Don’t let Google find out that this column starts with TerraVision, the invention on which Google Earth was based. They have the story in the series The code that was worth millions, but I will summarize it for you: some young Germans develop a pioneering innovation and then the American giant arrives and appropriates it. Aside from the TV fiction reviews, don’t bother looking for much else. Google has already taken care of deleting it from the map (pun intended). The shocking power of big technology is always surprising, even more so with the widespread penetration of artificial intelligence. Until recently we thought that the internet would be the culmination of the global village. Today it is part of the process of fragmentation into blocks to which the world order is heading, with very different views on the very nature of power and on how to exercise it.
The network has become the battlefield between increasingly powerful companies and states that feel threatened. While in the West, overwhelmed – lip service – by technological excesses, they appeal to regulation to hold the reins of a runaway market – there are the millionaire European fines – in China they have decided to cut their losses. The abrupt business end of Jack Ma, the creator of the Alibaba empire, accused of abuse of power, has been a warning to sailors. Authoritarian states have always controlled access to Internet content, but the network itself is owned by no one and owned by everyone. Its anarchic governance is what has made it unique. China is now building a new network architecture that can be controlled from the state, the basis of a new digital governance. The result could be the disconnection of the world wide web; a world of national internets, each with its own rules. But this is not a technological autarky. Chinese cyber sovereignty, as they call it, seeks to continue to extend its dominance by fostering dependence on third countries and division into blocks. Russia, with less muscle, is also working on it.
American futurist Amy Webb has described in The nine giants three scenarios – optimistic, pragmatic and catastrophic – where we could go if the development of artificial intelligence and its applications can be coordinated worldwide or not. Many of his arguments are highly dystopian – like the idea of an America digitally occupied by China – and are aimed at alerting his country to Beijing’s ambitions. But his defense of establishing mechanisms for global debate on these issues is not misguided. If despite fragmentation we continue to try to fix climate change together, we should be able to do so with digital governance as well. If not, we will be forced to choose between the absolute power of the market and the absolute power of the State.
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