Image: Flickr/Nasa Marshall Space Flight Center (CC BY-NC 2.0)

Image: Flickr/Nasa Marshall Space Flight Center (CC BY-NC 2.0)

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$2.9 trillion. If you guessed “GDP of France,” you weren’t far off, but not correct. That’s the total market cap of Amazon, Apple, Google, Facebook and Microsoft, as of mid-May 2017, according to Alexis Madrigal in his first piece on return to The Atlantic. Granted, this number is less a solid economic measure and more the momentary temperature of collective market fever dreams, but it gives a sense of just how enormous the value of what these five organization control, now or in a probably future. This is not strictly ad money or merchandise sales being counted — its also in part the notional perception that each of these companies will control to some measure a critical piece of both physical and digital infrastructure of the world we will live in.

If you thought seat licenses were lucrative in the 1990s, wait until its city blocks in the 2020s. All are becoming increasingly embedded in physical systems, supply chains, mobility platforms and the architecture of data that makes these and other elements of the real world. One had only to notice how many seemingly incidental displays were malfunctioning in and around mass transit systems during the recent WannaCry ransomware outbreak to get a sense of where these companies systems are entwined with delivery of public conveniences. AWS, WhatsApp, Gmail and Facebook Messenger are now the mission critical sinews of the modern world. But you knew this.

The sci-fi economics piece comes in when the products, services and standards of these and other, newer organizations, like the mad Musk chaebol made up of Tesla, Solar City, the new Boring Company and surely others, begin to truly realize the value of controlling — or controlling access to — assets at global, or superglobal scale. Think operating systems for mass mobility. Think the next generation of resource systems. Think also about seizing IP at gene level as well, in the microscales where CRISPR entrepreneurs will operate. Who will run the services that bring the first asteroid-born precious metals back to Earth? Who will patent pay-per-cell business models? Follow the infrastructure to find the installs. The sums will be on an order of magnitude that makes selling databases pale in comparison. This is why those database billionaires like to put hardware on streets and in skies so much. They know.

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