The rise of India’s Silicon Valley
by Angel Hill
Despite first being launched in 2009, the Aadhaar project has received little attention globally following its implementation in India’s society. Before 2009, nearly 50 percent of Indian citizens had no form of identification – those born outside of urban areas or those who did not have access to hospitals or government agencies were not issued a birth certificate (Forbes 2017). This lack of formal identification meant that a large proportion of Indians had no access to the basic gateways of modern life, such as a bank account or a driving licence. Poverty and illegally operated ventures were rife, and a lack of bureaucracy meant that the Indian government was collecting little to no tax from these undocumented citizens which further perpetuated widespread destitution.
The solution came in an unexpected and technologically advanced way: the launch of Aadhaar. This project aimed to create a biometric database of all citizens, using a 12 digit unique ‘digital identity’ which was authenticated by the user’s fingerprints and retinal scans (uidai.gov.in). As of 2016, 1.1 billion Indian citizens registered using Aadhaar and held a form of digital identity which could be used in everyday life. The project allowed for anyone who held an Aadhaar account to open a bank account, which led to $10 billion being deposited within three years of the project launch. With the rise of technological adaptiveness and ease of access, Aadhaar has become compatible with multiple smartphone operating systems, allowing citizens to access their unique digital identity and make and receive instant payments via QR code (The Tribune 2012).
Using a sophisticated system Aadhaar is operable on as little as a 2G network, which allows for citizens in far-reaching rural areas to remain connected to their digital identities and continue engaging in legitimate business activity. This is revolutionary, as rural farmers are now able to access bank accounts and set up ‘crop insurance’ (The Economic Times 2017), which guarantees an increase in security within the agricultural sector (roughly 55 percent of the Indian workforce). As India approaches a cashless society, Aadhaar allows for everything from accessing bank accounts and making payments, to allowing for digital records to be kept online. This has made medical, tax, and insurance records accessible to a larger percentage of all citizens (The Hindu 2017).
As of 2022, parents are able to submit applications for children under five years old without the need for biometric information (Krishi Jagran 2022). This promotes children being accounted for and gives them the opportunities to succeed in life from an early age. All in all, Aadhaar is a project that has revolutionised the Indian economy, rivalled the developments of Silicon Valley, and provided a means to escape structural inequality.
Forbes (2017). India’s Tech Revolution Has Already Left The West Behind — It’s The Best Investment Opportunity Now, https://www.forbes.com
Krishi Jagran (2022). Baal Aadhar Card Latest Update 2022: No Need of Biometric, Find Application Process Inside, https://krishijagran.com
The Economic Times India (2017). Government makes Aadhaar mandatory for crop insurance policies, https://economictimes.indiatimes.com
The Hindu (2017). The long list of Aadhaar-linked schemes, https://www.thehindu.com
The Tribune, Chandigarh, India (2012). Cash transfer of subsidies in 51 districts begins on Jan 1, https://www.tribuneindia.com/2012/20121125/main1.htm.
Unique Identification Authority of India, https://uidai.gov.in/
The state of Big Tech in Uzbekistan
by Joe Mawer
Technology is one of the great opportunities for poorer countries to develop in the 21st Century. It is one of the major reasons why Estonia’s GDP per capita was $100 in 1991 and in 2019 had a higher HDI than Italy and the UAE. Uzbekistan on the other hand has not utilised new digital technology and Big Tech nearly as much as their counterparts who were both in the USSR. The lack of digitisation has held back Uzbekistan from achieving its potential. The clearest example of this was the mass power cut that left Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan without power. These kinds of power cuts threaten future investments that could choose to invest in areas where there is a more stable power connection.
Moreover, some of the big social media companies have their sites blocked in Uzbekistan. Twitter, TikTok, V Kontakte, and Skype were all disrupted in Uzbekistan in 2021 by the cutting of the internet speed going to the sites. This means that many Uzbeks have to access these sites by turning on a VPN. Again this shows that although the current Uzbek President, Mirziyoyev has dramatically changed Uzbekistan from when his predecessor died in 2016, it shows that there is still a long way to go until Uzbekistan is fully modernised. Despite this gloomy outlook, Uzbekistan has modernised a bit and become more technologically advanced with over 1.035 mobile phone subscriptions per person in 2017. However, this achievement has to be tempered with the fact that only a mere 40 percent of the Uzbek population is active online.
Although Big Tech is much maligned by many in the West, they are still seen by many as a great equalising force by making it easier for not only communication through social media but also access to information and trade. As Estonia has proven, technology can rapidly advance a country into being prosperous, and whilst Uzbekistan are partially there, they still have a long way to go before being considered to be in the same bracket as Estonia.
