The Technological Pivot Of History: Power In The Age Of Exponential Innovation – Analysis


By Mohammed Soliman

Just as Halford Mackinder, in his seminal work The Geographical Pivot of History, argued that control over the Eurasian heartland held the key to global mastery, the world stands at the precipice of another pivotal shift—one driven not by geography, but by the relentless force of exponential technological innovation. This is the age of the Technological Pivot of History, where the balance of power hinges not only on landmasses but also on the ability to harness and wield the ever-evolving arsenal of technological advancements.

The pace of innovation today is nothing short of breathtaking. Moore’s Law, what was once a simple observation, has morphed into a self-actualizing prophecy, with processing power doubling roughly every two years. This exponential growth isn’t confined to silicon valleys—it’s reshaping every facet of human lives, from the microscopic to the macroscopic. Transistors, the building blocks of chips, are now routinely crammed into spaces smaller than the width of a human hair. This miniaturization, driven by Moore’s Law, has fueled the rise of smartphones that outperformed desktop computers just a decade ago and unleashed the potential for even more powerful AI applications like autonomous vehicles and real-time medical diagnostics. Generative AI, a subfield focused on creating new content, is already producing stunning results. Tools like DALL-E 2 can generate photorealistic images from mere text descriptions, while GPT-3and Google Bard can write convincing human-quality prose poems and even code. As these models grow more sophisticated, their parameters, the variables that define their behavior, become increasingly complex, opening a vast universe of creative and exponential possibilities.

Robotics and automation are transforming industries, from manufacturing to agriculture. Automated assembly lines are churning out goods with unprecedented efficiency, while robots are tending crops and managing livestock with precision. These advancements are not only boosting productivity but also create new opportunities for human-robot collaboration Looking at an example that’s even more impressive, consider the revolutionary field of DNA testing. Once relegated to expensive research labs, genetic analysis is now accessible to the masses. Companies like 23andMe and AncestryDNA offer affordable kits that unlock previously unknown family history and even predict predisposition to certain diseases. This democratization of genetic information is leading to breakthroughs in personalized medicine and understanding of human health.

The impact of these technological advancements extends far beyond technical improvements, fundamentally altering the power dynamics on the global stage. Just as empires of the past rose and fell based on their mastery of geography and resources, so too will future power dynamics be determined by technological prowess. The landscape of national strength is shifting. Territorial size, resource wealth, and even military might no longer guarantee supremacy. Instead, the ability to foster innovation, attract talent, and adapt will determine who thrives in this rapidly changing landscape. In recent decades, the exponentialgrowth of technology has redefined state sovereignty and hegemony. New geopolitical lines will continue to be drawn around technology and the flow of information, whereby historically, they were formed geopolitically and by way of traditional military superiority. Thus, technology is central to the balance of power. In recent years, it’s become clear that the United States and China are locked in a tech-fueled great power competition, with implications spanning from cyber warfare to intellectual property, from data to AI, and from undersea cables to low-orbit satellites.

The intensifying competition in the cyber and technology domain, often referred to as the “US-China tech Cold War,” is prompting major and regional powers to develop their own cyber and technology doctrines. From the chokepoint of Dutch chipmaking to the ambitious AI programs of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, a new wave of rising powers is disrupting the global technology landscape. East Asian shipyards, led by Japan and Korea, now churn out the giants that traverse the world’s oceans, while India and Vietnam witness an industrial revolution. In the skies, Turkey has carved a niche as a drone superpower, with its Bayraktar TB2s becoming a sought-after commodity. These nations are not just catching up, they’re pushing boundaries, shaping the future of technology, and challenging established leaders in a race for innovation that promises to reshape the world. Their technology doctrines reflect the growing recognition that technological prowess can be a significant power multiplier in the current multipolar and volatile world.

The United States, a long-time trailblazer in technology innovation, now faces greater scrutiny from other nations observing the impact of its tech capabilities on its past geopolitical standing. Case in point: US technology played a vital role in the recent Russia-Ukraine conflict, supporting Ukrainian efforts to counter the Russian invasion. Unsurprisingly, China is pouring billions into AI research and development, aiming to achieve dominance in a technology poised to revolutionize every aspect of human life. Consider the United States, its Silicon Valley churning out disruptive technologies, but grappling with internal divisions and anxieties about the pace of change. The race for technological supremacy is on, and its outcome will define the new hierarchies of power.

Unlike the zero-sum battles for geographical control, the Technological Pivot offers the potential for shared gains amidst inequalities. However, the digital divide threatens to leave entire populations behind in the exponential age. Ethical considerations loom large. Questions of privacy, security, and the very nature of humanity in the age of machines demand urgent attention. Navigating this Pivot demands a paradigm shift in thinking about international cooperation on standards and regulations to ensure responsible and ethical use of technologies, as the use of technologies poses existential questions about our place in a world increasingly shaped by machines.

The Technological Pivot of History is a transformative era where the balance of power is no longer solely dictated by geography but by the ability to harness exponential technological innovation. As the world witnesses the escalating US-China tech Cold War, it becomes evident that the race for technological supremacy is shaping the future hierarchies of power. The digital divide will be widened in the exponential age and threatens to leave entire nation-states on the sidelines of this Technological Pivot of History.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author alone and do not necessarily reflect the position of the Foreign Policy Research Institute, a non-partisan organization that seeks to publish well-argued, policy-oriented articles on American foreign policy and national security priorities.

  • About the author: Mohammed Soliman is the director of the Strategic Technologies and Cyber Security Program at the Middle East Institute and a visiting fellow with the National Security Program at Third Way. He can be found on X at @Thisissoliman.
  • This article was published by FPRI

Published by the Foreign Policy Research Institute

Founded in 1955, FPRI ( is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization devoted to bringing the insights of scholarship to bear on the development of policies that advance U.S. national interests and seeks to add perspective to events by fitting them into the larger historical and cultural context of international politics.

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