Tech fiefdoms of the future
There has been much talk in recent years of the ’splinternet
’ — the idea that the internet is breaking off into national and regional chunks, each with very different standards for what is acceptable. Take China’s heavy censorship of everything that reaches its citizens, or Russia’s plan to literally detach its own internet from the outside world, for example.
But it’s bigger than that. As the recent debate over 5G tech has shown, we may be reaching a point where governments will only trust tech companies from countries they trust. How might China react to the latest action against Huawei? Is it feasible for them to stop Apple buying iPhone components from Chinese manufacturers? Or to stop allowing the iPhone to be manufactured there, even?
No-one would win in a situation like that. Chinese firms would lose business, Apple would sell fewer phones as they’d have to be more expensive, and consumers wouldn’t be able to afford the phone they want.
And by extension, we’re looking at the prospect of a world where the global tech economy is broken up into completely separate chunks.
Of course, it may be that this all gets resolved. After all, China is investing a huge amount of money in Belt & Road
to extend its economy across the world, and American companies won’t be happy to lose foreign business, either. But it’s likely to get worse before it gets better, and to some degree, the idea of ‘tech fiefdoms’ with their own spheres of influence, rules, and business practices, seems inevitable.
The globally-connected promise of the early days of the internet may fall apart because we humans can’t play nicely together at a global level.