The pros and cons of technological advancement are usually restricted to how they make life easier, more efficient, pleasant, and safe. Discussing who gains and who pays for a technical advance is rare. The deep alterations caused by the deployment of technical logic at the roots of human society, culture, and politics are rarer. Neil Postman’s idea of “technopoly,” a society that sacrifices all political and cultural activity to technology, clarifies this argument.
Because many techno-utopian ideas are built into (now neo)liberal capitalism, which has governed our political transition into a technological society, such conversations are rare. Tech-utopians perceive a rising arc, starting around the Enlightenment, of consecutive and compounding technical breakthroughs in the industry, agriculture, health, transport, and communications that have made the globe more linked, interdependent, and rich. Tech boosters even claim that plenty produces calm.
Tech-utopianism is a digital version of the Whig theory of history—a deterministic view of technology’s beneficial and illuminating effects. For decades, IT centers have spread the notion worldwide. Tech utopians believe that technology shapes a more ideal society that would be unattainable without it. Hence, tools, machinery, and culture shape society. As shown later, this kind of thinking has shaped social, economic, and foreign and security policy in the US and internationally.
In a culture so driven by technology, its many negative impacts go unnoticed. As Neil Postman noted, technology affects both what they accomplish and what they undo. Since Western Europe’s 18th-century societal centering of technology, much harm has been done and undone. The Enclosures, Clearances, and the regimentation of organic, localized, and idiosyncratic social life into an industrial society structured around market logic caused urban squalor, social depredations, and significant physical, material, and spiritual reversals of quality of life for the average worker in Western industrializing countries. The colonized globe that would supply industrialization and the budding technological civilization with the territory and raw materials was considerably worse than the West. This transition cost local inhabitants on the global periphery their lives, riches, and culture. These foundations supported technological civilization and its benefits.
Technological innovation has driven civilization-building throughout human history. For millennia, China, India, and West Asia have had technical, complex, and scientific cultures. Although developing tools and material processes over millennia and making epoch-shifting discoveries in subjects like mathematics, metallurgy, and chemistry, ancient cultures were never characterized by their technical prowess like the West, and gradually the whole modern world.
Due to its near-limitless prospects for productive and commercial expansion, technology now violates all social, cultural, traditional, and religious conventions, practices, and ways of living that would otherwise block technical advancement. In the 1930s, Lewis Mumford described the transition to a technological society in the US: “The habit of producing goods whether they are needed or not, of utilizing inventions whether they are useful or not, of applying power whether it is effective or not pervades almost every department of our present civilization.
Technology has intensified, spread, and globalized since Mumford’s 1930s description. In the premodern age, tools and technology and their applications were heavily constrained by social and cultural norms, shaping traditions and culture. Only under capitalism and its unbounded of technical innovation have stable social practices and modes of living begun to melt into the air, and technology threatens to determine society and culture without any substantial opposing power.
In the premodern era, the “slow, silent, and convoluted” mix of social and cultural influences shaped technology adoption, according to Fernand Braudel.
Leading technology and society thinkers believe that this dynamic has reversed since the 19th century. Technological forces and discoveries are continually reshaping society, establishing a “technocracy,” according to Neil Postman. In a technocracy, Postman says, technology must take precedence. Technology dominates social and symbolic life. Technology and tools replace culture, not integrate into it. So, all pre-technocratic elements—traditions, norms, mythologies, politics, rituals, and religions—must battle for survival.
Technocracy, anchored to a logic of technical improvement as “progress,” has not yet subsumed social and symbolic worlds.
With the digital revolution, Postman envisioned the West, especially the US, becoming a technopoly, a society based solely on instrumental rationality and technology. A technopoly replaces Braudel’s “slow force” of societal regulation of technology with an ever-faster pursuit of technology as a goal in itself and as the answer to solving all social, political, and economic problems. Postman calls it “the subjugation of all kinds of cultural life to the supremacy of technique and technology.”
Technopoly, International Relations
Technopoly has shaped worldwide security and global affairs, especially in its spiritual home, the US. In 1989, President Ronald Reagan declared that the “Goliath of dictatorship would be taken down by the David of the microchip.” Tech-utopianism was already dominant in American geopolitics.  The approach to foreign affairs that promised to reorder and improve the world through a potent mix of technology and free market capitalism became policy orthodoxy in the immediate post-Cold War era, with the concept of the “end of history” and the purported permanent triumph of the American model of economy and governance.
In the 1990s, after the Tiananmen Square uprisings, the Clinton administration intended to restructure China in the West’s image by encouraging global industry, foreign investment, and technology integration into the developing web of digital networked communications. In January 2000, then-President Bill Clinton said, “the more people know, the more opinions they’re going to have; the more democracy spreads.”
