Steinbeck the Spy / Big Data & the Future

Hosted byGeorge Noory

Steinbeck the Spy / Big Data & the Future

About the show

In the first half of the program, author Brian Kannard detailed his research into the life of John Steinbeck and how that investigation revealed that the famed writer may have secretly worked as a spy for the CIA. Kannard recalled that, while studying Steinbeck's interest in Arthurian legend and Holy Grail lore, he serendipitously discovered that the author had secretly worked for the OSS during World War II. Although Steinbeck was allegedly a war correspondent during the conflict, Kannard revealed that the author was also part of a "prototype SEAL unit" called the Beach Jumpers. Following the war, when the CIA was in its infancy, Kannard said, they turned to patriotic celebrities, such as Steinbeck, who could gain access to areas and information abroad that "the average tourist wouldn't have."

Although Steinbeck was considered extremely liberal and possibly a communist, Kannard observed that the author, unlike his contemporaries in the arts, was never called before the House Committee on Un-American Activities. Citing a letter written by Steinbeck where the author expressed certainty that he would never be called to testify, Kannard surmised that this confidence was due to protection afforded to him via his work with the CIA. Based on his research, Kannard theorized that Steinbeck worked for the CIA at least until 1964, when he visited the Soviet Union, and possibly even later when the author traveled to Vietnam "at the behest of Lyndon Johnson." Interestingly, while much of Kannard's work is informed by FOIA documents, he noted that the FBI destroyed numerous files concerning Steinbeck, which suggests that the government wanted to conceal something about the author's past.


In the latter half, director of communications for the World Future Society, Patrick Tucker, discussed the profound changes coming our way from technology and big data. He described himself as "cautiously bullish" about technology and the future, expressing excitement that humanity seems to be improving in its ability to both talk about and predict what may be ahead for us. Tucker mused that while humans spend 70% of our time looking ahead to the future, we only seem to be able to predict small scale events and not larger trends. This, he said, will change as technology improves. "Because of the enormous amounts of data that we're creating," he marveled, "we'll be able to understand those futures in ways that are much more accurate than ever before in history."

Due to the prevalence of technology in everyday life, Tucker said, people inadvertently generate a massive amount of unseen data about themselves that is shared amongst computers. Using the example of a cell phone knowing your precise location as soon as you turn it on and then gleaning more information about you as it is used, he explained that "this is your meta data and it speaks volumes about you." While the accumulation of such personal information may seem unsettling, Tucker argued that, rather than fruitlessly attempt to minimize the data we create, people will eventually learn to harness it as a means of discerning what the future may hold. Over the course of his appearance, Tucker also talked about Bitcoin, robots, and the future of privacy in this technology-rich world.

News segment guests: Catherine Austin Fitts & Dr. John McDougall

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