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
Blackman: Landscape of children’s literature does not reflect the cultural diversity of young people
booksMalorie Blackman appeals for a better ethnic mix of authors and characters and the illustrator Quentin Blake comes to the rescue
Arts and Entertainment
'Eminem's recovery from substance abuse has made him a more potent performer, with physical charisma and energy he never had before'
musicReview: Wembley Stadium ***
Arts and Entertainment
‘Dawn of Planet of the Apes’ also looks set for success in the Chinese market

film
News
Arts and Entertainment
The successful ITV drama Broadchurch starring David Tenant and Olivia Coleman came to an end tonight

tv
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Chocolat author Joanne Harris has spoken about the financial struggles most authors face

books
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from How To Train Your Dragon 2

Review: Imaginative storytelling returns with vigour

film
Arts and Entertainment
Josh Hutcherson, Donald Sutherland and Jena Malone in Mockinjay: Part 1

film
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Characters in the new series are based on real people, say its creators, unlike Arya and Clegane the Dog in ‘Game of Thrones’
tv
Arts and Entertainment
A waxwork of Jane Austen has been unveiled at The Jane Austen Centre in Bath

books
Arts and Entertainment
Britney Spears has been caught singing without Auto-Tune

music
Arts and Entertainment
Unless films such as Guardians of the Galaxy, pictured, can buck the trend, this summer could be the first in 13 years that not a single Hollywood blockbuster takes $300m

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Miley Cyrus has her magic LSD brain stolen in this crazy video produced with The Flaming Lips

music
Arts and Entertainment
Gay icons: Sesame Street's Bert (right) and Ernie

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Singer Robin Thicke and actress Paula Patton

music
Arts and Entertainment
The new film will be shot in the same studios as the Harry Potter films

books
Arts and Entertainment
Duncan Bannatyne left school at 15 and was still penniless at 29

Bannatyne leaves Dragon's Den

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The French economist Thomas Piketty wrote that global inequality has worsened

books
Arts and Entertainment
David Tennant and Benedict Cumberbatch

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Affleck plays a despondent Nick Dunne in David Fincher's 'Gone Girl'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Pete Doherty (L) and Carl Barât look at the scene as people begin to be crushed

music
Arts and Entertainment

tv
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
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.

    Iraq crisis: How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over the north of the country

    How Saudi Arabia helped Isis take over northern Iraq

    A speech by an ex-MI6 boss hints at a plan going back over a decade. In some areas, being Shia is akin to being a Jew in Nazi Germany, says Patrick Cockburn
    The evolution of Andy Serkis: First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

    The evolution of Andy Serkis

    First Gollum, then King Kong - now the actor is swinging through the trees in Dawn of the Planet of the Apes
    You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial: Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried

    You thought 'Benefits Street' was controversial...

    Follow-up documentary 'Immigrant Street' has got locals worried
    Refugee children from Central America let down by Washington's high ideals

    Refugee children let down by Washington's high ideals

    Democrats and Republicans refuse to set aside their differences to cope with the influx of desperate Central Americas, says Rupert Cornwell
    Children's books are too white, says Laureate

    Children's books are too white, says Laureate

    Malorie Blackman appeals for a better ethnic mix of authors and characters and the illustrator Quentin Blake comes to the rescue
    Blackest is the new black: Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...

    Blackest is the new black

    Scientists have developed a material so dark that you can't see it...
    Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

    Matthew Barzun: America's diplomatic dude

    The US Ambassador to London holds 'jeans and beer' gigs at his official residence – it's all part of the job, he tells Chris Green
    Meet the Quantified Selfers: From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor

    Meet the 'Quantified Selfers'

    From heart rates to happiness, there is little this fast-growing, self-tracking community won't monitor
    Madani Younis: Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

    Five-star reviews are just the opening act for British theatre's first non-white artistic director

    Madani Younis wants the neighbourhood to follow his work as closely as his audiences do
    Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

    Mrs Brown and her boys: are they having a laugh?

    When it comes to national stereotyping, the Irish – among others – know it can pay to play up to outsiders' expectations, says DJ Taylor
    Gavin Maxwell's bitter legacy: Was the otter man the wildlife champion he appeared to be?

    Otter man Gavin Maxwell's bitter legacy

    The aristocrat's eccentric devotion to his pets inspired a generation. But our greatest living nature writer believes his legacy has been quite toxic
    Joanna Rowsell: The World Champion cyclist on breaking her collarbone, shattering her teeth - and dealing with alopecia

    Joanna Rowsell: 'I wear my wig to look normal'

    The World Champion cyclist on breaking her collarbone, shattering her teeth - and dealing with alopecia
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef gives raw ingredients a lift with his quick marinades

    Bill Granger's quick and delicious marinades

    Our chef's marinades are great for weekend barbecuing, but are also a delicious way of injecting flavour into, and breaking the monotony of, weekday meals
    Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014 preview: Why Brazilians don't love their neighbours Argentina any more

    Anyone but Argentina – why Brazilians don’t love their neighbours any more

    The hosts will be supporting Germany in today's World Cup final, reports Alex Bellos
    The Open 2014: Time again to ask that major question - can Lee Westwood win at last?

    The Open 2014

    Time again to ask that major question - can Lee Westwood win at last?