tl;dr: Big tech may seem big now, but what happens when they really start to become global actors?
My brother sent me an article called The Technopolar Moment How Digital Powers Will Reshape the Global Order by Ian Bremmer.
It describes how the world’s largest tech companies are exercising new levels of sovereignty at speeds which most governments cannot fathom and certainly cannot act.
Nonstate actors are increasingly shaping geopolitics, with technology companies in the lead.
He describes three possible scenarios that can basically be summarized as
- the State wins, by virtue of the fact that
technology firms cannot decouple themselves from physical space, where they remain at the mercy of states. The code for the virtual worlds that these companies have created sits in data centers that are located on territory controlled by governments.
Facebook, er Meta’s, decision to backdown from Libra/Diem as their own version of a cryptocurrency is an example here. Regulators stopped them…for now.
- the State co-ops Big Tech for its own end to achieve its own strategic objectives.
Perhaps the best example of this is China where Jack Ma has been reined in and the other “Big Tech” companies are part of the “National AI initiative.” China wants global strategic dominance, the state is enforcing its will, and Big Tech is allowed to expand, but within the parameters that the State defines.
- Big Tech replaces the State as the dominant player in most people’s lives.
His examples range from the way that Big Tech reacted to the January 6th events by unilaterally deciding to deplatform Trump and shut down Parler. Meanwhile, congress is still trying to get a bilateral commission together, even now.
This is a long, well thought-out article that really expands your thinking about the role of Big Tech in our lives and on the geopolitical stage.
One example that came to mind as I was writing this was Climate Change. The world’s leaders just got together in Glasgow to discuss-again-climate targets, but who among us believes that meaningful substantive change will emerge, particularly when the world’s largest polluter-China-wasn’t involved?
Meanwhile, Big Tech companies (and I’ll throw Tesla into this mix for now) have the heft and cash to not only carbon-neutralize their own footprints, they have the ability to force their suppliers (and enable customers) to do the same.
I kind of wrote about this yesterday in Forking Reality: Facebook and the Metaverse, exploring how our lives, which used to be controlled, governed, or at least boundaried by the state will increasingly be governed by Big Tech.
Bremmer alludes to this when it comes to cryptcurrencies as an alternative to the US dollar, though he doesn’t seem to go as far to realize that a decentralized crypto network will not have the hindrances of a Big Tech company, in that it will be located everywhere and nowhere at the same time.
That threat to the nation state, however, definitely seems farther off (and it probably is) than a Facebook, Meta-controlled world.
While I tend to think that the Big Tech firms will replace the nation states, or that is the most likely scenario, Bremmer’s points were well thought out enough to make me reconsider the probabilities of that happening. I was skewing too hard in one direction. The movie, in fact the series, is far from over and “The State Strikes Back” may very well be the next chapter in this one.
One could argue that we’re already watching the beginning of that one.
Regardless, his conclusion is one that all of us should keep in mind. The Nation-State, as we know it, has been a fixture for a few centuries, but it hasn’t ALWAYS been that way.
Which means that it is not a law of nature, it’s an invention of humanity and there’s no guarantee that it will last forever.
We may be seeing the first erosion of the nation state in the form of Big Tech, with the State responding because of the localized weaknesses of them. After all, Jeff Bezos does live in Seattle and Mark Zuckerberg is in Palo Alto.
However, they’ll never find Satoshi Nakamoto and if they do, it doesn’t even matter.
He lives us with this question:
Will we live in a world where the Internet is increasingly fragmented and technology companies serve the interests and goals of the states in which they reside, or will Big Tech decisively wrest control of digital space from governments, freeing itself from national boundaries and emerging as a truly global force?
Or could the era of state dominance finally come to an end, supplanted by a techno-elite that assumes responsibility for offering the public goods once provided by governments?
Whatever it is, it’s going to be pretty different than it is today.