"As an expert on reading faces," murmured my American visitor - presumably referring to my craft of sketching caricatures - "how would you like to be a partner in a business that maps the human face?"

"As an aid for producing better cartoons?" I replied dumbly.

"I'm talking software," he drawled. "Computer software that can read subtle muscular changes in facial expressions, detecting emotions such as fear, sadness, guilt or disgust."

"What's the point?" I responded, thinking that over the years I'd done my fair share of analysing muscular changes in human faces - particularly from the opposite sex - and didn't need a computer program to tell me when I was eyeballing annoyance or disgust.

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"Think security surveillance," he suggested, staring at me with the sort of stern gaze that suggested frivolous comment was uncalled for.

"You must understand we all reveal our private emotions with fleeting facial expressions.

"Now the secrets have been cracked wide open by algorithm programs that can read muscular changes across faces in milliseconds.

"Imagine," he continued, "when face coding technology is combined with programs that have complementary ways of recognising emotion in speech, we'll really be able to fully analyse what everybody is thinking."

"It all sounds distinctly Orwellian," I muttered feebly.

"Orwellian ... what the hell's that?" responded my American computer expert, his expression suggesting mild bewilderment.

"Eric Blair," I explained. "Wrote under the pen name George Orwell. He chose the name from the local river that runs through Suffolk."

"He named himself after a river?" my companion said, with facial twitches now registering incomprehension.

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"The term Orwellian is based on the dystopian book he wrote, called Nineteen Eighty-Four. Surely you've heard of it?" I swiftly added.

"What's some obscure British river got to do with facial and voice analysis," he asked, ignoring my question.

"Absolutely nothing. But Orwell wrote interesting fiction about totalitarian rule, big brother and something called the thought police. Hence the term Orwellian."

"You did say fiction?" my American guest smirked. "Hey, we're talking reality here, airport security screening, for example."

"You mean, in addition to being fingerprinted, eyeball scanned, forced to remove my shoes and belt, I'll also have my thoughts analysed as I cross into America?"

"The price of freedom is eternal vigilance," he reminded me as his facial muscles broke into an innocent smile, suggesting nothing but utter gullibility.