By Ian Burrell
The power of computing, and the thrill of its apparently infinite possibilities, has also long been a source of fear.
Going into a San Francisco second-hand book shop, shortly before a visit to Google’s headquarters in California, I happened upon a copy of Dick Tracy, an old novel based on Chester Gould’s cartoon strip starring America’s favourite detective.
For a 1970 publication, the plot seemed remarkably topical. Dick, and his sidekick Sam Catchem, find themselves battling a sinister character known as “Mr Computer” who wants to control the world. His strange powers enable him to remember everything he hears or sees and recall it instantly. This is a bad guy who can store data, analyse voice patterns and read private thoughts.
My visit to the legendary “Googleplex” at Mountain View comes at an awkward time for the company. Edward Snowden’s revelations about the snooping of the US Government’s National Security Agency (NSA) in its clandestine electronic-surveillance programme PRISM have provoked a crisis of trust in Silicon Valley. Larry Page, Google co-founder and CEO, rushed out a blog to deny claims in leaked NSA documents that it – in parallel with other American internet giants – had been co-operating with the spying programme since 2009. “Any suggestion that Google is disclosing information about our users’ internet activity on such a scale is completely false,” he said.