“I think the most likely scenario now is not a splintering, but rather a bifurcation into a Chinese-led internet and a non-Chinese internet led by America.
If you look at China, and I was just there, the scale of the companies that are being built, the services being built, the wealth that is being created is phenomenal. Chinese Internet is a greater percentage of the GDP of China, which is a big number, than the same percentage of the US, which is also a big number.
If you think of China as like ‘Oh yeah, they’re good with the Internet,’ you’re missing the point. Globalization means that they get to play too. I think you’re going to see fantastic leadership in products and services from China. There’s a real danger that along with those products and services comes a different leadership regime from government, with censorship, controls, etc.
Look at the way BRI works – their Belt and Road Initiative, which involves 60-ish countries – it’s perfectly possible those countries will begin to take on the infrastructure that China has with some loss of freedom.”
It’s been clear a split in the internet has been coming in the internet for some time. Schmidt is discussing the global implications here. The Chinese have the money to and technological know how to essentially create a new structure that is different from the World Wide Web.
It would take a long time, and be expensive, but I think Schmidt is correct and that China is almost certainly investigating how to create a “new” internet which their government controls. Other dictatorships are almost certainly also eyeing the potential for a government-controlled internet with tremendous interest.
Furthermore, these dictatorships hate the freewheeling internet culture of relative anonymity which also serves as a vector for American culture to inject itself into these nations.
I think that a split is coming in more than one way, however. Increasingly, conservatives are being driven out of internet spaces that were once free and mostly anonymous. It’s become clear for some time that Facebook, Google, and Amazon do not want conservative users buying their products or communicating in any way on social media, even if it costs them money.
That’s going to force conservatives to set up alternatives. This is already slowly starting to happen with sites like Gab.ai. We’re seeing surges in traffic on Gab every time Facebook and Twitter goes on another political purge. As this worsens, we are going to see a conservative internet develop as more people abandon tightly controlled social media ghettos.
The question of course is whether liberals will use the government to ban competing sites completely or find some way to sue the owners into oblivion. I think trying to ban competition to the big tech giants is probably one of the next big liberal goals.
One thing is certain, however. The internet many of us grew up with is on the way out, with dictators and politicians increasingly regarding free speech and anonymity as threats to their rule.