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Topic Review: Megacorps
#21
So - I was finally able to take some time this week and start the rewrite of the Megacorps. The following is basically the early history up thru the Solsys Dark Age. The next section will cover the megacorps in and possibly after the First Federation (depending on how large the Federation period section turns out to be). Things are going to get significantly more augmented and...hivemindy...in that section. Trying to keep this fairly succinct while also touching on the various ideas we've kicked around up to this point.

Wanted to post this first part to make sure it covers the concepts we discussed properly and that I haven't missed anything that could significantly alter or impact the next section. Hope you like. Smile

Megacorps

The 'megacorps' gained their name, not from the size of their assets or the number of their employees, but from the vast numbers of shareholders each came to possess.

The first megacorps had their beginnings in the mid-to-late Information and early Interplanetary Age.This period saw great disruption to the economic models of the previous centuries. Automation was steadily eroding the bedrock of capitalism as demand for sophont labour fell with each passing decade. Many nations and transnational organizations - such as the New Economy Movement - experimented with various types of guaranteed basic income or similar economic instruments as social tensions grew between those that could gain work for more resources and those that could not.

One of the most successful of these experiments was the development of the ‘micro-share.’ Sophonts could purchase partial shares of company stock at a proportionally reduced price and returning a proportionally reduced dividend. In and of themselves these micro-shares counted for very little when compared against all the shares a company might offer. But over time even individuals of modest means could accumulate enough shares (and therefore dividends) to augment their regular income or even supplant it entirely without any need for further work on their part. More importantly, while the individual portfolio of any one micro-investor might be insignificant, the sheer number of such investors meant that the cumulative total of their portfolios - and therefore their voting power - could be quite large indeed. Groups of microinvestors - coordinated (some might say manipulated) via social media and specialized online voting and feedback systems began exercising more and more control over the direction, policies, and even day to day operations of the corporations they invested in. The spread of DNI and mental augmentation technologies only accelerated and expanded this process.

Over time, the number of megacorp employees dropped. Much of the population that would have once worked for the megacorps instead found employment providing services or goods to either the enterprises themselves or to a subset of their many shareholders, who used their dividend income to purchase goods and services from individual or small group businesses due to a desire for personalized or personal products and services rather than corporate produced items. The megacorps themselves often produced items and services for shareholders, those people still working or else living on other forms of guaranteed income, or governments or other megacorps.

While the number of megacorp employees was dropping, the number of shareholders (including shareholders living partly or entirely on dividend income) grew. DNI based voting, surveys and (on the other side) attempts to influence shareholders to vote for a particular direction for each company became ever more sophisticated and took up ever more time and attention for a subset of the shareholders. This led to two trends within the megacorp 'ecosystem':

Shareholders voted in AI CEOs or even entire Boards of Directors to manage the day to day operations of the megacorp more efficiently and with less need of the shareholders attention.
A growing number of shareholders augmented themselves with various cybernetic enhancements to allow them to better grasp the operations of the megacorp, inform their votes, and persuade other shareholders to vote in coordination with them. Some even went so far as to directly involve themselves in the day-to-day operations of their megacorp(s), leading some historians to claim them as the precursors to Homo Economicus.

In the century before the Technocalypse, megacorp and megacorp-related operations accounted for nearly 60% of all economic activity across the Solar System.

Megacorps, the Technocalypse, and the Great Expulsion

The advent of the Technocalypse devastated the megacorps and the Great Expulsion seemed destined to drive them to extinction. The economic and social disruption surrounding the Technocalypse wiped entire sectors of the Solar economy out of existence while the loss of life extension technology and the Malware Plagues did much the same to entire cohorts of the most experienced, most involved - and therefore most augmented - shareholders, their equally augmented executive employees, and the AI-based Boards they had put in control of operations centuries before. Since these same heavily augmented sophonts often held shares in multiple megacorps, spent their personal time in positions of influence and leadership in various non-profit organizations, and were usually active in their communities - their loss in numbers expanded the disruption of the Technocalypse even beyond what its direct effects achieved.

The activation of the GAIA network at first seemed to offer hope of some return to normalcy. But as the newborn superintelligence first exceeded all human comprehension and then imposed the Great Expulsion upon the world, that hope was shattered. Forced to shut down or remove their augmentations, their wealth rendered nearly worthless by an economy in ruins, and with most of their number dead or insane, the surviving shareholders, employees, and AI staff of the megacorps were largely lost to history - but not entirely.

