Technology vs risk – brave new world or 1984?

I have just returned from what was a highly interesting Society for Computers and Law 11th Annual Conference in Bath.

An 8.05am flight from Edinburgh Airport on Friday morning saw my contentious IP colleague Iain Rutherford and me arrive in Bath in time for morning registration. I had hoped for the chance to jump straight into the hotel spa, but instead we jumped straight into The Law!

This year’s conference sought to address the relationship between technology and legal risk, and while an in-depth summary of the topics, the speakers and their views might be in danger of breaching the Chatham House Rule, I think it’s safe to mention the excellent after-dinner speaker, John Naughton, Professor of the Public Understanding of Technology at the Open University.

Prof. Naughton discussed the dystopian accounts of technology forecasted in both Orwell’s 1984  and Huxley’s Brave New World, and concluded that we are in danger of being simultaneously “oppressed by the things we hate” (as predicted by Orwell) and “oppressed by the things we love” (as predicted by Huxley).

Prof. Naughton implored the attendees to think about using their influence in order to ensure that technology is adequately legally regulated in order to protect the freedom and privacy of individuals.  Reflections were admittedly hard to come by in the spa’s jacuzzi, but I think that the notion that freedom and privacy are in danger is an unsettling one.   

1984 is one of my favourite ever novels, and I have yet to encounter another book which has a scene more spine-tingling than when the painting falls off the wall to reveal the telescreen.  Let’s hope that ourselves, or generations to come, never actually experience anything like that.

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