Big Giants: The World’s Digital Police?
by Luke Jones
A handful of Big Tech corporations now leverage more power than most national governments. When compared with national GDPs, Apple’s market capitalisation ranks 8th in the world. Perhaps more insidious is the ability of these tech giants to become the world’s digital police, as the gatekeepers of the internet. This raises the fundamental question, who rules?
Social media has ‘thrust several corporations into unprecedented roles as the arbiters of our new online public square’ (Perrigo, 2021). Take, for example, President Trump’s social media ban following the Capitol riot. Political allegiances aside, it is damning that Silicon Valley CEOs were capable of silencing the most powerful man in the West.
Likewise, our relationships, the way we are governed, and the success of businesses of all sizes fall at the mercy of algorithms. As Baker (2017) starkly puts it, ‘they can decide whether you get a job interview, how much credit you access, and what news you see.’ From the Cambridge Analytica scandal to the mainstreaming of conspiracy theories such as QAnon, these statistical recipes have produced some undesirable consequences. Their business decisions have a profound impact on our daily lives and society.
So what then should our governments be doing to reclaim law and order? The next decade may be critical. One common demand is that lawmakers and regulators reclaim responsibility for digital rights. There has been movement on this, evidenced by recent antitrust cases levelled against the tech giants from an array of different countries. More radically, regulators are also considering breaking up these firms into smaller, more manageable chunks, demonstrated by the Competition and Markets Authority’s (CMA) order for Facebook to sell Giphy (Stolton and Lombardi, 2021). Whatever the solution, it seems that at least now governments have woken up to the threat of these tech giants behaving as rule enforcers.
Perrigo, B. (2021). Big Tech’s Business Model Is a Threat to Democracy: Here’s How to Build a Fairer Digital Future. TIME [Online]. Available at: https://time.com/5931597/internet-reform-democracy/
Baker, J. (2017). Big tech has become the world’s policeman. IPS [Online]. Available at: https://www.ips-journal.eu/in-focus/global-corporations-and-nation-states/big-tech-has-become-the-worlds-policeman-2302/
Stolton, S. and Lombardi, P. (2021). Big Teach braces for breakups as UK opens new era of enforcement. Politico [Online]. Available at: https://www.politico.eu/article/big-tech-breakup-uk-enforcement-era-facebook-giphy/
Mind the Gap Between the Present and the Future
by Amina Akhmetbekova
As our world becomes more automated, and tech giants’ products become a usual part of our life, the consequences of such rapid development can be seen mostly in retrospect. The substantial rise of inequality within the society and between states in past decades is being heavily attributed to the simultaneous rise of technological business development. This article will approach this topic from one of the roots of the technological advantages of the Big Tech companies, which is the use of Artificial Intelligence (AI).
In general, the most fascinating tech news and discoveries of the past few years are more or less connected to AI and how it progressively becomes more efficient and smart. Take for example the Alpha Code competitive coder AI, which was ranked within the top 54% of human coders (Deepmind, 2022). Big Tech companies, such as Google or Facebook, have been using AI extensively to create more targeted social media, advertisement, and customer experiences, while Tesla steps forward with self-driving automobiles and enhances machine capabilities to be more efficient than a human. All of them in one way or another use it as an advantage for maximising the efficiency of their businesses. It not only eliminates the big competition but also creates technological pressures for inequality to take place.
Besides income inequality, AI and its progressive development widen the gap of knowledge inequality, not only between people of different social classes but also between developed and developing countries. In a time of what is believed to be the next technological revolution, not all countries and businesses have developed enough to catch up, and countries that are at the forefront of AI development will disproportionately benefit from it in a new market. McKinsey Global Institute’s analysis of the impact of AI on the world economy states that leading AI countries will potentially claim up to 25 percent of net economic benefits (Bughin et. al. 2018).
On a social level, according to the US National Bureau of Economic Research, the integration of AI affected a 50 to 70 percent decline in wages, especially in the industries that switch from human low education labour to automated machinery. It implies that the blue-collar workers will have fewer possibilities to stay relevant to the labour market demands in comparison to, for example, people with a postgraduate degree level of education (Acemoglu and Restrepo, 2021). A tight income situation and working multiple jobs creates little to no window of time and resources for further education or change of profession.
How can we bridge this gap? This is one of the toughest questions that we will need to find the answer to soon. The main concern is not only in the differences emerging within the economic performance of people and states, but also in the inability to get the knowledge and skills necessary to work in an AI environment.
Acemoglu, D. and Restrepo, P., 2021. Tasks, automation, and the rise in USus wage inequality (No. w28920). National Bureau of Economic Research.
Bughin, J., Seong, J., Manyika, J., Chui, M. and Joshi, R., 2018. Notes from the AI frontier: Modeling the impact of AI on the world economy. McKinsey Global Institute.
Deepmind. 2022. Competitive programming with AlphaCode. [Oonline]. Available at:https://deepmind.com/blog/article/Competitive-programming-with-AlphaCode.
