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As someone who is fascinated by new technology, including robots, and who thinks that ancient technologies now taken for granted have a lot to teach us about the present and future when it comes to the current and potential impact of new technologies, this article about the impact of oxen in the ancient world fascinated me. Here’s a lengthy excerpt:
If it sounds silly today to lament that oxen were taking the jobs of people 7,000 years ago, it is easy to see why robot concerns are equally mundane. Human progress did not collapse due to oxen, food instead became cheaper and when that basic necessity was met we got written language and then art and culture.
Oxen - Workers - Inequality - People - Field
Oxen displaced human workers, so they brought economic inequality. When all people worked in the field or in hunting, there was no economic weight to any individual. The labor of one person might be more than another, but not enough to change economies. Yet an ox allowed one person to work 10X as much land, which made the land and the ox the asset. If you didn’t have those, you were a have not economically. By the time the Assyrians had a giant army to feed, agriculture was booming and people who didn’t own the oxen managed them, or built stuff for people who owned them. But the steep increase in inequality in Eurasia was much earlier, around 4,000 BC — and that was several millennia after the advent of agriculture.
“The surprise here isn’t so much that inequality takes off later on, it’s that it stayed low for such a long time,” says lead author Amy Bogaard, an archaeologist based at the University of Oxford who is also an...
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