By Koketso Marishane
For a long while in our modern day democracy, people have been controlled by the owners of their means of production, be it in agriculture, education, science, business or telecommunications. Everyone has been having a boss.
Whether you and I have been controlled by the owners of land, or preoccupied by armed conflicts revolving around land? Whether we’re concerned by the influence and power of those who own national and international patents for machines or innovations that shift power from land owners to machine owners or inventors.
Whether we feared the owners of capital for running our lives, for creating institutions that ravage nations and create massive imbalance in the distribution of wealth? The bottom line is, capital has changed in its form.
The recent technological advancements that we see and use, are giving us a power shift.
By now, with most people in the country and continent having access to a telecommunications device / tool, we need to take cognizant of the reality that power is changing face.
I recently attended a conference on Responsible Business Forum on Africa where the bright young minds of Africa gathered to deliberate on issues of common public concern. Listening to the great inspirational speakers from across the African continent talking about almost everything sustainable development goal, from Artificial Intelligence (AI), Machine Learning (ML) and the Future of Tech, one felt that Africa is finally getting light.
The reality is, most organizations are now looking at data as a tool to improve effectiveness and do more from less, whist others, especially those whose core mandate are built on data, as well as various governments such as Kenya, Morocco and Rwanda, are ahead of the curve and realizing that power today resides in Data. These organizations and governments have noticed and acknowledged that those able to commoditize, package and re-sell data, will have significant control over the resources, and with that, control power.
Ecotimising Evolution on Power and Armed Conflicts from Land to Machines to Data.
For the large majority of settlers during the 19th Century, economic power and wealth rested on land ownership, and still does! Whoever owns the land controls people, and other resources. And because land has been the greatest asset as a factor of production, it influenced their geo-politics, socio-economic, cultural and religious orientation: where people lived, what they ate, how they built and their state in society.
Naturally when it comes to conflicts, it is mostly over land. Slaves, during those times, were brought in large numbers from as far away as the Gold Coast (present-day Ghana) in West Africa to work on land, African-European land. When this is not enough, Europe went to occupy as much land as they could across the World.
Africa was divided into tiny pieces of land, which today we call Countries, with no regard or sensitivity to the social structures. In short, the fight over land is what gave birth to Africa. But that changed at the turn of the 19th Century with the coming of age of machines and inventions that mechanized farming and farm value chain.
Lately, it’s becoming almost null and void about who owns the land. Unlike before, it was about production and machines. Whoever had the means of production (machines) controlled people. And so slaves were no longer needed in large numbers as before. They needed fewer people to occupy less land, but work on large sections of it using machines. And so many slaves were shipped back to Africa, first to create space, but also to allow for skilled labour which Europe could now provide.
Support for the abolition of slavery was therefore not purely a moral decision-it was a response to the coming of age of machines and inventions. Those left were pushed to small segments of land- the ones we call today slave countries-Haiti, Jamaica etc.
The greatest experiment with returning slavery was in Africa, where a small group of returning slaves from America created a new ethnic grouping known as American-Liberians. To date, they still control that land, which they renamed Liberia. Others found themselves in Brazil and the Caribbean. Benevolence, while playing apart in ending slavery, was not in itself a strong catalyst. It was the Machines. Still, conflicts moved from battles over land to patents and machinery.
Land occupation across vast places such as Africa, Latin America and Asia, by Europeans, became increasingly unnecessary. They could exercise power and control people by merely mechanizing large swaths of land in places like Brazil, Zimbabwe, South Africa, Kenya, Sri Lanka and India. Colonialism thus moved from occupation to controlled availability of machines and mechanical means of production.
The owners of the means of production (machines) could not do much without Capital. Land continues to be good. Machines are even better, although Capital has been King. Paper money and gold became the new centres of power. Slaves were needed, but as consumers of capital and not as producers of wealth. And with it came the kind of colonial education that has ravaged most of Africa and Latin America. Capital needed to be reproduced, and the best way to do this was to increase consumption in a completely new industry-service industry.
It is where Capital is multiplied through the consumption of luxury goods. Machines and land are still valuable, though only in their ability to reproduce capital-money and gold. Mining gold and other capital yielding minerals became the center-piece. Having oil reserves meant you could afford power of luxury living, move machines and control land. Capital easily became king.
Now it didn’t matter if you owned land or machines. Your land and inventions needed capital to have value. Conflicts were over money. If you had money you had the ability to start or end conflicts.
The establishment of the Bretton Woods Institutions such as IFC, International Monetary Fund, World Bank, and all those institutions that control how capital flows are all part of this power and control. The WTO came primarily to shift the flow of capital. We now have stock exchanges and derivatives and sub-prime mortgages and investment banks. Africa has for a long time been persuaded that what it needed was not more production, but more money to meet the costs of those production.
Education was not necessarily about producing independent critical thinkers, more, about how to secure jobs so as to earn capital and use the capital to consume goods and services produced. Only that no one was told who was doing the production. We did not have to care.
We only needed to know that if we have capital, we can consume whatever we want. And so in came GMOs and all manner of mass production that capitalized on capital reproduction. Whenever there were conflicts, it was hardly over land or machines. It was over capital distribution. Oil and Minerals were valued, not for their intrinsic value, but for their ability to be converted to capital, and be reproduced.
Time has changed and data is the new oil: The King.
Intrinsically speaking, today our capital is nothing compared to whoever owns data on humans, on the planet or on the world. The person (company or organisation) who owns information about us- our land, our machines, our capital-controls us, indirectly so! Data has become the new global power. With our data easy to analyse through the use of Algorithms and Artificial Intelligence (AI), it’s possible to draw our profiles and everything about our personalities and economic value.
Monetising Movement: Data collection – Commoditize it – Sell it.
We’re now learning that data has become the new power. It works in fascinating ways. For example, someone (your spouse, sibling or offspring) takes your data from you under the guise of safe keeping or free storage or giving you “better user experience”. But once that person has enough of it, he/she can use it to analyze you, and when you want to proceed to sell the new information to gain capital, you might as well put price to it. If you want it back, well, buy it!
The reality is, we often times than not think we have power because we have capital but, until we discover that the data we have about ourselves in our respective spaces can bring us down in a minute.
Today, in the world of data machine learning and artificial intelligence and we have several layers of capital flow. Swam and Honey economies-capitalizing on the ability to bring together like-minded people who have been matched by algorithms and artificial intelligence-is the new language.
It is now the engine of capital-the ability for different owners of data to use it to create a power that can generate infinite capital. All the different global corporate (Amazon, Microsoft, Facebook, Google, all the way to Airport and Border controls, Cambridge Analytica) and even the new control used to keep some undesirable governments in check- is all based on Data, not capital or machines or land.
Imagine one million doctors working on one single idea-creation using Algorithms, Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning.
What about 100 million engineers working on analysed data to build something together? Or even worse, imagine politicians with the perfect knowledge and ability to understand every emotional, physical and social aspects of voters? Imagine they can manipulate that to control us and decide what we buy and how and whom we vote. Well, for the big majority among us, some online platforms have taught us not to imagine these anymore because it’s already happening.
If things go well, Africans within the African continent will soon be using a single data platform for connectivity across the continent. No more multiple sim cards for every country you travel and no more international roaming when you cross borders because we’re together working on a new information and communications technology spectrum.
Thus, as we continue making strides for human advancement, let it be known that the future of power has now become data.
To the stubborn people, the question is: which battle are you stuck fighting: Land? Machines? Capital? Or are you in the age of information power? The Data power!
Koketso Marishane is the NDP 2030 South African Youth Ambassador and writes as an active citizen.