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Orwell’s Revenge

The 1984 Palimpsest

By Peter Huber
9-minute read
Audio available
Orwell’s Revenge: The 1984 Palimpsest by Peter Huber

In Orwell’s Revenge (1994), author Peter Huber used a computer program to write a response to George Orwell’s dystopian masterpiece, 1984, using Orwell’s own writings and ideas. In doing so, Huber has constructed a completely different narrative, showing that despite fears of a totalitarian future, technology and the free market have instead become a force for good.

  • People who fear modern technology and its influence
  • Fans of author George Orwell and his book, 1984
  • Readers taking part in Mark Zuckerberg’s book club, “A Year of Books”

Author Peter Huber is a partner at the law firm Kellogg, Huber, Hansen, Todd, Evans & Figel and a senior fellow at the conservative think tank, The Manhattan Institute for Policy Research.

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Orwell’s Revenge

The 1984 Palimpsest

By Peter Huber
  • Read in 9 minutes
  • Audio & text available
  • Contains 5 key ideas
Orwell’s Revenge: The 1984 Palimpsest by Peter Huber
Synopsis

In Orwell’s Revenge (1994), author Peter Huber used a computer program to write a response to George Orwell’s dystopian masterpiece, 1984, using Orwell’s own writings and ideas. In doing so, Huber has constructed a completely different narrative, showing that despite fears of a totalitarian future, technology and the free market have instead become a force for good.

Key idea 1 of 5

Despite George Orwell’s 1984 fears, machines and technology aren’t the enemies of humanity.

Big Brother is watching you. You’ve no doubt heard people use this phrase, but perhaps have wondered where it came from.

The specter of a future surveillance state, coldly crushing human liberties, was the brainchild of British author and journalist George Orwell and described in his novel, 1984. Orwell believed that the development of technology would be used as a tool to strengthen totalitarian regimes.

In his novel, Orwell imagined a mechanical device called the telescreen. A telescreen acts as both a television and a camera, allowing a government to feed propaganda to its citizens while keeping them under constant surveillance.

Orwell clearly wasn’t a fan of modern technology. He worried that the advent of advanced machines represented the end of personal freedoms, if not actually the end of humanity.

He felt that if machines became too advanced, we’d rely on technology too much, and essentially human intellect would erode. We would become less human, surrendering our thinking and spending all our time simply eating and sleeping.

Yet in reality, Orwell’s fears were unfounded for one simple reason – machines require humans to operate them.

It’s true that a machine will never be able to fully replace a person. In intelligence gathering, for instance, it’s the people on the ground who actually talk to suspects and apprehend wanted individuals, not machines crunching numbers in some far-off compound. A machine can’t build a trusting relationship, or draw out a confession or a confidence, for example.

And technology doesn’t automatically lead to totalitarianism, either. Consider the many encrypted or back-channel modes of communication online, methods that allow for the unfettered expression of ideas. Such technology doesn’t destroy freedom of thought, it instead encourages it!

Machines too aren’t indestructible. A network can always fail, which means that constant, unlimited surveillance simply isn’t something that is possible.

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