The road to hell is known to be paved with good intentions. Although digitalisation isn’t devil’s work, it does remind one of this idiom. Not too many years ago the digital world was celebrated. The internet, many believed, would be the key to a brighter future. Technology companies from California were the world’s problem-solvers.
This initial euphoria has passed. Indeed, digital technologies have opened up completely new possibilities. But at the same time their darker sides came to the fore: cyberattacks, fake news, manipulated elections, filter bubbles, a polarised and aggressive public discourse, a collapse in the privacy sphere, massive upheavals in the economy and world of work. The list goes on.
And what about politics? Authoritarian regimes used the digital revolution to advance their interest while in Europe and America, the political arena didn’t do much about. The digital world was, at least in the early years, treated as a mere technological question, a non-political issue. But it ain’t merely a technical matter. Digitalisation is a question of power and is thus deeply political.
Who controls whom? This Leninist Leitmotiv is at the heart of digitalisation ranging from individual users to geopolitics. It runs through all levels, because the digital revolution leaves no stone unturned.
Russia’s President Putin already declared — he who dominates artificial intelligence, controls the world. He’s not wrong. Geopolitical domination was also always based on the control of a significant informational infrastructure. Knowledge is power. The Roman Empire controlled the streets, Great Britain the naval routes. Whoever controls the digital technologies and data flows, can shape the world order. Data is king.
We are already finding ourselves in a technological cold war. The US and China are competing over technological leadership. Numerous nation-states are walling off their digital markets in order to secure their data sovereignty. Laws are enacted to prevent the flow of data into other countries. The Internet is becoming a Splinternet.
Economically, digitalisation is challenging the old, analogue economic order. Especially Europe is affected. Europe is strong in the industries of the 20th century. It’s not certain, whether they will…