As late as the early part of the 20th century, the world was dominated by states. States shaped laws. States shaped behaviours. States shaped economies. Much in the same way states defined the century before, recent years have seen the world dominated by corporations. As England, the United States and the Soviet Union stretched their influence throughout the globe years ago, companies like McDonalds, Starbucks and Microsoft have become standard-bearers worldwide. In fact, it's been argued that companies are becoming more and more like states every year. Google has gone one step closer.
The Times of London reported last week that Google, in an effort to reduce costs, has drafted plans to anchor their system-driving supercomputers up to 11 kilometres off the coasts of various countries. The savings would be two-fold: Google would not pay property taxes and the data centres would be powered by wave energy. The placement of Google's new "navy" would have to be negotiated with its hosts, as it would be anchored in their territorial waters.
The announcement of Google's seafaring plans comes at a time when many companies own satellites, huge amounts of retail and office space, employ thousands of people worldwide and boast revenues comparable with many small countries. Google's $16.6 billion annual revenue would make it the 97th largest country in those terms, while McDonald's $22.8 billion would rank 85th. McDonald's corporate website lists the minimum area for their stores at 32,616 square feet, which would mean their 31,000 locations worldwide amass 94 square kilometers of territory. Of course not all the locations are the minimum size, but the McDonald's corporation controls an area bigger than Monaco or San Marino.
Much of dystopian literature and film deals with technology and corporations run amok, painting pictures of a possible future where one wrong move led to a domino effect which doomed mankind. In the past 50 years, the quintessential American business has morphed from a tiny "mom and pop" establishment into a corporate juggernaut and, since the '80s, computer companies-- originally housed in dorm rooms and garages-- have become high-earning technology firms.
While it's highly unlikely that Google placing supercomputers off the coast of Australia or England will doom humanity, it's important for the international community to remember that there are rules governing things like satellites and offshore behaviour for a reason: to ensure uniformity and order. Companies often mimic each other with a demented "me, too!" mentality. It's key for the affected states to agree on rules for offshore supercomputer anchoring now, otherwise the world's coastlines could be cluttered with floating Apple, Sony and AOL data barges and life as we know it will cease to exist.
It sounds a bit far-fetched, but much of international law was crafted after years of trial and error and attempts at domination by whoever had the ability to do something first. Making rules now, while only Google is considering a move to the sea, will provide a framework to work from in the future, when rising power and property costs force all the technological giants to the world's oceans.