The Piano Player in Silent Movies

Let’s not be today’s equivalent

6 min readMay 1, 2024

The loud talk on the street in the early days of automobiles was from horse-and-cart people. They shouted angrily when cars came weaving through the mess of horses, pedestrians, carriages and trade carts. They screeched in delight when a car broke down, feeling vindicated in their theory that we don’t need these newfangled machines and the havoc they cause. We didn’t need sound in movies either. Nor did we need vaccines for tuberculosis, diphtheria or Spanish flu. We didn’t need traffic lights, band aids, television, and we absolutely didn’t need vacuum cleaners.

It sounds idiotic today, to argue against a transformative innovation from 100 years ago, or to take the side of the Luddites as we look back at how much has changed and how many old problems we have solved. Yet here we are, innovating at a pace that’s making almost everyone dizzy, and we’re afraid. We’re angry, bitter, suspicious, and we make up stories that we hope will hurt the innovators, perhaps buy us a bit of time as we fail to adjust to the march of progress.

We’d like to think it’s just old people who throw rotten vegetables at the innovators. But it isn’t. The New Luddites are everywhere.

The MAGA Luddite. This high-school-educated person is 60% more likely to live in a rural or semi-rural setting, and is trained to appreciate down-home values and also to mistrust most of what comes from big shiny cities. Electric vehicles, food delivery apps, dating apps, ride hailing, payment apps and social media addictions are all on this person’s shit list. This person used paper maps until not long ago, and still gives driving directions turn by turn.

The Urban Wokemon. This person ranges in age from 17 to 87 and is recognized by their angry bumper stickers, their ratty automobile — if they own one — and their frumpy clothing. This person hates the rich, hates banks, corporations, business, and yes, they hate tech. Mostly they hate the billionaire founders of said tech companies, believing that the species should not be allowed to exist. This person walks to their local mom & pop stores to buy from brick and mortar retail so they can avoid giving their money to big box retailers and completely avoid Amazon and other online behemoths. They have long lists of reasons why you should do as they do, if you care to listen and be lectured as though in middle school.

The Failing Young Urbanite. This person works as a bartender or fast food server or similar, and was arrested two days ago for vandalizing a Waymo vehicle, seemingly without cause except their assertion that the Waymo car is pure evil. The same person wrote a long essay for their community college course (3rd attempt at this semester, due to work and money pressures) explaining why AI is going to fail and why we’ll go back to encyclopedias and regular books instead. They assess the future of AI based 100% on their limited experience playing with a consumer AI like ChatGPT, failing to see how fast the space is changing and what it will be capable of one and three years from now.

Oh hey, gramps! To be fair, most grandparents are digitally adept and quite able to keep up with online banking, pay apps, social media and phot editing. These aside, we’re left with the low-functioning aging person, probably depressed and not in good health, who has not been able to adjust and keep up. Their coping skills pushed them to reject technology and adopt a narrative damning all the new stuff, and telling they’re happy they won’t be around when the robots take over. They don’t know their bank balance is too low for the utility bill that’s on autopay. We’re not helpig this person, but we should be.

Johnny Hardhat. He works with his hands and he’s the boss at home — nobody argues with him. He thinks tech people are woke, therefore they’re to be looked upon as effeminate little fairies whose work means nothing, and as Dire Straits said, they’re all Money for Nothin. Therefore, all manner of innovation coming from techtown is garbage.

Your local Elizabeth Warren. She can be a he, or a they, but they can’t be ok with billionaires or tech bros. She believes every successful tech company needs to be broken up and that every billionaire needs to be stripped of his wealth abd the money used to build homeless shelters. She doesn’t mind if China steps in to replace all the industries we created here and then set on fire.

I’ll change my tune. We should not hate the tech haters. We need to help them. There is no path from here in which America remains a thriving healthy nation, except where she innovates in business and technology faster than the rest of the world. The other paths all lead to becoming Argentina or Romania. In other words, broken, struggling and disunited nations with divided political landscapes, leaving only the business-first, nationalist hard right, and the crybabies on the far left. The other paths inevitably dismantle all tech investment, the startup culture, the risk-reward game that creates our fertile soil, and the global leadership we enjoy.

America has figured out the hardest puzzle, creating fertile soil for the world’s greatest innovators, yet fails miserably at the easier challenge of addressing financial equality. European nations have done far better on safety nets for the poorest, fair wages for working families, and progressives taxation that supports their public spending. They will never have a magnificent seven. European thinking doesn’t embrace high-risk investment, employees don’t yearn to work for crazy startup founders, governments feel compelled to regulate markets before they have a chance to emerge and prove out new ideas, and banks don’t know how to value unprofitable companies with great futures.

America’s tech royalty is failing to carry the rest of the nation with it as we journey into AI and global leadership in a scary, powerful and very fast moving track. The promise of automation and lightning-fast knowledge at our fingertips to help us blink at menial tasks and make us excellent at the important tasks is balanced with the certainty that millions of jobs will be automated and eliminated, faster even than the rate at which ‘normal tech’ has been vaporizing jobs for the past 20 years. We need to carry the Local Elizabeth Warrens, the Johnny Hardhats, the Failing Young Urbanites and all others who feel left behind. We need to create a public movement whose mission is to create millions of decent-to-good jobs, and to encourage us all to stay curious and in touch with how stuff works.

While it’s ulikely that we’ll be exterminated by the robots anytime in the imaginable future, there is one frequently made promise that is patently false: that we’ll be lifted from poverty and our jobs will become easier and better paid. This won’t happen. The incentive behind AI is the same as with any technological innovation: a capitalist drive to create wealth for founders and shareholders. There’s nothing wrong with this — in my opinion. For businesses and individuals adopting AI and later robots, the incentive is to automate, accelerate, make smarter. Nowhere is there an active incentive to create jobs. We don’t need to eliminate billionaires, strip the wealthy of their bullion, tear apart giant corporations, or set the streets on fire. We need a sovereign wealth fund that taxes a fair share of the largest companies’ realized incomes and devotes its funds to paying the unemployed for the work they don’t do.

If we don’t create a society that’s prepared for mass unemployment, universal basic income, and our need for meaning, we will indeed see a world run by robots and a tiny number of all-powerful individuals, with the rest of us eating scraps outside the castle walls.




San Francisco geek, entrepreneur, wannabe economist, mediocre equestrian