Do mountains matter in digital sovereignty?

Imagine listening to a conversation on sovereignty where no-one has any maps and therefore no-one can discuss borders but everyone wants to talk about the importance of mountains or hills or lakes or forests or roads. You would probably think it’s gibberish. Those are simply components that exist in a landscape and whilst useful they are mostly irrelevant on their own to the discussion at hand. Well, this is exactly the conversation that is happening today in digital sovereignty

To explain, there are a couple of basic points that I need to make.

Point 1: You can map stuff beyond geography.
I invented a method of mapping competitive landscapes. This not only includes physical activities but practices, data, knowledge and even ethical values. I used such a map to map culture.

The map of culture is not important except I’ll note that collectives (groupings of people) are differentiated by our values (i.e. beliefs) and the behaviours we exhibit. Those collectives are in competition with each other and that competition (the act of “seeking together” whether seeking some knowledge or some resource) can take many forms including co-operation (“working together”), collaboration (“labouring together”) or even conflict (“fighting together”).

Point 2: You use maps to explain sovereignty
When we talk about physical sovereignty (I italicise as we rarely mention the physical word) then we tend to use a map of the territory and mark out where our collective (and our values and our behaviours) exist surrounded by a border which demarcates the “outside”.

Point 3: Warfare is more than just chucking stuff (kinetic).
We can create a map of competitive spaces (see the above mention that I invented a way of doing this) then we can apply patterns (discovered through mapping) to anticipate potential future states. For example, this was a map created in the DVLA around 2015 of the future automotive industry. A number of its anticipations have already started to happen but that’s not interesting for this discussion nor is the map itself.

What is mildly interesting is that we can bring elements of the culture map onto our competitive spaces. For example, we can show how a collective can embed their values in simulation systems for intelligent agents (AI). When we export products based upon this, we’re also exporting our values to other collectives but then we’ve been doing this with film, music, games and art in general for a long time. It’s a form of non kinetic warfare.

So, why does this matter?

When we discuss digital sovereignty then we should be talking about where our borders are on those maps i.e. what are the bits we wish to protect for our collective, our behaviours and our values?

Alas, few (in western Governments) seem to have maps of their competitive landscapes. As a consequence we not only poorly understand our supply chains but we have no idea where our borders should be in the competitive space. But instead of trying to map the environment, we’ve replaced it with entire conversations on the importance of mountains (clouds) or hills (cybersecurity) or lakes (data) or forests (AI) or roads (networks). It is gibberish.

In the competition that is life then I hope we can avoid the conflict side and head more towards co-operation and collaboration. However, I would sleep a little more easy knowing that my Government had a small smidgen of situational awareness rather than hordes of blathering thought leaders. These mapping techniques have been available for the last sixteen years and they were used in parts of GDS in the early days (Francis Maude era). Please help yourself to the technique. It’s all creative commons

Can I suggest looking at your environment before making any big leaps, big bets, moonshoots or declarations of digital sovereignty.

Addendum — 17/11/21

Q1. How can we influence values?
There are many ways to do this, far too many to be described in a post on digital sovereignty. A simple example would be to look at power relationships — power with, power over, power to. You can alter the balance between these power structures by altering values in the collective which in turn can be nudged through art (i.e. the memory of the organisation such as its symbols, rituals and heroes). This has been done through systems like Hollywood but more recently through interactive video games which vary from Hezbollah’s video game “special forces” to Sugargamers project Violacea

Q2. Can you explain conflict, co-operation and the border on your map?
If you take a map, the first thing you need to decide is where is your border i.e. what is the stuff you wish to control. The rest is what you leave to the outside market. Within your border you’ll need to decide where you wish to co-operate with or collaborate with others. You’ll also need to decide the areas that you wish to conflict with others (i.e. impose your own national industries on). The map doesn’t give you an “answer”, it is simply a mechanism to discuss the space. So, in the following map we might choose to conflict with others over AI and simulation models i.e. have our own home grown industries. We might choose to collaborate with other nations on assembly and sensors through JVs or use of companies that operate in that trading block. We might leave areas of status or infotainment to the wider market in general.

Q3. Do you have examples of poor strategy?
There a numerous noble efforts on digital sovereignty. For example, Digital Sovereignty for Europe. However, they mostly cover the usual suspects such as cloud, data, AI, cybersecurity with little to no discussion of the wider landscape or any evident situational awareness of that landscape. It’s a bit like trying to have a discussion about physical sovereignty by just talking about mountains and forests. It might be noble but it’s a fairly pointless exercise. To put it bluntly, the alternative name for strategy without a map is … noise.

Originally published at

I like ducks, they're fowl but not through choice. RT is not an endorsement but a sign that I find a particular subject worthy of challenge and discussion.