Brian Merchant, "Blood in the Machine: The Origins of the Rebellion Against Big Tech" (LIttle, Brown, 2023)


"Luddite" has become an insult and Brian Merchant wants to change that. Blood in the Machine: The Origins of the Rebellion Against Big Tech (Little, Brown, 2023) tells the story of when machines starting taking human jobs, when an underground network of 19th century rebels, the Luddites, took up arms against the industrialists that were automating their work--and how it explains the power, threat, and toll of big tech today. Two hundred years ago in rural England, working men and women rose up en masse rather than starve at the hands of the factory owners who were using machines to erase and degrade their livelihoods. Under the banner of a mythical General Loud, they organized guerrilla raids, smashed specific machines, and threatened wealthy machine owners. Luddites won the support of Lord Byron, inspired Mary Shelley, and enraged the louche Prince Regent and his bloodthirsty government. Before it was over, much blood would be spilled--of rich and poor, of the invisible and of the powerful. This deeply misunderstood class struggle nearly brought 19th century England to its knees. Currently many fear that big tech is dominating our lives and machines replacing human labor run high. We worry that technology imperils millions of jobs, robots are ousting workers from factories, and artificial intelligence will soon remove drivers from cars. Saving the movement from what E. P. Thompson called "the enormous condescension of posterity", Merchant finds inspiration in Luddism for our current crises.

Brian Merchant is the author of The One Device: The Secret History of the iPhone (2017, Little, Brown). His work has appeared in a variety of places including Wired and The Atlantic. He is a founder of VICE’s speculative fiction outlet Terraform and was the technology columnist at the Los Angeles Times.

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Michael Vann

Michael G. Vann is a professor of world history at California State University, Sacramento. A specialist in imperialism and the Cold War in Southeast Asia, he is the author of The Great Hanoi Rat Hunt: Empires, Disease, and Modernity in French Colonial Vietnam (Oxford University Press, 2018). When he’s not reading or talking about new books with smart people, Mike can be found surfing in Santa Cruz, California.

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