The Big Five – Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Google and Microsoft – now spend as much or more on lobbying in Washington, DC, than banks, drug companies and oil conglomerates, in an attempt to influence the shape of the planned regulation. . Tech leaders warn that dismantling large corporations will pave the way for Chinese companies to dominate global markets, and that regulatory intervention will stifle the innovation that made Silicon Valley great in the first place.
Seen through a longer lens, the political pullback against Big Tech power is not surprising. Although it was triggered by the 2016 U.S. presidential election, the Brexit referendum, and the role that social media disinformation campaigns may have played in both cases, the political mood echoes that of ‘over a century ago.
We could envision a technological future where businesses remain large but regulated, comparable to the tech and communications giants of the mid-20th century. This model has not stifled technological innovation. Today, it could effectively contribute to its growth and promote the sharing of new technologies.
Take the case of AT&T, a monopoly regulated for seven decades before its final dissolution in the early 1980s. In exchange for permission to provide universal telephone service, the US government asked AT&T to stay out of the way of other companies. communication, first by selling its telegraph branch and later by avoiding IT.
Like any for-profit company, AT&T struggled to play by the rules, especially after the take-off of the computer industry in the 1940s. One of these violations resulted in a 1956 consent decree under which the states- United have asked the telephone giant to license inventions produced in its industrial research arm, Bell Laboratories, to other companies. One of those products was the transistor. If AT&T had not been forced to share this discovery and the associated technological advancements with other labs and companies, the trajectory of computing would have been radically different.
Today, industrial research and development activities are again extraordinarily concentrated. Regulators have mostly turned their backs over the past two decades, as tech companies continued to grow at all costs and large companies bought out smaller competitors. Top researchers have also left academia for high-paying jobs at tech giants, consolidating a huge amount of mastermind in the field in a few companies.
More than at any time in the fierce history of Silicon Valley companies, it is remarkably difficult for new entrants and their technologies to maintain significant market share without being subsumed or crushed by a larger, well-capitalized company. and dominant in the market. Most of the big ideas in IT come from a handful of industrial research labs and, unsurprisingly, reflect the business priorities of a few select big tech companies.
Tech companies can denounce government intervention as antithetical to their ability to innovate. But follow the money and the regulations, and it’s clear the public sector has played a vital role in fueling new computing discoveries and creating new markets around them from the start.