The acceleration of artificial intelligence technology could lead to a reality that looks very much like George Orwell's "1984," a top Microsoft executive warned Thursday.
"I’m constantly reminded of George Orwell’s lessons in his book '1984.' You know the fundamental story … was about a government who could see everything that everyone did and hear everything that everyone said all the time," Smith said on a BBC program exploring China's use of AI to monitor its citizens.
“Well, that didn’t come to pass in 1984, but if we’re not careful that could come to pass in 2024," Smith continued. “If we don’t enact the laws that will protect the public in the future, we are going to find the technology racing ahead, and it’s going to be very difficult to catch up."
Orwell's famous novel is credited with coining the terms "Orwellian" and "Big Brother" to describe totalitarian surveillance methods and those who use them.
China, whose record on privacy and surveillance of its citizens is considered among the worst in the world, reportedly intends to be the global leader on AI by the end of the decade.
According to research by Comparitech cited by the BBC, China contains more than half of the world's 770 million closed-circuit TV cameras.
U.S. companies are also facing criticism from human rights and privacy experts about how their products could be used by governments or even private entities to spy on citizens or track their movement, either in person or online.
An investigation published in 2018 by The Associated Press found that Google Maps continued to track users' locations even after they turned off an option to store their location history in the app, prompting lawmakers to call for reforms.
In late 2020, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) requested information from a number of major tech platforms including YouTube, Facebook and Discord regarding their ad targeting and data collection practices.