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How The Technologies Depicted in Orwell's 1984 Can Be Compared to Today

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Our world is an ever-changing game of technological advances that are said to improve our everyday lives and personal security. In 1984, George Orwell warns his readers of the future advancements in technologies, through a captivating story of the inevitable future of the power that the cyber world possesses. We are heading in a direction where levitating cars and babies that grow in artificial wombs are in the near future. Another phenomenon that could have only been dreamt of fifty years ago is facial recognition devices. Magnificently, although George Orwell wrote the book 1984 in the year 1949, his knowledge of future technology is truly mind-blowing. 

In his book, Orwell wrote about a totalitarian run society that uses technology to keep track of their occupants. Orwell’s novel explores the idea of Big Brother and the concept of technology that is always watching every citizen’s every move. The main protagonist in the book, Winston, says that there’s “always eyes watching you and the voice enveloping you. Asleep or awake, indoors or out of doors, in the bath or bed- no escape. Nothing was your own except the few cubic centimeters in your skull”. Throughout the book, Big Brother can be seen as a “protector” of the people. They keep the population in line by watching the civilians through hidden cameras and microphones when they are awake and even when they’re dreaming. Big brother even has control of the mind. In the novel, thoughts are controlled by the ministry of truth. The ministry of truth provides media through the education of the people to make them believe very specific events that are one-sided and not always truthful, to begin with. As a totalitarian government, they believe that “war is peace, freedom is slavery, ignorance is strength” which is a perfect example of how Big Brother brainwashes the people. 

Facial recognition devices recognize the precise facial features of individuals. According to the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), “Some face recognition systems, instead of positively identifying an unknown person, are designed to calculate a probability match score between the unknown person and specific face templates stored in the database.” This feature became available to the general public in late November of 2017 with the release of the iPhone X. The phone has the remarkable capability to unlock the home screen, apps, and even bank accounts with just a look at the screen. With these new features, our society cannot rest easy. There have been many reports of cases where the iPhone unlocks for non-owners. With all new devices comes great risk. Due to the twenty-first century advances of facial recognition, the technology “when used ethically and accurately, for instance, can increase public safety. However, there are also serious risks, including the potential for data misuse, improved techniques for scammers and a loss of privacy”. As tested out by the famous identical twins, Ethan and Grayson Dolan, most of these facial recognition devices have trouble distinguishing people with very similar facial structures. With just one glance at the camera, the pair were able to access all of the personal information on the other twin’s phone. This brings up the crucial problem of a quite literal identity theft. With these products selling out left and right, there is still no warning label about the possibility of a stranger with similar facial features hacking another person’s bank account. 

In our world today, it is truly fascinating to compare Orwell’s 1984 to the technology we now possess. As it was written in the novel, the people of Oceania, Winston’s home, Big Brother watched the people using telescreens. These devices were large television screens that screened government approved entertainment. These screens not only served for entertainment purposes, but they were also used as a two-way monitor so the government could watch and listen to the citizens every thought and action. As recognized by CNN, our world today also uses forms of this technology today. With sites like Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat “governments and private individuals hack into our computers and find out what they want to know. Then there are the ever-present surveillance cameras that spy on the average person as they go about their daily routine” (CNN). The concept of Big Brother brings chills down the spines of many because the process of internet hacking is close to child’s play. In 1984, a conversation between Winston and his coworker, O’Brien, occurs where Winston asks O’Brien’s opinion about Big Brother being real, to which O’Brien unhesitantly confirms. Winston then asks the question “does he exist like you or me?”, where O’Brien answers with “You do not exist”. The conversation between O’Brien and Winston brings up another risk that comes with Big Brother where it allows the deprivation of an individual and belittles them. 

With the knowledge that we have now of people watching through the cameras of our phones and computers, the idea not only becoming frightening but incredibly believable after reading Orwell’s novel. With the popularity of facial recognition on the rise, should Americans be ecstatic about the possibility of using facial recognition to make their personal information “more secure”, or horrified of the idea of a doppelganger stealing their life savings? As predicted by Orwell, Big Brother is on the move and not slowing down anytime soon. Our technology is quickly advancing and changing every single day. With hackers and scammers lurking, today’s generation needs to be aware of the risks that are present in technology. If Orwell that the capability to predict the future in his novel 1984, how much further can the technology really advance until it will outsmart the human race altogether?      

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