Microsoft CEO: 'It's up to us to help stop dystopian nightmare of Orwell's 1984'

Microsoft’s Satya Nadella references Orwell's seminal work in his latest keynote speechJustin Sullivan/Getty Images

You could blame Edward Snowden, you could blame WikiLeaks, or you could even blame Donald Trump – but it's undeniable that privacy, security and surveillance are topics that every major technology firm needs to address these days.

Microsoft's Satya Nadella knows this. During a speech at the firm's Build event this week (May 10), the CEO made numerous attempts to reassure the audience that the company's products and software algorithms are not trying to usher in the "Big Brother" era.

"I do believe that it is up to us to ensure that some of the more dystopian scenarios don't come true," he said, adding: "To me, the choices we as developers make, are going to have pretty profound implications."

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Although not mentioned, Microsoft's software has in the past been slammed by some researchers over data collection and privacy concerns.

He continued: "I am an unrepentant tech optimist, there's no question of that, but also I am grounded that there are unintended consequences of technology.

"If you think about it, what Orwell prophesised in 1984, where technology was being used to monitor, control and dictate, or what Huxley imagined we may do – distracting ourselves without any meaning or purpose – neither of these futures is something we want."

The CEO revealed that Windows 10, the firm's operating system, now has 500 million active monthly active users, while its AI voice assistant "Cortana" boasts 140 million users every month. He claimed building faith in such technology is more vital than ever before.

"As the world becomes more technology-driven, building trust [...] is crucial," Nadella noted. "I think it starts with us taking accountability for the algorithms we create, the experiences we create and ensuring that there is more trust in technology with each day," he added.

In 2015, the EDRi European digital rights groups slammed Microsoft's privacy policies following the release of Windows 10.

"One can say that Microsoft basically grants itself very broad rights to collect everything you do, say and write with and on your devices in order to sell more targeted advertising or to sell your data to third parties," it said in a statement at the time.

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In February 2017, Reuters reported that the European Union's data protection watchdog still had significant concerns about Microsoft's privacy policies. "Microsoft should clearly explain what kinds of personal data are processed for what purposes," the group urged at the time.

Later, Microsoft pledged: "Regardless of your data collection choices, we will not use the contents of your email, chat, files, or pictures to target ads to you." Last month, it launched a new dashboard that aimed to give users the ability to control more privacy settings.

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