ISBN 978-1-944373-30-6 • Defragmenter Media, 2019 • 322 pages
The image of the “megacorp” – the ruthless, sinister, high-tech global conglomerate that’s grown so large and powerful that it has acquired the characteristics of a sovereign state – is one of the iconic elements of cyberpunk fiction. Such a megacorp maintains its own army, creates its own laws and currency, grants citizenship to employees and customers, and governs vast swaths of cyberspace and the physical world. If it allows traditional governments to survive in some vestigial form, it’s only so they can handle those mundane tasks that the megacorp doesn’t want to deal with itself. By these standards, contemporary companies like Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Google, Microsoft, ExxonMobil, and Walmart aren’t (yet) “megacorps”; they’re the playthings that megacorps gobble up to use for spare parts.
This volume develops a comprehensive intellectual history of the megacorp. It locates forebears of the cyberpunk megacorp not only in earlier fictional works like Čapek’s R.U.R. (1921) and Von Harbou’s Metropolis (1925) but in a string of real-world organizations ranging from the 17th-Century British and Dutch East India Companies to the Pullman Palace Car Company, the Ford Motor Company, and late 20th-Century Japanese keiretsu and South Korean chaebol – as well as in the nearly indestructible oligopolistic “megacorp” described in the pioneering theory of American economist Alfred Eichner.
By investigating the nature of the cyberpunk megacorp as a political entity, commercial entity, producer and exploiter of futuristic technologies, and generator or manipulator of culture, differences are highlighted between the megacorps of “classical” cyberpunk and post-cyberpunk fiction. Classical cyberpunk megacorps – portrayed in novels like Gibson’s Sprawl trilogy, films like RoboCop and Johnny Mnemonic, and games like Cyberpunk, Cyberspace, and Syndicate – are often ostentatiously malevolent and obsessed with short-term financial profits to the exclusion of all else; the over-the-top depictions of such companies serve a dramatic purpose and are not offered by their authors as serious futurological studies. On the other hand, the more nuanced and philosophically rich portrayals of megacorps in post-cyberpunk works like Shirow’s manga The Ghost in the Shell reveal companies that are less overtly evil, possess a broader and more plausible range of long-term strategic goals, and coexist alongside conventional governments in a state of (begrudging) mutual respect. Yet other works like the game Shadowrun depict companies that combine elements of both classical cyberpunk and post-cyberpunk megacorps.
Drawing on such analyses, the volume concludes by exploring how the idea of the post-cyberpunk megacorp anticipated a new type of real-world megacorp – the unfathomably large, fast, and complex “rhizocorp” – that’s now being made possible through ongoing revolutions in the exploitation of robotics, AI, and the Internet of Things – and which threatens to become the dominant economic, political, and sociocultural power of our technologically posthumanized future world.
In Information Systems Architecture and Technology: Proceedings of 39th International Conference on Information Systems Architecture and Technology – ISAT 2018, Part III, edited by Zofia Wilimowska, Leszek Borzemski, and Jerzy Świątek • Springer International Publishing, 2018
ABSTRACT: The discipline of enterprise architecture (EA) provides valuable tools for aligning an organization’s business strategy and processes, IT strategy and systems, personnel structures, and organizational culture, with the goal of enhancing organizational agility, adaptability, and efficiency. However, the centralized and exhaustively detailed approach of conventional EA is susceptible to failure when employed in organizations demonstrating exceedingly great size, speed of operation and change, and IT complexity – a combination of traits that characterizes, for example, some emerging types of “technologized” oligopolistic megacorps reflecting the Industry 4.0 paradigm. This text develops the conceptual basis for a variant form of enterprise architecture that can be used to enact improved target architectures for organizations whose characteristics would otherwise render them “unmanageable” from the perspective of conventional EA. The proposed approach of “enterprise meta-architecture” (or EMA) disengages human enterprise architects from the fine-grained details of architectural analysis, design, and implementation, which are handled by artificially intelligent systems functioning as active agents rather than passive tools. The role of the human enterprise architect becomes one of determining the types of performance improvements a target architecture should ideally generate, establishing the operating parameters for an EMA system, and monitoring and optimizing its functioning. Advances in Big Data and parametric design provide models for enterprise meta-architecture, which is distinct from other new approaches like agile and adaptive EA. Deployment of EMA systems should become feasible as ongoing advances in AI result in an increasing share of organizational agency and decision-making responsibility being shifted to artificial agents.
