Do you wonder sometimes if various worlds predicted by fiction writers could actually happen as predicted? Is the technology behind some of these writings good or bad?
George Orwell’s "1984," written in 1948, predicted a totalitarian world in which people underwent 24-hour surveillance. There were cameras everywhere, including in each person’s residence. Big Brother was always watching to make sure people complied with the society’s thought controls. No one could get away with anything because someone was always watching the cameras, ready to report any deviant behavior or attitude.
That book scared me because it seemed that a government entity could actually spy on people in that manner. The technology was fiction then, but is real now. There are cameras everywhere: speed enforcement cameras, theft prevention cameras, traffic cameras that are almost good enough to read license plates and satellite spy cameras than can read something as small as a license tag. There is even a security camera in the hall outside the door to my office.
William Gibson’s "Neuromancer," written in 1984 (really), in some ways was an update. In the world he creates, everything and everyone is connected by a global computer network. The main character is a computer hacker and he and others have a brain-computer interface. By the way, Gibson is the Boomer who coined the term cyberspace.
Worldwide interconnected computer systems are the norm today and the potential exists for every bit of personal information for every single person on the planet to be monitored, by companies, governments or anyone with computer skills. There are prosthetic limbs that can react to brain commands, sort of like a brain-computer interface.
What started me thinking about this? My wife’s Garmin.
GPS devices like Garmin, Tom Tom and OnStar have some amazing capabilities. The global positioning satellites they are connected to can plot a route from our house to a dog show, for example. If we miss a turn, a friendly voice calmly says, “re-calculating” and this plastic thing the size of two decks of cards plots a new course directing us back to our original route. The Garmin also remembers where home is and the locations of the last few dozen places we went. I learned last week that it can also tell us how fast we’re driving. In real time. As accurately as the speedometer.
OnStar, according to their commercials, knows when a car has been in an accident and an OnStar representative can have a live conversation with the driver to determine if medical attention is needed. The driver doesn’t initiate this conversation, an airbag deployment does. I wonder if that representative can listen in on other conversations in the car.
The good: these devices can save lives and keep us from getting lost.
The bad: these devices enable someone to monitor our every move, record every aspect of our daily lives and write us a speeding ticket.
In some ways, the world predicted by Orwell and Gibson has happened.
Does this scare you?
Should we trust and embrace the technology? In the right hands, it can take us on a path to a good life. In the wrong hands, it can take us down a dirt road to destruction.
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