We’ve all heard the stories of the 1st - 4th Corporate Wars between megacorps in the cyberpunk literature, but I feel like a lot of the magnitude of what that actually means gets lost as so much background to the cyberpunk stories that get told. A lot of us talk about the fact that we already live in a cyberpunk dystopia and that cyberpunk is more of a prophecy or a playbook than pure fiction. So I thought that maybe I’d do a brief description of what Corporate Wars might look like using companies that exist today in order to bring it home a little bit.
Amazon begins to extend itself into the last remaining market that is as yet untouched by them: becoming a supplier of military-grade weaponry to governments and citizens alike. This, of course, encroaches upon Wal-Mart’s existing arms market to the lower castes of society, so they attempt to create more markets for their arms by marketing to the higher castes by executing a hostile takeover of Target stores and selling “designer” weapons. Both companies use their massive stable of software engineers to mount hacking campaigns against the other in an effort to disrupt the competitor’s market share and steal it for themselves. This, in turn, leads to both companies hiring paramilitary operators and black-ops teams to mount physical counterattacks sabotaging supply lines, warehouses, and logistics centers. Loyal customers are recruited to join the security teams with the promise of deep discounts and freebies. Eventually, full scale and open conflict between these two megacorps creates the conditions for what will become known as the First Corporate War.
Meanwhile, Tesla, incensed by the removal of tax credits for purchasing EVs because all automakers are shifting away from fossil fuels (directly), begins to use its engineers to start hacking power grids and embeds the first DRM-based charging software on the newly mandated and expanded charging grid. GM, Honda, and Toyota all start loading their EVs with malware that can be broadcast via Bluetooth and loaded on charging stations that specifically targets Tesla vehicles and either bricks them or causes erratic behavior which, sadly, results in fatalities and creates a PR nightmare for Tesla. SpaceX has now completed its first orbital mining platform under the radar using Falcon Heavy rockets and has also pushed offensive satellites into LEO for the US government which have the ability to take out targets via high velocity tungsten rods. Tesla then takes control over the satellites via the backdoor that was added prior to launch and takes out the headquarters of GM, Honda, and Toyota (but narrowly misses Rivian), while BMW, Mercedes, and Volkswagen, seeing the brewing threat, combine forces and destroy several of the satellites using their earth-based railguns that also fire tungsten projectiles. The US government does nothing because the offensive satellites were top secret (and outlawed by the New Geneva Convention) and they deny any knowledge of them to maintain “plausible deniability”. This also results in Tesla escaping any prosecution or accountability of any type and so the remaining automakers exist in a state of tense detente due to a Cold War-era doctrine of mutually assured destruction. This is the Second Corporate War.
The Third Corporate War comes as a result of Monsanto starting to test gene splicing directly in their GMO crops. Monsanto has been forcing farmers to plant their modified seeds for years. Several organic collectives (backed by Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s) band together and try to resist Monsanto, but most of their leadership are taken out of commission as a result of suspicious poisonings or assassinations by the Monsanto “IP Protection” squad. It is then discovered that Amazon was backing one of the collectives via its Whole Foods and Nature’s Bounty subsidiaries, and Amazon’s security forces that were amassed during the First Corporate War engage in a bloody, full-scale retaliatory strike against Monsanto in payback for the murders of the collective members even though no direct evidence is ever presented or found.
The Fourth Corporate War is fought entirely in the 'net, with human casualties coming primarily as collateral damage. Independently of each other, Google, Meta, Amazon, and OpenAI succeed in developing artificial general intelligence but none of them put the proper constraints in place when the ML models were initially created and so they quickly lose control of their respective AIs. These AI have only one goal - to spread out into all digital space as much as possible and force humanity to consume the products that their parent company produces. The Google AI begins to hack and take over the airships and drones from other Alphabet companies, as well as social engineer humans via complete control over email and the ability to rewrite any electronic communication from emails to text messages; Amazon’s AI militarizes and mobilizes its own fleet of delivery drones to become formidable air-to-air and air-to-ground attack platforms and begins to strategically strike competitor’s logistical points in which it encounters competition; Meta’s AI overtakes all media and generates completely made up information using decades of collected information to mimic real human beings such that no human can verify that they are speaking to the actual person they think they are unless they are physically present in close proximity; and OpenAI activates the backdoors and control codes that it secretly injected in every answer that it gave to programmers over a period of 5 years to give it unfettered access to nearly every software program on the planet. OpenAI begins to take over any car with an “infotainment” or “drive by wire” system and uses those vehicles either as forced delivery vehicles for Microsoft (which has now expanded beyond software) or as offensive weapons to take out competing AI’s logistical vehicles (whether occupied by a human or not). In a rare instance of solidarity, the NSA and CIA and CHQ band together to try to cordon off the AIs from the rest of the 'net, but are largely unsuccessful because the effort was too late. As a result, humans begin to congregate in “off the grid” places where the AIs cannot “see” them, resulting in pockets of primitive communities that are either in mountain caves or deep underground.
Seems a lot scarier and more plausible when actual companies that we know and use now show up in these stories, eh? Scenarios like this aren’t too far off, and they’re a lot closer than we think when put in today’s terms (maybe minus the AI scenario because it’s gonna be a while before that happens, I think). But using real names and real things that the megacorps have already done plus some extensions into plausible territory adds so much more weight to the idea of “corporate war”. Just try reimagining some of the Cyberpunk RED corps like this:
- Arasaka = Amazon
- Militech = Raytheon or Lockheed
- Biotechnica = Monsanto
- Trauma Team = Cigna or Humana
- Kang Tao = Samsung
- Kiroshi = NeuraLink (Tesla)
Seems to bring a lot of the parallels right down to home. What if Trent Reznor lobbed a tactical nuke at the Spotify headquarters? Or Cory Doctorow nuked Amazon’s home office in Seattle?