Technology Advances: How Close Is Technology to George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four?

Is George Orwell's 1984 view of the world really possible? Image by colindunn

Is George Orwell’s 1984 view of the world really possible? Image by colindunn

George Orwell’s novel, Nineteen Eighty-Four was the idea behind the reality TV show Big Brother. The idea that the Government knows every move that you make is a scary prospect for many, even law-abiding citizens. So, is the technology used in the sinister classic novel a possibility in this day and age?

Nineteen Eighty-Four More Than Just CCTV

At first, when you consider the world of Nineteen Eighty-Four, you might think of CCTV and surveillance cameras, but the technology used in the novel is more than just that. While using cameras to monitor crime could be viewed as Big Brother in action, both the U.S. and the U.K use it with the intent to help protect the community. The technology used in George Orwell’s tale actually includes two-way television screens that allow for communication. The screens never explicitly had cameras installed in them as the modern-day technology does; the communication was through the screen itself!

This type of technology has not been developed yet, but it is worth commenting that when the novel was written in 1949, technology had not advanced to what we know today. There were no personal computers, or Internet, and the most significant type of electronic technology most houses had was a radio.  The screens described in George Orwell’s book must have been developed over time and would have gone through a process of upgrades, so it is likely that it all could have started from the video communication that we have right now.

Winston Smith’s Speakwrite

Winston Smith is the protagonist of the story and works as a copywriter for the London Times. His job is to make changes to history to suit the government’s needs, and he uses a ‘Speakwrite’ to help him with that. The device hears everything he says and then writes it down, word for word.

Today’s speech-to-text technology is getting closer to this, using a type of artificial intelligence called natural language processing. The downside of the software is that it needs to be trained to understand your voice, accent and dialect, and you still need to proofread everything it creates – although the software does become more proficient at transcribing your words over time. As with the telescreens described above, the technology Orwell imagined must have grown from somewhere, and today’s voice-to-text software is one step in the right direction.

Click to Read Page Two: Internet Scrubbing and Changing the Past

© Copyright 2013 Alexandria Ingham, All rights Reserved. Written For: Decoded Science
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  1. says

    I read the article where Hillary Clinton said that her favorite book was 1984–can’t remember which mag the interview was in. A few years back her quote could be found on the internet. It’s now gone all verifiable trace erased as though it never happened. At the time I said that she it liked as a how-to book. It’s about 20 years later, but apparently that’s what has happened as she gets ready to be President. And make no mistake, Hillary IS the next President of these ever increasingly Orwellian States!

  2. says

    Thanks Tel. I’m sorry I’m just seeing the comment now. I was born in 1986 so don’t remember the before technology but remember the earlier versions of computers. I lived in a house that didn’t have a personal computer until the very late 90s and still remember getting around with just the use of payphones instead of mobiles. It will be interesting to see where technology is in the next decade considering how much it has grown in the last one.

  3. says

    Insightful article. Thank you, Alex. For one who is familiar with
    Orwell’s book “1984” before the year 1984, you made me reflect on the
    book once again in terms of the present times. Your summation said it
    well, “… there is still a long way to go to reach the smart
    telescreens and
    the speakwrites from Orwell’s world. However, these technologies are
    possible. What Orwell and others envisioned as the technology of the
    future is, to some degree, the technology of today – even if it wasn’t
    the technology of 1984.” Rewinding time as early as the mid-1970s, Steve
    Jobs became our icon of the PCs, with the advent of the Apple I in
    1976, and the enhanced
    Apple II-e. Whilst Apple II or Macintosh is now ancient compared to the

    latest Apple innovations, back then, the design was considered super
    amazing. It was also during that time
    (1981), that IBM launched its personal computer. Science and technology
    will keep evolving… and it’s up to new
    generation of scientists – innovators and inventors to take on the
    footsteps of their predecessors. Perhaps a book, 2024?

    • says

      What long way off? I unplug my web cam because if Skype can turn itself on every time I boot, what’s to stop it from recording and possibly transmitting without my knowledge? The speakwrite in my new tablet and phone works amazingly well. And anybody with access can track my whereabouts through my phone and or GPS devices. And have you ever really looked at some of the permissions you expressly grant by downloading free apps like games and ringtones? Exactly why they need to access and monitor things like all phone activity, and prevent the device from sleep mode, I don’t get, or do I? Personally, I read that stuff and have subsequently decided that I don’t want these apps as a result, but my 20 something year old kids have never even looked at these permissions. And there is the rub! They are completely conditioned to press/click “Submit” and “Allow” without giving a thought to what they are agreeing to in terms and conditions.

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