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Futures of Big Tech

Futures of Big Tech

Large R&D-based companies (Big Tech) have risen as major institutions driving technology, defining networks, shaping markets and influencing the ways we live. These companies are heavily concen-trated in some parts of the world, most of them within the West Coast of the United States, with a few emerging challengers in Mainland China, Taiwan and elsewhere. Other continents, including Europe, participate marginally in the development of the knowledge-bases which, apparently, may well come to dominate the future. Societies have come to rely on Big Tech from how we do business to how we consume and connect with others. And decision-makers, regulators and stakeholders grapple with breakthrough innovations, enhanced connectivity, lopsided competition and a number of ethical and political implications for how societies govern themselves.


Organised societies face difficult choices. Should Big Tech be let free to carry on unimpeded? Should government break them up or try to tame them by imposing detailed standards of conduct? Should national and supra-national authorities aim at giving rise to new and alternative undertakings able to develop at far-reaching scale and scope? Or should policy actors give priority to an economic fabric full of smaller-sized enterprises that are alive and adaptive at the local level? 


As with many times in the past, the configuration of the present seems stiff and self-reinforcing. But a foresight perspective invites an awareness of the possibility of disruptions or genuine novelty in things to come. It is uncertain if current trends will be sustained over time or how they will be accommodated. Probing into the unknown can be inspiring and increase panoramic awareness. It also sets a base for being pro-active about destiny. Thus, studying the future(s) is a deliberation to be already being on the move. That is a productive, non-neutral and liberating attitude. A chance for aligning the possible with the desirable.


This policy brief addresses the challenge of anticipating of what “Big Tech” will imply for the future of Europe. In our deep dive we project towards 2040 and explore the implications to Europe emphasising research and innovation policy. 


The scenario work, that comprises the bulk of this report, frames debates about industrial change and international political economy with the overarching vector of high-tech activities and offers a balancing, hopefully also piercing, view. We derive policy options for each scenario but also draw cross-cut-ting implications. Could tech-driven large companies be instruments for the European Union (EU) to respond effectively to the challenges of the future economy? Is this a viable, feasible option? Conversely, have foreign-owned Big Tech already won and will the EU be hostage to the tentacles of such sprawling giants? Can it adapt through bottom-up economic action? For all this, it was about time to tackle these pressing issues.


The project is one of eight foresight deep dives of the project 'European R&I foresight and public engagement for Horizon Europe' carried out by the Foresight on Demand consortium.

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OUTPUTS

Futures of Big Tech in Europe. Scenarios and Policy Implications.pdf

Blog

Albert Norström

MEET THE EXPERTS

Sandro Mendonça

Sandro Mendonça

RELATED BLOGS

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Futures of Big Tech
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Big Tech is rewiring the world. These very large private companies are leaders in research and development (R&D) and now wield unprecedented and unparalleled influence in the economy and beyhond. In this redefined world, Europe faces a number of agenda-setting questions. This policy brief aims to anticipate the implications of ‘Big Tech’ for Europe’s future by 2040.
Sandro Mendonça

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Connecting… Futures: The Road to 6G and the Right to Connectivity
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Giovanna Guiffrè & Valentina Malcotti

Giovanna Guiffrè & Valentina Malcotti

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Foresight towards the 2nd Strategic Plan for  Horizon Europe
Foresight towards the 2nd Strategic Plan for Horizon Europe
This foresight study aimed at supporting the development of the Strategic Plan of Horizon Europe (2025-2027), by providing early-stage strategic intelligence and sense-making that could contribute novel elements to the processes of strategic planning. The study, which was launched in mid-2021 and lasted almost two years, has been the most widely engaging foresight exercise yet aiming to support EU R&I policy. Through this broad engagement, the study did not only develop intelligence for the 2nd Strategic Plan of Horizon Europe but also contributed to the development of an EU R&I foresight community hosted by futures4europe.eu, one that is an asset for future R&I policies across Europe. The detailed description of the foresight work and the resulting outputs are available in the final report of the project.  The foresight process in support of the 2nd Strategic Plan comprised a wide spectrum of activities: As a reference point for the exploratory work, the explicit and implicit impact assumptions of the 1st Strategic Plan were identified and visualised with the help of a qualitative system analysis and modelling tool for causal loop analysis. An exploratory analysis of forward-looking sources (e.g. foresight reports, web-based horizon scanning) was conducted to identify relevant trends and signals of unexpected developments. These were discussed in online workshops and on the online platform www.futures4europe.eu. An outlook on emerging developments in the global and European context of EU R&I policy was developed drawing on a major online workshop in autumn 2021 with some 60 participants, experts and policy makers, who worked with multi-level context scenarios and specific context narratives about emerging disruptions. On that basis and in close consultation with the European Commission involving another major workshop in February 2022 which brought together 80 participants, Expert Teams were set up to develop disruptive scenarios in five areas of major interest. Each team ran several internal workshops but also involved further experts and Commission staff in their work, both through the online platform and through a final policy-oriented workshop. The foresight work within the five areas of interest resulted in deep dives on the following topics:                                               > Climate change, Research, and Innovation: Radical Options from Social Change to Geoengineering                       > Hydrogen Economy – A radical alternative                       > The EU in a Volatile New World - The challenge of global leadership                         > Global Commons                         > Transhumanist Revolutions Further areas of interest identified were explored through review papers aiming to capture major trends, developments and scenario sketches in relation to further disruptive developments:                       > Social Confrontations                         > Artificial General Intelligence: Issues and Opportunities                       > The Interpenetration of Criminal and Lawful Economic Activities                       > The Future of Health A third major workshop took place in October 2022 bringing together all the thematic strands of work and addressing possible R&I policy implications from this work. Participation in this workshop reached 250 individuals over 2 days. Building on the workshop, the online Dynamic Argumentative Delphi survey Research4Futures collected suggestions from almost 950 contributors from Europe and beyond about the implications of this foresight work for the priorities of EU R&I policy. This foresight study has been implemented through the Foresight on Demand framework contract, by a team of 40 experts. Partner organizations: Austrian Institute of Technology (AIT) Institutul de Prospectiva (IP) Istituto di Studi per l’Integrazione dei Sistemi (ISINNOVA) Technopolis Group 4strat   Insight Foresight Institute (IFI) Arctik Fraunhofer ISI  About 300 additional experts contributed to the project through its numerous workshops that helped shape the scenarios and their policy implications. 

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4Growth project - Understanding the Market to Forecast Future Growth
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Reference Foresight Scenarios: Scenarios on the global standing of the EU in 2040
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ANTICIPINNOV: Anticipation and monitoring of emerging technologies and disruptive innovation
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