Dyslexia gave him the drive, now Bill Gates has become his bete noire

He is not only a virtual visionary but a pragmatist aware of the dangers of Microsoft's dominance of the industry. Mark Vernon interviews Ray Hammond, information technology futurist with a mission: stopping Bill Gates

Ray Hammond has the right history for an IT futurist. His first computer, an Apple, was given to him by Steve Jobs. For most, that would be enough to launch a lifetime's devotion. Hammond, though, is not so much devoted as passionate, and with good cause - dyslexia. From his early days of being branded a dunce at school, to his first attempts at becoming a writer on local newspapers, the disorder felled him at every step. Computers took the hurdle away with a single click of the mouse - to launch the spell-check application.

Hammond is also different because he is British. It is remarkable to hear an IT prophet without a hint of a mid-Atlantic accent. Thirteen books and three best-sellers later, we meet on the eve of an Olivetti business conference at which he is the keynote speaker. His staple diet these days is provoking the industry to think differently, more expansively, about a future of bits and bytes. But even in the midst of smart business formality the person, and the personal, shines through.

"If you want to know about computers and the future," he says, "do not ask what technology can do, but work out how people will use it. What we are doing is building a prosthetic to the human intellect. It is impossible to overestimate the transformation that the global networking of computers will bring."

With Leonardo da Vinci, he believes that all inventions are extensions of the human hand. The difference now is that this one has global reach. And with "commodity" virtual reality just around the corner, the invention will not so much be an extension of the hand as of the eye, ear and mouth as well, the logical endpoint of the networked age being a near complete collapse of boundaries, if that is what you choose.

Hammond has even experimented with virtual sex - for a TV programme, that is. Though we can't yet select our physical appearance from a pop- up menu, for the TV camera, at least, he had a body double portray him wrapped in pressure belts and sensory stimulators.

Hammond believes we are in a period of transition where the real challenge is one of the imagination. The emergence of the Internet following the silicon revolution is likened to the birth of cinema as a departure from the stage. At first, directors only had stage plays to capture on celluloid. It was not until writers produced film scripts that the glories of the silver screen could truly be seen.

Thus Hammond thinks the Internet should be regarded not as a medium but as a digital space running in parallel with physical space. "This decade will see the birth of the real place where we conduct business and the majority of our social lives." It is not so much an application as an opportunity, a brave new world into which the adventurous rush, charting the territory upon which futures will be built. Both the joy and the struggle will be in discovering and inventing the language and grammar of tomorrow.

But not all or even most of Hammond's talk is abstract speculation. Indeed, one of the notable qualities of his book Digital Business is its practical suggestions for commercial life on the Net. So, concerning online shopping, he says: "The model of the mall has got to go. There is nothing more absurd. If I want to buy a pair of garden shears then I want a pair of garden shears, not a tedious trawl around a chemist, a bank and a bookshop on the way."

He argues that Web surfers are typically the new kids on the block. Web users, the ones who spend money, want "specificity", to get where they want to go fast. He thinks the best examples of Web commerce are the online auction houses such as www.onsale.com, because they exploit to the full the super vertical nature of the Net, with the logic of trade and the facility of technology finding optimal resonance and settling the prices for goods across a global market.

But if Hammond is upbeat so far in the conversation, the tone changes when the most famous name in computers crosses his lips. In Digital Business, written almost three years ago, he expressed his concern about the dominance of Microsoft. But a lot has happened in the meantime. The company has invested in Apple Computer, for a start. But Ray Hammond is, if anything, even more fearful of the monopoly controlled by Bill Gates. "If you were sitting on the M25 and noticed that 90 per cent of the vehicles around you had the same shape, the same interior and the same engine, would you think this was a good thing? [Information technology] is the engine of endeavour and all this is entrusted to one company. What does this say about the future of the human prosthetic?"

Hammond is, of course, not the first to voice a warning about Microsoft's ubiquity. The real problem is what can be done about it. It would be a near impossible task for anyone, even Bill Gates, to launch a rival operating system to Windows. A look at the latest chapters in the Apple story is evidence enough.

However, Hammond has an alternative solution. Governments should intervene and isolate the control of operating systems by placing them in the hands of new, independent companies. "The operating system must be separated off from other software products. Of course, Microsoft should be compensated. But we are talking about a monopoly that is highly dangerous. I do not think it goes too far to say that the future of mankind cannot afford it."

In fact, his concern runs so deep that his next book, nearly complete, is entitled Why Bill Gates Must be Stopped. In it he not only extends the wrongness in principle of Microsoft's supremacy but raises a new spectre of Gates's dominance. Hammond has investigated his involvement in genetic research and discovered that the world's richest man is throwing some of his billions at this controversial work. In fact, Hammond claims Gates has had a hand in many significant breakthroughs to date and is gathering patents through involvement in a number of companies, including the decoding of the ageing gene. Having mastered the computer operating system, Hammond fears that Gates now seeks mastery of the human operating system.

Hammond's book may never actually be published. Although it has been touted in publishing houses on both sides of the Atlantic, all so far have refused to touch it for fear of the billions being mobilised to sue.

There is at this point a strong smell of conspiracy theory in the air, not to say a hint of green lights and billowing smoke as if on an X-files set. But Hammond is too pragmatic a thinker to be so easily disregarded. He does not believe that Gates is a malicious man. But one does not need a cabal for there to still be a threat. Microsoft already has an inflated impact upon the US shares market, with blue chip stocks closely tied to the company's prospects. The extension of Bill Gates's influence into another huge growth industry, Hammond claims, could undermine the security of Wall Street.

No, Ray Hammond believes the real dangers are quite enough. And the man whose life was saved by computers plans to do all he can to secure their future.

