CS Special Seminar: Vili Lehdonvirta "Technology policy for a world of cloud empires and digital superpowers"

This talk is arranged at the Department of Computer Science.

Technology policy for a world of cloud empires and digital superpowers

Vili Lehdonvirta, Oxford Internet Institute, University of Oxford

Abstract: The decentralized Internet has given way to a digital world that is increasingly centralized in terms of its ownership and architecture. A handful of U.S. and Chinese technology companies own the most popular platforms and services, from search and social media to games and marketplaces. Even email, one of the Internet's original federated services, is now mostly run by Microsoft, Google, and Tencent. In my previous research I have measured some of the socio-economic consequences of this shift and explained some of its fundamental drivers so as to provide advice for European policy makers navigating the new landscape. In particular, I have shown that centralization is driven not only by network effects but also by economizing on security costs, which is important because it predicts difficulties for interoperability mandates as a policy intervention. In my new research agenda I am shifting focus to the Internet's infrastructural layer. The traditional image of packets hopping through a rhizome of interconnecting systems has increasingly been replaced by private content delivery networks and cloud computing infrastructures. These infrastructures are largely owned by the same U.S. and Chinese firms that own the end-user platforms and marketplaces. In Europe and other third countries this has given rise to concerns about technological dependence and loss of "digital sovereignty". The challenge is to understand how third countries can shape the architecture and ownership of global digital infrastructures amid growing geopolitical tensions. I wish to support policy makers with basic data and empirically based models of the political economy of digital infrastructure, focusing on hyperscale data centre location decisions as a starting point. 

Bio: Vili Lehdonvirta is Professor of Economic Sociology and Digital Social Research at the Oxford Internet Institute, University of Oxford. His research examines how digital technologies reshape economies and societies and with what implications to businesses, workers, policy makers, and international relations. He is the author of "Virtual economies: Design and analysis" (MIT Press, 2014) and "Cloud empires: How digital platforms are overtaking the state and how we can regain control" (MIT Press, 2022). His work has been supported by the European Research Council, the UK Economic and Social Research Council, and the Dieter Schwarz Foundation. He has served on the European Commission’s Expert Group on the Online Platform Economy and the High-Level Expert Group on Digital Transformation and EU Labour Markets. Previously he worked at the Alan Turing Institute, London School of Economics, University of Tokyo, and Helsinki Institute for Information Technology. Lehdonvirta holds a PhD in Economic Sociology from the University of Turku and an MSc in Information Networks from Helsinki University of Technology. Before his academic career he worked briefly as a software developer. 

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