While technology has become an important part of our social, economic, and political life, most analysis about technology remains woefully inadequate, limited to singing paeans about Apple and Google, and occasional rote articles about security and privacy issues. It is to this news market full of haberdasher opining that Mr. Bill Thompson brings his considerable intellect and analytical skills every week for his column on technology for the BBC.
To those unfamiliar with his articles, Bill Thompson is a respected technology guru and a distinguished commentator on technology and copyright issues for the BBC. Mr. Thompson's calm moderated erudition of technology comes from his extensive experience in the IT industry at varying capacities and a childhood that he spent without computers. "I was born in 1960 so I grew up before there were computers – around. Indeed, I never touched one at school."
It was not until his third year at Cambridge University, while he was running experiments in psychology, that he first touched a computer. He says that in many ways his first experiences with the computer formed his mindset about computers, something that has stayed with him for over 25 years — that computers are there to perform a useful function.
Mr. Thompson went on to get a Master's level diploma in Computer Science from Cambridge University in 1983. After graduating from Cambridge, he joined a small computer firm and then quit it to join Acorn Computers Limited, creators of the successful BBC Micro, as a database consultant. He left the enterprise because "they wanted to promote me" and joined as a courseware developer with Instruction Set. After a stint with PIPEX, he found himself running Guardian's New Media division a decade or so ago when the Internet was still in its infancy. After working for a few years managing Guardian's online site, Mr. Thompson left to pursue writing and commenting full time. It is there in the field writing and providing astute analysis on technology related issues that Mr. Thompson finds himself today.
I interviewed Mr. Thompson via Skype about a month ago. Here's an edited (both style and content) transcript of the interview.
The technology opinion marketplace seems to be split between technology evangelists and Luddites. Your writing, on the other hand, manifests a broad range of experience; it reflects moderated enthusiasm about what computers can do. I find it an astute and yet optimistic account.
I am fundamentally optimistic about the possibilities of this technology that we have invented to both make the world a better place and to help us recover from some of the mistakes of the past and make better decisions as a species, not just as a society, in the future. It informs my writing. It informs as well the things that I am interested in, and the areas that I want to explore.