2024 Could Look Like "1984", Microsoft's President Warns


Tom Hale

Senior Journalist

clockMay 27 2021, 12:50 UTC

Saint Petersburg, Russia - December 9, 2019: A surveillance system watches over a public space in Saint Petersburg. Image credit: Gilmanshin/

1984 might be just a few years away. Microsoft’s President has recently said that life in 2024 could look a lot like the oppressive dystopia depicted in George Orwell’s seemingly prophetic novel 1984 unless artificial intelligence (AI) is promptly regulated and controlled. 

A new BBC Panorama documentary has investigated how AI is revolutionizing our world, from breakthroughs in science to sinister means of control used by militaries and governments. 


The documentary goes on to describe how governments are starting to use AI as a means to police their population. Much of the focus is on surveillance technology in China – the country hopes to become the world leader of AI by 2030 – but many other governments around the world are already using AI for surveillance. In the US, for instance, AI facial recognition technology was weaponized by law enforcement to police the Black Lives Matter protests in 2020.

Many leading voices argue this sets a dangerous precedent. To fuel an AI-driven world, data is needed – your data, to be precise, on everything from your likes and dislikes to your current whereabouts. The world's most valuable resource is no longer oil, but data. Not only could this thirst for data see more infringements of privacy, but it's also uncertain how this data may be used to predict, influence, and control our behavior. The AI is also likely to pick up on our own social prejudices and assumptions that are implicitly expressed within the data, leading to problems with bias.

“I’m constantly reminded of George Orwell’s lessons in his book 1984,” Brad Smith, the president of Microsoft Corporation, concludes in the documentary. “The fundamental story… was about a government who 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. There are parts of the world where reality is, unfortunately, increasingly catching up with that view of science fiction,” he added. 


"If we don't enact the laws that protect the public, we're going to find the technology racing ahead and it's going to be very difficult to catch up." 

Microsoft’s president isn’t alone in his fears. Many other leading scientists and technologists have raised serious concerns about the rising dominance of AI and stressed that regulation of the technology is desperately needed. As AI becomes exponentially more intelligent and more widely used, it may soon come to reach a point where technological growth becomes uncontrollable and irreversible. Untempered, AI could rule supreme. 

“I am very close, to the cutting edge in AI and it scares the hell out of me,” Elon Musk said in 2018.

“Mark my words, AI is far more dangerous than nukes. Far. So why do we have no regulatory oversight?” he continued. 


“I am not normally an advocate of regulation and oversight – I think one should generally err on the side of minimizing those things — but this is a case where you have a very serious danger to the public,” Musk added.



Receive our biggest science stories to your inbox weekly!

  • tag
  • artificial intelligence,

  • data,

  • AI,

  • Microsoft,

  • surveillance