The Importance of Secrets: Lessons from History

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Isle of Jura, 1947. On a remote Scottish island in the Hebrides, journalist Eric Arthur Blair types away at his soon-to-be masterpiece. More than one third of the manuscript is done. Most of his ideas came because of taking the offer to write in this remote cottage retreat. This holiday was also the one that would kill the famous author more known under his nom de plume, George Orwell. He would contract tuberculosis, and never really recover. But if it were not for the isolation of this far-away place, it is likely that Nineteen Eighty-Four would never have been written.

 “Each generation imagines itself to be more intelligent than the one that went before it, and wiser than the one that comes after it.“ - George Orwell (Image: AP)


“Each generation imagines itself to be more intelligent than the one that went before it, and wiser than the one that comes after it.“ – George Orwell (Image: AP)

After his breakout success with Animal Farm, a clever satire of contemporary political systems, a much bigger problem appeared on the horizon. Inspired by the technological race of the Second World War, and the use thereof in certain systems to undermine and influence the individual, Orwell created a world that uses technology, media, and neuroscience to influence thoughts and destroy language. Through language and data they control the future, and the past. The protagonist in 1984 cannot hide from the ever-present telescreens. He only has his thoughts, his views. Secrets are valuable in Oceania, so much so that the even the state manufactures them, either to rot out the few rebels or to give people a semblance of individuality in a surveillance state. If the newspapers from the past are destroyed, there is no proof that “we have always been at war with Eurasia” (or Eastasia). If the newspapers are not shredded though, then we have a piece of data that contradicts the party line.

There have been quite a few examples of this phenomenon in the recent past, but we at Krypterix want to stress that secrets can be global, or personal. They are the freedom of keeping our views, our valuable data, our reality, the way we want it, in a world of rampant surveillance. You can only trust yourself – therefore, you can only trust your data.

Orwell’s book is a blatant warning that we need to stay vigilant, that the world of 2015 is not that much different to the world of 1948 when the book was published, nor to the ideas presented in 1984.

 

1982 --- Harrison Ford on the set of "Blade Runner", directed by Ridley Scott. --- Image by © Sunset Boulevard/Corbis

1982 — Harrison Ford as Deckard on the set of “Blade Runner”, directed by Ridley Scott, with a Turing Test machine  to test for differences between humans and AI— Image by © Sunset Boulevard/Corbis

 

London, 1952. A man named Alan Turing pleads guilty to Gross Indecency under Section 11 of the Criminal Law Amendment Act 1885, meaning the crime of having a same-sex relationship. He is given a choice of spending time in prison or undergoing a hormonal treatment under probation. His promising career in cryptography and AI is effectively ruined, and the treatment heavily affects his body. He commits suicide two years later by eating an apple with a cyanide pill.

Alan Turing was one of the most Talented codebreakers of the WW2 era. Cracking the encryption of the Germans’ Enigma machines is said to have significantly shortened the war. The Turing Test is still a staple of AI fiction and reality.
This great mathematical mind invested all of his energy into revealing an international secret.  Interestingly, it was a personal secret that ruined him.

 

“Sometimes it is the people no one can imagine anything of who do the things no one can imagine.” Alan Turing on [right] and colleagues (Science & Society Picture Library/Getty Images)

“Sometimes it is the people no one can imagine anything of who do the things no one can imagine.” Alan Turing [on the right] and colleagues (Science & Society Picture Library)

A celebrated genius, a great man, given an official British Royal Pardon in 2013 and immortalized in a major motion picture in 2015, who met a sad fate due to an unrelated part of his life, and the laws of the time he lived in.

Keeping secrets is very important, one of the salient reasons being the ever-changing landscape of culture and, as a consequence, laws. The legality of homosexuality is a good example because nowadays it is widely accepted in the western world, and putting someone in jail because of it sounds, frankly, ridiculous. Yet, in the not so recent past, it was actually a crime to have a homosexual relationship. Alan Turing was not the only historical figure to be affected by this. Another notorious historical personality, Lucien Carr, the central figure of the Beat Generation, that laid the foundation of the later counterculture movement, did not spend the rest of his life in jail only because in New York at that time, it was not a crime to kill a homosexual in defence (of his advancements).

Alan Turing’s life was destroyed because he could not keep his secret.
Lucien Carr’s life, and the life of the Beat Counterculture, in contrast, was saved.
Sometimes, it is good to reveal a secret and sometimes, it is not.

People need to have the ability to decide when to do it.
It is our mission at Krypterix to give you the right tools for the job.

Here’s how you can take care of your data, with your own personal datavault.