While the Clinton, Bush Jr., and Obama administrations had different foreign policies, they all believed that technology, economic interconnection, a growing middle class, and democracy were linked. In 2010, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton declared, “Freedom of information at cyber speeds would open up backward and repressive civilizations and governments to the glories of contemporary liberalism.” This may have been the peak of this. Since the US is mired in internal political fights about perceived restrictions to free speech and the possibility of organized persuasive communications and overt and covert censorship to harm democracy, tech-exuberance has given way to circumspection.
Due to shifting geopolitical conditions, caused in part by the American embrace of the financial opportunities offered by economic integration with China during the 1990s, a rivalry between the United States and China as the two poles of the global economy and two potential claimants to global leadership in the 21st century has emerged. Networked digital technology supremacy will determine economic power between the two countries throughout this time.  Tech will develop faster than the traditional economy in the next decades, and competition will be harsh. Artificial intelligence, renewable energy, and quantum advances are essential to global supremacy in the 21st century. China sees these as technological sectors where it can leapfrog the US, while the US sees them as high-tech economic areas where its ongoing dominance might permanently relegate China to a lower-tier industrial power.
William Burns, director of the US Central Intelligence Agency, believes technology competition will be the principal area of conflict with China in the future.
China has overtaken the US in key economic sectors. China has become the world’s largest economy (by purchasing power parity), dealer, manufacturer, and holder of foreign exchange reserves in 40 years.  Arms production, aircraft engineering, and digital networked communications are still led by the US. Given its rising rivalry with China, the United States’ top strategic objective is protecting its “National Security Innovation Base” and “Defence Industrial Base” (i.e., its technical innovation base) against Chinese imitation and competition.
Under President Trump, the “Clean Network” program was created to exclude “untrusted” Chinese carriers from the US telecommunications network, remove Chinese apps from American mobile app stores, prevent Chinese businesses from accessing personal and proprietary data in American cloud storage, and protect the physical infrastructure, like undersea cables, that underpins d
The Biden administration has maintained scientific competition with China despite its drastic break from Trumpian politics.
In one of his first major addresses to Congress, President Joseph Biden said the US had to “create and dominate the goods and technologies of the future” to defeat China in the 21st century.
 The US government issued comprehensive export bans on sophisticated computer and semiconductor manufacturing products to China in October 2022, probably the most major step of the building techno-economic confrontation.  “A new U.S. policy of aggressively strangling huge portions of the Chinese technology industry—strangling with a purpose to kill,” said Gregory C. Allen, Director of the AI Governance Project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
Economic and geopolitical rivalry at the forefront of technological progress expands the scope of hostile international action and stifles global advantages from international technological collaboration. Very powerful new technologies and technopolitical countries unable or unwilling to control their expansion in the face of heated geopolitical rivalry pose serious risks. While the potential consequences of the unregulated introduction of Artificial Intelligence into human decision-making, particularly in international security, are well-known, there is less awareness of the possible catastrophes of other vanguard technologies. Quantum supremacy, for instance, would offer such large benefits that pre-emptive military operations may be justified if a rival seemed to be gaining a technical lead. According to Ian Bremmer, “even the prospect of such a breakthrough may start World War III,” thus nations should immediately prioritize sharing knowledge on quantum computing, one of the most vital and increasingly protected emerging technology.
Technological advances, especially in health, prosperity, and luxury, are lauded. Technopoly and the cascading surrender of social life to technology threaten humanity’s moral, intellectual, and cultural frontiers. The prominent technology theorists of the 20th century stressed the importance of social and human factors above technological ones. Heidegger, McLuhan, Mumford, and Postman all stressed the need to find and reassert the distinctively human aspect through the creative and intellectual rather than only the scientific and logical. “In order to reconquer the machine and subordinate it to human objectives, one must first comprehend and integrate it,” Mumford said.
The abstract, complicated, and layered technology interventions that now underpin most of human social, economic, and political life make this effort harder. In the 1960s, Marshall McLuhan examined machine technology, notably in media creation and transmission, and how it reorganized human society to be more machine-like. How much more difficult, less instantly obvious and visceral, and less intelligible to the non-expert would the consequences of quantum physics, machine learning, and AI on human civilization be for a 21st-century global society? Yet, with increasingly complex and abstract technologies driving a substantial part of society’s “progress” and becoming at the center of international geopolitical competition and war-making, it has become more important to comprehend technical breakthroughs and balance their costs and advantages.