Designing a Numerical Order for a Fragmented Era
A robot is pictured during Expo 2020 in Dubai, United Arab Emirates on November 10. (Photo: AFP)
Although the digital revolution is now decades old, there is still no global digital economic order. Instead, there are competing visions of digital capitalism, mainly articulated by the United States, China and the European Union, which have been developing their models for many years and increasingly exporting them to developing economies. and emerging. Without more global alignment, the world could miss out on promising technological solutions to common problems.
The question, of course, is what kind of alternate numerical order is possible in today’s world. How to reclaim the Internet to serve citizens rather than dominant political and economic interests? Realigning the incentives that drive the digital economy will not be easy. Yet recent policy development efforts reflect the demand for new forms of governance.
The OECD, for example, is leading an effort to combat international tax arbitration – a preferred practice among large US tech companies. At the same time, US President Joe Biden has appointed industry critics to head key institutions such as the Federal Trade Commission, and he has called on regulators to investigate the issue of excessive platform power. in digital markets.
Likewise, the Chinese government has introduced a new law on the protection of personal information and is chairing a major national antitrust campaign to control the explosion of the country’s digital market. And the European Union, building on its General Data Protection Regulation, has advanced a broader, ethically driven vision to govern data, digital markets and artificial intelligence. Additionally, countries like Spain and Germany are now directly targeting the data mining business model.
Regulators and government authorities around the world are considering how to redefine their AI and data agendas, nurture the next generation of digital players, and shape global standards to match their own respective visions. But if the primary goal of each of these jurisdictions is to harness overpowered digital platforms, there may be common ground on which to build a more effective global digital order.
The digital authorities in the EU and the US certainly don’t agree on everything. But they share a vision of a more open and collaborative digital order. If they are to effectively align with this overarching goal, they must understand what they are facing. Divergent views on the fundamental structure of the global Internet have already taken hold.
In the emerging “splinternet”, informational isolation is on the rise. People in different silos have fundamentally different views on the facts and therefore on what constitutes truth. There isn’t even an agreement on how to secure and coordinate key elements of digital architecture, such as GPS. Each jurisdiction has its own framework, whether it is China’s BeiDou satellite navigation system, India’s regional satellite navigation system, or the European Galileo system.
This fragmentation of the governance of digital and information power has been accompanied by a rise in illiberalism, with many countries exerting greater social control and exploring new avenues for the dissemination of propaganda. The cost of experimenting with new modes of digital authoritarianism has fallen sharply because the basic tools are widely available and easy to use.
Platforms like Facebook have effectively subsidized the cost – unwittingly, but not necessarily unknowingly – of running large-scale disinformation campaigns. Building the technology stack (software infrastructure) needed to create a totalitarian system of surveillance and social control is now as easy as putting together the right applications.
The digital order that has emerged in the absence of global coordination raises two major concerns. The first is the digital side of big global challenges like climate change and pandemics, which exist independently of liberal or illiberal governments. Just as the effects of climate change will be felt unevenly, the technologies needed to adapt and mitigate climate change – or monitor epidemics – will be unevenly distributed.
The second problem is the incompatibility of competing visions of future digital economies. Many developing and emerging economies are still deciding how to expand and manage their digital capabilities so that new technologies serve their broader strategies for achieving sustained economic growth. These two concerns must be addressed together. If measures to improve access to technology do not take into account different local and national growth strategies, they can entrench an unwanted digital economic future, even if they promise progress against other issues such as climate change. .
Addressing these concerns together is directly linked to the pursuit of the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030. Whether it is public health, education or climate change, the search for global alignment should be a priority. top priority for any country rather than securing narrow geopolitical gains. But, of course, realists must recognize that the current competition between models of data control, hardware design, and platform governance will feature prominently in any multilateral negotiation on these issues.
In view of this, each of the three digital powers can come to the table with their eyes open. Creating a more stable and cohesive global digital order does not need to be a matter of complete alignment between the three models. But not thinking about how and where these digital controls are incompatible can lead to a race to the bottom rather than a race to the top. What matters in the short term is that there is some degree of interoperability in areas that touch on global challenges.
After two years of living with Covid-19, all major powers and regions should recognize the importance of freely sharing certain types of data. They should now start to identify other commonalities. A new and better numerical order is possible, but it will not happen on its own.© 2021 Project union