efficient ‘direct manipulation’ methods like drag and drop (e.g. dragging a file onto different apps) have largely been lost on the mobile where fingers cannot perform the same fine motor-skills as a mouse pointer.)

Now, the idea of the authentic and genuine is very important when we consider artificial intelligence. Yes, AI might eventually behave very much like a human, even create unique, individual artworks (simply by leveraging a random number generator.) This might even satisfy some desire for novelty, to overcome boredom, e.g. by juxtaposing a surprising combination of objects. (See some quotations of what McGilchrist writes about boredom and novelty here).

But some features of the human mind require authenticity. For example,

“Children eagerly imitate other human beings, but do not imitate mechanical devices that are carrying out the same actions.18 This is like the finding in adults that we make spontaneous movements signifying our involvement in events we are watching evolve – so long as we believe them to be the result of another’s action. Such movements are, however, absent when we believe that (in other respects identical) results have been generated by a computer rather than a living being.19” (McGilchrist p. 249; footnotes point to 18 Meltzoff, 1995, and 19 Prinz, 2005a, 2005b, see bibliography)

When we notice that we are being tricked by a fake, the functions are blocked, much like we would reject counterfeit money (my interpretation). So, we need to timely consider required legislation, of transparency and e.g. a mandatory labeling of artificial communication partners.

Kanchipurum silk weaving loom
Loom, by Jenny Mackness, CC-BY-NC

I think we should not just dismiss the concerns of upcoming Luddists as primitivist. Least of all the concern that machines might have more weight on the labor market than humans, because, same as in the original Ludd’s century, the new ‘looms‘ represent the capital.

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2 Responses to Predictions

  1. x28 says:

    Thanks to Stephen Downes for the comment


  2. Pingback: #ethics21 Week 4, more | x28's new Blog

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