ou don’t see the word ‘Luddite’ for weeks on end and then suddenly it’s everywhere….prompted because, startlingly, it appeared in a speech by The Bank of England’s Chief Economist at the Trades Union Congress last week. And to double the startlement, he asked – ‘Did those Luddites have a point after all?’

In my line of business, anyone suggesting that exponential technological advance may not be completely wonderful for life and work as we know it is about as popular as a wasp in a lift.   It’s really Artificial Intelligence that we’re frightened of, isn’t it? AI computes itself right to the top of that technology anxiety list.

Mr Haldane was not only sharing this anxiety, but also predicting with some confidence that robots would be replacing many, many, more of us at work in the future than we might have feared.

(‘Lessons of the Luddites‘ in the Guardian and ‘Were the Luddites right?‘ from the BBC)

So, did the Luddites have a point?

And will robots replace us?

We could reclaim and reframe the word Luddite.

Luddites were concerned about the nature and abuse of technological advance rather than advance itself. Luddite thinking might actually be quite radical.

You see, a few weeks ago, a Law Professor at Washington University, Ryan Carlo, planted an ineradicable image in our minds. His view is that evolution equips humans to respond to any scenario with a level of sophisticated emotional intelligence that no robot can ever, ever, ever manage.

His example?
Free Clown Hugs’.

Doesn’t that sound scarey? No sentient human being would ever think that a clown offering free hugs was an OK and desirable thing. (We can’t explain ‘why’ completely rationally, can we?)

Yet an artificial processor will simply see something good 3 times over – ‘free’, ‘a clown’, ‘a hug’.

An Innovative Luddite can see the future without fear.

It’s not the number of robots that matters. Bring them on.
It’s not technological advance. Hurrah for that.

It’s any exclusion or suppression of emotional intelligence, any reduction in instinct and humanity, as currency within the workplace that matters.   We must constantly revalue what we are, and what we can be, when we are at work. Radical.

The radical Luddite simply strives to make and keep work as human as it can possibly be.


Penny writes on the Management of Change and has published two books:

Support your Team through Change book by Penny Hunt     Managing Resistance to Change book by Penny Hunt

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