Are Big Tech Companies Leading Us to Ruin? If So, How Can We Stop Them?
Worrisome Developments in US and Chinese Tech Industries
2017 is a huge year for big technology companies (big techs) in the United States.
The Wall Street Journal recently reported that 42% of S&P 500 capitalization gains from this year can be attributed to five technology companies (Facebook, Amazon, Alphabet (formerly Google), Microsoft, Apple).
And just last week, Amazon announced the acquisition of Whole Foods Market. Combined with the establishment of local pick-up lockers and a cashier-less grocery store over the past couple of years, Amazon has shown its commitment to expand into and disrupt the retail industry.
All of these signs have shown us one undeniable fact: big techs are playing an increasingly important role in both our lives and the economy. To put it another way, they are leading the charge in the technology movement that is rapidly changing our world.
This is a good thing for a couple of reasons.
- First of all, big techs can gather considerable talent in one place and create hubs of innovation that fuel the generation of entrepreneurial ideas.
- Secondly, they are able to provide initial capital to kick start ideas that traditionally require a long build-up phase to become economically viable (think SpaceX).
- Finally, their willingness to acquire new and emerging technology companies can serve as a great incentive for inspiring entrepreneurs to make the leap and start their own companies.
However, while we bathe in the glory of big technology companies, we need to be cautious as this technology utopia could very easily turn into a dystopia.
- First of all, big techs could hold a monopoly over the best and brightest talent in the world and thus make talent both expensive and inaccessible to other smaller technology companies.
- They may also use the capital they have to engage in territorial wars of ideas instead of actually investing in those that will have long-term societal benefits.
- Finally, they might also forcefully suffocate or acquire all new technology companies fearing that these companies might become their competitors in the future.
If you think that I am overly cynical, I am not — the second scenario described above is happening right now in the fast-expanding technology industry of China.
In China, the big tech companies (Baidu, Alibaba, Tencent, or BAT) are fueling an unhealthy culture of capital seeking with a disregard for long-term value creation and profitability. They also hold a monopoly on tech- talent that prevents companies that want to focus on value-creation or profitability from surviving.
Unfortunately, I am seeing increasing signs that similar phenomena are taking place in the United States, particularly in the field of Venture Capital investing, in which startups are more likely to create products that will get funding rather than create value for ordinary people.
This article will kick start a series in which I will examine the issues described above, relate what’s happening to the tech industry in China with the situation in the United States, and propose what we can do, as citizens, to prevent technological developments from growing into an agent of suppression rather than liberation.
The ultimate goal of this series is to bring the ever important topic of “technology’s role in society” to the table in order to facilitate more discussion so we can make sure that technology companies are changing the world to help the people rather than for personal gain.
I am going to divide this discussion up into multiple posts so that I have room to fully elaborate each of my points and protect both the sanity of myself and the readers (no one wants to read/write a 5000-word blog post in one sitting).
In the first post of this series (coming next week), I am going to examine the current state of the Chinese technology industry and express concerns that I have about how the negative consequences will affect the welfare of both the Chinese economy and the Chinese people.
In the following post, I am going to talk about technology trends in the United States and highlight a few signs that lead me to believe that the United States is heading down the same, worrisome path.
Finally, I am going to talk about how we, as technology leaders and entrepreneurs in both countries, can avoid the negative consequences of tech expansion and lead us to a world of liberty, happiness, and freedom.
I want this series to be an active discussion among all of us who are concerned about technology’s impact on society, so please use the comment board to let me know your opinions, either positive or negative, on the topic. I am looking forward to the discussions that will come out of this.
Finally, as a disclaimer, this article is by no means an attempt to reject the Chinese way of tech expansion. Rather, as a citizen of China, I want to express concern over the economic and social consequences of the aggressive expansion and rapid consolidation of the technology industry in China and attempt to find a solution to prevent the worst.
Feel free to comment below, and see you all next week!
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