Is the West ready to face the challenges of advancing technology?

The rest of the world is playing with a different rulebook

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From our May 2024 issue

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The theme of this month’s edition is technology. The advancement of space exploration, defense technologies, artificial intelligence and the like should excite us. Yet the geopolitical issues they present are great and Western governments seem ill-prepared to grapple with them. Watch any congressional hearing where a crusty congressman tries to keep pace with Silicon Valley’s top autists if you need further evidence — and read Spencer A. Klavan’s analysis of the high-skill but low-status rejects uniting into a formidable social class on p.12. The Silent Generation and boomers simply cannot keep up.

The Space Race is…

The theme of this month’s edition is technology. The advancement of space exploration, defense technologies, artificial intelligence and the like should excite us. Yet the geopolitical issues they present are great and Western governments seem ill-prepared to grapple with them. Watch any congressional hearing where a crusty congressman tries to keep pace with Silicon Valley’s top autists if you need further evidence — and read Spencer A. Klavan’s analysis of the high-skill but low-status rejects uniting into a formidable social class on p.12. The Silent Generation and boomers simply cannot keep up.

The Space Race is back on, as tycoons seek to cash in on the final frontier. While space exploration used to be the domain of well-financed governments, technology has caught up and made it accessible to the merely well-funded startup. With SpaceX, Blue Origin and Virgin leading the way, a flurry of newly capitalized companies have been launching all manner of items into space, from rockets for Moon exploration to urns of ashes for “Moon-erals.” On p.20, Shane Cashman dives into the new wild west of explorers and entrepreneurs commercializing the great unknown.

Lionel Shriver brings us back to earth on p.27 with a look at the electrical grid and our government’s push for green energy and electric vehicles. Who could have anticipated that electric cars would need to be plugged into a power source? As government mandates push consumers and manufacturers toward EVs instead of good old gas-guzzlers, we’re learning that our grid might not be up to the challenge of producing enough juice. Some recent policies have stymied development of newer and efficient sources of energy, such as nuclear or clean-burning natural gas, that would help with our energy needs in the years to come. We will require more electricity to meet the ambitious goals we’ve set for ourselves, yet climate activists keep pushing our leaders toward initiatives aimed at producing less of it.

The rise and fall of certain social networks is one issue in particular that we’re watching. (They’re watching us, we should watch them back.) TikTok, of course, is at the top of everyone’s mind this spring. Congress, led by outgoing representative Mike Gallagher, has valiantly crusaded against the Chinese Communist Party-backed app that dominates the screen time, and brain space, of America’s Generation X and teens. It’s notable that the crowd that insisted Russia helped steal an election in 2016 is oddly silent, or even in TikTok’s corner, over this issue. If you think Russia can sway an election with $100,000 in Facebook ads, wait until you see what the CCP can do with a stranglehold on the news and information diet of an entire generation of Americans. The thought of the Soviet Union owning and controlling the New York Times or CBS during the Cold War is laughable — a CCP-controlled TikTok, with millions of Western users, is far more insidious than even that scenario. On p.14, Ben Domenech talks with Gallagher and others about the importance of addressing the issue before things get worse.

As TikTok is ascendent, the once powerful and influential X (formerly known as Twitter) has seen its power wax and wane. While still flush with users and “engagement,” the platform that once channeled the power to cancel has seen its lethality diminish. As mainstream journalists and random influencers with massive followings decamped to other social networks after its acquisition by Elon Musk, they’ve seen their reach fade, and with it, their ability to influence the news cycle in ways they were able to pull off in years past. Stephen L. Miller looks at what X has become and how its power is changing on p.19.

Recent tales of foreign spies caught working for our largest and most advanced technology companies should serve as a wakeup call. The new cold war, and future hot ones, will be decided with technological might, much the same way that World War Two was won with industrial power. Allowing our foreign adversaries unfettered access to our markets and our industries’ secrets is a formula for sorrow. If we’ve learned anything over the last decade of technological advancement, it’s that Western-developed technology is too powerful to let fall into our adversaries’ hands. The speed at which AI is developing shouldn’t worry us, but the technology falling under the sway of those who would do us harm should.

Concern over Taiwan and control of the South China Sea is as much about control over microchips and industrial shipping lanes as it is about national sovereignty. The recent Taiwan earthquakes drove home the importance of access to its microchips production, and spotlighted our reliance on manufacturing we don’t control to power rocketry, AI and defense technologies.

We love free markets at The Spectator. But just as foreign-government ownership of major and influential media entities is a ludicrous and offensive thought, so too is ownership or control of our important technological infrastructure. At some point, we must realize the rest of the world is playing with a different rulebook. It’s time Western governments acknowledge this and start establishing structures that help us build for the future.

This article was originally published in The Spectator’s May 2024 World edition.

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