A new age of work: How automation is widening inequality
by Aidan O’Connor
Across the globe, technological progress has brought about some of the most significant and rapid changes in history. Everything from shopping for groceries to the way in which world leaders conduct international diplomacy has been transformed by major innovations in technology. The massive impact of technology on the world has not been limited in any aspect. The global economy has been revolutionised, with technology now granting producers and providers the ability to automate tasks that human labour was once necessary for. However, technology’s impact on the global economy has not necessarily been to everyone’s advantage. Global inequality continues to have a profound impact, with the world’s poorest 50 percent owning just 8.5 percent of total global income (Hardoon & Suckling, 2022). Now, many fear that technological progress and automation is helping widen global inequality and hinder attempts to create a more equal planet.
Technological innovation has resulted in middle and lower-skilled jobs being replaced by automated machines, requiring the less well-off to upskill by attaining higher educational qualifications such as university degrees (Reenen, 2011) (Allen, 2017). However, not everyone has the ability to attain higher education qualifications (Prettner & Strulik, 2020). Education attainment is largely impacted by a number of factors such as household income, which has led to educational inequality in many parts of the world (Ford, 2013). Automation removes income from low-skilled workers and many of these workers have insufficient opportunities to upskill leading to a situation whereby income inequality rises.
Another cost of automation is increased unemployment, particularly amongst lower-income people. Automation can also, however, enable the world’s richest to be more innovative, productive, and efficient in making profit and increasing their personal wealth (Brynjolfsson & McAfee, 2011). Labour institutions have also been weakened by automation, as many institutions no longer have the collective bargaining power to force reforms and protect the labour force (Norton, 2017). The wealth of the world’s richest ten percent has increased by over $3 trillion within the last two years, showing just how easy it’s been made for those already with resources to expand their wealth even further (Hardoon & Suckling, 2022). Automation has created a situation whereby the incomes of the world’s poorest are declining while the world’s richest become wealthier at an increasing pace, furthering global income inequality.
Mitigating the impact of technological innovation on global inequality may be one of the greatest challenges faced by governments across the world. Many of the concerns raised around the impact of technological innovation on global inequality have gone unheard. This could result in detrimental consequences affecting every nation. However, overcoming the negative effects of automation on inequality is not an insurmountable task, and, with global political will, perhaps the world could enjoy the benefits of technological innovation without the challenges it currently creates.
Allen, B., 2017. Global effects of technology will not reduce inequality: report, s.l.: The Sociable.
Brynjolfsson, E. & McAfee, A., 2011. Race against the machine: How the digital revolution is accelerating innovation, driving productivity, and irreversibly transforming employment and the economy. s.l.:Brynjolfsson and McAfee.
Ford, M., 2013. Achievement gaps in Australia: what NAPLAN reveals about education inequality in Australia. Race, ethnicity and education, 16(1), pp. 80-102.
Hardoon, D. & Suckling, E., 2022. Inequality: Global trends, s.l.: Development Initiatives.
Norton, A., 2017. Automation and inequality: The changing world of work in the global South, London: International Institute for Environment and Development.
Prettner, K. & Strulik, H., 2020. Innovation, automation, and inequality: Policy challenges in the race against the machine. Journal of monetary economics, Volume 116, pp. 249-265.
Reenen, J. V., 2011-12. Wage inequality, technology and trade: 21st century evidence. Labour economics, 18(6), pp. 730-741.
Quantity over quality: How patents are creating global inequality in the digital market
The Five American Giants, commonly known as FAANG, consist of Facebook, Apple, Amazon, Netflix and Google. These Big Tech companies that started as the pioneers of creative innovations are known today for exploiting and conquering the majority of the digital market. To be precise, 10 percent of companies in the American economy receive 80 percent of the profits (How Big Tech Threatens the Global Economy, 2017). There are numerous ways in which Big Tech companies create such an extensive global divide. This article explores the exploitation of small scale innovators, through the creation of meaningless patents.
The initial purpose of investing in patents was to protect innovation from the malicious practice of duplication. However, recently, Big Tech companies are using patents as weapons to destroy the market available for new innovators to flourish. For instance, large companies are involved in a despicable trend of developing patents for products that they don’t intend on developing (Eveleth, 2019). They hire employees to brainstorm numerous ideas and later use lawyers to design patents for them. Even if these ideas do not turn into actual products, other companies in the market cannot develop similar products without violating patent protection (Eveleth, 2019). But one might wonder why small innovators do not do the same? It is because the process of buying patents is unbelievably expensive, and hence, it is used as an instrument to assert the supremacy and power of Big Tech.
