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
'The Archers' has an audience of about five million
radioA growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried
Arts and Entertainment
Ready to open the Baftas, rockers Kasabian are also ‘great film fans’
musicExclusive: Rockers promise an explosive opening to the evening
Arts and Entertainment
Henry VIII played by Damien Lewis
tvReview: Scheming queens-in-waiting, tangled lines of succession and men of lowly birth rising to power – sound familiar?
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Hell, yeah: members of the 369th Infantry arrive back in New York
booksWorld War Z author Max Brooks honours WW1's Harlem Hellfighters in new graphic novel
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift is heading to Norwich for Radio 1's Big Weekend

music
Arts and Entertainment
Beer as folk: Vincent Franklin and Cyril Nri (centre) in ‘Cucumber’
tvReview: This slice of gay life in Manchester has universal appeal
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
‘A Day at the Races’ still stands up well today
film
Arts and Entertainment
‘The Royals’ – a ‘twisted, soapy take on England’s first family’
tvAnd its producers have already announced a second season...
Arts and Entertainment
Kraftwerk performing at the Neue Nationalgalerie (New National Gallery) museum in Berlin earlier this month
musicWhy a bunch of academics consider German electropoppers Kraftwerk worthy of their own symposium
Arts and Entertainment
Icelandic singer Bjork has been forced to release her album early after an online leak

music
Arts and Entertainment
Colin Firth as Harry Hart in Kingsman: The Secret Service

film
Arts and Entertainment
Brian Blessed as King Lear in the Guildford Shakespeare Company's performance of the play

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
In the picture: Anthony LaPaglia and Martin Freeman in 'The Eichmann Show'

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Anne Kirkbride and Bill Roache as Deirdre and Ken Barlow in Coronation Street

tvThe actress has died aged 60
Arts and Entertainment
Marianne Jean-Baptiste defends Joe Miller in Broadchurch series two

tv
Arts and Entertainment
The frill of it all: Hattie Morahan in 'The Changeling'

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Gillian Anderson and David Duchovny may reunite for The X Files

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Jeremy Clarkson, left, and Richard Hammond upset the locals in South America
TV
News
A young woman punched a police officer after attending a gig by US rapper Snoop Dogg
people
Arts and Entertainment
Reese Witherspoon starring in 'Wild'

It's hard not to warm to Reese Witherspoon's heroismfilm
Arts and Entertainment
Word up: Robbie Coltrane as dictionary guru Doctor Johnson in the classic sitcom Blackadder the Third
books

Arts and Entertainment
The Oscar nominations are due to be announced today

Oscars 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Hacked off: Maisie Williams in ‘Cyberbully’

Maisie Williams single-handedly rises to the challenge

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne in The Theory of Everything and Benedict Cumberbatch in The Imitation Game are both nominated at the Bafta Film Awards
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

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

    Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

    Isis hostage crisis

    The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
    Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

    The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

    Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
    Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

    Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

    Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
    Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

    Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

    This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
    Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

    Cabbage is king again

    Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
    11 best winter skin treats

    Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

    Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
    Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

    Paul Scholes column

    The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
    Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

    Frank Warren's Ringside

    No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
    Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

    Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

    The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
    Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

    Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

    Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
    Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
    Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

    Comedians share stories of depression

    The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
    Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

    Has The Archers lost the plot?

    A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
    English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

    14 office buildings added to protected lists

    Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
    Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

    Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

    Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee