Genghis Khan, the fearsome Mongolian warrior of the 13th century, ruled nearly a third of the entire Earth. According to one theory, about 0.5 percent of the male population in the world are descendants of Khan. Mostly nomadic, and ace horse riders, the Khan’s tribe used to hunt with bow and arrows on horseback.
The fine still to kill their prey while mounted became their most potent weapon against other tribes and rulers. They were also very barbaric as were most rulers of the past, which instilled fear in the enemies, crippling them even before the attack. Strength, battle skills and fear made them all very powerful by acquiring vast areas of land. The world then was land-based. Land is a zero-sum game; those who controlled vast high-value lands ruled.
Fast-forward a few centuries later, the Industrial revolution waged a new shift in power into the hands of countries that developed and improvised in machine automation that radically changed the economic landscape. Continents got enslaved to feed the hungry machines for producing goods and services for the masters. International trades bloomed further powering the economies of the few countries those that owned and developed better and faster tools. Money became the most important means of exchange, and people used the money to make more money, and power shifted from land to capitalism.
Meanwhile, power shifted from hand to hand battles to arms and ammunition. The stronger the artillery, the more powerful the army. Battles and wars were fought on the iron shoulders of machines with the outcome dependent on their size and force. Countries, to strengthen and seal their borders, piled up more iron and steel. The bigger the pile, the stronger the country was. That led to the arms race across major nations, shifting the power on the sides that ended up with an enormous pile.
While the military, air force and naval arm wrestling were on amongst nations, there was another power struggle brewing on a different arena.
The invention of computers. Computation of data became faster, and the bigger and faster machines meant more power to the firm or the countries that owned them. While the processing power was getting on the fast-track, they were still silos within their network, until the advent of the ‘www,’ when the dynamics started to change. The primary power shift took place when the countries and the companies spread their cable tentacles across the globe. As per author Thomas Friedman, The world became flat. Knowledge and information became a new source of power.
Not much needs to be said about the impact the Internet followed by mobility had on almost all aspects of our lives. Information became instant, free or nearly free and shareable. Traditional offline services extended into online. Decentralization of data generation led to the rapid growth of (mis)information, and the rise of new dual-sided platforms changed the economy like never seen before.
With the fundamental shift from might to land, land to the machine, machine to capital to knowledge and information as the currency of business, we’ve seen a simultaneous shift of power. The focus in the last decade has been mostly around the retail consumer goods and services. Organizations innovating the next fastest, most refreshing and shinier toys earned the consumers’ attention and of the Wall Street.
The power appears to have shifted over to those who can harness static information into meaningful data and bring offline products or service to life. In other words, connectivity amongst most products and services, causing a seamless interaction with humans. Autonomous machines, Artificial or Augmented Intelligence (AI), Internet of Things (IoT), and all the new innovative acronyms in between.
Data has also been used for nefarious activities, from influence and persuasion to down right manipulation. Data that is used to connect is also used to monopolize and drive us apart.
Data is supreme, but will it be forever?
As we have learned from the past, power doesn’t stay static, always looking for the highest bidder. When data become ubiquitous like electricity, running water or Wi-Fi, it will lose it’s lethal affect, and it will be time to pass on the crown to the next incumbent.
The battle continues.
To be continued.
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