Revenge of the Atoms
With the explosive advances in tech over the past decade those of us who spend our lives in this corner of the world have become convinced that the digital world will soon eat the material world in its entirety. Moving bits, we claim, is far superior to moving atoms. The Ukraine invasion was a wakeup call. One of my conspiracy inclined friends framed it a bit differently but echoed the wake-up: “We were all so worried about the New World Order, that we got blindsided by the Old World Order.”
Whilst ever increasing amounts of content is piped through the world’s electronic nervous system, we often forget about the world’s cardio-vascular network whose pipes pump different content — oil and gas, the lifeblood of the modern world. Now that one of the major arteries in the cardio-vascular system (Putin’s Artery) has a blockage, the world economy’s vital signs are all flashing red. No amount of bit shuffling, machine learning or AI can provide a fix.
And for those who think renewable energy sources will free us from atoms, you are mistaken. Besides the fact that we are going to be heavily dependent on oil for decades (no matter how fast ESG progresses), renewable energy, at base, is also all about physical materials. The essential minerals and rare earths required for a single Tesla require several tons of rock to be mined and crushed. The delivery mechanism for these raw materials is not a pipeline, but a “supply chain”. China has a much larger share of these critical minerals than Russia has share of the oil market. In many instances China has an outright monopoly.
Just as Putin has Europe over a barrel, Xi could place most of the western world very firmly between a rock and a hard place. Xi watches on as Putin writes the playbook. A “special military operation” into Taiwan could disrupt the world economy even further. If China took control of TSCM, the western world’s chip supply would grind to a halt. The resulting bottle neck would not be limited to renewables, but would stifle the flow of all bits across all industry.
He who controls the atoms, it is evident, also controls the bits. No metaverse can escape this reality.