The turn of the century in the late 1990s that paved the way for the “Information Age” leaves an indelible mark of change on the nature of geopolitics. This change is rapid and has lasting consequences. It can be observed that the fundamental axis on which geopolitics gradually shifted is the axis of technology. When noticed from a detached perspective, it can be observed that access to data and information facilitates shaping national narratives, building perceptions, and propagating values with the end goal of fulfilling the cardinal national objectives that enhance the state’s international position. Therefore, controlling the flow of information in the form of data is crucial in shaping and understanding the emerging perspectives on Geopolitics. A state that gains expertise in this information control would, as a direct consequence, prepare for itself a fertile ground to control the geopolitics.
Industrial Revolution 4.0
The advancement in science and technology cannot remain devoid of its potential influence on geopolitics and its changing dynamics. It is because of the nature of the state as an omnipresent political institution. The robust enhancement in artificial intelligence, blockchain technology, the internet of things, 5G, and quantum computing are some technological tools government institutions use to accomplish their national and domestic objectives. But as a powerful tool, technology can be applied to build consensus and cooperation, or it can also be applied to infuse
Controlling the flow of information in the form of data is crucial in shaping and understanding the emerging perspectives on Geopolitics.
Information circulated through the use of technology, by its very nature, knows no boundaries. It can easily travel from one nation to another because of the free flow of access to information. This helps to shape narratives that push the national agenda at the international forum to capture the imagination of other countries through the use of its history, culture, philosophy, art, and literature. The ‘Big Tech’ companies play a fundamental role in this domain. This gives us the background to decipher how the market, empowered by the state-of-the-art technologies discussed above, plays a pivotal role in shaping the geopolitics of a region.
Information dominance and control over data have been one of the key features of merging the geopolitics of technology itself. Data-driven innovation has the capacity to redefine and shape international relations apart from disrupting economies. Eric Rosenbach and Katherine Mansted have opined that the pursuit of information power-involving states’ ability to use the information to influence, decide, create and communicate-is, causing states to rewrite their terms of engagement with markets and citizens and to redefine national interests and strategic priorities.
The USA & China tech tussle
The United States, with its robust industrial base and a firm hold on the latest technology, had the advantage of leading world politics for a long span of time. But, with the rise of the revisionist State, i.e., China, this status quo is getting questioned. China, with its rapid growth in technology, holds a great sense of clarity regarding its objectives and goals. Its purpose is to increase state surveillance, decipher behavioral patterns and consumer preferences and control people at large. The Chinese companies are required to share the data collected with the Chinese government.
Information dominance and control over data have been one of the key features of merging the geopolitics of technology itself.
This enhances the risk of data sharing and also national security. It was in this regard that the US government banned Companies like Huawei and ZTE from doing business in the US. This issue advocates for the urgent need to strengthen their hold on the digital sovereignty of the State to protect the issue of privacy in the digital space. The General Data Protection Regime (GDPR) implemented by the Europeans Union is an emblematic example.
Surveillance Capitalism – State and the Market
The play of the market and the state are often in tandem with each other, which helps to control and predict the behavioral pattern of people. This aspect was discussed by Shoshana Zuboff in her book “ The Age of Surveillance Capitalism: The fight for a human future at a new frontier of power.” She states how big tech companies like Google & Facebook often demand our permission to share information and online data that helps them to predict behavioural patter and then push us the products and narratives that can further shape our behaviour and preferences to make them more predictable and objective. The use of such models is not just in the market domain but also in the domain of states. The Cambridge Analytica case in which people were objectively targeted to show them the content of similar ideological preferences was a model that catered to the needs of the state. In this regard, the use of social media and the promotion of content that favours the national interest of one State in another State is likely to become a common phenomenon.
The international platform where states interact as individual units has become highly globalised. The States cannot exist in silos. This globalisation is empowered by hyper-connectivity due to the revolutionary changes that have taken place in the exponential growth of technology. Industrial Revolution 4.0 is the driving force that has infused momentum in this process. A potential consequence of this event is the shifting of gears of geopolitics, with technology being its central axis. The use of technology is to penetrate into the geopolitics and market of the other states to give shape and direction to further one’s own national interest. Both state and market forces work in tandem with each other to fulfil the objectives. State-of-the-art technology in the domain of artificial intelligence, the internet of things, and blockchain can prove to be a deciding factor for those stakeholders who aims to tilt the fulcrum of geopolitics in their favour.
(About the author: Abhishek Kumar is pursuing a Masters’s in Politics and International Relations at the Department of Politics and International Studies, Pondicherry University. His area of interest includes geopolitics of technology, Technology and Society, and Technology and Dharma.)