Digital Divides: Navigating Tech, Trust, and Power
Our guest for episode 85 is Anu Bradford, the Henry L. Moses Professor of Law and International Organization at Columbia Law School and the author of the book ‘Digital Empires: The Global Battle to Regulate Technology’.
In the interview, Anu Bradford discusses her book “Digital Empires: The Global Battle to Regulate Technology,” focusing on how different regions regulate the digital economy. She explores the contrast between the U.S.’s market-driven model prioritizing free speech and innovation, China’s state-driven model using technology for surveillance and control, and the EU’s rights-driven model emphasizing individual rights and democratic values. Bradford questions whether tech giants, rather than states, are becoming the true digital empires due to their immense economic, political, and cultural power. This reflects her interest in the intersection of state-market relationships and Europe’s global role.
Anu Bradford acknowledges that tech companies initially favored less government regulation to maintain economic and political freedom. However, their growing power led to societal backlash and loss of trust, necessitating regulatory intervention. She notes that companies like Tencent and Alibaba have thrived in China’s state-driven model, challenging the notion that freedom is essential for innovation. These companies have succeeded due to state support, venture capital, and a protected domestic market. However, recent Chinese regulations aim to curb their power, balancing state control with economic growth and technological supremacy.
Anu Bradford discusses the impact of geopolitical tensions and trust issues on tech regulation and the global digital economy. She notes the challenges American companies like Nvidia face in accessing the Chinese market due to U.S. restrictions on technology transfer. This trend towards techno-protectionism and digital sovereignty is growing globally. Bradford anticipates continued rivalry and gradual decoupling between the US and China, with ongoing pressures in trade and investment. However, she predicts that full technological sovereignty is unfeasible due to interdependent global supply chains, suggesting a complex future of managed tensions and partial cooperation in the tech sector.
Asked how she would advise ASML, the world’s largest lithography make, to navigate geopolitical pressures by aligning with U.S. and EU policies, particularly regarding technology exports to China, she highlights Europe’s growing skepticism towards China and the need for strategic decisions in the tech industry, considering the uncertain political climate, especially with upcoming U.S. elections. Bradford predicts a bipolar digital world, with techno-democracies coalescing around a European rights-driven model and techno-autocracies emulating China’s state-driven model, leading to ideological and economic contestations shaping the future of digital governance.
Citation from the interview on Geo-Politicized Technology Policy
In the video below a citation/part from the interview:
(…) There’s a couple of issues that are worth highlighting here, both relating to trust. So one issue is that the American tech companies are very eager to take advantage of the vast Chinese market, but they face the struggle with they own government now wanting to restrict their access to the Chinese market because they want to make sure that China doesn’t gain access to strategic technologies. So Nvidia is one of those companies that has the interest to sell in China, but that needs to navigate this increasingly geo-politicized technology policy, whereby they opportunities to do so are restricted by the US government. And in many ways, this is exactly the direction that we are heading around the world when the geopolitical tensions are elevating, the trust among the governments is eroding. Very few of the governments anymore trust that they can rely on global supply chains. And we see this urge to move towards strategic autonomy, digital sovereignty, this is now very much part of the European conversation as well. Europeans are very concerned that they are too dependent on access to Chinese technologies, American technologies, and feel the need to create a greater technological or digital sovereignty as a result. So this does increase pressures towards technological decoupling. It does reduce prospects for cooperation, because that cooperation relies on there being a minimal level of trust, which is now increasingly missing. And it also then elevates tensions, which then continues to feed into this cycle that we see less cooperation, less comfort in relying in foreign supply chains and an adjustment towards greater techno protectionism and techno nationalism (…).