A bipolar digital world order

While the digital world is still dominated by US tech giants, China has risen to be the first challenger. And regions like Africa or India should be watched closely as well.

Silicon Valley and its offspring ruled the first waves of the digital revolution. As a result, the digital world pretty much looked like a unilateral world. There was a recipe for easy success: look at what’s happening in the Valley, copy and adapt it fast to your local market, and move on. The Samwer Brothers almost perfected this approach with a combination of German efficiency and entrepreneurial ruthlessness.

But the time of digital unilateralism is over. Look no further than to the list of publicly traded companies with the largest market capitalisation. As recently as two years ago, the top ten was an All-American endeavour, dominated by four digital companies. Till then, two Chinese digital superpowers have entered the elusive ranks: Alibaba and Tencent. Both are now battling with Facebook over the fifth position in the digital champions league.

Rising stars from China

Granted, Microsoft, Apple, Amazon and Alphabet are still way ahead in terms of market cap. This may change over the course of the next few years. There are only three non-digital companies left in the top ten. And even Berkshire Hathaway, currently number five on the list, holds a significant stake of Apple stock. The digital revolution goes on, but the rising stars are from China these days. Baidu, the Chinese number three, is the smallest of the BAT crowd (Baidu, Alibaba, Tencent), but its prospects are just fine:

Baidu has been on the leading edge of everything from self-driving cars to short and flash video platforms. Baidu’s DuerOS is becoming the voice assistant operating system of choice for a growing number of smart devices and other applications.

Will the rise of China eventually lead to a bipolar (digital) world order? If we look at the bigger picture, this may eventually be the case. China is well positioned to take advantage of the emerging digital automotive industry. China is already Africa’s most important economic partner, and this isn’t going to change anytime soon. The tech industry plays a significant role here. Technology has already transformed life in Africa. There is an African tech generation rising.

Africa as a role model for innovation

And there’s also the notion of leapfrogging over now-obsolete technologies and going straight to modern fixes. It certainly has some limitations, nonetheless it can turn Africa into a role model for innovation, be it digital or analogue. Blockchain is only one example for this. The spread of mobile and digital technology is seen as the key to leapfrogging – in Africa as well as in India.

Broadening our view beyond the borders of the Valley certainly makes a lot of sense. The Parallelwelten of China, Africa or India warrant increased attention when it comes to the globalised future of the digital world. News platforms like Tech in Asia, TechNode, ChinaBriefs (launching soon) or Tech in Africa make it easy to follow what’s going on. Somehow, the Valley feels a bit tired, compared to the vibe of upcoming regions.

Photo by Brett Zeck on Unsplash