All hail our tech overlords

The controversial story in tech at the moment is, of course, revolving around the banning of Chinese telecom giant, Huawei, by the United States government. This is following the allegations of espionage, theft of intellectual property, obstruction and justice, and fraud with regards to the US sanctions against Iran.

From CNET (where you can also see the full timeline of the fiasco):

The core issue with Huawei has been concerns about its coziness with the Chinese government and fears that its equipment could be used to spy on other countries and companies. It’s the reason why the US banned companies from using Huawei networking equipment in 2012 and the company was added to the US Department of Commerce’s Bureau of Industry and Security Entity List on May 15, following an executive order from President Donald Trump effectively banning Huawei from US communications networks.

Google, then announced that it will discontinue its Android license with Huawei — which means that millions of customers with (future) Huawei devices will be stranded without access to the entirety of Google Play Store, leaving it as just, basically a non-smart phone able to only call in and out. But that’s the least of the whole problem and one that people could find a workaround to, as Huawei had been operating in China (its largest market) where Google services were not available anyway. The larger impact would fall on its hardware supply chain as they were completely cut off from doing businesses with American firms — one which also extends globally. More so, this is more than a trade war or a step of protection from the US against some ‘espionage’ activities — it’s more of a power play. As Huawei had been gaining traction in the 5G network market, the US gets worried that the Chinese will supersede its dominance as the new tech superpower, whatever you might call it. Hence, the alleged spying accusations and banning and whatnot.

During one of my MA courses, my teammates and I were assigned with a very interesting topic: the future of the Olympics. I didn’t remember much of the whole thing, but through interviews, field trips to the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, and multiple sleepless nights writing our reports, we came to the conclusion that in 5 years the Olympics is going to represented by brands, more so than countries. However, the brands we had in mind was somewhere along the lines of sponsorship — like Coca Cola, Intel, Nike, etc. — without giving a thought much that the brands, 5 years later, are going to be these tech overlords.

There are many terms to describe this situation. It could be digital sovereignty — to describe various forms of independence, control and autonomy over digital infrastructures, technologies and contents. Shoshana Zuboff, who wrote The Age of Surveillance Capitalism (in my to-read list) is weighing the question: Are we witnessing a new form of digital colonialism? There’s also balkanisation, a term to “describe the division or fragmentation of a state or region into smaller, often ethnically similar places. The term can also refer to the disintegration or break-up of other things such as companies, Internet websites or even neighbourhoods”. Technologists Sean McDonald and An Xiao Mina, through their (however now seems to be on hiatus) newsletter, calls this digitalpolitik — a new brand of realpolitik — “which is not only fragmenting the web, it’s redefining the geopolitical systems that rely on it. The web’s global reach, combined with the crumbling distinctions between public governments and private companies, has made it both a battleground and, arguably, a nation-state itself.”

I am not sure how this story will unfold for the next few months — given that the ban will be evaluated after 90 days — but that will perhaps give enough time for the Chinese company to gain its footing and come up with a strategy. Eventually, it has come to the conclusion that borders are more than just physical limitations — but also one that could be applied digitally and in some ways, still a form of a social construct.

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