What are the incentives for these big companies to create several pointless patents? Technology is burgeoning at an alarming rate, and new products are continually entering the market every day. Hence, during negotiations, two companies attempting to strike a deal will be differentiated based on the number of patents they own, instead of carefully analysing the worth of their patents (Eveleth, 2019). Therefore, a company that has wisely accumulated the maximum number of patents will generally win the bargain. Such a practice is extremely harmful, since it is frequently used to threaten small firms that do not stand a chance of defending themselves against these dominant giants.
Additionally, the big companies are in a position to cater to political parties and change the course of decision-making in their favour. For example, by forming careful alliances with the Republicans and Democrats, Google weakened the US patent system (Shore, 2018). The Big Tech companies that were earlier known for their specialisation in Research and Development are now spending more money on winning legal battles.
Such unfavourable situations have been improving lately. The International Trade Commission recently decided that Google violated five patents owned by home audio company Sonos, and ordered a ban on Google’s imports of infringed technology into the United States (Johnson, 2022). Moreover, even political leaders are becoming more socially responsible and calling out Big Tech for their unethical practices. With the tech giants continuing to manipulate the patenting standards, it’s becoming increasingly important that a fair digital market is created with improved and more stringent regulation.
Eveleth, R. (2019, August 20). Why Are There So Many Weird Tech Patents? Retrieved February 21, 2022, from Slate: https://slate.com/technology/2019/08/amazon-sony-facebook-strange-patents.html
How Big Tech Threatens the Global Economy. (2017). Retrieved February 21, 2022, from Asia Society: https://asiasociety.org/new-york/how-big-tech-threatens-global-economy
Johnson, D. (2022, January 17). It’s time for Big Tech to play fair on IP. Retrieved February 21, 2022, from Fortune: https://fortune.com/2022/01/17/its-time-for-big-tech-to-play-fair-on-ip-copyright-technology-law drew-johnson/
Shore, M. (2018, March 21). How Google and Big Tech Killed the U.S. Patent System. Retrieved February 21, 2022, from https://www.ipwatchdog.com/2018/03/21/how-google-and-big-tech-killed-the-u-s-patent system/id=95080/
The Music Industry, Technology and Inequalities
by James Dring
‘Technology has made the world smaller’: a familiar and apparently ever more relevant saying, the sentiment of which is reflected in this quote from Wallis and Malm:
“Technologies that allow for music industry participation have been made available worldwide to even the most forgotten villages since the 1980s” (1984)
However, in my research I have found this statement to be fundamentally untrue. Despite the global expansion of digital infrastructure, differentiated access, exacerbated by poor institutional educational conditions, has led to unequal participation in the music industry (Kaiser, 2017).
Online networks allow people to access the music industry from almost any location (Théberge, 2004:2012). However, this has created a dependency on digital architectures to which access is highly differentiated. This leads to what Zillen describes as a ‘liaison’ between new technologies and existing inequalities (2009). What Zillen (and Kaiser) mean is that existing educational inequalities and recording studios subject to ongoing technological changes (Gibson 2005) create an industry in which it is especially hard for some people to participate.
Consequently, artists and producers cannot learn from one another, missing out on the important tacit knowledge acquired through socialization in the music industry (Porcello, 2004). Jargon, metaphors, metonyms, and practical experiences that cannot be formally taught (Kaiser, 2017) are essentially inaccessible. As an artist myself, I find this inequality most significant. While I can provide only anecdotal information, in the experience of myself and fellow artists the informal ‘on the job’ has had the biggest impact on our careers. I would be far less developed without it.
This double educational inequality does not exist in isolation; other factors cause further asymmetrical access to the music industry. One example is the male-centrism of music production acts as a further barrier to women and these technologies: “the number of female producers has been on a constant low level” (Burgess, 2013). Aside from this gender imbalance, a potentially curious example could be inequalities in music production on the basis of religion, but as Kaiser points out there has been virtually no academic publications in this area (2017).
Burgess, R.J. (2013). The Art of Music Production: The Theory and Practice. 4th ed. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Gibson, C. (2005). Recording Studios: Relational Spaces of Creativity in the City’. In: Built Environment. 31, 3
Kaiser, C (2017). Analog Distinction – Music Production Processes And Social Inequality. In Journal on the Art of Record Production. 11
Porcello, T. (2004). Speaking of Sound: Language and the Professionalization of Sound-Recording Engineers’. In: Social Studies of Science. 34, 5
Schmidt-Horning, S. (2004). Engineering the Performance: Recording Engineers, Tacit Knowledge and the Art of Controlling Sound’. In: Social Studies of Science. 34, 5
Théberge, P. (2004). ‘The Network Studio: Historical and Technological Paths to a New Ideal in Music Making’. In: Social Studies of Science. 34, 5
Théberge, P. (2012). ‘The End of the World as We Know It: The Changing Role of the Studio in the Age of the Internet’
Wallis, R. and Malm, K. (1984). Big Sounds from Small Peoples: The Music Industry in Small Countries. New York: Pendragon Press.