(OPINION) ETH – Life as depicted in George Orwell’s 1984 “could come to pass in 2024” if lawmakers don’t protect the public against artificial intelligence, Microsoft’s president has warned. Speaking to BBC’s Panorama, Brad Smith said it will be “difficult to catch up” with the rapidly advancing technology.

The program explores China’s increasing use of AI to monitor its citizens. Critics fear the state’s dominance in the area could threaten democracy. “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,” Mr. Smith said.

“I’m constantly reminded of George Orwell’s lessons in his book 1984. You know the fundamental story…was about a government that could see everything that everyone did and hear everything that everyone said all the time. “Well, that didn’t come to pass in 1984, but if we’re not careful that could come to pass in 2024.”


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In certain parts of the world, the reality is increasingly catching up with that view of science fiction, he added. China’s ambition is to become the world leader in AI by 2030, and many consider its capabilities to be far beyond the EU. In 2019, China beat the US at the number of patents secured by academic institutions for innovation in AI technologies.

54% of the world’s 770 million CCTV cameras are in China, according to research by Comparitech. Eric Schmidt, former Google chief executive who is now chair of the US National Security Commission on Artificial Intelligence, has warned that beating China in AI is imperative. READ MORE

BBC World News is the BBC’s international news and current affairs television channel. It has the largest audience of any channel, with an estimated 99 million viewers weekly in 2015/16, part of the estimated 265 million users of the BBC’s four main international news services