Tech and the Twilight of Democracy

We live in dangerous times. The average level of peacefulness around the world has dropped for the 9th straight year. The impact of violence on the global economy increased by $1 trillion to a record $17.5 trillion. This is equivalent to 13% of global GDP, approximately $2,200 per person. The graphs seem to be trending in the wrong direction by virtually any metric you can imagine. [Source]

It can be difficult to point to who are the "most powerful countries", but I think by most metrics the following countries would certainly fall into that list. These leaders of the world paint a dire picture for the future of democratic rule. In no particular order:

  • United States: currently ranked as a Deficient Democracy and a country who is facing the very real possibility of the upcoming presidential election being its last. The current president, despite low crime and good economic numbers, is facing a close race and a hard reelection. His challenger, Donald Trump, has promised the following:

“We pledge to you that we will root out the Communists, Marxists, fascists, and the radical-left thugs that live like vermin within the confines of our country, that lie and steal and cheat on elections,” Donald Trump said this past November, in a campaign speech that was ostensibly honoring Veterans Day. “The real threat is not from the radical right; the real threat is from the radical left … The threat from outside forces is far less sinister, dangerous, and grave than the threat from within. Our threat is from within.”

Given his strong polling there is no reason to think the US will not fall from Deficient Democracy to Hybrid Regime or even further.

  • China: in the face of increased economic opportunity and growth, there was a hope that China would grow to become more open. If anything, China trends in a very different direction. China is considered to be amongst the least democratic countries in the world.
Over the past 10 years, the Communist Party has moved from collective leadership with the general secretary, considered first among equals on the elite Politburo Standing Committee — a practice established in the “reform and opening” era after the Cultural Revolution — to Xi’s supreme leadership, analysts say.
In 2018, Chinese lawmakers amended the constitution abolishing presidential term limits - paving the way for Xi to rule for life. In a further move to assert his authority, the party pledged to uphold the "Two Establishes,” party-speak for loyalty to him, in a historical resolution passed in 2021.


  • EU: Currently they stand alone as keeping the development of democracy alive. However even here they have begun to pass more extreme anti-immigration legislation as an attempt to appease right-leaning voters and keep the more extreme political parties out of office. France recently passed a hard-line anti-immigrant bill designed specifically to keep Le Pen supporters happy [source] and in Germany the desire for a dictator has continued to grow. Currently, across all age groups, between 5-7% of those surveyed support a dictatorship with a single strong party and leader for Germany. This result is double the long-term average. [source]
  • India: Having been recently downgraded to a Hybrid Regime, India is currently in the process of an aggressive consolidation of power by the executive with the assistance of both old and new laws.
The Modi government has increasingly employed two kinds of laws to silence its critics—colonial-era sedition laws and the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA). Authorities have regularly booked individuals under sedition laws for dissent in the form of posters, social-media posts, slogans, personal communications, and in one case, posting celebratory messages for a Pakistani cricket win. Sedition cases rose by 28 percent between 2010 and 2021. Of the sedition cases filed against citizens for criticizing the government, 96 percent were filed after Modi came to power in 2014. One report estimates that over the course of just one year, ten-thousand tribal activists in a single district were charged with sedition for invoking their land rights.
The Unlawful Activities Prevention Act was amended in 2019 to allow the government to designate individuals as terrorists without a specific link to a terrorist organization. There is no mechanism of judicial redress to challenge this categorization. The law now specifies that it can be used to target individuals committing any act “likely to threaten” or “likely to strike terror in people.” Between 2015 and 2019, there was a 72 percent increase in arrests under the UAPA, with 98 percent of those arrested remaining in jail without bail.


  • Russia: There has been a long-standing debate over whether Russia was a full dictatorship or some hybrid model. The invasion of Ukraine seems to have put all those questions to bed.
On 8 December, Andrey Klishas, the Head of the Federation Council Committee on Constitutional Legislation, made a point in an interview with Vedomosti which was already tacitly understood by Russia-watchers, but still shocking to hear.   In answer to a question on why the partial mobilisation decree had not been repealed now the process was completed, he explained to the Kremlin-friendly correspondent there was no need for legislation: ‘There is no greater power than the President’s words.’ So there it is – Russia is by definition a dictatorship. For the unawares reader, Vedomosti was one of Russia’s leading, intelligent and independent newspapers; it fell afoul of the authorities and today is a government propaganda channel.


We have no reason at this point to think this trend will slow or reverse itself. It appears that, despite the constant refrain of my childhood that progression towards democracy was an inevitable result of free and open trade, this was another neoliberal fantasy. We live in a world where the most powerful countries are actively trending away from what we would consider to be core democratic values and towards more xenophobic and authoritarian governments.

However I'm not here to lecture, only to lay the foundation. In the face of this data, I thought it could be interesting to discuss some what-ifs, trying to imagine what the future of technology will look like in the face of this strong global anti-democratic trend. What technologies will we all be asked to make and what concessions will be forced upon us?

