If you’re not concerned about threats to your privacy, it’s likely that you’re not paying attention. If you’re online, your privacy has been compromised, and even if you’re not, simply using a credit card or a cell phone is enough to allow advertisers to reach you through logarithms written to sift data. It’s a short step from there to facial recognition software — part of an unholy alliance between artificial intelligence and networked security cameras — that tracks protesters in Hong Kong and airline passengers in the United States.
Naturally, this is a fertile field for fiction. Here’s a primer:
By George Orwell
The best-known book to predict the coming all-seeing bureaucratic eye, it gave us the term “big brother.” Weighed down by earnest high school discussions, it’s worth a second read. Also see the film “Brazil” by Monty Python’s Terry Gilliam for the best visual take on the story.
By Cory Doctorow
A Canadian-born Brit, Doctorow writes passionate fiction and nonfiction (“Information Doesn’t Want to Be Free”) about the dangers of allowing too much oversight into private lives. “Little Brother” is the story of a teenage hacker caught up as a Homeland Security suspect. Perhaps because of his international background, Doctorow is more critical than most of potential abuse by American security services.
By William Gibson
Another Canadian, Gibson created the term “cyberspace” at about the time Ridley Scott was making “Blade Runner,” and it kicked off the cyberpunk genre, where technology infiltrates and twists our everyday reality. Part one of a trilogy, many of its predictions have come true in a broad sense, to the point that people forget that he was guessing at technological changes when he was writing it in 1983. In his book of essays, “Distrust That Particular Flavor,” Gibson recounts discussing with young fans what message he had intended by not including ubiquitous cell phones in his near-future world. The simple answer was that he didn’t see them coming.
By M.T. Anderson
Most of the sci-fi world Anderson creates will not come true. His vision involves window-dressing like teens in rocket cars zipping off for a visit to the moon, for instance. But the “feed” from the title is from an implant in the brain of children that for their entire lives suggests where to go, what to do, and what to think. And that feels far too close to possible to dismiss as mere fantasy.
Data & Goliath: The Hidden Battles to Collect Your Data and Control Your World
By Bruce Schneier
A nonfiction title and a book both frightening and compelling. Schneier lays out exactly how government and big business can use data trails to identify individuals, whether that’s a home pot grower or a person with a given ailment who might be part of the target market for a new drug.
Randal Smathers is director at Rutland Free Library, where all these titles can be found, and where the record of everything you borrow is deleted when it is returned, unless you choose otherwise. www.rutlandfree.org.