America and the EU account for over 40% of the world’s GDP and outsize regulatory and technological clout. However, this dominance could disappear as fast as American and Europe’s industrial strength did unless both sides immediately rebuild the transatlantic rift caused mostly by Mr. Trump.
Let’s talk about the space that underpins the future of American and Irish jobs and a space I’ve been blessed to spend 35 years in: Technology, Media and Telecommunications.
In December, the Federal Trade Commission and 48 Attorney Generals sued Facebook. Around the same time, the EU started its process to usher in a new era through the most revolutionary regulatory changes in 20 years with the Digital Services and Digital Markets Acts.
With Mr. Trump’s recent “de-platforming,” as well as bold regulatory challenges with very different objectives on both sides of the Atlantic, we’re left guessing what the future is going to look like. Both sides need to balance individuals’ rights to freedom of expression with tech companies’ interests and everyone’s desire for a robust economy – an economy with technological advances as its main driver for the foreseeable future.
America is home to the biggest technology giants in the world and in recent years most have set up shop in Ireland as their European base. Not only is tech now the lifeblood of the economy, but its role has been accelerated during the course of the pandemic, growing by hundreds of billions of dollars of value since Covid-19 hit. Goldman Sachs just reported that the year-long pandemic has already caused three to five years of “online penetration growth” in several sectors.
The burning question now is should US policymakers continue to be the protector of big tech and allow it to continue to self-police? Or should the US join the EU in trying to force tech firms to take more responsibility around transparency, interoperability, use of data, discrimination and truthfulness?
Clear, specific revolutionary regulation must be a priority for the new Biden administration and Congress. If the US stands any hope of maintaining its dominance in tech, new reforms have to focus on three key things:
Firstly, the US must develop a new world view and work with the European Union on how to set the rules for the future of tech – where Web 3.0, internet of things, artificial intelligence, machine learning, quantum computing and so on are set to change the game as we know it.
The current pathway of siloed, competing regulations with the EU on one side and the US on the other, won’t end well for either party. America is going to fight with the EU to protect the past, instead of working together to set the ground rules for the future, missing out on the opportunity to forge one set of global rules in collaboration for the next generation of tech, which must include digital object architecture, data portability, data sharing and other trust building essentials.
Second, the US must increase its government basic research funding back to previous highs. A brief history lesson shows us the results. Today’s big tech companies are built on the outcomes of this essential government funded basic research, among the most successful outputs being the Internet itself and GPS. But as Goldman Sachs’ recent report on US science investment points out, federal R&D spending is at its lowest in 60 years. In contrast, corporate investment in R&D has skyrocketed. But what’s dangerous here, is that this corporate research is for the benefit of one company’s shareholders and not for mankind.
At a time when we are more technologically dependent than ever, how has this funding declined? Simple answer, short-term thinking of policymakers. Now imagine a world where the new developments in basic research are born out of China. Where does that leave Silicon Valley and American and Irish jobs?
The third idea is the creation of a US government venture fund which is focussed on next generation tech, as well as tied to government basic research, creating a means to give the winnings back to taxpayers and regain trust between the public and private sectors and citizens.
The end result of these three initiatives is that the West maintains its tech dominance through a strengthened transatlantic alliance, with all the benefits of increased GDP, jobs and so on. However, if the West continues to funnel all of its focus on looking back and introducing new policies to regulate the past, then China is certain to step in and take the lead on Web 3.0, writing its own rulebook and creating a dominance not only in industrial manufacturing but now in tech as well.
As today’s tech giants are experts at office software, smartphones, e-commerce, social media and search engines, tomorrow’s tech giants will be experts in healthcare, education and security, to name a few. A recent survey by data centre firm Digital Reality claims that these emerging technologies alone, will add more than $6.3 billion to Dublin’s economy in the next ten years. Is it a better use of energy to protect today’s tech giants alone, or work with the European Union for the next generation?
The Covid-19 pandemic has shown both the US and EU in no uncertain terms that technology and innovation has the opportunity to transform people’s lives, businesses, jobs, education and healthcare.
As a new dawn in US politics emerges with President Biden, we can but hope for a long-term strategy to these issues, where co-operation – with transatlantic partners and between the public and private sectors – sets out a path where tech is harnessed to shape people’s future without fear of corruption or bias.
Such is the way technology has infiltrated our lives, the future of its evolution and consequential regulation, will impact us all. It’s time for Ireland to take an interest in what this future looks like and work with Biden to build the tech transatlantic partnership.