Disclaimer: I am not an expert on foreign policy, or really anything. Approach these topics not as absolute truths but as discussion points. I will attempt to provide citations and factual basis for my guesses, but as always feel free to disagree. Don't send me threatening messages as sometimes happens when I write things like this. I don't care about you and don't read them.

So let's make some predictions. What kind of world are we heading into? What are the major trends and things to look out for.

The Internet Stops Being Global

The Internet has always been a fractured thing. Far from the dream of perfectly equal traffic being carried across the fastest route between user and service, the real internet is a complicated series of arrangements between the tiers of ISPs and the services that ride those rails. First, what is the internet?

The thing we call the Internet is a big collection of separate, linked systems, each of which is managed as a single domain called an Autonomous Systems (AS). There are over sixty thousand AS numbers (ASNs) assigned to a wide variety of companies, educational, non-profit and government entities. The AS networks that form the primary transport for the Internet are independently controlled by Internet Service Providers (ISPs). The BGP protocol binds these entities together.

When we talk about ISPs, we're talking about 3 tiers. Tier 1 are defined by not paying to have their traffic delivered through similar-sized networks, can deliver to the whole internet, peer on multiple continents and have direct access to a fiber cable in the ocean. Tier 2 provide paid transit through Tier 1 and through peering with other Tier 2. Tier 3 is what hooks up end users and businesses and connects to a Tier 2.


The internet is not as reliable as some people pretend it is. Instead its a very fragile entity well within the governmental scope of the countries where the pieces reside. As governments become less open, their Internet becomes less open. India regularly shuts down the Internet to stop dissent or to control protests or any civil unrest (source) and I would expect that to grow into even more extreme regulations as time goes on.

The "IT Rules 2011" were adopted in April 2011 as a supplement to the 2000 Information Technology Act (ITA). The new rules require Internet companies to remove within 36 hours of being notified by the authorities any content that is deemed objectionable, particularly if its nature is "defamatory," "hateful", "harmful to minors", or "infringes copyright". Cybercafé owners are required to photograph their customers, follow instructions on how their cafés should be set up so that all computer screens are in plain sight, keep copies of client IDs and their browsing histories for one year, and forward this data to the government each month.

China has effectively made its own Internet and Russia is currently in the process of doing the same thing (source). The US has its infamous Section 702.

Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act permits the U.S. government to engage in mass, warrantless surveillance of Americans’ international communications, including phone calls, texts, emails, social media messages, and web browsing. The government claims to be pursuing vaguely defined foreign intelligence “targets,” but its targets need not be spies, terrorists, or criminals. They can be virtually any foreigner abroad: journalists, academic researchers, scientists, or businesspeople.


As time progresses I would expect to see the restrictions on Internet traffic to increase, not decrease. Much is made of the sanctity of encrypted messages between individuals, but in practice this is less critical since even if the message body is itself encrypted, the metadata often isn't. The reality is even if the individual messages between people are encrypted, a graph of relationships is still possible through all the additional information around the message.


  • Expect to see more pressure placed on ISPs and less on tech companies. Google, Apple, Meta and others have shown some willingness to buck governmental pressure. However given the growth in cellular data usage and the shift of consumers from laptops/desktops to mobile, expect to see more restrictions at the mobile cellular network where even simple DNS blocking or tracking is harder to stop.
  • Widespread surveillance of all Internet traffic will continue to grow and governments will become more willing to turn off or greatly limit Internet access in the face of disruptions or threats. Expect to see even regional governments able to turn off mobile Internet in the face of protests or riots.
  • Look to the war in Gaza as an example of what this might look like.
Palestine-Israel Conflict Impacts Internet Access

Shutting off the Internet will be a more common tactic to limit the flow of information out and to disrupt attempts to organize or communicate across members of the opposition.

As of me writing this there are 8 ongoing governmental Internet shutdowns and 119 in the last 12 months. I would expect this pace to dramatically increase.[source]

The end result of all of these disruptions will be an increasingly siloed Internet specific to your country. It'll be harder for normal people on the ground in a crisis or governmental crackdown to tell people what is happening and, with the next technology, easier for those forces to make telling what is happening on the ground next to impossible.

LLMs Make Telling the Truth Impossible

Technology was supposed to usher in an age of less-centralized truth. No longer would we be reliant on the journalists of the past. Instead we could get our information directly from the people on the ground without filtering or editorializing. The goal was a more fair version of news that was more honest and less manipulated.

The actual product is far from that. Social media has become a powerful tool for propaganda, with algorithms designed to keep users engaged with content they find relevant allowing normal people access to conspiracy theories and propaganda with no filters or ethics. Russia and China, following a new version of their old Cold War playbooks, have excelled at this new world of disinformation, making it difficult to tell what is real and what is fake.

In 20 years we'll look back at this period as being the almost innocent beginning of this trend. With realistic deepfakes, it will soon be impossible to tell what a leader did or didn't say. Since China, Russia and increasingly the US have no concept of "ethical journalism" and either answer to government leaders or a desire for more ratings, it will soon be possible to create entirely false news streams that cater to whatever viewpoint your audience finds appealing at that time.


