Google makes the world go round


  • Business
  • Saturday, 25 May 2013

The New Digital Age

Author: Eric Schmidt & Jared Cohen

Publisher: Reshaping the Future, People, Nations and Business

“So, what do we think we know about our future world?”

This seems like a fair question to ask. What’s currently emerging from human technological prowess indeed is beyond one’s ability to articulate. Apart from connectivity, convenience and advancement, we laymen know not much.

Who else is more qualified to answer that question than someone from Google, which nearly is the generic name for the word “search”? Let’s google then about what the world would be like in the near future. The answer we get may be way too many for us to handle. So, let’s instead take a glimpse of it through this wonderful book called The New Digital Age, co-authored by two Googleans, Eric Schmidt (executive chairman) and Jared Cohen (director of Google Ideas). What we find may shock us.

The New Digital Age is wonderful because of its near-perfect organisation. Succinctly, in little less than 300 pages, it presents to us the contour of a future digital world that already is showing the tell-tale signs of fully emerging. Its emergence is the result of the penetration of electronic networking into every corner of the globe and every part of people’s lives. While at present, we only have just over a third of the world’s population connected, we will eventually have the rest of the 5 billion joining us as Netizens in the future. Schmidt and Cohen think information technology, in a much quicker pace than we have predicted, will soon be omnipresent, as readily-available as electricity. As connectivity ushers in billions more people into technology, everyone wanting to be connected will be connected.

The future, inevitably, is one with two worlds – physical and virtual. These two civilisations will coexist, contradict, and compliment in a way never before seen. They will affect and shape each other, and the balance they strike, or fail to strike, will pretty much affect us all. The virtual world will offer much of what we lack in the physical world, while the physical world tries to retain what it is losing.

The virtual world will provide freedom from repressive state control and the necessary means to demand accountability and change. In the virtual world population revolts, venting long-held grievances or new concerns with tenacity and conviction; governments, in turn, extend their oppression into the virtual world, trying desperately to contain the people. Many countries will have to practise two domestic policies and two foreign policies with its counterparts. These policies, not only are they wasteful, will also be contradictory. For example, hackers will be torn between terrorists and governments in the future of conflict, combat and intervention. The underappreciated nations will be able to punch their superpowers in the face, stirring and complicating geopolitical issues in the virtual world. Strange to say for now but not at all in the future that what gives terror groups in the future an edge is not their members’ dying wish, but their technological prowess, and that wars will shed no blood as they will be cyber wars. Puff! A nation can be easily wiped out, and an ethic group disliked by its states can disappear from the country’s demographics. Fighting for identity protection? In the future we will, give it all up in order to be connected. Who wouldn’t want to be a part of the connectivity, and who could afford not to?

All these may sound far-fetch to some, and to those who jet in and out of the tech world, Schmidt and Cohen sound like primary school principals explaining to wide-eye children about the adult world that is taking place. But the endearing part of the book is not only the authors’ presentations of a world soon to take place, it is also the message – while it is inevitable the world is headed that way because of information technology, it is also technology that will help tame the myriad of problems arising from it.

So in the end, this book is not necessarily that frightening. It in fact gives hope. Technology helps all parties, allowing small actors to have advantage. “Connectivity benefits everyone. Those who have none will have some, and those who have a lot will have even more.” This will empower the underdogs, the underprivileged, and autocracies will decry the erosion of their power, their control. And those who resist or underestimate the technology do so at their perils.

Thorough though, Schmidt and Cohen may be in their coverage of the new digital age, they have left out, nonetheless, themselves in the picture. How big will companies such as Google and Facebook be? How will our lives be impacted, and controlled, by these giants that seem to pull the strings of connectivity? That part is omitted.

So what do we think we know about the future world? I think it is not only a world Google envisions it to be, but also one that Google makes, if not already.

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