The Winner Takes All: Recipe for Disaster

3 Questions to Jonathan Taplin, author of Move Fast and Break Things

In the third decade of the commercial internet, concentration of power and money is greater than ever. Will this process stop or reverse? Or are we heading for a future of even stronger corporate dominance? Netopia talked to Jonathan Taplin, author of Move Fast and Break Things – a book which takes a closer look at the ideology and business of Silicon Valley’s internet skyscrapers.

Per Strömbäck: Is the “do first, ask later”-ideology the key to Silicon Valley’s success? Could it have been some other way?

Jonathan Taplin: There is a famous line from Ayn Rand’s novel, “The Fountainhead” which most tech entrepreneurs can quote by heart. The architect hero is the novel is questioned as to how he can build his radical structure. He replies, “Who will stop me.” Once libertarians like Peter Thiel, Larry Page and Jeff Bezos realized that an unregulated internet, with no privacy, no taxes and no copyright could be built, then the victory would go to the swift. The modern internet was going to be a winner takes all economy, with a single dominant player in search advertising, social media and ecommerce. A service like YouTube or Facebook could have never been built if they asked permission from copyright holders to post their material. And of course the politicians provided the “safe harbor” protection for these services that made it impossible for musicians, journalists or filmmakers to control their property. Until we get some laws around privacy and get rid of safe harbor, the creative community will be at the mercy of the Internet monopolies.

PS: How did this become the dominant modus operandus for tech? Is it the personalities of the entrepreneurs? The only way to success? An ideology? Or what?

JT: It is partially the libertarian ideology which creates a “don’t ask permission culture”. Obviously the leaders of the companies believe that they are the smartest people in the country which leads to a kind of techno-determinism. They are on a mission to disrupt all current institutions and businesses, and we (the public) just have to go along with it. Politicians are too intimidated by their money and perceived genius to push back. Of course the fact that the Internet has been an unregulated space for a quarter century makes that possible.

PS: Will the tech giants of today be around in 20-30 years? Who can challenge them?

JT: My guess is that Google, Amazon and Facebook will dominate their sectors for the next 30 years. And because they have the most money to dominate the Artificial Intelligence business, there influence will spread to many other sectors like transportation and healthcare. The amount of destruction they have wrought on the creative economy will look like child’s play next to the destruction they are about to unleash on the service economy. When 4 Million truck drivers in the US are put out of work by self-driving trucks, Google will not be hiring them to write code. They think that is society’s responsibility, not theirs.