  • Future conflicts will find social media immediately swamped with LLM backed accounts attempting to create the perception that even a deeply disliked action (a Chinese blockage or invasion of Taiwan) is more nuanced. World leaders will find it difficult to tell what voters actually think and it will be hard to form consensus across political affiliations even on seemingly straight-forward issues.
  • Politicians and their supporters will use the possibility of deepfakes to attempt to explain away any video or image of them engaging in nefarious actions. Even if deepfakes aren't widely deployed, the possibility of them will transition us into a post-truth reality. Even if you watch a video of the president giving a speech advocating something truly terrible, supporters will be able to dismiss it without consideration.
  • Technology companies, facing a closed Internet and increasingly hostile financial landscape, will inevitably provide this technology as a service. Expect to see a series of cut-out companies but the underlying technology will be the same.
  • We won't ever find reliable LLM detection technology and there won't be a way to mass filter out this content from social media.
  • Even if you are careful about your consumption of media, it will be very hard to tell truth from fabrication for savvy consumers of information. Even if you are not swayed by the LLM generated content, you will not be able to keep up with the sheer output with conventional fact checking.

Global Warming (and War) Kills the Gadget

We know that Global Warming is going to have a devastating impact on shipping routes around the world. We're already seeing more storms impacting ports that are absolutely critical to the digital logistics chain.


With the COP28 conference a complete failure and none of the countries previously mentioned interested in addressing Global Warming, expect to see this trend continue unchecked. Without democratic pressures, we would expect to see countries like India, China, the US and others continue to take the most profitable course of action regardless of long-term cost.

The net result will be a widespread disruption in the complicated supply chain that provides the hardware necessary to continue to grow the digital economy. It will be more difficult for datacenters, mobile network providers and individual consumers to get replacement parts for hardware or to upgrade that hardware. Since much of the manufacturing expertise required to make these parts is almost exclusively contained within the impacted zones, setting up alternative factories will be difficult or impossible.

What’s likely incentivizing semiconductor makers more than government dollars are geopolitical changes. Taiwan is potentially a major choke point in any electronics supply chain. Any electronic part, whether for a smart phone, a television, a home computer, or a data center likely includes critical components that came through Taiwan.

“If you look across the Taiwan Strait, you’ve got this 900-pound gorilla called China that is saying 'Taiwan belongs to us, and if you won’t give it to us, we’ll take it at some point,'” Johnson said. “What would happen to the semiconductor industry if TSMCs fabs were destroyed? Disaster.”

Before Chinese President Xi Jinping became president in 2012, Western nations had a relatively healthy trade relationship with China. Since that time, it has become more contentious.

“Before Xi came in power, we had this great trade relationship. And there was the belief that if you treated China like a grown-up partner, they’d start acting like one; that turned out to be a very bad assumption,” Johnson said. “So yeah, the idea of bringing the entire supply chain back to the US? Probably not practical.

"But you want to figure out how to diversify away from China as much as you can. I don’t consider China a reliable business partner anymore.”



  • As relations with China continue to degrade, expect to see tech companies struggle to find replacements for difficult to manufacture parts.
  • Even among countries where relations are good, the decision to ignore Global Warming means we'll see increased severe disruption of maritime shipping with destruction or flooding of vulnerable ports causing massive parts shortages.
  • It'll be harder to replace devices and harder to fix the ones you already have
  • Expect to see a lot of "right to repair" bills as governments, unable to solve the logistical struggles, will push the issue down to being the responsibility of tech companies who will need to change their designs and manufacturing locations.
  • Also expect to see the same model of something in the field for a lot longer. A cellphone or random IoT device will go from being easy to replace overnight to possibly involving a multi-week or even several month delay. Consumers will come to expect that they will be able to keep technology operational for longer.

Tech Companies will be Pressured to Comply

We currently live in a strange middle period where companies can still (mostly) say no to governments. While there are consequences, these are mostly financial or limitations on where the company can sell their products. However that period appears to be coming to an end. Governments around the world are looking at Big Tech and looking to apply regulations to those businesses. [source]

More governments arrested users for nonviolent political, social, or religious speech than ever before. Officials suspended internet access in at least 20 countries, and 21 states blocked access to social media platforms. Authorities in at least 45 countries are suspected of obtaining sophisticated spyware or data-extraction technology from private vendors.
  • Expect to see governments step up their expectations of what Tech is willing to do for them. Being told it is "impossible" to get information out of an encrypted exchange will get less and less traction.
  • Platforms like YouTube will be under immense pressure to either curtail fake video or promote face video promoted by the government in question. Bans or slowdowns will be common-place.
  • Getting users to provide more government ID under the guise of protecting underage users so that social media accounts can result in more effective criminal prosecution will become common.


Technology is not immune to changes in political structure. As we trend away from free and open communication across borders and towards more closed borders and war, we should expect to see technology reflect those changes. Hopefully this provides you with some interesting things to consider.

Whether these trends are reversible or not is not for me to say. I have no idea how to make a functional democracy, so fixing it is beyond my skills. I do hope I'm wrong, but I feel my predictions fit within the data I was able to find.

As always I'm open to feedback. The best place to find me is on Mastodon: