technology Reviews

Review of Anirudh Suri’s The Great Tech Game — Shaping Geopolitics and the Destinies of Nations: Cable wars and the road to global power

Suri writes about the different phases of history — Pax Romana, Pax Islamica, Pax Mongolica and Pax Americana. Now, “we are living through what could be termed Pax Technologica”. 

Suri writes about the different phases of history — Pax Romana, Pax Islamica, Pax Mongolica and Pax Americana. Now, “we are living through what could be termed Pax Technologica”. 

In the 19th and early 20th centuries, Britain had monopolistic dominance of the telegraph networks in the world. A vast majority of the telegraph communications cables was manufactured by the British, who also possessed the naval capability to lay these cables. This dominance over the global communication lines was critical for Britain during the World Wars. In August 1914, Britain cut Germany’s telegraph cables, a day after it declared war on the country. Germany retaliated in 1917, by cutting a series of British cables. Both wanted to sabotage the communication lines of its rival. The U.S., having seen these developments, decided to start a process of building its own strategic communication networks, writes Anirudh Suri in  The Great Tech Game: Shaping Geopolitics and the Destinies of Nations. It was a moment when the U.S. realised that technology was the real foundation of power. “It would be this foundation that would, in just a few decades, undergird the rise of the U.S. to global power in the mid-twentieth century,” contends Suri.

A new ‘silk route’

Suri, a technology-focused venture capitalist, draws parallels between the early 20th century British dominance in telegraph communication networks and the 21th century American dominance in the internet. Instead of telegraph cables, now the competition is over the ownership and control of information infrastructure such as fibre cable networks, 5G technology and satellites. If the U.S. started building its own communication systems after World War I, China is now building its own “technology silk route” — primarily comprising “undersea fibre optic cables, data centres and cloud networks — and Russia is seeking to build a “sovereign internet”. This “global contest for technological, economic and geopolitical dominance”, which he calls the Great Tech Game, will shape the new world order.

Technology has been a catalyst for change throughout the history of humankind. According to Suri, we are now passing through such a phase — what he calls “the era of technology” — that has profoundly transformed our information environment. But it will not be easy to grasp the long-term changes while living through them. “Just as no one in the mid-15th century could have known that the Guttenberg press would fuel socio-religious movements such as the Reformation and undermine the mighty Catholic Church, it’s hard for us to understand and predict the changes the current technology revolution will spur,” writes Suri. Yet, that’s exactly what he is trying to unpack in  The Great Tech Game.

Build domestic talent

Suri writes about the different phases of history — Pax Romana, Pax Islamica, Pax Mongolica and Pax Americana. Now, “we are living through what could be termed Pax Technologica”. In the past, the Great Powers fought each other for territories and commodities. In the current phase of the Great Game, they are in a contest for technological supremacy, he argues. Countries could stay out of this race at their own peril. India, he argues, should be “a tech nation”. Instead of providing tech talent to the world, the country should retain its domestic tech talent and build infrastructure and networks. China started doing this long ago, and is now laying its own submarine cables, has built its own big tech, and is supplying 5G to a vast number of countries. What today’s China is to the U.S. is what the U.S. was to Great Britain in the early 20th century.

Lucidly written with deep research and a fresh perspective,  The Great Tech Game helps us understand how technology has shaped our past and is changing our present. Some of the arguments such as the quest for technological dominance being the driving factor of conflicts and geopolitical competition in Pax Technologica could be tested at the altar of territorial conflicts, including the Russian invasion of Ukraine. But nobody can dispute the importance technology plays even in such conflicts. In 535 pages, Suri has provided a brief history of human civilisation through the prism of technology. That’s what makes the book stand out.

The Great Tech Game: Shaping Geopolitics and the Destinies of Nations; Anirudh Suri, HarperCollins, ₹799.

stanly.johny@thehindu.co.in


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Printable version | Aug 2, 2022 4:15:36 pm | https://www.thehindu.com/books/books-reviews/great-tech-game-cable-cars-global-power/article65680977.ece