At the dawn of the Information Age, Harvard professor Clayton M. Christiansen coined the phrase “disruptive technologies” (which he later altered to “disruptive innovations”) to describe how new, more advanced products or services typically take root at the bottom of the market before moving relentlessly upmarket until they displace the competition.
Christiansen and his colleagues initially viewed the problem facing existing businesses as management challenges for executives. But the ensuing decades have shown that technological applications – especially those controlled by the biggest tech companies which reign supreme over their respective primary markets and are gaining position in secondary markets – impact every aspect of modern life.
Five of those tech enterprises — Google, Amazon, Apple, Microsoft, and Facebook — are among the largest corporations in the world. They have unleashed myriad innovations benefitting billions of people while remaking the world economy.
Creating opportunity on such a vast scale did more than disturb the existing order of older industries, however. The Big 5 companies have transformed everything they touch.
Their innovations have prompted sweeping societal changes as well, prompting understandable anxieties about loss of privacy, the future of free speech, the nature of work, and even the integrity of democratic elections.
Their success, in turn, has prompted calls of government regulation of the technological industry. But before deciding to regulate something, it’s useful to understand it on its own terms.
Drawing on an array of sources ranging from academic studies, technology journalists, and industry practitioners to think tank surveys, court rulings, industry reports, and Congressional testimony these pages will present information underscoring the potential peril of stifling the innovative engine behind what has been called the “Third Industrial Revolution.”
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