Evolution in the Dark Age

While the majority of the megacorps were destroyed by the Technocalypse, and the majority of the survivors were in turn destroyed by the Great Expulsion, there were exceptions. Mostly among those companies based in the Outer System - or having major satellite offices there - and occasionally in the form of Inner System entities that a combination of foresight, planning, and sheer luck allowed to reach Luna, Mars, or the Belt sufficiently intact to operate in a form at least approximating their former organizational structure.

Over the centuries of the Dark Age, these remaining corps (the ‘mega’ prefix was rarely justified or used in this period) modified their operations to adapt to their changed circumstances, particularly in terms of their internal operations and services and their adoption of the still nascent science and art of memetics.

Even prior to the Technocalypse, the sort of globalized ‘just in time’ supply chains that had dominated Earth for so many centuries had been deemed largely unworkable by interplanetary civilization, at least for any goods or services that couldn’t be transmitted as a template over a communications link. Simply due to the need for near total self-sufficiency, many of the Outer System communities of this period had been effectively ‘closed cycle economies’ in which nearly all goods and services for the local population were provided internally by that population. In a similar vein, many of the operations and services generally associated with governments were carried out by local officials or local associations, often on a volunteer basis. Central governments located hours of comm lag and weeks of travel away were simply not an option in most cases and largely unwanted even when they were.

As the corporate refugees of the remnant megacorps found their way into their far-flung enclaves, they often adopted a modified form of this local ethos, using the organizational structure and terminology of the past to shape their present and future. Local officials held corporate titles, local governments were organized around divisions, departments, teams and work groups, and so on. In this manner, the refugees both operated within a familiar framework and retained at least some memory of the glorious (to them) past they had left behind.

Besides developing new governments built on corporate terminologies and structures, many of the megacorp refugees began to experiment with the still relatively young science of memetics. Partly as a way to maintain social cohesion under difficult circumstances, partly to retain loyalty to a past that was increasingly distant, corporate memesets emphasized loyalty to the group, sacrifice for the sake of the community, and the idea that the idealized past could be regained through hard work and dedication to the corporate principles on which society was built.
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#22
Nice one!

The only thing that I came up reading this is that maybe the Great Expulsion could have made the fortune of any corporation dedicated to shipping (if they could retrofit their amat engine to fusion) and creating habitats (bubblehabs, hollowed-out asteroids, tunnels under the surface on the Moon, etc...), because the pressure from the refugee from Earth was probably maddening at that point.
I guess this could have been an easy option for AIs escaping the Earth volume: get their hands on an industrial base with a huge demand to satisfy.

Possibly some asteroids already had back-up copies of the AIs transfered there already at the start of the Technocalypse?


Obviously if they could revert to fabbrication methods not subscetible to spawn angry grey goo and operate safely  Rolleyes


As in RL war is often a shitshow for the masses but could be a fortune for a fews.
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#23
(01-03-2021, 01:05 PM)Drashner1 Wrote: Hope you like. Smile

I like! Big Grin Thanks for taking this on, I have a few minor comments but otherwise I think this is great.

(01-03-2021, 01:05 PM)Drashner1 Wrote: The 'megacorps' gained their name, not from the size of their assets

Suggest making this "not just from the size." In canon they're usually described as big and I think having them big in all aspects will cause less confusion for new readers.

(01-03-2021, 01:05 PM)Drashner1 Wrote: One of the most successful of these experiments was the development of the ‘micro-share.’ Sophonts could purchase partial shares of company stock at a proportionally reduced price and returning a proportionally reduced dividend.

I do like this idea and I think it's an interesting one. I'd suggest mixing the AI CEOs and micro-share ownership model together earlier in the text. The micro-share feature is what gets it to spread, the CEO AIs are what make them distinct IMO. I think both of those attributes are worth introducing earlier in the article before going into the details.

(01-03-2021, 01:05 PM)Drashner1 Wrote: In and of themselves these micro-shares counted for very little when compared against all the shares a company might offer. But over time even individuals of modest means could accumulate enough shares (and therefore dividends) to augment their regular income or even supplant it entirely without any need for further work on their part. More importantly, while the individual portfolio of any one micro-investor might be insignificant, the sheer number of such investors meant that the cumulative total of their portfolios - and therefore their voting power - could be quite large indeed. Groups of microinvestors - coordinated (some might say manipulated) via social media and specialized online voting and feedback systems began exercising more and more control over the direction, policies, and even day to day operations of the corporations they invested in. The spread of DNI and mental augmentation technologies only accelerated and expanded this process.

Minor suggestion but you could perhaps include a line of this model also being used in the public sector, but with citizen stakeholders. E.g. an AI supervisor of a habitat education sector with parents and students as the "shareholders." Just to hint at some other social changes that we could go into at a later date.

