Technology’s advertising-driven models and information control algorithms are destroying democracy and ripping society apart, says political scientist and author Ian Bremmer. In a recent TED talk, he describes a world that is not multipolar in the geopolitical sense, but features the combined efforts of technology companies as one of its major players. These companies are increasingly faced with decisions over whose interests they serve, he notes.
The questions Bremmer raises over technology companies’ power are still far from being understood by most people, let alone answered. As he mentions here, it’s those very companies holding the control levers over information flows and, thus, a proper understanding of what problems are and how they need to be solved.
We’ll unlikely see a definitive resolution, but control over data remains at the question’s core. The more we allow large and powerful actors, whether corporate or government, to decide ownership over and access to the data we produce, the greater their power will become. The “Web3” concept envisages a blockchain-based world network as something more transparent and accountable than today’s internet, timestamping every change to the information in “transactions” that cannot be altered or removed from the ledger.
These transactions also allow those who made them to maintain ownership of the data. Ownership also denotes access control. Users can decide at a granular level who may access their data, how much of it, and when. Ownership also creates new economic opportunities, allowing monetization of access to data of any size.
For example, did you create a piece of code or content that everyone finds useful? You could charge a cent, or a tiny fraction of a cent, for access to it. Are your personal health records useful to medical research? Researchers may pay you to use it while you maintain control over how much information is revealed.
All this requires a blockchain network with the capacity, speed, and scalability to handle all this traffic, traffic which will also grow exponentially with each year that passes. To date, only the BSV blockchain has this ability. Using Satoshi Nakamoto’s original Bitcoin protocol, it uses secure proof-of-work transaction processing to create a model that keeps records secure.
How we arrived at this point in history
In his talk, Bremmer gives some background on how the world’s great powers have shifted over time and may either become displaced or perhaps omnipotent.
“Who runs the world? It used to be an easy question to answer,” he says. He compares the “bipolar” world of the Cold War era, familiar to anyone over the age of 45, to the “unipolar world” of more recent U.S. dominance in world affairs.
“And then, about 15 years ago, things got a little more complicated.” Other powers have begun to emerge in the 21st century, the result of their being either “left out” by Western-led globalist institutions, or a growing self-awareness of their own cultures. Meanwhile, citizens in the United States and the West themselves began to feel neglected by their governments. Western governments ignored this phenomenon, compounding the problem. He adds that these circumstances have caused 90% of the world’s problems today, “and that’s why today we live in a leaderless world.”
Bremmer’s views on the U.S. and NATO’s dominance in the security and military spheres may be a little outdated given their current volatility, as is his downplaying of Russia and China’s influence there. However, he adds that the U.S./China’s economic interdependence makes it harder for each to exert control over the other.
Bremmer’s ‘techno-polar order’
But it’s the emerging “digital order,” he says, that will become the world’s next superpower. And governments do not run the digital order, they are run by technology companies. Big Tech’s power over the algorithms in Web2 determining what information we transmit and receive is “staggering.”
“What are they going to do with that power? It depends on who they want to be when they grow up,” he remarked.
Technology companies may align with their respective governments and allegiances, leading to a new bipolar digital world. Alternatively, governments could see their power over the tech world diminish, and “we will have a new globalization, a digital global order.”
“We will have a techno-polar order. And that will determine whether we have a world of limitless opportunity, or a world without freedom,” he added.
Bremmer raises these big questions towards the end of his talk, and they’re a little ominous:
“Are (technology companies) going to act accountably as they release new and powerful artificial intelligence? What are they going to do with this unprecended amount of data that they are collecting on us and our environment? And the one I think should concern us all right now the most: Will they persist with these advertising models driving so much revenues, that are turning citizens into products, and driving hate and misinformation, and ripping apart our society?”
“Today, the United States has become the principal exporter of tools that destroy democracy. The technology leaders who create and control these tools, are they OK with that? Or are they going to do something about it? We need to know.”
There was a time when many believed increased opportunities to communicate with others worldwide would see new, freer environments emerge almost by themselves. Those one-time optimists became disillusioned as governments and technology companies consolidated control by accumulating the world’s data on their own proprietary networks. They now propagandize and censor freely, safe in the knowledge they have the switches to turn data records on and off with ease.
To remain free (or regain our freedom), there mustn’t be just a few switches. There should be billions of switches, all living in transactions on a single trusted “ledger of truth” that contains all the world’s data. Geopolitical powers and rivalries will still exist, but if a blockchain-based “digital order” is a superpower, as Bremmer suggests, it can at least keep the others in check.
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