I started to write a response to this several times, and actually had to stop and write an outline to get my thoughts straight! I think that the reason that this discussion remains active is that the answer really depends on your level of romanticism. Is the thing a thing, or is it a culmination of human knowledge, artistry, style (personal, traditional, or cultural), etc? If someone were to 3d print a gorgeous tsuba, would it be worth less than a hand carved one by a traditional master? I say yes, I think all of us makers would say yes, but there are likely those that think they're equal. Or at very least that the traditional one is overpriced, seeing that you can get the "same" thing for $5.25. I'm not equating 3D printing to a hydraulic forging press, for example, but it's the furthest extension of the point that I could imagine. If I were to make a tsuba from wrought iron that I heated in my propane forge, forged it out with my power hammer, carved it with my pneumatic engraving tool, buffed it on a buffer, and then went back to traditional patination techniques for the final look, I'd personally be proud of the outcome (if it looked good). Some purists might say that I cheated, and I understand their point of view. For me, and this speaks to our modern times, I don't have the time to learn the correct techniques, let alone the time to use those techniques to make the tsuba. I'll use the processes that I already understand to make an item as museum quality as the client is willing to pay for.
I think there are benefits to both times that make each of them interesting:
In modern, post industrial times we have some undeniable advantages: We have an inexhaustible access to information. We can go on the internet and watch a master craftsman perform a technique that we can practice until we get it. We have books, videos, classes, schools, etc. that weren't available to people of the past. We have better tools and raw materials that make our lives easier. We have a better, more scientific understanding of the "why" of things. We can custom make knifemaking alloys, and free-flowing gold alloys that are a dream to work with, and they'll be the exact same next year as they were last year. We have a better general education, and a much longer lifespan that allows us to keep learning for longer.
The advantages of older times may seem strange to us, but they're there: They started their craft at a much younger age than we generally do. All the while, they generally had a master teacher that was continually with them as they learned. They had, at least in the museum examples that we drool over, rich patrons that would pay for the highest quality. And the biggest advantage that they had, as far as I'm concerned, is that they were generally specialists. The 8 year old would study until they were 25 to be a master bladesmith. They might give the thing a foundational grind when they were done but then they gave the sword away to the rest of the artisans. There were scabbard makers, people that made the handles and guards, other people that did the final polish on the blades, a jeweler that might engrave or set stones, or whatever. Each of these artisans did this stuff every day, of course they're good at it!
I feel like we get to do more of the processes ourselves because of our modern advantages, but I still think that we can't be masters of everything. Some can, I'll grant you but they're super rare. But even now you'll see a master knifemaker make a gorgeous blade and handle, then give it to a professional engraver to finish that part. That feels like a bit of an outlier, however.
In terms of "what's better", again it depends. What's the best car? You might say Ferrari. I'd say that is an awful car to take off road. Okay then Range Rover. I'd say that wouldn't haul 3 tons of cinder blocks, etc. What's the best knife? I agree that a wootz mughal jade-handled gold-inlayed dagger is damn gorgeous, but I'd trust the heat treat on an L6 camp knife more to split firewood.
All that being said, I personally am most impressed by the past masters for literally making up their art form, innovating their craft, and being the giants upon whose shoulders we now stand. I'm sure that we can do the same, and we already are innovating and making so mush new cool stuff up, but I'd personally give it another 20 years before I'd rate modern smiths equal to our giant forefathers.