Megacorporations, The History of
The megacorporation has been called the most enduring legacy of terragen society. Dating back to the age of nation states and Old Earth European colonial and cultural expansion, they came into their own with the great economic superpowers of the information age (USA, China, EU, Japan) and continued to expand their reach with the beginning of the solar system.

As humanity expanded into space, it was under the driving economic power of the great Megacorporations. Deriving from mergers among the Transnationals of old Earth, the few Dot Coms that survived the birth pangs of the Digital Economy, and the new Mining Companies and Franchises that sprung up like mushrooms with the opening up of the Solar System in the late 21st and early 22nd century (Old Earth dating = 2nd century a.t.), the megacorps were the most powerful institutions the normals ever developed. As nation states gradually declined in influence the big corporations filled the political vacuum

The growth of the corporations, the headlong advance of technology and the vast increase in exploitable resources changed the nature of the metanationals and their interactions. The corporations had grown to the extent that each could provide all the material and informational needs of its employees. The growth of incentives and rewards for service to the corporation had increased to the extent that the megacorporations were slowly becoming centrally planned states in their own rights. This transformation changed the emphasis in corporate interactions away from competition for markets and towards competition for material resources, and more importantly for talented employees. The 190s saw this competition step up a level, as the major corporations became military as well as economic powers. That decade saw three Belt-based and five Cis-Lunar corporations demonstrate a nuclear capability.

Although originally under the control of baselines, tweaks, and superiors, many of the big megacorps each came to be guided by a transhuman AI - this was first toposophic, but long before the AIs evolved to their Olympian heights. As the decades passed, the control of each megacorp slipped more and more from normals hands, as they became the external vehicle of expression of the AI at their heart.

The first half of the 3rd century a.t. was a time in which the megacorporate order that had preserved peace in the System for a century was beginning to crumble. The Cis-Lunar and Belt-based corporations emerged as more tightly-integrated entities even than those of Earth. For the isolation of each habitat cluster led inevitably to the identification of corporation, polity and society. The Belt corporations had a serious disadvantage in the struggle with the Cis-Lunar corporations: the small size of the Belt populations. In the cut-throat struggle for the future of the System, technological sophistication was everything - no corporation could afford to slow its research efforts for fear of being eclipsed by its rivals. The corporations embraced extensive geneering of their populations, intelligence amplification and artificial intelligence. By the 280s, the Belt corporations owned the genomes of over half their employees. During the previous four decades the differences between corporation, society and family had started to blur, but now it disappeared almost entirely. The Belt corporations became the Belt Zaibatsus. Soon each Belter had a fierce loyalty to the Zaibatsu and defections became almost unknown. Despite these radical measures, the Belt megacorporations still remained relatively minor powers next to the great Cis-Lunar postnationals.

By the early 4th century, the rivalry was well and truly established between the megacorps, the rogue tweaks (shapers, ironically themselves the result of megacorp technology), and the military-industrial nation states resenting their loss of power. As the megacorps expanded throughout the solar system, pillaging resources wherever they could find them, they grew in power even more. But their old power bases were eroded as the balance shifted from the Orbitals, the Inner Worlds and the Belt asteroids they controlled to the Genetekker Republics around the Gas Giants, and claim jumping by rival megacorps only worsened the situation.

The fifth century saw the unleashing of assembler nanotech, and in the ensuring chaos many of the old megacorps, and Western civilisation as a whole, disappeared.

Many, but not all. For a number of AIs had the foresight to push out their center of operations, or at least major backup nodes, to the Kuiper Belt and beyond. These AIs and their associated bionts, survived the nanoswarms, and after a few hundred years, when the solar system was once again safe, they returned to the inner planets. Together with the AIs that had remained, protected by shields of blue goo, these AIs were seminal, around the turn of the first millennium a.t., in establishing the First Federation. Later the AIs were to contribute to the design of cheaper starships, including various amat and amat fusion, bringing the price of relativistic travel within the scope of the new generation of rule-by-council megacorp-states.

By the Interstellar era they had established semi-autonomous fiefdoms among the stars, in rampant colonialism that put the excesses of Old Earth to shame. But these savvy transplanetaries were ruled not by greedy ignorant baseline humans, but by superbrights, posthumans, and hyperturing ai, their government was (for the most part) benevolent, and the needs of their shareholders honoured and valued. Funky, hip, innovative and creative, the megacorps became an institution to be valued.

By the later Federation period, especially in the colonies and on the periphery, board membership of even the smallest and most insignificant of the Megacorporations had become hereditary, and could only be attained through birth or marriage. It was only a small step from these wealthy families to set up their own empires. By this time society had become rigidly stratified and technological progress had long since been given over to the cybernetic priesthood of the AIs. The age of meritocratic capitalism was over and, with the new feudalistic Age of Empires had begun.

The neo-feudalism of the post-Federation period, and the rise of the second and third singularity AIs and eventually the archailect Gods, progressively lessened the influence of the megacorporations, but did not do away with them completely. Surviving in strongholds in the NoCoZo, various Free Zones, and in parts of the Outer Volumes and along some of the Deeper Covenant trade and cycler routes, they have been able to continue and to diversify even to the present day.

 
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Development Notes
Text by M. Alan Kazlev and Anders Sandberg

Initially published on 10 June 2000.