Arts and Entertainment
At this year's SXSW festival in Austin, Texas

Music Why this music festival is still the place to spot the next big thing

Arts and Entertainment
Russell Tovey, Myanna Buring and Julian Rhind Tutt star in Banished
tvReview: The latest episode was a smidgen less depressing... but it’s hardly a bonza beach party
Arts and Entertainment
Crime watch: Cara Delevingne and Daniel Brühl in ‘The Face of an Angel’
film review
Arts and Entertainment
music Malik left the Asian leg of the band's world tour after being signed off with stress last week
Author J.K. Rowling attends photocall ahead of her reading from 'The Casual Vacancy' at the Queen Elizabeth Hall on September 27, 2012 in London, England.
peopleNot the first time the author has defended Dumbledore's sexuality
Arts and Entertainment
‘The Royals’ – a ‘twisted, soapy take on England’s first family’
tv Some of the characters appear to have clear real-life counterparts
Brooks is among a dozen show-business professionals ever to have achieved Egot status
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
A cut above: Sean Penn is outclassed by Mark Rylance in The Gunman
film review
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
James Franco and Zachary Quinto in I Am Michael

Film review Michael Glatze biopic isn't about a self-hating gay man gone straight

Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the movie 'Get Hard'
tvWill Ferrell’s new film Get Hard receives its first reviews
Arts and Entertainment
Left to right: David Cameron (Mark Dexter), Nick Clegg (Bertie Carvel) and Gordon Brown (Ian Grieve)
tvReview: Ian Grieve gets another chance to play Gordon Brown... this is the kinder version
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman in the first look picture from next year's Sherlock special

Arts and Entertainment
Because it wouldn’t be Glastonbury without people kicking off about the headline acts, a petition has already been launched to stop Kanye West performing on the Saturday night

Arts and Entertainment
Molly Risker, Helen Monks, Caden-Ellis Wall, Rebekah Staton, Erin Freeman, Philip Jackson and Alexa Davies in ‘Raised by Wolves’

TV review
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
James May, Jeremy Clarkson and Richard Hammond in the Top Gear Patagonia Special

Arts and Entertainment
Game of Thrones will run for ten years if HBO gets its way but showrunners have mentioned ending it after seven

Game of Thrones
Arts and Entertainment
Mans Zelmerlow will perform 'Heroes' for Sweden at the Eurovision Song Contest 2015

Arts and Entertainment
Elizabeth (Heida Reed) and Ross Poldark (Aiden Turner) in the BBC's remake of their 1975 original Poldark

Poldark review
Arts and Entertainment
Daniel Craig as James Bond in Skyfall

Mexican government reportedly paying Bond producers for positive portrayal in new filmfilm
Arts and Entertainment
Disney’s flying baby elephant is set to return in live-action format
filmWith sequels, prequels and spin-offs, Disney plays it safe... and makes a pachyderm
Arts and Entertainment
Nazrin with Syf, Camden
The QI Elves photographed at the Soho Theatre. They are part of a team of researchers who find facts for the television programme 'QI'.
Arts and Entertainment
‘The Royals’ – a ‘twisted, soapy take on England’s first family’
tv0-star review: Sean O'Grady gives it his best shot anyway
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    The saffron censorship that governs India: Why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression

    The saffron censorship that governs India

    Zareer Masani reveals why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression
    Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

    Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

    Supreme Court rules Dominic Grieve's ministerial veto was invalid
    Distressed Zayn Malik fans are cutting themselves - how did fandom get so dark?

    How did fandom get so dark?

    Grief over Zayn Malik's exit from One Direction seemed amusing until stories of mass 'cutting' emerged. Experts tell Gillian Orr the distress is real, and the girls need support
    The galaxy collisions that shed light on unseen parallel Universe

    The cosmic collisions that have shed light on unseen parallel Universe

    Dark matter study gives scientists insight into mystery of space
    The Swedes are adding a gender-neutral pronoun to their dictionary

    Swedes introduce gender-neutral pronoun

    Why, asks Simon Usborne, must English still struggle awkwardly with the likes of 's/he' and 'they'?
    Disney's mega money-making formula: 'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan

    Disney's mega money-making formula

    'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan
    Lobster has gone mainstream with supermarket bargains for £10 or less - but is it any good?

    Lobster has gone mainstream

    Anthea Gerrie, raised on meaty specimens from the waters around Maine, reveals how to cook up an affordable feast
    Easter 2015: 14 best decorations

    14 best Easter decorations

    Get into the Easter spirit with our pick of accessories, ornaments and tableware
    Paul Scholes column: Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season

    Paul Scholes column

    Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season
    Inside the Kansas greenhouses where Monsanto is 'playing God' with the future of the planet

    The future of GM

    The greenhouses where Monsanto 'plays God' with the future of the planet
    Britain's mild winters could be numbered: why global warming is leaving UK chillier

    Britain's mild winters could be numbered

    Gulf Stream is slowing down faster than ever, scientists say
    Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

    Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

    Donation brings total raised by Homeless Veterans campaign to at least £1.25m
    Oh dear, the most borrowed book at Bank of England library doesn't inspire confidence

    The most borrowed book at Bank of England library? Oh dear

    The book's fifth edition is used for Edexcel exams
    Cowslips vs honeysuckle: The hunt for the UK’s favourite wildflower

    Cowslips vs honeysuckle

    It's the hunt for UK’s favourite wildflower
    Child abuse scandal: Did a botched blackmail attempt by South African intelligence help Cyril Smith escape justice?

    Did a botched blackmail attempt help Cyril Smith escape justice?

    A fresh twist reveals the Liberal MP was targeted by the notorious South African intelligence agency Boss