(01-03-2021, 01:05 PM)Drashner1 Wrote: While the number of megacorp employees was dropping, the number of shareholders (including shareholders living partly or entirely on dividend income) grew. DNI based voting, surveys and (on the other side) attempts to influence shareholders to vote for a particular direction for each company became ever more sophisticated and took up ever more time and attention for a subset of the shareholders. This led to two trends within the megacorp 'ecosystem'

I'd suggest mentioning something along the lines of governments/media of the time encouraging basic income to be invested in the increasing "automated market." Perhaps with a line like "critics at the time debated whether this was an effectual means of social mobility, a question that later historians would struggle over." Something like that to give us a bit more wiggle room and hint at the wider timeline implications.

(01-03-2021, 01:05 PM)Drashner1 Wrote: Shareholders voted in AI CEOs or even entire Boards of Directors to manage the day to day operations of the megacorp more efficiently and with less need of the shareholders attention.

I think the automation is really something that would set this apart. This is a time period that is transitioning towards post-scarcity. From their perspective a commonly owned automated market may be the model that takes them forward (too bad for the big T). That's a really unique idea that I've only seen in one published work (whose name I am forgetting but I'm sure it will come to me at a random time).

EDIT: Corporation Wars by Ken McCleod. A trilogy that features a post-scarcity world that operates with a free market of AI/Robotic companies all jointly owned by the public.

(01-03-2021, 01:05 PM)Drashner1 Wrote: While the majority of the megacorps were destroyed by the Technocalypse, and the majority of the survivors were in turn destroyed by the Great Expulsion, there were exceptions. Mostly among those companies based in the Outer System - or having major satellite offices there - and occasionally in the form of Inner System entities that a combination of foresight, planning, and sheer luck allowed to reach Luna, Mars, or the Belt sufficiently intact to operate in a form at least approximating their former organizational structure.

I'd suggest mentioning something like "Company habs." Some megacorps may have had private habitats for certain tiers of membership, and these may have survived if they were sophisticated enough (or conversely simple and robust enough).

That's all Smile I think the combined AI-CEO and widespread ownership are two very cool ways of going about this. Going further I have ideas for an economy run entirely like this, but I might fold that into an update I'm working on with Astronomer for a planet that has strong NoCoZo affiliation (the article in question treats the zone very much in our old canon style, and something like this could really help bring it to the modern interpretations).
OA Wish list:
  1. DNI
  2. Internal medical system
  3. A dormbot, because domestic chores suck!
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#24
Good stuff Todd. I will provide more feedback shortly.
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#25
Overall, I like it! I agree with Rynn’s comments above and here are a few additional ones...

1) I’m almost always a fan of proper nouns in EG articles so I think it’s a good idea if we sprinkle in some specific megacorps names, industries, dates, locations, etc.

2) Because this is such a murky topic in OA I think we need a good definition for megacorps at the start of the article. It should mention that what’s considered a megacorps and their function has changed over time but still defines the term and frames the article for the reader.

3) We should mention how the megacorps contributed to the general erosion of authority of earth based nation states during this period. 

4) A mention that skirmishes between the megacorps and with other groups in the outer system was not uncommon would be a nice touch.
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#26
After a three hour AGM today another thought occurs for something that could be mentioned; AI management could be designed with reward pathways that encourage actions that fulfil the megacorp’s mission statement. I think it would be worth mentioning (alongside any mention of fiduciary responsibility) to hint at how megacorps would grow into giant social institutions as well as financial ones.
OA Wish list:
  1. DNI
  2. Internal medical system
  3. A dormbot, because domestic chores suck!
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#27
Thanks for the feedback all - please feel free to post more as it will be at least a few days before I can jump on this again. At that time, I'll take a deeper dive into the feedback received and look to modify the current draft of this portion of the article (which is really just the earliest part of the history of the megacorps) in response. Will post a revised draft once I've got one hammered out.

Once this part of the article is complete/well along (and also as/when the muse strikes Tongue) I'll also start on the next section, which will likely get into the history of the megacorps in the Federation period - during which they are going to undergo some significant transformations.

I'm not entirely sure what I'm going to do with them for the large middle time period of the setting after the Federation, but before the Current Era, although some ideas are starting to stir. The goal is to not fall into the 'and then nothing much really changed for 5000 years' trap. I suspect there's going to be a certain amount of conflict.

Anyway - keep watching this space and keep the thoughts coming. Smile

Thanks!

Todd
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