Post-pandemic technology trends: Geopolitics
Hello everyone, happy new year! 2020 has been a challenging year for everyone, I included. I consider myself lucky as everyone is in good health and work has been steady. However, as many readers might have observed, I haven’t been writing much.
There is the apparent part of going through the pandemic, a three-month hard lockdown, and no schools for seven months (I have three children). But beyond that, I made a conscious decision not to write during the year. There are two main reasons. On the one hand, I didn’t want to add to the noise. There were too much panic and too many people writing crazy theories. On the other hand, there was too much information flying around, most of it very subjective. I believe that during very unpredictable times, it’s wiser to remain silent.
That said, I have been working nonstop this past year. I wrote pieces for other people and international reports; I gave talks on Space Tech, AI, and Proptech; I’ve moderated panels, hosted virtual events, provided remote classes and mentoring. In between, I started writing a book (on tea, sorry!) and doubled as a children’s teacher (and self-appointed home chef).
Now that we’re getting used to zombi apocalypses, insurrections, pandemics, and what else, I think it’s time to get back to writing my reports. The current one is a bird’s-eye view of what I’m tracking and keeping an eye on.
While I’ve always favored geopolitics, in 2020, it became my obsession. I felt technology was taking a backseat to the larger issues. I focused on how politics, the pandemic response, and the race for global supremacy (which involved technology) danced together.
The most significant fault line, which I covered here before, was the Trump era and the open feud with China. The recent attack on the Capitol and the not-so-smooth transition into the Biden administration are continuing a global shift around constitutional democracies. It won’t go away with Biden, and neither will the escalating conflict with China. Expect increasing animosity between both countries, which will spill over Europe too.
China remains a focus, not just on politics but on technology. The current bans around semiconductor innovation are spurring larger investments and research in quantum computing.
“Build an open world economy, uphold the multilateral trading regime … and take down barriers to trade, investment, and technological exchanges.”Xi Tells the World What He Really Wants. Foreign Policy. Jan 2021.
At the same time, imposed US restrictions have removed China’s access to Ivy league university education. Time will say what will the repercussions of this be. On top of it, the CCP, which is already tapping into SMEs, flexes its muscle and expands its micromanagement control of the whole tech industry, starting with Alibaba. All three factors will impact China’s tech capacity in the short and mid-term so keep a close eye on it.
I expect further pressure from China into surrounding economies like South Korea and the SEA region. The conflict has already erupted with Australia, which will be hard-hit due to increasing Chinese control of the surrounding economies.
Most SEA countries are dependant on China, and this will increase. Singapore, which sits in between the US and China, will have to make a decision. If the Hong Kong takeover is an indicator, it doesn’t fare well for many other countries in the region.
The jewel of the region, Taiwan, might be the spark of a global conflict to control the area. Any attack on the island will produce, among many others, a major disruption of the semiconductor industry. All other regions should focus on creating semiconductor foundry-redundancy, just in case.
Brexit is yet another blow to the European dream, which will continue to suffer during the next year. It’s producing a logistic nightmare for many companies as the UK was one of the leading goods forwarder countries in Europe. New warehouses will have to be set up in Europe to reestablish fluid commerce with the US and China and avoid heavy-duty taxes. Expect a nightmarish year of being unable to buy goods from outside the EU without paying in gold.
Meanwhile, Europe keeps leaning on China as a trading partner. It’s a matter of time before a big clash between Xi’s concept of “society” and that of the Union. These differences will probably trigger discontent within the region (all talk and no muscle) and will further erode the precarious situation of the EU.
And last but not least, the UK’s loss is a devastating blow to Europe’s research capabilities (the Astrazeneca shit storm is a good example). Some of the top EU research teams are located in the UK (Oxford, Cambridge, UCL, etc.). Europe will now divert part of that grant money to continental research groups. Can they be rebuilt? Will, the potential decrease of research investment in British institutions, keep researchers there, or will they stay in continental Europe?. There is much to track here.
Other regions have similar issues with the pandemic causing significant disruptions to the local economies. That’s the case of several countries in Latam and, of course, many countries in Africa.
As the “West” focuses on vaccinating themselves, it’s worth remembering we don’t live in isolation. Leaving African or Latam countries unprotected, underserved, and lacking necessary technology and infrastructure will only exacerbate future problems (including new viral spillovers).
In the next report, I’ll be diving briefly into those trends I’ve seen coalescing during this past year. As a preview, here is a list of them:
- Proptech maturity
- Consolidation of food delivery
- Energy race towards fusion
- Shopify vs. Amazon
- mRNA revolution
- Logistic nightmares
- SpaceX menace
- Blockchain and crypto speculation
- Education disruption
- Artificial Intelligence, data, ethics, and bias
Stay tuned for next week’s report!
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