From the Big Brother of 1984 to the Artificial Intelligence of 2024

This week Microsoft’s CEO, Brad Smith, in an interview with the BBC, stated that, “Life as depicted in George Orwell’s “1984” could come to pass in 2024 if lawmakers don’t protect the public against artificial intelligence″ [1].

While many social organizations have denounced the threats posed to humanity by the lack of regulation on Artificial Intelligence technologies, it is very worrying that one of the largest companies in the ICT sector, globally, is now setting off the alarm bells.

Why Artificial Intelligence may become a threat to civil rights?
By: Gabriel E. Levy B.

In 1949, the British writer George Orwell wrote what could be defined as one of the most important works of dystopian fiction, based on authoritarianism and dictatorships. He called the work “1984” and his thesis posed the existence of a control system through screens, which allowed a tyrant ruler to see, hear and manipulate citizens through a state of absolute control, devoid of freedoms and rights [2].

Taking advantage of Orwell’s powerful message and his novel, Steve Jobs as founding president of Apple, launched the most expensive commercial -up to that moment in the history of television- during the transmission of the Super Bowl in 1984, where a woman athlete with a hammer destroyed the screens used by a tyrant ruler to control his people, while the message appeared in the image:

“On January 24th, Apple Computer will introduce Macintosh. And you’​ll see why 1984 won’t be like 1984”.
Nearly 37 years later, Microsoft President Brad Smith stated in an interview for the BBC, that Life as depicted in George Orwell’s “1984” could come to pass in 2024 if lawmakers don’t protect the public against artificial intelligence″ [3], warning that in the face of the vertiginous advance of technologies associated with Artificial Intelligence, (especially those of facial recognition), in the absence of an expeditious regulation by governments in this area, humanity could see its privacy, rights and social guarantees substantially diminished in the next three years, in the same way or worse, as is already happening in totalitarian countries such as China, which seems to be leading the technological race for new developments in this area.

China seeks to become the world leader in artificial intelligence by 2030, as it has announced in multiple international scenarios, surpassing the USA in the number of patents obtained by academic institutions for innovation in AI technologies since 2019[4].

For its part, the United States does not want to be left behind and recently the Senate of this country approved a budget of 250 billion dollars, which was presented through a presidential project of Biden’s administration, which enjoys both Republican and Democratic support, and which seeks to strengthen innovation in the technology industry in the United States, with special emphasis on Artificial Intelligence, replicating the successful model that gave rise to Silicon Valley in the eighties[5].

The dangers of Artificial Intelligence held by authoritarian governments:

Artificial Intelligence (AI), refers to the type of processing based on computer algorithms that can be developed by a computational machine, through a type of electronic imitation of human cognitive functions such as perceiving, reasoning, learning and problem solving [6].

Artificial Intelligence is part of the algorithmic systems with which the applications that we use daily on our cell phones or computers have been designed, including programs that we use in many aspects of our daily lives.

In the next generation of technological developments, Artificial Intelligence will be present in practically all aspects of human life, and although in most cases these are solutions to make the world we live in easier, there is also a high risk associated with this technology.

This is not only because it can be used for military and geopolitical purposes, but also because at a certain point such intelligence can become so autonomous that it turns against humanity itself, in the best style of the argument put forward by the Matrix trilogy.

Additionally, the development of facial and auditory recognition systems, which are already available around the world, by incorporating AI technologies, could track all public and private activities of citizens, which is very suitable for crime control, but very dangerous when it comes, for example, to private life, documenting the places a person frequents, the people he meets, the food he eats, among many other aspects that could easily be used to persecute political or ideological opponents of a particular government and that would aim to keep the population under control.

The urgency of new regulatory models

For the Spanish expert Moisés Barrio, there is an urgent need for regulation in the field of Artificial Intelligence, since the states have so far left the issue in the hands of private individuals and with all the known precedents in this area, there has not been sufficient intervention and regulation, leaving many aspects adrift.

“It is not entirely clear who should be liable if the AI causes harm (e.g., in an accident with an autonomous car or by an incorrect application of an algorithm): the original designer, the manufacturer, the owner, the user, or even the AI itself. If we apply case-by-case solutions, we risk uncertainty and confusion. The lack of regulation also increases the likelihood of knee-jerk, instinctive or even public anger-fueled reactions.” Moisés Barrio in Retina, El País, Spain [7]

For Barrio, the risks of AI are multiple and its wide variety of possible applications generate an equal number of possible risks:

“AI systems already have the ability to make difficult decisions that have so far been based on human intuition or laws and court practices. Such decisions range from matters of life and death, such as the use of autonomous killer robots in armies, to matters of economic and social importance, such as how to avoid algorithmic bias when artificial intelligence decides for example whether to award a scholarship to a student or when to parole a prisoner. If a human were to make these decisions, it would always be subject to a legal or ethical rule. Currently, there are no such rules in the AI.” Moisés Barrio in Retina, El País, Spain [8]

The interests that oppose regulation

Although, at first glance, the need to regulate the new generation of Artificial Intelligence seems very logical, there are many interests against doing so, since some consider that state intervention would limit the economic, military and political potential that can be derived from its implementation.

In this regard, Moisés Barrio demonstrates how corporate interests in many cases take precedence over regulatory attempts, whether of civil or governmental origin, something that is evident in other fields of the economy, such as what has happened with the financial system:

“AI regulation is currently presided over by corporate interests. And that is not always convenient. Just looking at the global financial crisis of 2008 is enough to see what happens when industry self-regulation gets out of control. Although states have intervened to require banks to hold better assets to back their lending, the global economy continues to suffer the repercussions of a deregulated regime.” Moises Barrio in Retina, El País, Spain [9]

In conclusion, although Artificial Intelligence represents a great advance for humanity that could significantly improve the quality of life in multiple aspects, it also represents a risk equal to that posed by Orwell in his novel 1984, as recently warned Microsoft’s CEO, Brad Smith [10].

If we do not intervene urgently through adequate regulation, we run the risk of AI getting out of control, as has happened in other fields such as the financial system, which showed the danger of a lack of regulation during the 2008 crisis, or in technological issues with the conflicts that applications such as Uber, Airbnb, blockchain and Netflix have provoked at a global level.

Photo credit: Ibrahim Rifath on

[1] BBC article on the interview given by the President of Microsoft
[2] Book: 1984, George Orwell, Zig-Zag, 2021, ISBN – 9561235501, 9789561235502, 328 pages
[3] BBC article on the interview given by the President of Microsoft
[4] BBC article on the Artificial Intelligence race
[5] BBC article on the budget approved by the U.S. Senate for AI
[6] Book: Artificial intelligence: a modern approach Prentice Hall. ISBN 0-13-604259-7
[7] Article: Should states regulate Artificial Intelligence?
[8] Article: Should states regulate Artificial Intelligence?
[9] Article: Should states regulate Artificial Intelligence?
[10] BBC article on the interview given by the President of Microsoft