His Master’s Voice 4th Annual Symposium: Utopias, Dystopias, and Ecotopias • Facta Ficta Research Centre, Kraków • March 25, 2017
ABSTRACT: Creators of cyberpunk science fiction envision a near future in which technological, political, and economic change yield a powerful new type of organization: the megacorporation or ‘megacorp,’ which is frequently depicted as contributing to (and exploiting) the dystopian nature of its society. By analyzing such fictional works, we formulate a definition of the ‘megacorp’ along with two conceptual frameworks: (1) a model of the megacorp as cyber-physical organism; and (2) a typology that reveals the ways in which different kinds of megacorps generate dystopian or (limited) utopian dynamics within their cyber-physical ecosystems. In developing the first framework, concepts from artificial life and management cybernetics are employed to argue that some megacorps are presented as incorporating artificial agency into their organizational architecture in such ways that they do not simply act ‘like’ living organisms but indeed constitute massive synthetic life-forms that inhabit the globalized digital-physical ecosystems of the near future. In developing the second framework, it is noted that contemporary corporations typically pursue a narrow range of strategies for achieving financial profitability so they can purchase resources needed to adapt and grow. However, we contend that – as depicted in cyberpunk science fiction – dystopian megacorps have available to them a broader range of non-financial strategies that they exploit to subdue competitors and obtain the resources needed to survive, evolve, and grow.
Such strategies may employ approaches that are legal and political (e.g., extraterritoriality; corporate courts; corporate citizenship; EULAs; ownership of individuals’ genetic code, cybernetic augmentations, and output); paramilitary (deployment of private military, police, and security forces; cyberwarfare); geospatial (construction of facilities isolated in fortified, orbital, or undersea arcologies; use of ubiquitous sensors and effectors to convert the entire Internet of Things into a corporate facility; virtualization and nonlocalization of organizational architecture; construction of new digital-physical ecosystems to dominate); biological (engineering of biomedical dependencies among employees and consumers; creation of ‘walled-garden’ commercial ecosystems requiring genetic modification for entry); psychological and sociocultural (direct neurocybernetic access to a population’s sensory, cognitive, and motor activity; cultural engineering; memetic warfare); or technological and informatic (monopolization of core global ICT infrastructure; ‘megascale’ data mining, computational simulation, and prediction; automated decision-making by AI; workforce roboticization and cyborgization). Three ‘views’ for analyzing competitive strategies of a megacorp are presented, each of which utilizes two dimensions to distinguish four types of megacorps according to their interactions with their ecosystem and resulting generation of dystopian or utopian dynamics.
The framework is then applied to numerous megacorps described in cyberpunk RPGs, including Arasaka and WorldSat (from Cyberpunk 2020); Evo, NeoNET, Proteus, Renraku, Saeder-Krupp, and Shiawase (from Shadowrun); Belltower Associates, the Picus Group, Tai Yong Medical, and VersaLife (from Deus Ex); Anubis, Augustus, and Imperial (from Ex Machina); and Golden Promise (from Interface Zero).
It is hoped that such frameworks can facilitate efforts to: (1) analyze the roles that creators of cyberpunk science fiction envision for megacorps in their worlds’ ecosystems; (2) explicate how megacorps’ competitive strategies contribute to the dystopian nature of their societies; (3) anticipate new competitive strategies that may emerge if our world’s actual business ecosystems evolve to resemble those presented in cyberpunk fiction; and (4) recognize any real-world corporations that begin to acquire characteristics of (dystopian) megacorps.
Fronda Lux 78 (2016), pp. 10-21
SUMMARY: This text envisions two different “employee onboarding documents” provided to new workers joining a global conglomerate in the year 2050. One neuroprosthetically augmented and genetically enhanced worker – who joins the company as a Reality Designer – is granted a drastically different welcome from the other worker, an unmodified human being, who joins the company as a Biological Service Drone. A variety of scholars have formulated two radically divergent conceptions of the future of human work: one vision imagines that the development of advanced artificial intelligence, nanorobotics, and other technologies will create a utopian society in which human beings are freed from the drudgery menial labor to focus on art, leisure, and self-fulfillment; the other vision imagines that such technologies will result in the wholesale oppression, instrumentalization, and disintegration of human beings. This text highlights the fact that these two extreme visions of the future are not necessarily incompatible – and might even be reflected within the activities of a single company.