Imagine a world where most of its population is in perpetual war as well as subject to omnipresent government surveillance and propaganda.
This is the world described by the English writer George Orwell in his novel 1984 and evoked by Georgia Tech Professor Seymour E. Goodman, during his talk at the Kiwanis Club of Atlanta downtown Feb. 5.
At Georgia Tech, Dr. Goodman covers a range of disciplines including international affairs and computing, history and is co-director of the Center for International Strategy, Technology and Policy.
Of course, it has been assumed that the dystopian set of affairs described by Mr. Orwell reflects the Soviet Union during the brutal regime of Joseph Stalin.
But as far back as 1984, in real time, Dr. Goodman suggested at a conference of scholars from the leading Russian-focused institutions at the time, Columbia and Harvard universities, that the United States may have been closer to Mr. Orwell’s vision of the future than the Soviet Union
You can check this reference on the Internet in a New York Times magazine article appearing Oct. 28, 1984, by Leslie Gelb, the then Washington-based New York Times national security correspondent, who refers to Dr. Goodman’s views on the failure of the Soviet Union to integrate computers into the fabric of Soviet society.
In a scintillating 30-minute address, Dr. Goodman outlined the technological progress and its implications since real-time 1984 to today for digital storage capacity, computing platforms and the ability of photoshop to capture and distort images.
These capabilities, he said, go “far beyond Big Brother governments and would have been hard to imagine even in 1984 (real-time).”
He quickly sketched the route traveled by these technologies over the past 35 years from megabytes to petabytes. “Digital storage is close to being infinite,” he said.
Computer platforms have evolved from the Cray computers, which individually filled a room, to the cell phone, which can be carried in a pocket and held in one hand. Cell phones are no longer just phones, he acknowledged, with their photo, global positioning and recording capabilities.
The evolution of bandwidth is equally astounding, he said. “Every imaginable image, sound or signal on the electric spectrum can be digitized.”
All businesses, governments (even those of the most “cockamamy dictators”) and their agencies have adopted these technologies for their specific uses,” he added. Their efforts are facilitated by Google search engines, which “miraculously produce everything that you are looking for.”
The end result is that each person is providing data that is being digitized and stored for ever, he underscored.
“You will have a presence in cyberspace that’s more extensive than you know.,” he told the Kiwanians. “It will outlive you and is more complete than you think or that you even know yourself.”
“Each of you is a victim or a beneficiary. There is no place to hide.”
Before abruptly ending his address to honor the allotted time, he asked rhetorically, “Is it okay?”
And he answered wryly, “If you have nothing to hide.”