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Running Head: GLOBALIZATION IN THE COMPUTER SCIENCE AND INFORMATION TECHNOLOGY


INDUSTRIES

Globalization In the Computer Science and Information Technology Industries

Zachary Grieser

Sullivan University
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The world isn’t becoming any smaller, but it very well may feel like it is.
Every day we seem closer connected to one other, as if the space between
locations is shrinking. In a sense, it is. This shrinking is called globalization, and it
influences every aspect of our modern lives. From the news we see to the
products we purchase, a globalized world closes the gaps between nations and
changes how we live as a result. Much of what has pushed the recent jump in
globalization is the increase in communication capability thanks to modern
computer technology. Simultaneously, the technology itself has became more
advanced thanks to globalization opening the floodgates for cooperation between
countries. From an incredibly early point, the computer science and information
technology fields have been symbiotically connected to globalization, each
pushing the other forward.

The digital computer as a tool is relatively new; coming into existence in


1945 (“ENIAC”, 2019) but only entering main stream civilian use use near the
1980’s. From this point, globalization was already very much so active, and
physical production of computers did not exist for long outside of global influence.
In that regards, the computer industry was affected the same as many others of
the time: contributions from other countries adding on to current understanding of
the product led to advancement in both its form and efficiency. Therefore, it may
be more useful to not look at how the computer industry’s interaction with a
globalized economy is the same as other industries, but rather how it differs.

One inherent difference is the internet, which has been affected by


globalization nearly as much as it has led to globalization in itself. In most cases,
there are truly no borders between countries online. Therefore, the spread of
information is nearly uncontrollable and allows for communication at a rate never
before imagined. This leads to the sharing and evolution of ideas, both within and
outside the computer industry. The internet as a medium has spawned concepts
that would have never even been possible without it. Two of these technologies,
blockchain and open source software, will be discussed in detail here. These two
concepts show both the bright future before us, and the impact that globalization
can have to create such technologies.

To discuss blockchain technology, we must first understand what it is. The


easiest way to do that is with a simple scenario of a bench in a park. Let’s imagine
two people, sitting at a park bench. One of them has an apple, and they hand it to
the other. Before this exchange, it was clear that the first person had the apple.
After the exchange, the second person now owns that apple.

This seems rather simple, but it doesn’t translate the same to the digital
world. If our theoretical park bench was replaced by an email service, and our
theoretical apple replaced by a picture of an apple, this changes the scenario
substantially. The first person could send this picture of an apple to the other
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person, giving them the image. However, they could still keep a copy of this
image on their computer as well. Now both participants of the exchange have a
copy of this image, rather than in the park bench scenario in which the apple
could not be copied.

The picture of the apple is just data, and can be copied easily and with no
expense. This means that there is no way to control the number of these pictures
that exist, because anyone could copy one and send it to others. Therefore, there
is no scarcity, and no value to this image. But what if there was a way to limit this;
to prevent copies from being made?
One way this could be done would be by keeping a ledger. Making a list of
every exchange, and checking that list to make sure everything matches. So if
one person sent the picture of the apple to their friend, that would be recorded in
this ledger. The ledger would reflect that that picture now belongs to the person’s
friend, and it would be easy to recognize if there was a copy made because it
wouldn’t match the ledger.

However, this runs into issues on its own. While this ledger would function
as a listing of who owns what, nothing would stop it from being tampered with.
You would have to trust whoever controls that ledger to not edit their slot and give
themselves more apple pictures. This is where the concept of decentralization
comes into play.

In a blockchain system, the ledger is distributed to nodes across the world.


These nodes connect to each other through the internet, and will update their
copy of the ledger as changes are made. This means that ledgers can preform
checks and balances on each other, and help to verify exchanges as valid. For
example, if someone was to edit the ledger on a node, it would no longer match
the rest of the nodes. The error would be corrected by other nodes, and the
system would continue as usual. The nodes also authenticate transactions
between two parties, with multiple nodes checking their ledgers to make sure
whatever is being shared actually exists. Once enough nodes agree that the
transaction is valid, it is processed and completed. With modern systems, this
transaction process can take less than a second (Poon & Dryja, 2016, p. 54).

Now, one may ask how this technology applies to globalization. The answer
is that we don’t quite know yet. Blockchain is an incredibly new concept, originally
proposed anonymously in 2008 by a person or group of people going by the alias
Satoshi Nakamoto (Nakamoto, 2008). Since its initial implementation in the
Bitcoin project, various uses have been found for the idea. Some have began to
use blockchain networks to create automated smart contracts with permanent
records of signatures and changes. Companies such as IBM (2016) have began to
experiment with blockchain for business purposes, offering services to help
companies use the upcoming technology to increase efficiency and security.
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However, the most well known uses is as a base for internet-exclusive


currency, detached from the concept of government issued money. This
eliminates the difficulty in international payments, by both the speed of near
instant transactions and by avoiding the complexity of exchanging country-
specific fiat currency. Never before has millions of dollars been able to be sent
across the world so quickly and with mere cents in fees. Most current implications
of blockchain focus on this cryptocurrency use, with the some of the most well
known projects being Bitcoin, Litecoin, and Ethereum.

Despite the benefits provided by blockchain and cryptocurrency, the


technology may not be ready for the main stage. As mentioned previously, the
concept as a whole is new and relatively unexplored. Although blockchain as a
concept has proved to be strong and insusceptible to attacks, the same can not
be said about its implication in some cases. One of the worst examples of a
security failure in blockchain technology was the data breach of the Mt. Gox
bitcoin exchange in 2013. The exchange lost 850,000 bitcoins, worth $500 million
at the time and more than $3 trillion at the time of writing this report (Ross, 2016,
p. 109). So while such a system has incredible potential to revolutionize global
trade, time is necessary to understand both what the technology is capable of and
what risks could be encountered. Until then, it remains a prospect of the future for
our globalized society.

