Brian Merchant has a new book out about the Luddites. Did you know — contrary to their popularized reputation — that the Luddites weren’t a bunch or reactionary technophobes? Well, actually I already had heard all about this. I have nothing against Merchant’s new book — which I read is good — but I’m surprised that there had been no mention of an old New York Times article that Thomas Pynchon wrote back in the mid 80s, in which he addresses this very question. Of course, now we’re all considering the Luddites in light of recent advances in AI. Well, as it happens, in a manner that is thoroughly in keeping with his reputation, Pynchon concluded his own piece with the following:
If our world survives, the next great challenge to watch out for will come – you heard it here first – when the curves of research and development in artificial intelligence, molecular biology and robotics all converge. Oboy. It will be amazing and unpredictable, and even the biggest of brass, let us devoutly hope, are going to be caught flat-footed. It is certainly something for all good Luddites to look forward to if, God willing, we should live so long.Is it OK to be a Luddite? NYT, 1984!
You heard it there first.