The Gafam (Google, Apple, Facebook, Amazon and Microsoft) on the one hand, and China on the other, are announcing themselves as the key players in the ongoing technological change.
Two technological announcements in recent days have given us an idea of the world that is preparing, without us, French and Europeans, if we are not careful. They reveal the new power relations and rivalries of value systems in the world.
The first came from Google, which claims to have made a breakthrough in quantum computers, promising to transform our current machines into computer dinosaurs; the second came from Xi Jinping, Secretary General of the Chinese Communist Party, and concerns Blockchain technology. That the oracles of modern times are a barely twenty-year-old American company and the leader of the last major communist party in power says a lot about the changes of this early 21st century…
Other technological fields
Google (or Alphabet, as the holding company that oversees all the group’s activities is called) is best known for its search engine, its Android mobile phone system, its artificial intelligence capabilities or its emerging autonomous “Google car”… But its announcement shows that the Mountain View company is also investing in other technological fields. She claims to have performed, with a quantum computer of her own design, a calculation that took 3 minutes and 20 seconds where the most powerful machines of today would have taken… 10,000 years! Google is not the only player in the field of quantum computing: almost all the big names in the sector are working on this revolutionary technology, and have been quick to minimize the breakthrough of their competitor…
The other announcement is of a completely different nature. In Beijing, Chinese number one Xi Jinping, who does not really have a geek profile, made a very solemn speech calling for “seizing the opportunities” offered by Blockchain technology. Not sure that its public, the members of the plenum of the Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party, fully master the complexity and potential of the Blockchain, a technology best known for supporting Bitcoin cryptomics; but the release of Xi Jinping was enough to trigger a rush for “tech” shares on the Shanghai Stock Exchange, and a wind of madness in professional circles over the meaning of the presidential “bubble”. Even abroad, where analysts have seen China’s ambition to take the lead, and thus set standards, in a promising but still marginal technology sector that has not yet been taken over by governments. In any case, this episode reveals the Chinese way of doing things: it is from the top that the signal for innovation must come. This principle is counter-intuitive in the era of start-ups and networks, but it seems to work too….
The Gafam (Google, Apple, Facebook, Amazon and Microsoft) on the one hand, and the Chinese Communist Party on the other, are indeed the key players in the ongoing technological change. As we know, Europe is struggling after missing a few turns over the last two decades. Emmanuel Macron pointed out in a speech last week that most European Union countries had developed a plan for the era of artificial intelligence; but, he added, “we need coordination and an agenda”. This is the task assigned to the new European Commission of Ursula von der Leyen, and in particular to the French hyper-commissioner, Thierry Breton, if he gets his confirmation vote. Otherwise, we will be condemned to look for a long time at California, or Beijing, to find out what sauce we will be eating.