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 empha-sising 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 balanc-ing, 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? Con-versely, 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.