Even if some systems, such as blockchain, are more so visions of the future
than currently viable projects, others have proved themselves to be instrumental
in globalization. One, as a matter of fact, has the ability to allow people around
the world to work together easier than ever before. They may not even know each
other’s names, but they can collaborate on programs that change our daily lives.

First, let’s look at how a program is made traditionally. In most cases, a


computer program is owned by a company. That company hires employees to
develop this program. They hire the programmers, designers, graphic artists, and
any other positions that need to be filled to finish the project. Once it’s finished,
the company distributes the product, either for free or sold to users for a profit.

But what if there was no company? What if the project was just run publicly
online, where anyone who was interested could contribute? This is called “open
source”, and it reflects a change in the way that advancements are being made.

Examples of open source projects include almost all of the cryptocurrency


and blockchain projects mentioned previously, the Linux kernel, and the Firefox
web browser. How, one might ask, are such large scale projects coordinated and
controlled if not by a boss in an office building? Well, one answer is a system
called “Git”.
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Git was a system created in 2005 by programmer Linus Torvalds, the


original creator of the wildly used Linux kernel. Thomas Friedman (2016)
explained Git’s function as so:

Torvalds’s Git program allowed a team of coders to work together, all using
the same files, by letting each programmer build on top of, or alongside, the
work of others, while also allowing each to see who made what changes —
and to save them, undo them, improve them, and experiment with them. (p.
64)

This brings us to GitHub, an online implementation of Git recently purchased


by Microsoft. Although GitHub can be used privately within a certain company, its
main use is as a platform for open source projects. Here, people from around the
world contribute to projects; not for fame or fortune, but just to make something
that fills a certain need. For example, Linux was mentioned previously. The Linux
kernel is implemented into our lives in ways we might not even notice; powering
servers for websites, computers for cars, and the systems on our smartphones.
Every bit of it is visible at the Linux GitHub repository, open to the public. Every
change, every release, and the ability to download the source code and modify
the kernel yourself if you wanted.

This style of free and open development breeds a new mentality. Rather
than working to fulfill a clients order or a just finish a product for a paycheck,
these developers are looking to make something they would use. Not to mention,
there are no country borders on the internet, so ideas from around the world
merge and interact. This open, global team has pushed the world forward, and
presented a new style of innovation based around necessity.
This system has proven effective outside of software development, as well.
Borrowing from the concept, some companies have experimented with opening
up to outside ideas rather than just internal work. One example of this is General
Electric, which has began to host contests to bring in new ideas for their products.
In 2013, GE hosted one of these contests, with the goal being to make a revised,
3D printed version of a specific airplane bracket. Within a few weeks, they had
received 697 submissions, and found their winners in a university student from
Hungary and a non-aerospace engineer from Indonesia. (Friedman, 2016, pp. 129-
130) Neither of these people would have been likely hired by GE normally, but
their contribution helped the company solve an issue that may have stumped
their in-house engineers.

Now, one major concern that may arise in an open development model like
this is the question of intellectual property. With an open source piece of software,
no one technically “owns” that product. If so, why would a company ever want to
make a product that they have no way to profit off of? Well, as mentioned
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previously, an open development system such as this prioritizes functionality and


progress. So, this system trades off potential profitability and control over a
product for more efficient advancement. And in a world where products become
obsolete at an increasingly fast rate, this rapid evolution can be what keeps a
project afloat.

In addition, there are ways for a company to, in a sense, create a marriage
between open source and proprietary, or company owned, products. An excellent
example of this is two of Google’s properties, Chromium and the Android Open
Source Project. Both of these projects, a web browser and mobile operating
system respectively, are fully open source. However, they function as a base for
their main counterparts, Google Chrome and Android. The open source bases are
taken in-house, where Google adds their own applications and functions to make
them into the more well known alternatives. This hybrid system of development
provides both the outside ideas and rapid advancement of an open source
development style, and the corporate ownership and control of a proprietary
product.

On a certain scale, the open development style presented by open source


software represents the basic concepts of a globalized economy. In an economy
before globalization, progress is made locally and at a steady rate. As the gaps
between places close, the borders become more blurred and the progress more
shared. This transition can be frightening for some, as one location may excel and
lead the industry as a whole as the regional sections grow closer. To others, it’s
exciting to watch as the world changes at an exponential rate. During the 20th
century, we started without even having sliced bread, and ended with flat screen
televisions being introduced into homes. And that advancement isn’t slowing
down in the slightest. So while the world may still be the same size it was years
ago, it’s growing smaller in a very exciting way.
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References:

ENIAC. (n.d.) In Wikipedia. Retrieved February 28, 2019, from


https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ENIAC

Poon J. & Dryja T. (2016) The Bitcoin Lightning Network: Scalable Off-Chain Instant
Payments [PDF file]. Retrieved from https://lightning.network/lightning-network-
paper.pdf

Nakamoto, S. (2008). Bitcoin: A Peer-to-Peer Electronic Cash System [PDF file],


Retrieved from https://bitcoin.org/bitcoin.pdf

IBM. (2016) Making blockchain ready for business [PDF file]. Retrieved from
https://www.ibm.com/downloads/cas/JRBJMKO6

Ross, A. (2016). The Industries of the Future. New York, NY: Simon & Schuster

Friedman, T. L. (2016). Thank You for Being Late. New York, NY: Farrar, Straus, and
Giroux