Epochs tend not to merit a name until they are over. The industrial age, the Renaissance, were named retrospectively.
But surely it’s worth trying to understand the present as an epoch – the epoch of openness. Open borders after the fall of the Berlin Wall. Open trade due to globalization. But above all, the opening of unimagined possibilities with the internet.
The network as we understand it today was an open source affair right from the beginning – not the work of a single company or a single inventor, but of a global community.
Now, not only billions of people are networked, but billions of things too. That will give a boost to data-driven solutions in industry, in the smart home and the connected car. And that in turn will not just be the work of an individual, it presupposes openness between participating firms – between big and small, new and old and on both sides of the Atlantic. It is of course a question how long this epoch of openness will last.
No player in this global marketplace would benefit by being restricted to one country.
At the very least, it seems nationalism is experiencing a fatal rebirth in the networked world. Protectionism, populism, Brexit, America First – these are the slogans dominating discussions about economic policy.
Usually these slogans are understood as a dialectic reaction to globalization – as a need for isolation against the cold winds of global competition. But that is a much too narrow definition because this need for isolation also threatens that spirit of openness which is essential for people and things to be networked. Of course, data traffic cannot be held up by walls or punitive customs duties – data requires no passports. It is just a matter of fact that internet communication can avoid national jurisdiction more easily than people and goods.
At the same time there is a temptation for national states to try to get control over the network of networks. The IT industry on the other hand, has an interest in keeping things global. Silicon Valley may be in America, but its suppliers also hail from Asia and Europe. We know the smart phone didn‘t come from Germany, but two out of three devices have micromechanical sensors produced by Bosch.
The market for the internet of things is only just evolving, but that too is only conceivable as a global market.
No player in this global marketplace would benefit by being restricted to one country. The European Union’s declared objective of pursuing a uniform digital single market is to be welcomed.
We have to protect the private sphere of the individual and at the same time, do everything to ensure that the network remains as open as possible vis-à-vis national influences and restrictions.
Networked industries are truly global. Companies like Bosch and General Electric are working on joint standards to make it easier for machines to communicate with each other.
The companies behind German digitization, and the Industrial Internet Consortium are working together closely – so closely in fact that neither side feels they are either German or American, they see themselves as international initiatives. And that truly is a big, significant step forward.
No one company or one country can bring about networked industry on its own. The network can only be an achievement of many.
The logic of networking is that we are stronger together than alone. And that is the logic which will make us continue to build new bridges across the Atlantic. It is to be hoped that this crucial idea is not lost in the maelstrom of renationalizing politics.
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