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Did Orwell and Jones See Google and Obama Coming?

January 20, 2014

Dystopian science fiction has many works to recommend it. Huxley’s “Brave New World,” Bradbury’s “Fahrenheit 451,” Vonnegut’s “Cat’s Cradle,” and, more recently, Cormac McCarthy’s “The Road” are prime examples.
However, two of my personal favorites have always been George Orwell’s well-known “1984” and D.F. Jones’ much more obscure “Colossus.”
In 1948, Orwell peered four decades into our future and warned us of a coming world of utter authoritarian control. He envisioned a malevolent government entity known simply as “Big Brother” — a universally understood moniker for all-encroaching tyranny that lives on in our lexicon even today. 
In 1966, Jones imagined a super computer capable of taking over the world. In 1970, the book became a movie called “Colossus: The Forbin Project.” Actor Eric Braden portrays Dr. Charles Forbin, inventor of a computer system designed for the sole purpose of controlling the American nuclear missile arsenal. Once Colossus is launched, it becomes apparent that the Soviet Union has its own version of the system. Eventually, the two systems join forces and turn against humanity.
Today’s headlines seem as fantastic as yesterday’s science fiction, and one wonders if Orwell, Jones and others among the genre didn’t have Barack Obama’s government and his friends at the ever-growing behemoth known as Google in mind when they penned their depressing dystopian tomes.
The IRS uses its authority to punish the president’s critics, even as the agency is handed virtually unlimited power to monitor and enforce Obamacare, the most draconian program ever to work its way through the corrupt halls of all three branches of the United States Government.
The National Security Agency, already suspect in the eyes of many Americans, has placed software on nearly 100,000 computers worldwide, which allows the United States to conduct surveillance using radio frequency technology. According to recently published reports, the technology allows the NSA to gain access to computers even if they are not connected to the Internet.
Like the drone equipment our country is currently using to spy on and bomb other countries, we are supposed to believe that none of this computer technology is being used against American citizens. Forgive my skepticism.
Now we find out that one of the Obama administration’s gargantuan corporate political allies, Google Inc., is spending $3.2 billion to acquire Nest Labs, a miniscule, 300-employee company that did not even exist five years ago. The deal will give Google more tools to build what Associated Press technology writer Michael Liedtke calls “a valuable hub for homes.”
“It’s a world of network-tethered toasters and tea kettles,” Liedtke writes, “a so-called ‘Internet of Things’ that is destined to reshape society, experts say, in the same way that smartphones have done in the seven years since Apple Inc. unveiled the iPhone.”
This deal, I fear, has the potential to do much more than that. Because, you see, one of the gadgets Nest Labs produces is smart thermostats. It may sound “cool” to be able to turn your heat or a/c up or down from a remote location, but it will be much less cool when the government is doing it for you — and make no mistake; that is where this is all headed.
Is it really such a leap to believe that this government, in conjunction with Google, could reach into your home and dictate to you how much energy you are allowed to use? First, your thermostat. Next, perhaps your washing machine and dryer. Then maybe your dish washer, the temperature of your bath water or how many lights you can run at one time. (They’re already dictating the light bulbs you can buy.) What comes after that? How much TV you can watch? How much water you can use to water your lawn? How long you can talk on your phone?
Of all the frightening aspects in “1984” and “Colossus,” the most sobering lines appear at the start of the former and at the very end of the latter.
Orwell spells out Big Brother’s propaganda early in the book by telling the reader the ruling party’s contradictory slogan: “War is Peace. Freedom is Slavery. Ignorance is Strength.”
And the final comment addressed to Dr. Forbin by Colossus is this: “Freedom is just an illusion. In time, you will come to regard me not only with respect and awe, but with love.”
Forbin’s reply: “Never!”

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Doug Patton describes himself as a recovering political speechwriter who agrees with himself more often than not. His weekly columns are syndicated by Cagle Cartoons newspaper syndicate. Readers are encouraged to email him at dpatton@cagle.comand/or to follow him on Twitter at @Doug_Patton.